10 Life Lessons Learned Through Traveling

When you travel to new places, you experience new cultures, people and a renewed sense of what life is all about. I’ve been all over the world from the mountain tops of the Swiss Alps to the sandy beaches of Costa Rica. I’ve learned that in order to get a better sense of the world around you, forget everything that you’re used to, step outside of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in other cultures. Things may not be what you’re used to but for others, they are. There is nothing more valuable in life than learning to appreciate the things the way others see them. During my travels, I’ve discovered a new perspective on life through different ideas and cultures and along the way, learned a few things about myself and about the world. Take these lessons adapted from various travel experiences like I have and learn to apply it into your everyday life.

1) When you’re young, take chances before it’s too late.

Of course you’ve heard it from your elders, “travel while you’re still young.” Most people I know wanted to travel the world when they had the chance but never did. Excuses kill your dreams. When you’re young, you have less responsibilities and more control over your own circumstances and as you grow older, you realize that life isn’t always about you. In life, failure has fewer consequences when you’re young so learn to take chances and face the unknown. Traveling will change you in ways you never knew could. You’ll develop compassion for others and begin to see the good in people. During your return home as well as the rest of your life, you’ll learn to care for issues that are bigger than you. Travel while you’re young, because life won’t always be about you.

2) Life is unpredictable and people are afraid of the unknown.

When choosing a vacation destination, everyone chooses to go places that are comfortable to them. People are afraid of what other countries and people think of them. Traveling to a different country enables you to have a cultural experience and forces you outside of your comfort zone in ways you would never imagine. From ordering dinner to asking directions, you’ll adjust to new cultural norms and gain a whole new view of what the world is that will influence the rest of your life. Nothing in life is pre-determined and when you face the unknown, travel will teach you how to adapt to unanticipated situations which can be applied to every aspect of your life such as your job, your relationship or managing your finances.

3) Everyone wants the same things in life.

No matter what age you are, where you travel to or who you talk to, ask the same questions and you’ll get the same answer. Everyone has the same basic desires, striving to live a better life full of love, security, validation and a hope for something better. The only thing in this world that separates us is superficial things. Whether you talk to homeless people living on the streets of Detroit or millionaires sunbathing on Mediterranean yachts overlooking the bay in Monaco, they all essentially want the same things in life. This lesson is applied into our lives and can be used to recognize what motivates us to keep moving forward. Travel experiences and life circumstances are bound to change but in the end, we all essentially want the same things. The road to our destination and the extent to what something better means will be different but we all can learn to be content with what we have.

4) Like travel, life never goes as expected.

When you travel, there are a lot of things that must be accounted for. Directions, currency conversions, boarding times, local regulations, weather, hotel policies etc. You can plan every step of the way but by the end of your trip, you’ll realize that nothing ever goes exactly as planned. I’ve learned to always account for error during trip planning. Planning for the worst and hoping for the best on your next trip will get you through most situations with ease. Take your lessons learned from traveling and apply it to life. Nothing in life ever goes as planned so don’t plan on having everything going exactly your way. Without learning from your mistakes, you’ll never get stronger. Traveling isn’t just about a map with points that we’re expected to check off and life shouldn’t be either.

5) You earn trust and respect when you put yourself in others shoes.

When you travel, aim to act like a local. Engaging in local activities while attempting to speak their language shows a level of respect that tourists typically do not show. Communication is the single most important workplace skill which can be applied for the rest of your life. So many Americans come to foreign countries looking like cowards with the mindset that English is the one & only language people should speak. Anyone can learn a few words from a different language and if you find yourself having trouble communicating your point across; use hand signals, write phrases down on paper or use facial gestures. Once you show an attempt at conversing in their language, respect is earned- it’s the most respectful gesture you can show. This lesson learned from travel is demonstrated throughout our lives as each and every one of us come from different backgrounds and cultures. What is normal for us is most likely not normal for the other people in our lives. When you learn to put yourself in others shoes, life will be much easier.

6) You don’t need a lot of things to survive and be happy.

When I quit my job to venture out to Costa Rica for 4 months, I only had the clothes on my back and one 20” x 12” x 8” travel bag. When I took a trip to Las Vegas, I brought my camera bag, my passport and $15 in cash. I might travel more frugally than others but all of us have the ability to know the things that really matter. Of the possessions I had laying around in my apartment, I could do without 98% of it. This same principle can also be applied to life. Just like during your travels, when you need something, you learn to adapt to the situation regardless of whether you have it or not. The things needed to survive are the same for everyone and through traveling, you appreciate and learn what not to take for granted. Every life experience gives you an opportunity to graduate to a higher level of thinking and once you realize that, good things always come out of it.

7) Open your mind and learn to trust others even if their views are different

Some Americans believe that all the best food in the world is right here in America. We might have some amazing food places but whether it’s pizza, gelato or beer, ever since it became an American favorite it’s been changed and modified. I thought I knew what real pizza was until a roadside chef in Cinque Terre, Italy sliced a piece of Margharita pizza with fresh local pesto straight from the vineyards for me. Oh my, what an explosion of taste in my mouth. 3 years later and I still have not forgotten the taste. I thought I knew what gelato tasted like until I stepped inside of a gelato shop in Florence, Italy. There were not 5 or 10 but literally hundreds of flavors to choose from. And last but not least, I thought I knew what wine tasted like until I visited Tuscany, Italy. I’ve never experienced more happiness from a single glass of wine- freshly squeezed Chianti straight from the hills of Sienna. All of this was from just one country. What did this entire experience teach me and how it can be implemented into my daily life? I learned that even though I had a pre-conceived belief that the food in America was the best, there is always something better out there. Cultures, cuisine and methods of respect are sometimes very different from what we’re used to. Open your mind and learn to trust others opinions because taking in contrasting views is what enables self-growth in our lives.

8) Rights do not equal freedom.

To understand what I mean by this statement, you’d have to travel to other countries that have a more liberal view on life. When I traveled to Amsterdam, the issue of marijuana came to my attention. In America, if you smoked marijuana, you’re categorized as a criminal. But in Amsterdam, everyone from old ladies to young professionals are seen casually smoking marijuana up and down the city’s alleys. When regulated, it’s viewed as a health issue rather than a criminal issue and the rate of abuse is much lower. On that same note, Europeans drink wine and beer starting at a very young age and thus its use is viewed as a cultural norm of everyday life but in America, people often see their freedom as a pathway to abuse their right to drink alcohol. Viewing what’s normal in a different culture will forever change your perception of what is kosher back at home. Whether stepping into another country or right here on our soil in America, I’ve realized through different cultures that human rights does not equal freedom.

9) Be thankful for the things that are available to you.

When I’m on the road, I know that there are a few things that I’m extremely thankful for- most importantly, the internet. As long as you limit yourself to how much you use the internet for things directly related to travel, the internet is the greatest thing to happen to us. For the majority of people, this is a no brainer but the sooner you realize this, the less you’ll travel with and the better off you’ll be. Everything from reservations to communicating back home can be planned and organized ahead of time with the use of the internet and when accounting for the unknown, the chances of failure are greatly lessened. These days, a smartphone is the most convenient travel companion and for many travelers, an iPod Touch is the only accessory needed. Providing the luxury of accessing real time maps, hotel & flight bookings, phone booths, places to eat as well as millions of apps to assist you in any situation, the internet can help you find anything, anywhere, anytime. Being thankful for the things that are available in your life is important also. Having internet access is a privilege not easily obtained in many parts of this world. Like travel and having internet access, many things in our daily lives are not simply just given to others- they’re earned. Life isn’t always about you and when you start seeing the things we take for granted such as freedom and a clean water source to drink from, your perspective on life changes and you begin to realize the importance of being thankful for the things that are available to you.

10) You’ll find that life is a lot easier when you lower your expectations.

When you lower your expectations, life gets easier and when things don’t go as planned, they’re more easily accounted for. I’ve lived with a Costa Rican family living in stone walled shacks that fully appreciated the only things that they had: a roof above their heads and enough food to feed their families. To some people in this world, material things don’t mean a thing because they’re not worried of others perspectives of them. Through my travels, I’ve seen people live life in a whole different way. Only with these experiences am I able to apply the lessons I’ve learned to my own life. Even if you’ve never traveled before, be open to welcoming other people’s life perspectives as a way to even out your own. When you learn to appreciate what you have, you’ll be able to do more with the things that matter in your life.

 Authored by: Robbie Nakaji

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