Five Things I Learned From Travel

things i learned from travel
Travel is one of the best educations I’ve ever received and one thing that I feel like I absolutely get my money’s worth. Over the past eight years, I’ve jetted off to some of the far corners of the earth to see and experience some amazing things, and in the interim, I also managed to learn a thing or two. While the following list certainly isn’t exhaustive, I wanted to highlight five things I learned from travel and hope that some of you can relate (or are inspirational enough to get you out there and see the world!).

the world is full of marvels

1. The world is not a scary place.

Before I left on my trip, I honestly laid wide awake in bed at night, dreaming up every sort of horrible situation I might find myself in on my travels–I’d obviously be mugged, beaten, raped, and probably murdered because the world is a scary and horrible place and people aren’t as civilized in other countries as they are in the United States, right? I knew this wasn’t the case because it wasn’t my first rodeo abroad, but it somehow felt scary on an epic scale probably because I was lugging my entire life along with me for several months on the road. I don’t even want to dare to think about how many hours I lost on those sleepless nights, panic-ridden, guts in a knot, and on the verge of the cold sweats. And even when I would finally get some rest, something would wake me mid-sleep and then it would start all over again.

The truth is though, that I was being utterly ridiculous. The world really isn’t that scary. It’s true that, as a person who constantly lives in my head and overthinks every possible situation, I did feel uneasy on a few occasions while traveling, but I didn’t experience anything scarier in a foreign land than I have on my own soil. In fact, I’d say I’ve experienced scarier things in Philadelphia and Baltimore than I did in Morocco, South Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe combined.

Don’t let the fear of the unknown scare you to the point where you don’t do something. The media likes to perpetuate stereotypes and employ outrageous scare tactics, and our government likes to issue travel warnings that sometimes border on the ridiculous. I’m not saying that you should ignore all of these things and head into the hot zone, but exercise some free thinking and do some of your own research before ruling a place out and deciding that the world is too scary to explore. It’s not.

the quickest way to acquire self confidence

2. I am actually pretty confident. (See what I did there–not totally, but pretty.)

Confidence is something I’ve always lacked. I sort of know where it comes from–for most of my life, I was made to feel less-than and like I was incapable of success because of my looks, weight, or interest in the arts over most other things. One shouldn’t hear these types of things from anyone, let alone a person who is supposed to be your cheerleader and who is supposed to have your back through everything. But such is life sometimes, and even though I am now the ripe old age of 30, I still battle with those moments of insecurity and self-doubt.

Travel has helped with that. Starting with my very first trip abroad at 22 and spanning until my most recent three months on the road, I have learned to come into my own. I feel much better about speaking up about things, about voicing my opinion when necessary, and I have learned to rely on myself for absolutely everything. When you travel solo, it’s amazing what you’ll find yourself doing out of necessity and anonymity. I think travel is such a valuable thing to invest in for any number of things, but especially to learn to come into your own and to find your voice in this world. (And while solo travel is terrifying for an insecure person such as myself, I think it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done because it’s made me a stronger person.)

it takes guts to be gentle and kind

3. People are kind.

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the world is scary. Because what makes the world scary (you know, besides natural disasters)? People–crime; wars; random acts of violence. I won’t sugar coat this and say there aren’t bad people in the world. There absolutely are. But they aren’t the rule–they’re the exception. For every one sort-of-horrible person I’ve met, I’ve met a hundred kind ones.

When you’re in a foreign country and every sense is heightened because of the unknown, you’d be surprised how willing locals are to help you out with almost anything. Need directions? A restaurant recommendation? Want to know when the next train arrives? Chances are, someone will not only tell you what you want to know, but will also want to strike up a conversation with you about where you’re from, what you’re doing in their country, what you think of it, etc. Not only that, but they may even invite you in for tea or over for dinner later.

Of course you should always be cautious and not let your guard down, but I think you’ll find that people really are good. Not everyone is out to get you. We just watch way too many crime shows.

to awaken quite alone

4. Being alone is kind of awesome.

There are times when traveling solo can get a bit lonely, and those are the times when you step outside of yourself and try to make friends with someone in your hostel or someone at the same event you’re attending. But generally, being alone is pretty awesome. Here’s why: You can do anything you want whenever you want. I mean, just think about that. Do you want to stay in bed until noon? Cool. Do you want to spend an entire day wandering around a museum? Go for it. Do you want to skip dinner in lieu of taking a long stroll and then eating cookies in bed at midnight? That’s your prerogative. (And a damn fine one, might I add.)

The freedom was a bit hard for me to get accustomed to because I was so used to having a schedule and constantly having people around. But when I finally realized that I didn’t have to answer to anyone, please anyone, or take into consideration anyone else (and their feelings), I felt like the world had been lifted off my shoulders. I could do exactly what would make me happiest at every moment of every single day. Try it sometime. (Just be aware that going back to the “real world” afterward is incredibly difficult after that freedom goes to your head.)


5. The world moves on without you.

To be completely honest, this is one of the hardest life lessons I’ve ever had to learn. I am one of those people who holds dearly onto the past, nostalgic for those old times and eager to reminisce about them. I think this is why it’s always been difficult for me to think about the fact that life goes on without me around. It’s a fact of life–I cannot fault people for it. But it was still a painful realization that things didn’t just pause while I was gone.

Friends and family move on and do amazing things with their lives, just as you are with your own. Sadly, you drift apart and don’t have as many things to talk about anymore because perhaps your lives are so different. Another issue is that sometimes they just don’t care about your travels and it’s something you’re so excited about and proud of, but you can’t share it with them. It’s sad, but true.

Just as life won’t wait for you to travel, the world won’t wait for you as you travel. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that everything will be “normal” again when you return. It won’t. Places will have changed. Friends and family will have changed. And most importantly, you will have changed. Change doesn’t have to be bad.

15 thoughts on “Five Things I Learned From Travel

    • Exactly, Alison! I can understand their line of thinking, but I feel like if more people actually pushed themselves to get out there and experience things in other countries, they’d realize that what they read, see on the news, and see in TV shows/movies isn’t always accurate. We all make our own adventures, of course, and so if you’re willing to put yourself in harm’s way, perhaps you’ll have a bad experience. But I think that if you’re smart about it, most “dangerous” places really aren’t all that bad.

  1. So true! Up until I turned 20, I’d never left the U.S. and would always imagine the “horrors” that would ensue if I were ever to travel. Like you said, it’s just as likely to happen here as there (although you might want to avoid the obvious war zones!). Great post!
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    • Thanks, Katrina! And yeah, it’s so much scarier in your mind than once you’re actually on the ground somewhere. I have honestly only felt unsafe a few times over the course of years of travel. And even then it was probably perceived danger as nothing really happened!

  2. Hi Megan, great post – especially like No. 5 After having taken a few trips and awakened our senses we are quite passionate about travel but can’t help but notice that some friends just don’t get it. That can then influence how you feel about them. I guess its part of personal evolution.

    • Yeah, sadly, Rosa, not everyone will always understand our desire to travel. I have found that I tend to not speak about it with others unless asked (or unless I know from history that they are interested). It makes things a bit easier, but it’s also kind of sad at the same time that something I’m so passionate about gets glossed over in favor of something they perhaps would rather talk about. But I suppose that’s a fact of life.

  3. Travel has done wonders for my belief in people as well. I have met some incredibly kind and generous people which is beautiful, especially when I consider how cut off so many of my fellow millenials are, how into our phones and technology we can be. The people I have met while traveling are often more full of life and looking to squeeze as much as possible out of every day which I really appreciate.

    • I agree with you there, Kara! It’s amazing the type of people you meet while traveling. And seeing how they live their lives so differently from our own is such an eye-opening perspective.

  4. I love #4 Megan and totally agree with you!
    I also prefer travelling solo and I enjoy the freedom I have to do so . I’ve realised that I value every single minute of my travel time and that it doesn’t necessarily mean to cram a lot of sites into a short period of time, but just to do what I want to do – coffee, strolling or blogging.
    Great Post!

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