I have always liked the idea of travel. For most of my life however it seemed impossibly expensive and extremely difficult to plan a trip. I always waited and hoped that someone would decide to go with me and help me plan but that hardly ever happened. During most of my 20s I was struggling financially, living paycheck to paycheck, hoping for a change. Finally, when I turned 30 something unexpected happened that pushed me to not be afraid and to take life into my own hands. A trip planned months before (by my ex-husband) was suddenly canceled two weeks before it was to take place. I was devastated and felt sorry for myself…for about 24 hours. Suddenly, I decided that if I really wanted to take a trip I would look into organizing it myself. Within 24 hours I had put together my very first trip abroad. My plan was to visit 5 countries Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Bulgaria, visit some of my friends on the way and finally see my family.
It was the most exhilarating 24 hours I had experienced thus far…I booked flights, hotels, activities etc…and I loved every minute of it. My entire trip cost me less than $2500.00 and most importantly I had a renewed belief in life and in my future.
Planning the trip was much more than just buying plane tickets and booking hotels, it was a testament that I could make what seemed impossible possible and that there was nothing to be afraid of. It was a lesson of great importance to me at that point in my life.
This all took place in 2009, since then I have visited 46 countries on 6 continents. Traveling has given me a new sense of self, a new purpose and a new source of energy. Since that day my life turned around in unexpected ways. I started a business, paid off my credit cards, saved money along the way, bought my first investment property, met and married my husband and have loved every moment of this life!
Here are the lessons I have learned from traveling so far:
1. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Leaving home and heading to a foreign place or country can seem incredibly intimidating but it is just a perception. Perceptions are not always realities. That was by far my biggest hurdle to overcome. I was so sure that it would be difficult and expensive to travel that I didn’t even begin to look. With the help of the Internet today however, it is incredibly simple to research and read about a place that you are interested in visiting. Chances are someone has already been there and written about it. Just for fun search the following phrase online “things to do in (where you want to go)”…that alone should give you an incredible amount of information. Learning as much as possible about your destination will get you excited. Sometimes that is all it takes to get out of your comfort zone. Be brave, at least look and allow yourself to dream! That alone is a huge step forward.
2. Gain a New Perspective
Our views and opinions are formed based on what we see, feel and experience. Venturing out into the world and gathering new experiences enhances our perspectives. It gives us a different or alternative point of view. It changes how we view the world and thus changes how we live our lives. Seeing how other people live and thrive in this world is truly amazing. Along with all the positive you get to witness some of the less than perfect lives people live. Every experience while traveling will give you one of two things, either an idea of something that will make your life more complete or an appreciation for what you already have. One thing I have learned is that when traveling I need to leave my opinions and assumptions at home. They will almost always be wrong! Travel open-minded and allow your destination to leave an impression on you.
3. Challenge Yourself and Become More Confident
We face challenges at home and we do our best to resolve them. The most rewarding type of challenge in my opinion however is the challenge that you set for yourself and strive to accomplish. In my case, I set out to visit not one but five countries on my very first solo trip. As I looked into getting around from place to place, things to see at each destination etc, I realized that it was not that difficult since all the information I needed was online. I just needed to take some time and read it. Having all this knowledge at my disposal removed all the anxiety about taking the trip and replaced it with excitement about reaching my destination. Once at your destination continue to challenge yourself…try a new type of food, attempt a new activity, talk to a local. Once you get used to the idea of stepping outside of your comfort zone it will become almost second nature to you. You will realize that you are capable of so much more than you expected. As Vince Lombardi once said…”Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” Constantly challenging yourself will help you get into the winning spirit of life.
Intimidation is probably the single biggest reason why people do not make changes to things they want changed. Whether starting a business, running a marathon, switching jobs or any other aspect of your life that is not satisfactory to you, it takes guts and it takes desire to succeed. Travelling to a foreign country and realizing that I not only managed to survive but also enjoyed every moment of it, was a fantastic way to gain self-confidence. It lifted my spirits and jump started my spirit to live.
4. Learn To Let Go
Just like being at home, when on a trip it is possible to get angry or to loose something. Given that we usually travel with a limited number of items, loosing a personal item seems quite devastating. Missing a plane or a bus can cause quite a bit of stress. Being on vacation does not eliminate the possibility of a mishap. In the end, it is all about how you handle it. Let’s say you missed your plane (been there, done that) the question becomes not so much why you missed it, but what will you do about it. Being angry over it won’t change the situation, but remaining calm and focused on what to do next will. Most recently in South Korea I lost my hat (the temperature outside was also around freezing). I remember being sad for about one minute. I had one more hat but if I had lost that one too then I would have just bought another one. Simple! Also remember that you are on vacation for a short time and you have to choose how to spend it! You can either spend days being angry or sad about it or you can choose to let go and continue to enjoy your trip. Remember that for the most part you are still in civilization. If you loose an item, you can replace it. If you miss a bus or a plane, there are other ones coming, don’t worry! The only thing you can’t replace is time lost agonizing over it.
5. Focus On The Present
When going a trip, it is always important to remember that eventually you have to go home meaning that your time there is limited. Knowing that, choose to live and savor every moment. Being able to leave your worries and routines behind and living in the present will allow you to not only fully enjoy the destination but will also allow your mind and body to relax and re-focus. Many times we are stuck in the past or worried about the future and forget to live now. Remember that today is a gift, that is why it is called a “present”. If you have arranged a day tour ahead of time focus on the activities that day. If you have a day with nothing planned to do, then just go out and explore. Some of my favorite memories from traveling are the days when we aimlessly strolled and explored around the city. No plans, no agenda, no worries…just appreciate the pure joy and excitement to see and experience. Take a break and disconnect from daily routines like watching TV, reading the news and maybe even the Internet…
6. Have Something To Look Forward To
What is life without dreams and goals? Both of which should bring you a sense of excitement and satisfaction. Planning a trip, long or short, domestic or international, gives me that excitement and satisfaction. I look forward to it so much that I become like a kid in candy store. Having something to look forward to makes it easier to get out of bed, easier to go to work, easier to deal with stress. It allows me to escape my everyday mundane life and daydream of what is ahead. I could not imagine a better goal/dream than one that is achievable and extremely gratifying. Anticipation is the first stage of finding and experiencing happiness. Don’t be afraid to try it, it really works!
7. Create Unforgettable Memories
I heard once of a great way to escape a boring everyday life…take your mind back to a place that you really loved. Daydream a little! Look at a picture, listen to the music or just read about a place that you truly enjoyed and see your mood improve immediately. Today we use our phones to take pictures and that is fantastic for two reasons. One, creating a photo memory is so unbelievably easy (no fancy equipment required) and two, it is so utterly easy to access those photo memories. You pretty much have them at your fingertips at all times. I am no stranger to going back through my photo albums. The memories captured in those images bring back not just the visual, but also the emotional aspect of that trip. Hearing a certain song takes me back to the exact moment in time when I first heard it. As human beings in today’s world, we have such indispensable tools when it comes to capturing special moments in our lives. We just have to use them!
8. Expand Your Taste Palate
One of my favorite things to do is eat! I love food and trying the local cuisine is one of the main reasons I travel. Granted, you can have various types of international food at home, but trust me it is not the same. Chinese food in the US and Chinese food (or just food) in China is completely different. Trying a local Indian curry, a couscous with heavenly spiced beef tagine in Morocco, homegrown tomatoes in Bulgaria or the exquisite Buddha Fruit hot tea of China will leave you wanting more. The delicious variety of food available throughout the world is mind blowing. If you don’t do and see anything else on your trip at least make a point to try some of the local food (you have to eat anyway)! The expansion of your palate will be exponentially enhanced to a point where you may notice your cooking habits at home also change. They have for me! It is hard to describe the satisfaction of a delicious meal, so skip the familiar large american chain restaurants and go local. You will not regret it!
9. Form New Friendships
Being on the road is a great way to meet people. Whether on the plane, train, at your hotel, on a daily trip, hike or at the local bar or restaurant…the opportunities to meet people are endless. Every person I have ever met on the road had remarkable travel stories to tell. Hearing those made me want to visit those places so I did! If you don’t know where you want to go or what you want to see, don’t worry…just talk to a few people on your trip. They will be happy to tell you. You may also find that world travelers are generally very kind, easy going and so much fun to talk to. Talking to a local person will give you valuable insights into their way of life. It will give you a better understanding and appreciation for who they are and how they live. Talking to other travelers grants you the opportunity to meet some incredible people from all walks of life. Some of our best friends today, I have met while traveling. Don’t be shy!
10. Strengthen Existing Relationships
Initially, I started traveling solo and that was awesome. I went places by myself, meeting some friends along the way. Later however, I met my husband and I have not only found a life partner, but an amazing travel partner. It has been wonderful to share those experiences with him. Traveling together, with friends, family or a partner is an invaluable part of a relationship. It is such a beautiful opportunity to get to know someone outside of their natural environment. You may discover a much more amazing side of someone you already knew. Being away from home can truly challenge how you handle wonderful as well as unexpected situations. Traveling puts you in predicaments where your sense of adventure, problem solving skills and tolerance for each other is put to the test almost daily. Going through a travel adventure together can truly strengthen your relationship and love for each other!
11. Move Forward
Sometimes in our lives we are stuck in rut. It seems impossible to get out of. You feel like you are spinning your wheels. I have found that one of the best ways to move forward is to step back, take a breath, clear my mind and try again. Taking even a few days to see and experience something different away from your everyday life can really make all the difference. Many times the answer we are looking for is right in front of us, but we are afraid to make a move. Getting a mental break from the situation you are dealing with gives you a fresh perspective and the mental strength to move forward. Living a fulfilling life means moving forward. Sometimes just a couple of days are enough to reset your mind and give you the needed clarity to make a decision to move forward. Traveling is healing!
12. Be Happy
Happiness is not a result or a consequence of an action but a state of being. Being happy and satisfied is a way of life. Over the years people have started to acquire more and more stuff, bigger and better houses and cars, more clothes and accessories and yet the general sense of happiness has declined. The consensus among experts is that experiences rather than material possessions create real happiness. I found that to be true once I started travelling. There is something pure and remarkable about travelling to a new place. The experience is different each time (not better or worse) but each time it brings me a sense of joy and unspoiled excitement. I couldn’t place a finger on why I was suddenly happier but I knew the feeling in my heart. Then I found a documentary called Happy and watching it confirmed that what I was feeling was true and real. Even today, just the idea of an upcoming trip or the reminder of a past journey truly brings happiness and emotions to my everyday life. This energy translates into a more productive, more focused and more sustainable life style for me.
13. Relieve Stress
One of the biggest causes of diseases (mental and physical) is everyday stress. Sometimes we believe that if we just keep struggling along everything will work itself out but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you have to make a conscious choice to step back and allow for your body to release the stress that you have built up inside. Being around what is causing you stress will not allow you fully get rid of it. Concentrating on something new and positive will give you that needed stress release. For many people that may be a hobby or meditation that allows you to relax and refocus…for me it is travel. An upcoming journey allows me to daydream or to escape a moment of stress. A past journey lets me relive a feeling by mentally visiting a place that made me happy. In either situation the result is the same…the ability to allow my mind to unwind and be positive. According to researchers, positive thoughts increase Serotonin, Endorphins, Dopamine and Oxycotin levels in our bodies which boosts our moods. This is probably why they are known as the Happy Hormones! Protect your mind and body by consciously making an effort to relieve stress.
14. Become More Creative
Seeing and experiencing new places can really boost your creativity. Since starting my travels I have experienced a new sense of wanting to try and create new things. I have been inspired to make art and wine, to cook more and to read more and write. Seeing, tasting and experiencing various places and cuisines can really enhance your desire to re-create and re-experience those at home. Whether a spicy Indian curry, a bamboo work of art or a great glass of wine… I have found that having had these in my life I now miss them so I try to re-create them when possible. Every place you visit, near or far, will leave an imprint on your senses and a happy place in your heart and you may find yourself looking for it again and again. There is no better feeling than to be able to recreate a joyful moment from the past.
15. Gather Some Pretty Cool Stories
Last but not least, travelling will inevitably leave you with some pretty cool stories…remember that time when you hiked a Patagonian glacier, hugged a Giant Panda in China and got to swim with the sharks in Bora Bora? Yes, those are all unforgettable memories. The beauty about travelling is that everyone’s story of the same place is always different. Travelling does not allow for dull and boring memories but rather for uplifting and teaching moments. You may loose your material possessions in this world, but you will never loose the feeling of having experienced something.
At the end of the day, life is about more than just going to work, paying bills and watching TV. How well you live will not be determined by the number of hours you work or the amount of money you make, it will be determined by the experiences you collect that make you happy! Happiness is a journey, not a destination! Only you can make it happen and only you will know the true value it holds. Traveling is about experiencing the world. It does not depend on how luxurious or expensive your trip is but how meaningful it is to you and what your learned from it. There is also no right and no wrong age to travel. Go when you can, when you want or when you feel like it. A trip not taken is an opportunity for happiness missed. Happy travels!