39 Unexpected Things You’ll Learn From Traveling Around The World

A little over a year ago I packed my backpack and hopped on a plane to New Zealand. I went over there for a year on a working holiday visa, which basically allows you to live and travel in New Zealand for up to a year.

Everyone says travel changes you. So what have I learned after a year of exploration and personal growth? No it wasn’t some crazy experience where I “found myself” but I still got a few lessons over the course of the year.
Unsplash / Fré Sonneveld
Unsplash / Fré Sonneveld

1. You need less than you think – I spent the past year living out of a backpack that expands to 75 cubic liters and a little daypack. Everything I owned in the South Pacific could fit in there, and you know what? It really wasn’t that hard to deal with.

2. It really is a small world after all – I ended up sharing a dorm room with a girl I was in the same grade in elementary school with in Queenstown, New Zealand. I’m from the suburbs of Dallas. This wasn’t the only time I met someone abroad who we shared mutual friends with.

3. Goodbyes never get easier – As a backpacker you’re constantly meeting people, becoming friends with them and then having to say goodbye to them anywhere from a couple of days later to a couple months later. You think after a while that you would get used to it, but nope every time is just as painful.

4. But reunions are the best thing out there – I have a group of Aussie friends that I met while I studied abroad in Australia that I‘ve been lucky enough to be able to see every 6 months for the past year and a half. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is better than the moment I see them at the airport, bus stops, etc. These reunions make the goodbyes almost bearable.

5. Hostels can showcase the best of people and the worst – I’ve lived in hostels for the past year. I’ve had some amazing time with some amazing people, but damn some people are nasty. I’ve witnessed people try to get it on in hostel hot tubs where everyone can easily see more times than anyone ever should.

6. You learn to appreciate the little things – Long-term travel means going without most of the comforts of home. You realize how great some things you would never even think you would miss are. Take for example: drawers. Holy cow they make life so much easier, but yet you never even think about them. And don’t even get me started on how much easier having a car makes grocery shopping when it’s a steep walk uphill back.

7. Some people just don’t care if everyone can see – Some people have no shame. One time I saw a couple having sex on the bench right outside the front door of a hostel. Another time my friend swears he saw a couple just right off the sidewalk. Why. Just why.

8. Germans are slowly taking over the world – Germans are EVERYWHERE. I’ve been to hostels where it’s a good 80%-85% German. Don’t get me wrong, I have many great German friends but I’m beginning to wonder if there’s any 18-30 year old Germans still in Germany?

9. It doesn’t matter where you are so much as the people you’re with – I’ve lived in big cities and small towns overseas, and I’ve come to realize that as long as you’ve got a good group of people you can be happy wherever.

10. But a beautiful location or a crazy city doesn’t hurt – Enough said.

11. People will try to take advantage of you because you’re foreign – It doesn’t matter if you also come from an English speaking country or how well educated you are, they will try. It’s up to you not to let them. With that being said for every one of these people there’s about 10 friendly, amazing, kind, and genuinely helpful people out there.

12. There is such a thing as too much free pizza – I worked in a pizza shop for a couple of months where I got plenty of free pizza. By the end I pretty much had to force myself to eat it, but hey it was free.

13.You’re not as different from people from other countries as you think – Obviously I only really was around people from first world countries, but we all go through so many of the same life experiences. Just because we’re from opposite sides of the world doesn’t mean our lives are all that different.

14. Strangers aren’t that scary – In a society that preaches stranger danger, traveling teaches you to trust strangers. Albeit I was in New Zealand, one of the safest countries on the planet, being a traveler teaches you to befriend and even trust strangers. Although I’m not saying trust everyone. There are still some very seedy people out there. Trust your gut, instincts, and what you’re friends say and you’ll be just fine.

15. Don’t trust a guy from Essex – Ok this be might be a bit biased, but why did so many people I met have such a bad experience with a guy from Essex? Maybe we just suck at choosing guys, or maybe it’s Essex. Who knows.

16. Money is nice, but some opportunities only come once – I gave up a fairly well-paying job to travel. Crazy, right? Well the chance for extended travel doesn’t happen often and I’d rather be able to have these life changing experiences and grow than live a cushy life straight out of university.

17. Your pictures will never look as good as the real thing – We’ve all tried to get pictures that truly capture the beauty of New Zealand and yet have just ended up with about 100 pictures of hills that you swear were actually stunning in real life.

18. The craziest people you meet probably live at a Base hostel – Base has a notorious reputation around New Zealand and Australia, and for good reason.  If you want to meet the most insane how-are-you-traveling-on-your-own people, stay at Base.

19. Creativity is key to living at a hostel – Hostels are budget accommodation for a reason. Have you ever tried to cook in one? Good luck finding a good pan. Living in a hostel teaches you to get creative. From collecting boxes to turn into shelves, to figuring out how to cook with questionable cooking gear, life in a hostel takes a little bit of creativity to make it seem more like home.

20. Christmas during summer = AMAZING. – We had a barbecue and went to the beach on Christmas. Everyone had a blast.

21. The hardest time to be away is the holidays – This ones a no brainer. Your Facebook feed becomes an endless stream of families being reunited for the holidays, and then there’s you doing your own thing on the other side of the planet. Thank goodness for Skype.

22. Quiet and alone time is the most valuable time you can have when traveling – Living in a hostel makes it hard to ever have just “me” time. However seeking out that alone time is key to keeping your sanity on the road. Seek it out when you can.

23. You’ll have the same conversation over and over again with everyone – Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going next? You might as well wear a sign that says all this while traveling, because you’re going to have this conversation almost every day.

24. Maybe the U.S. isn’t the best at EVERYTHING – Ok maybe this one is likely to treason for some people, but let’s be real here some countries do things better. As an American it’s shoved down your throat that your country is the best at EVERYTHING.

25. Asking for help is OK. – I’m an extremely stubborn person who really hates asking for help. However sometimes when you’re on your own, you have to. And you know what? It’s really not that bad.

26. Being away for so long turns you weirdly patriotic about the strangest things – I’ve never been super patriotic, but when someone unfairly verbally attacks aspects of my country or state you bet I will defend it. If you insult American football or my countries love of red solo cups, you better believe I will defend them.

27. There’s a difference between international banter and people downright being rude about your country – Being from Texas I get a lot of jokes and rude comments about my state. When I studied abroad I would argue till I was blue in the face with people who were really just jerks and were completely set in how the felt about my home state and the people from there. This time around I realize that’s more of a red flag for people you don’t want to be friends with because guess what? They’ll be closed-minded and rude about many other things too.

28. Pies after a night out = best drunk food out there. – No I’m not talking about sweet pies, I’m talking about the popular savory pies down there. A bacon cheese and mince pie at 3 am beats McDonalds any day (or night.)

29. You will fall for someone who from the exact opposite side of the planet from you – It happens to all of us. Like some cruel trick from the universe, you’ll meet another charming traveler from about as far as possible from your home. Thanks universe.

30. Cheap transport options may not always get you from point a to point b as you expect it, but you will get some crazy stories out of it – The phrase “you get what you pay for” comes to mind here. Obviously when a bus costs $10 for a 7 hour journey, your expectations are pretty low. Within the past year I’ve had to sit on bus floors, experienced breakdowns in the middle of nowhere, and even had to hitchhike out. But hey at least it gives me a good story right? And yes, the bus company did refund me in the end.

31. Passing out with your shoes on is pretty much a universal rule – No matter what country you’re from, it seems we all have the same rule. If you pass out with your shoes on, you’re going to get messed with.

32. You’re not immune to problems effecting everyone back home – You can never predict what’s going to happen, but some events just come out of nowhere. In October you may remember the American government shutting down.  Think that didn’t effect me? The USD exchange rate dropped so much that my savings were worth about $500 less in the span of a couple days.  Well that was a travel expense that I didn’t see coming, but you just have to learn to adjust your travel plans and move on.

33. Just because seemingly everyone else doesn’t like a place, doesn’t mean you will hate it too – Almost every backpacker will tell you how much they disliked Christchurch. The poor city was destroyed after two earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011. However if you look beyond the rubble, it’s a beautiful city with an inspiring resiliency to it. These kind of places just need for you to give them a chance.

34. Sandflies make mosquitos seem harmless – Anyone who’s dealt with these horrible little flies knows how bad their bite is. I would gladly be bitten by mosquitos before I was bitten by a sandfly.

35. No matter how great a time you’re having homesickness happens. – No matter how happy you are traveling, homesickness happens to all of us. You’ve gotta keep going until you’re out of the funk. Just as suddenly as that bout of homesickness happened, it will pass too and you’ll quickly wonder why you ever thought going home might a good idea in the first place.

36. Solo Travel is an incredibly empowering experience – Going to the other side of the planet by myself for a year was scary, but it’s also incredibly empowering. If I can make it on my own in another country with just me and my backpack for a year, what else can I do?  Even better this trip was all about me. Being on your own teaches you how to be a strong individual as well as keeps you accountable for your actions. Any mistakes I made I only had myself to blame for. On the flipside I was responsible for getting myself out of these mistakes.

37. There are few experiences better than the freedom of living out of a backpack – Yes living out of a backpack is hard, but you know what’s great about it? If I don’t like a place or I get bored I can just pack my stuff and leave again. When you can carry everything you own on your back, the freedom of exploring the world and doing whatever you want is that much easier.

38. You don’t have to be blood, or even from the same country to be family – While traveling you get attached so much easier. Everyone is away from home and already has the love of traveling in common. It takes a certain type of person to be able to handle long term travel, and thus we get along quickly. In a hostel you quickly become family. These people quickly become your support system and man does it hurt when everyone eventually moves on.

39. The travel bug only gets stronger – Everyone says the once you’re bit by the travel bug, you’re hooked and its true. You meet people from all over the world who have been to just about everywhere and you can’t help but want to travel everywhere after you hear their stories. Slowly I’m beginning to realize my desire to travel will never be curbed. TC mark

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