The Most Important Lessons Travel Has Taught Me

They say you learn something new every day. For me, that’s especially true on travel. Travel is invigorating, confidence-boosting, and honestly, the best education I’ve ever received. Travel has taught me more about adaptability and organization than high school, college, ESL certification, or even working at NASA, and it’s made me who I am. Ask any traveler, and you they’ll probably tell you the exact same thing: Travel shapes them!

And while I’m definitely a proponent of learning by doing, I’m also a huge advocate for research! So thanks for doing your research and finding this post. Hopefully you can learn some of my lessons the easy way… As opposed to the hard way, which is how I learned them! Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned in all my years of travel!

Not Everything Works Out
(No Matter How “Well” You Plan)

You just have to roll with the punches when things don’t go as planned! Some plans work out. In fact, most of them do. And that’s why, when that one important thing doesn’t work out, it’s okay! It’s not worth getting bent out of shape. It’s not the end of the world. It may not be fixable, but you’ll get through it anyway!

As an example, my husband and I, despite our best efforts, missed our connecting flight to New Zealand a few years ago. This was a big trip for a few reasons, including the fact that my husband would achieve “Million Miler Status” with our preferred airline on this trip. We ended up missing entire day of our (already too-short) trip, but we didn’t let it ruin the days we had left! Sometimes you have to roll with the punches.

We made the most of it anyway!
Also helpful: 7 Travel “Rules” you Don’t Know Until Someone Tells You

There are Kind People Everywhere

People often worry about me when I travel, especially when I go solo. They say, “Oh, that’s so dangerous. Don’t you need to go with someone?” “Shouldn’t you go somewhere ‘safer’?” And my favorite, the blanket exclamation: “But it’s not safe there!” These are almost always from people who don’t travel and who have never been to the places I plan to go. But I haven’t found those claims to be true! I’ve met some of the kindest, most helpful people all over the world.

In Japan, a tiny, elderly lady helped me get on the right train and made me an origami swan. In Qatar, the family I stayed with made me their best food and showed me the most unique sites. In Portugal, a perfect stranger heard me tell my husband I wasn’t sure if the bus was coming, so when the bus did arrive, he hailed it for us and made sure my husband and I got on before he did. On Easter Island, our hotel’s owner tracked us down after we checked out to make sure she could return a phone charger we had accidentally left behind.

Look for the good, you’ll find the good. Look for the bad, you’ll find the bad. So why not look for the good?

My Qatari friends made sure I saw the “real” Qatar!
More here: The Ultimate Harsh Truths about Travel

There is More than One Way to Do Everything

I’m a huge fan of thinking “outside the box,” largely due to travel! Seeing how people live, work, and play the same things differently all over the world has always fascinated me. There is hardly ever just one “right way” to do anything. I find myself more determined to figure things out in my daily life thanks to my experiences seeing things done differently abroad.

Be willing to try a different way!
Essential reading: The Best Advice for New Travelers

How to Pay Attention

If you zone out on a foreign metro system, you may miss your stop. If you assume the light switch works in your hotel the same way as it does back home, you might be confused and in the dark! If you don’t want to go to the trouble of changing your watch to match your destination’s time zone, you will get the time wrong.

If you’re jet lagged, you’re already prone to missing things or having a delayed reaction, so make a conscious effort to pay attention! This will serve you well in travel, but more importantly, in all aspects of your life.

Life and travel are both a balancing act!
Read on: How to Get the Most Out of Every Single Trip

Details Matter

That flight number? Yeah, that’s more important than the name of your destination or your scheduled flight time. That black luggage you brought? It looks like about 678,904 other bags at baggage claim. The little details lead to the big things, so being on the lookout for signage, following directions, and noticing opening hours all give you the details you need to have a good trip. Look for the details!

Whether you’re looking for a trailhead or trying to read signage, the details are the key!
Keep reading: 10 Guaranteed Ways to Ruin Every Trip

Try It, You Might Like It… Or Not

I don’t like everything I’ve tried abroad. That codfish ovary sushi in Tokyo was not for me. I also found out in the Galapagos that I am not a fan of four-hour ferry rides on rough seas at night. But I never would have known that I actually like liver if I hadn’t tried it that first time in Switzerland. And I never knew hot-air ballooning would be such a thrill if I hadn’t gone up that first time in Turkey

Travel has taught me that being afraid to try new things just means you’ll be missing out. You don’t have to become a professional skier (thank goodness because I stunk the first time I tried skiing in Alaska). You don’t have to eat all of those frogs’ legs (you can order something else if you don’t like it). You don’t even have to like Bali at all or ever go back again (we didn’t!). You just need to give it a try!

Will I become a sailor any time soon? Nope! But I’m glad I got to steer the African Queen in Key Largo!
More here: 5 Ways to Bounce Back from a Bad Trip

I Can Do It

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in all my years of travel is just how capable I am. There’s a confidence that comes with making the train just in time, finding your way from the airport to your hotel by yourself, and learning the word for “thank you” in the local language (no matter how many times or ways you mess it up). There’s a stick-to-it-ivness that develops when you have to do it.

No matter where I am in the world, I know I can do what it takes to go there, do all the things, and get myself home again. Ask any traveler, and they’ll tell you the same thing. They can do it because they’ve had to learn how, and they’re better in their regular life for it. And I’m willing to bet you can do it, too, if you want.

No matter what I’m trying to do in my normal life, travel encourages me to do it!
Read next: True Confessions of a Solo Female Traveler

Want more? Get all my best travel tips, hacks, and advice on my Travel Tips Page!

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