As we return back to America, I have begun to reflect about what we accomplished (and didn’t accomplish) during our travels.
Like so many travel bloggers out there, we have been to new places, seen new faces, and done some stupid things. In some cases, it was intentional.
After spending so much time abroad, it would be strange NOT to think back about great experiences, goals achieved, and lessons learned. Ticking off cities, countries, passport stamps and experiences off our travel bucket list is fun, but that’s only half of it. The other, more important half, are the lessons learned. The values that stick with us from those experiences. There is no doubt that we are all on our own personal journey to become the best people we can be in this life. For us, traveling and self-growth are irrevocably linked.
With so much time on the road, we find ourselves asking (and being asked) the same questions. “Why do you travel? Why should we go abroad? What education comes from being a traveler?”
Ok, I’ll be honest with you. Usually those questions are not put so beautifully. More often than not, it’s more like “Why don’t you have a real job? Where do you get the money to travel? (and our personal favorite) When are you going to grow up?”
Boiled down to its simplest form, travel makes you a better person, that is to say, people who actively travel with an open mind and willingness to learn.
Let me preface this and make it clear I am an advocate of traditional education. I have been employed as a college professor and have plenty of debt from obtaining a Masters degree that will most likely stay with me forever. However, over the years I have learned lessons traveling around the world I never would have learned in a classroom. Experience is the best and most brutal teacher.
Traveling as a newlywed was exciting, life changing, and challenging. Together, we learned a lot of crucial lessons from our mistakes. As a result, I believe we are better people now because of it, and as a couple we are stronger than ever.
Of course some people already have learned or inherently possess all of the qualities we have learned while traveling, and that’s awesome. For others like us, here are 5 important things we have learned as travelers.
5 Life Lessons We’ve Learned From Travel
1. Practice Respect
In life, it is easy to blindly move through life so focused on our own hopes and dreams that we ignore others. Stepping outside our comfort zone can be difficult. Speaking as an American, it’s easy to get caught up with our lives here and forget that there is a bigger world beyond our borders. One of the best things we have learned while traveling is to develop a great love and respect for other countries. We love meeting new people, hearing about their lives, and comparing cultures.
Nothing puts things in perspective like having the tables turned, and now you are the foreigner. Amauri went through this first hand as a child when he moved from Brazil to the States, so he is more sensitive to this issue than most. For me, this has been a lesson I have been actively trying to learn since I started traveling and left my bubble at 25. As a traveler, you are forced to step outside your comfort zone by accepting and adapting to the different values, ideas, and languages from a culture that is not your own. Your way is not the only way, and over time you will understand that differences are what make life interesting.
2. Learn how to Budget
Unless you are trust fund baby, traveling the world long term as a twenty-something year old will teach you how to prioritize and live on a budget, sometimes in the most painful, excruciating way. I have learned to be poor. As a solo traveler I made some poor choices regarding pretty things at the mall and long nights out on the town, but traveling as a couple has changed us both. We are now spending for two and cannot be selfish.
Prioritizing our expenditures has made a world of difference when it comes to traveling long term. We tend to compare prices in terms of travel costs: 1 dress or 1 night in a hostel? Dinner at a fancy restaurant or a weeks worth of groceries? A few weekends spent drinking or an international flight? Without becoming too obsessive, travel is our number 1 priority. Everything else is secondary.
3. Be Less Materialistic
This goes hand in hand with living on a budget. Traveling long term or living abroad means you can’t really buy or have a bunch of stuff with you. Do you know how hard and expensive it is to travel with a lot of stuff? Carrying an extra pound on your shoulders isn’t worth the extra hair products.
Don’t get me wrong, we both still like to shop. It’s nice to treat yourself once in a while. However, since selling all our belongings on Craigslist, we realized how much “stuff” we accumulated that we didn’t need. This forced us to adopt a philosophy of trying to separate our “wants” with “needs”. We only buy things we really love and try to avoid purchasing something just because it is on sale.
4. Self-Esteem comes with experience
I used to be an awkward turtle, up until I moved abroad for the first time in 2008. Growing up I used to be shy and less confident. However, all that changed when I moved overseas. Nothing will ruin a trip abroad quite like not talking to anybody. For me the best experiences I have had were talking to people, both tourists and locals alike. (Fortunately I am now married to a “Chatty Cathy” who can talk about oatmeal for 2 hours, so I am able to pick and choose who I want to get to know.)
Not only in conversation, but moving to a country without place to live, a job, or a friend forced me to figure things out. By the time I moved overseas for the second time, I was confident in my ability to do all the little things on my own like setting up a foreign bank account, figuring out the transportation system, and buying furniture. Looking back, it was a pivotal moment in my life (and self- esteem) when I realized how much I could accomplish when forced to rely on no one but myself.
5. Be more Open-Minded
Good or bad, traveling will open your mind, whether you want it opened or not. One of the most important things we’ve learned is to be more open-minded. There are only so many things you can control when traveling, and when things go wrong (oh, and they will), you only have two options: A) make the best of it and move on or B) let it get you down and ruin your trip. I’m sure you can guess what the best option is. Still, easier said than done. After months of planning, it can be disheartening to not get your way.
I’m a bit of a control freak in my daily life, but when I travel, I have to just let go and roll with the punches. I have learned that most things are out of my hands. To be honest, some of the best experiences we’ve have had while traveling are the ones that weren’t planned. (For example, our spontaneous trip to Bali!)