Travel Lessons – Everything Extended Travel Teaches You
First of all, I would like to thank you for clicking on this article, because I know that you have seen at least 259,457 other articles with similar titles. The internet is filled with posts about why you should travel, solo or in general, and every article preaches the same thing. It will expand your horizons, it will help you find yourself, and it will change your life. I suppose that those things can happen, and you will learn a lot about yourself while you travel, but you will learn a lot of other stuff too. This is a list of the things that you will learn while traveling that most people don’t talk about. These are the little things, the nuances of travel that you don’t notice until you are trying to reintegrate back into society.
When I was a little girl, I refused to use public restrooms. Ever. I would have rather peed my pants than step foot into a public toilet. It wasn’t until I moved into my dorm room, my freshman year of college, that I used my first public restroom out of sheer necessity. I held it in for 18 years. I should get an award. In the dorm, I altered my sleep schedule so I could wake up in the middle of the night to poop because I knew no one else would be in the bathroom. It was pathetic. After a year in the dorm, I had finally adapted to using public restrooms, but if I had to poop and someone was in the bathroom with me, I would play the waiting game and sit there scrolling through my phone until I knew for sure I was alone. After 3 months in Asia, I don’t have this issue anymore. Chris, my travel partner, and I shared rooms so small that the toilet was only feet away from the bed. I had to get used to him knowing when I was pooping, really quickly. Sometimes, we were short on time and I would have to wake up, poop, and get ready in a matter of minutes. The “drop and go” became my poop mantra. After about a week together, poop became one of our main topics of conversation. “Have you pooped today?” became as common place as “whats the weather like?” When I got back to the states, I continued my poop talk, thinking it was normal, and I instantly realized that people who haven’t traveled for an extended period of time are really uncomfortable talking about poop. Everyone does it, and traveling will remove the taboo.
The Best Restaurants Aren’t on Yelp
I love social media, and to me, Yelp has always been just another social network. I was an early adapter, and even interviewed at Yelp in San Francisco a few years back. Yes, I am one of those weirdos who spends their free time writing reviews, though mine are overwhelmingly positive and I don’t call out specific servers or anything so put down your pitchforks. Since the day I created my account, I have been completely reliant upon Yelp when it comes to choosing the restaurants I frequent. I blame this on my maximizer tendencies. For those of you who haven’t read Aziz Ansari’s “Modern Romance,” there are two types of people in this world, maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers will do everything in their power to make sure they make the best possible decisions. Satisficers, on the other hand, are okay with settling for an option that is good, but maybe not great. I am a maximizer and Yelp allowed me to find the “best” possible restaurant options. Or so I thought. When I got to Thailand in April, I would spend hours googling reviews for restaurants and trying to find mentions of the best street food stalls in blogs and travel articles. After a couple days of spending more time researching than actually eating Thai food, I decided the best method for finding somewhere to eat was to wander around until you saw a crowd of locals eating and to join them. Sure, they may not have an English menu, or pictures to point at, but if whatever they are making looks good and lots of people are eating it, try it. You won’t regret it. Probably…
Feminism is a Necessary Evil
Ahhh yes, the F word. Don’t stop reading just yet. As a self-proclaimed anti-feminist who used to shut down whenever the topic of women’s rights came up, I almost left this off the list. I mean, in America, we can hold the same jobs as men, we can vote, and we can drive cars. In all the big ways, women and men are relatively equal. Sure, we may make a little less than men in most jobs, and it may be more dangerous to live as a woman, but I didn’t believe we should be complaining when women in Saudi Arabia can’t even drive a car. However, when I started traveling to countries where women are not treated even remotely equally to their male counterparts, I realized that feminism really is important and that change starts at home. Since I have been back in the states, I notice myself calling out anti-feminist speech. I cringe when friends say it is their job to please their man, or when a guy cat-calls me on the street. “Smile baby!” used to be met with a half-assed smile while I walked away, and now I noticeably glare at men who say it. Seeing women in other countries treated poorly has made me realize that we as a society need to educate everyone on how to appropriately treat our women. And I realize that we need to be a part of the change we want to see in the world.
Politics Do Matter
On a similar note, before I started traveling, I didn’t give two shits about politics. My uber-liberal father will scoff at me for saying that, but it was true. I didn’t believe that anything that happened in the political sphere would affect me. I figured that I didn’t need to vote because people who cared more about it than I did would make the right decisions. Oh how wrong I was. As soon as I started traveling, I began talking to people from all over the world who look to America as an example in politics. We really are a super power and everything that happens in America, not only affects us on the most basic levels, but it also affects the rest of the world. This year, when we are deciding between the a corrupt life-long politician who is owned by big business, and a bigoted businessman who is pandering to the small-minded, the decisions we make matter more than they ever have before. I would consider myself a Patriot. I love America, but if Donald Trump wins this election this week, when I travel I am going to tell everyone I am Canadian. If only to avoid the conversations that start with “what the fuck is happening in America?”
You Don’t Need the Newest iPhone
I love Apple as much as the next person. I have an iPhone, an iPad and I would buy a Macbook if I didn’t have to sell my first born child to get one. I used to be one of those people who watched the new product releases, and stood in line to buy the newest iPhone on release day. However, that all changed when I got back from Asia. Something in my outlook changed when I traveled through SE Asia, and more specifically the Philippines. I remember the exact moment everything changed. I was sitting in a bar with my friend Jessica, smoking hookah and looking out over the ocean. There was a group of children playing on the beach. One of the older girls used a stick to draw a hopscotch court in the sand and proceeded to teach the younger kids how to play. I remember thinking how amazing it was that these kids, maybe 10-12 years old, still had the luxury of being kids, of using their imagination to create entertainment for themselves. Then I thought about how kids that age in America already have cell phones and tablets. How they spend the majority of their time staring at a screen instead of outside playing. My heart started to ache for this generation of children in America. It made me realize that having the newest, best toys don’t make you any happier. Happiness comes from within. It comes from relationships, and creativity, and nature, not from things. In that moment, I promised myself that I wouldn’t buy another iPhone until mine was physically useless, but I realised when I got home that traveling expanded that mindset to every aspect of my life.
There is Beauty Everywhere
My hometown of Spokane, WA was never a place I would have called beautiful. It is a mid-sized city in Eastern Washington. It is surrounded by wheat fields and there aren’t any big mountains or forests or anything nearby. Growing up here, I was always counting down the minutes until I turned 18 and I could leave. After I finished my travels this year, I moved out of my apartment in Seattle and moved home to Spokane. Since I have returned, I have a newfound appreciation for this town. I have gotten out and hiked in the hills surrounding the area, driven a few hours into the country to see beautiful waterfalls and rolling plains, and I have finally realized what I was too ignorant to see before. Beauty exists everywhere. Each new country I visited this year was beautiful in its own way. I have never touched down in a new place and thought, oh this place has nothing to offer. Once I realized that I loved every place I have ever been, I realized that Spokane is just another beautiful place for me to love. Sometimes I am even more excited about finding a beautiful spot in Spokane than I was when I was abroad because its like a secret that my hometown has revealed to me after all these years. What I’m getting at is that traveling will make you appreciate the beauty of the world around you, even if its just your own backyard.
It Will Make or Break Your Relationships
Whether people are traveling with you, or staying home while you explore the world, your travels are going to play a role in your relationships. Before you leave for a long trip, you may have a solid group of friends at home who you eat brunch with every Saturday. You will gather together and shoot the shit, talking about work, lovers, and any other day to day drama that exists in your lives. Then one day, you will bring up your plan to backpack through Australia for a year and all your friends will be overjoyed, so excited for you and your adventures. The next weekend, you will expand upon the idea by saying you booked a flight and their excitement will grow with you. That is, until you leave. For the first few weeks, you will get texts and calls here and there from your friends, asking for photos and updates on the hot men you’ve met. But as time goes by, the texts will become more infrequent and the calls non-existent. Eventually, they will stop completely. You can’t blame them entirely. Its hard to hear about someone living their dream when you are stuck at home in monotony. Sometimes this will make you feel lonely, but once you get back home and try to rekindle these relationships over coffee dates and weekend brunches, you will realize that you no longer have much in common with these people. You will begin to see that you changed during your travels. Your old friends aren’t willing to have the deep, connecting conversations that you were able to have with complete strangers on the road and everything you talk about will seem superficial and unimportant. Its no ones fault, but things are different now.
For those who choose to accompany you on your travels, you will either form a bond that will last a lifetime, or you will see that you are incompatible as travel partners and it could completely ruin your relationship. I always say, if you think someone is the one, take them traveling. I was lucky to travel with amazing individuals who started as friends or strangers and became family, but not everyone is so lucky. Make sure you know what you are getting into when you invite someone to join you on your journey. Spending 24/7 with someone when you are tired, hungover, hungry, or broke is a lot different than eating brunch with them once a week. Keep that in mind.
Home is Wherever You Are
The last thing you learn when you are traveling is that home is not a place. It is a feeling you get when you are completely at peace somewhere. I have felt at home on the beaches of Koh Lipe, Thailand, while watching the sun rise over Masada in Israel, and I have felt at home drinking a pint of Belgian wheat in a pub in Brussels. Homesickness has nothing to do where you grew up, and I constantly feel homesick for all the places I listed, as well as every other town and village in which I have left a piece of my heart and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Alright, now that I have outlined the curriculum, it is up to you to complete your lessons, and turn in your homework. But the true test will come when you get the opportunity to teach these lessons to others; when you get to describe these simple truths to a new generation of travelers. True joy comes from sharing these lessons with the world.