18 Life Lessons Learned From Traveling The World


I never thought I would still be nomadic. My original round-the-world trip was only supposed to last one year before I went back home, found a “real” job, settled down, and by now, be married, have a house, 2.5 children, and complain about my retirement fund to my friends.

Yet life took a decidedly different turn and here I am, seven years later, writing this from an overnight train to Copenhagen with the same desire to explore the world and no sign of stopping soon.

After so many years on the road, there are a few life lessons I’ve learned from travel that I never would have learned otherwise and I wanted to share with you today.

1. It’s not that hard.

Every day, people get up, go out the door to travel the world, and survive and thrive. Kids as young as 18 make their way around the world without any problems. All that worrying and fear I had before my trip was for naught – this traveling thing is a lot easier than people make it out to be. You’re not the first person to do it and there is a well-worn trail that makes it easy for first times to find their way. If an 18 year can do it, so can you.

2. You learn a lot of life skills.

People who travel are better adjusted and less socially anxious people and traveling around the world has taught me to how to be more social, be adept and more flexible, and, most importantly, understand non-verbal communication a lot better. It has made me more independent, more open, and, overall, just a better person. There’s no reason to be scared that you might not have “it” in you. You’d be surprised how often you’ll surprise yourself.

3. You are never alone.

It may seem scary just throwing yourself out there and talking to strangers, but we are all strangers in a strange land. At the end of the day, everyone is very friendly. It took me a while to get used to just saying “hello” to strangers, but now it seems like second nature. Everyone is just like you – they are alone in a strange place and are looking for others to be with. People travel to meet other people and that means you. Don’t be afraid to approach other travelers and locals. You’ll find that when you travel alone, you’ll never really be alone.

4. You meet some of your closest friends traveling.

Whether it was in a restaurant in Vietnam, on a boat in Thailand, or walking into a hostel in Spain, when I least expected (or wanted) to meet people was when I met the best and developed the longest lasting relationships. And even though you may not see them for years, you still end up at their wedding, Christmas dinner, or family celebration. Distance and time cannot break the bond you formed.

5. Relationships come and go on the road.

I’ve met lots of people on the road, including members of the opposite sex I’ve found attractive. But the nature of travel doesn’t always lend itself to long-term romantic relationships. It’s hard to make something last when everyone moves in different directions and holidays end. If you get too attached too often, you’ll have nothing but heartache as people come and go. But I’ve realized you need to simply enjoy your time together and live in the moment. Dwelling on the future will only keep you from making that leap.

6. But chase the ones you like.

Yet once in a while, you’ll find someone you really connect with. Meaningful romance on the road does happen. And when you have nowhere to be and no place to go other than where you want, sometimes there is no reason not to follow. Don’t force yourself to say another good-bye if you don’t have to. Pursue it even if the distance seems too vast and the circumstances not right, because you never know where it could lead or how long it might last because, once in a while you meet the one and when you do, you should do everything you can to stay with them.

7. It’s good to try new things.

I used to be a very rigid person, but traveling has helped me loosen up and expand my worldview. I’ve pushed myself to the limit, eaten new food, taken cooking classes, learned magic tricks, new languages, tried to conquer my fear of heights, and challenged my established views. Travel is all about breaking out of your comfort zone and enjoying all the world has to offer.

8. Be adventurous.

Doing the canyon swing was tough. So was jumping off the boat in the Galapagos. As was eating the maggots in Thailand and caterpillars in Africa. Then I got my butt kicked in Thai boxing. And, while I won’t do most of those ever again, I don’t regret trying new things. Scare yourself once in a while. It makes life less dull.

9. There is no such thing as a mistake.

No matter what happens on the road, it’s never a mistake. As was once said, “your choices are half chance, and so are everybody else’s.” When you go with the flow and let the road just unfold ahead of you, there’s no reason to have regrets or think you made a mistake. You make the best decisions you can and, in the end, the journey is the adventure.

10. Don’t be cheap.

When you travel on a budget and need to make your money last, it’s easy to be cheap. But why live like a pauper at home while you save so you can skip the food in Italy, the wine in France, or a sushi meal in Japan? While it is good to be frugal, it’s also important to splurge and not miss out on doing once-in-a-lifetime things. Who knows when you will get another chance to dive in Fiji?! Take every opportunity.

11. That being said, don’t be wasteful.

But remember you aren’t made of money, so don’t always feel like you need to party with your new friends every night or do every activity in a new place. Sometimes it’s OK just to sit around and relax or cook your own meal. Be frugal, but not cheap.

12. Drop the guidebook.

Don’t be so glued to a book. You can travel fine without it, especially with so many good alternatives on the Internet these days. You’ll buy it and hardly use it anyway. Just ask people for tips and information. That will be your best source of information, especially for those off-the-beaten track destinations and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that no one’s ever heard of but serve the best food you can imagine.

13. It’s never too late to change.

Even if you aren’t the traveler or person you want to be in your head, it’s never too late to change. Travel is all about change. The more you say “tomorrow,” the less likely it is that tomorrow will ever come. Traveling has shown me aspects of my personality I wish I didn’t have and also shown me I’m really lazy. I’ve always lived by the phrase “Carpe Diem” but sometimes I don’t really do it. It’s never too late though and realizing that has made being more pro-active a lot easier.

14. Relax.

Life is amazing. There’s no reason to worry. The universe unfolds as it should. Relax and just go with it. You can’t change the future – it hasn’t happened yet. Just make the best decisions you can today and enjoy the moment. Don’t get caught up trying to see all the “must sees.” There’s nothing wrong with spending a day playing games, reading a book, or lounging by the pool.

15. Learn more languages (seriously).

There’re some great benefits to not knowing the local language – like miming out “chicken” to let the lady know you want eggs for breakfast – but learning languages is very helpful when you travel, and works out great when you meet other travelers. There’s also nothing like surprising people by speaking their language. Moreover, knowing basic phrases will endear you to locals who will appreciate the fact you went the extra mile. You’ll find people will be much more helpful, even if you struggle to say hello.

16. Wear more sunscreen.

Seriously. Science has proven it helps, and with all that beach time you do when you travel, you could always use a little more. Being tan is great. Having skin cancer is not. SPF up.

17. People are good.

All over the world, I have encountered amazing people who have not only changed my life but have gone out of their way to help me. It’s taught me that the old saying is true – you can always depend on the kindness of strangers. My friend Greg taught me long ago not to be guarded against strangers. That experience when I first started traveling changed everything and when you travel with an open heart, unexpected goodness will happen. 99.9999% of the people in the world aren’t murders, rapists, or thieves. There’s no reason to assume someone is one. Sometimes people are just trying to be friendly.

18. There’s no such thing as must-see.

This is your trip. No one else’s. Everyone’s journey is their own. Do what you want, when you want, and for how long you want. Don’t let anyone tell you aren’t a real traveler for skipping the Louvre, avoiding some little town in Peru, or deciding to party in Thailand. This your journey. You owe no one an explanation.

I’ve learned more about the world and myself in the last seven years of travel than I had in the previous 25 years of my life. No matter what happens in the future, I know that travel has taught me life lessons I never would have learned had I stayed in my cubicle job.

Find a way to travel as often has you can to all the destinations you dream about.  They will change your life. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

About the author

Matthew Kepnes

Budget travel expert, author of “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day” at Nomadic Matt.

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