Everyone says that they come back a changed person when they travel. It’s a cliché. It’s made fun of by the friends who didn’t travel. “My Gap Yahh changed me”.
People see the elephant pants, the more lax view of life, the constant travel chat; it’s not just those clichés. I can vouch that it’s a fact. At least that is my justification for writing a blog about the lessons I have learnt from travel…
I would argue that every life experience, be it your first job, starting a career or going to uni, will change you. However, the kind of changes that you experience can only be related to by those who have been through those similar experiences. So if you have travelled a lot, you will hopefully relate to some or all of these, and if you haven’t travelled much then let me know what you think to these lessons!
Body confidence (you got one body — celebrate it)
3 years ago you wouldn’t find me in a pair of shorts, let alone a bikini. Now, those are major components of my wardrobe whilst travelling. Even when I’m home I opt for shorts the majority of the time. And that’s all down to body confidence.
You see, 3 years ago I was pretty pale and I think that was a major factor as to why I kept my legs and most of the rest of my body hidden.
I also had a bit of body shame; I thought that my legs were a little fat so I kept them covered. Everyone has these kind of negative thoughts about some part(s) of their body.
Going abroad to Honduras back in the summer of 2016 is where things started to change. Living in a tropical place, where the temperature doesn’t dip below 28°C, and diving all day, it would frankly be uncomfortable to wear trousers all of the time.
The major thing that changed my attitude, however, was seeing confident, strong women of all shapes and sizes wearing whatever the hell they wanted and owning it. This was still the case when I re-visited Honduras in 2017 and in my travels since then.
I learnt to LOVE my legs. They ain’t stick thin that’s for sure, but they are powerful and beautiful in their own way and they do their job of getting me from A to B.
That’s not just it, I have learnt to embrace my whole body. And now I am way more comfortable in my own body — even in a bikini at the beach.
LESSON 1: be sure to embrace your body AND own it. Because what’s the point in living life stopping yourself from doing as you please.
Learning languages is fun (and kinda sexy)
One of my major regrets is that I didn’t continue learning French and Spanish after my GCSE’s. I had a really negative attitude towards language; in part due to the approach to the schooling of languages in the UK. But also partly due to the general psyche of English speakers; that we can get by in almost every country with just our mother-tongue. I mean, it’s true, that you’ll almost always find someone who speaks English when you’re abroad. But still it’s kinda ignorant to not bother learning some of the local language.
Now, it would be an incredible asset if I could speak another language. And I really WANT to be able to speak another language. Not least because it means that you can have a secret conversation in a hostel dorm… if you’re friend has the same second language.
My new love for language has developed in the past year from a hell of a lot of travelling; I’ve learnt little nuggets of Croatian, Turkish, Slovenian, German, Polish, Thai and Malaysian.
I feel terrible when an international person apologises for their poor English. I am always incredibly appreciative that they are speaking in my language and they are able to hold good conversation with me. And I just wish I wasn’t so ignorant as to purely speak English.
However, now I am trying hard to be more wordly and cultural; on my last trip abroad, to Slovenia, every Slovenian appreciated my efforts to speak their language. I am currently attempting to learn Spanish — 30 minutes of practice everyday after dinner is my aim.
LESSON 2: Learn a language — it’s a great asset and I promise it can be fun. And I might even add that I find an international accent on the English language adds a little extra sexiness to it.
Things are material and to be used
I have always been one of those people who believes that ‘things’ hold great sentimental value. And for sure, some material ‘things’ do. But not EVERYTHING. And you don’t have to keep everything. That’s why we have a large storage capacity in our brains — to remember things.
Spending so much time away, I realized how little I needed in my life. And watching the Minimalism documentary on Netflix only continued to change my perspective.
Last week I began a big tidy-up mission. In 10 days I have more than halved my collection of belongings and papers, after 23 years of hoarding. And boy, do I feel a lot freer. And my bedroom looks AMAZING!
One of the wise sayings that I loved from the Netflix doco was this: “Love people and use things. The opposite never works.” And I totally engage with that quote because it is so damn true.
LESSON 3: Take a look around your room and I bet half of it hasn’t been used or worn in a long while… do ya really need it? If not, throw it or sell it!
People make the place
Sometimes I’m surprised by the places that I enjoy. But the places that you enjoy are totally down to your own, unique experience. And with that comes the people who you spend time with whilst you are there.
Had I been on my own in Koh Samui, I don’t think I would have had half as much fun as I did with the international friends who I hung out with.
First off, it wasn’t even somewhere I planned to go but a fellow traveller who I had connected with was heading there so I figured it would be fun to know that I’d have a friend at my destination.
Second, I didn’t have the courage to learn to drive a moped on my own whilst out in Thailand so making friends meant that I could hop on the back of someone else’s moped and still get to see the island on a spontaneous itinerary with pretty awesome people.
Besides that, just being around some good humans to share the epic views, the weird sights and to eat in company… it all adds up to a much more beautiful experience. I mean us humans are meant to be in a tribe and we’re happiest when connecting with people, so it definitely makes sense.
I do vouch for solo travel, and experiencing places by yourself is definitely still fun (if you know that you can enjoy your own company). But don’t just keep yourself to yourself — sometimes there’s a whole other world of adventure when you buddy up with fellow open-minded travellers.
LESSON 4: Be open and spontaneous and hang out with people whose company you enjoy when you are out travelling. The people that you hang with will make your experience, not the place.
I CAN make friends (and I AM interesting)
I’m gonna be pretty open and honest here. In my Final year of university I went through some tough times and ended up going to counselling. The stem of the problem? I began to alienate myself from my friendship group because I thought that I was not very interesting. I was overthinking and when I was at social gatherings I believed that my being there was bringing the mood down.
After some reconciliation with myself, and opening up to some close friends, it was clear that this wasn’t the case. It was just a small voice in my head that snowballed into a big thing, causing me to alienate myself.
I think many of us will find that when we enter a new situation, we have that voice in our head that asks if we’ll be able to make friends.
But through travelling to places solo and making friends for myself, and also buddying up to travel with people of my own accord, I can say with confidence that I CAN make friends. And I AM interesting.
Obviously, I can’t make friends with everyone. Not everyone is gonna find me interesting, either. I can’t please everyone, and I get that. But having confidence that introducing myself to a stranger or being open to a stranger approaching me, might result in a cool human connection… that’s a strong attitude to have.
LESSON 5: You are interesting. You have a story to tell. Be open to conversation with anyone and everyone.
Talk to strangers and trust your gut
Now this one goes against a key lesson engrained in us as children… “Don’t talk to strangers”, is a very important lesson for the curious, open-minded yet naïve mind. Children can’t defend themselves from a much, larger adult who might take advantage of them and they are still trying to work their mind around the world. Things change when you become an adult though…
Everyday we step outside our home we are faced with strangers. And the vast majority of people are totally trustworthy human beings.
If I hadn’t spoken to ‘strangers’ when I was solo travelling then I wouldn’t have made the travel buddies and friends that I am now lucky to have around the world. I mean, if you think about it, everyone is a stranger when you first meet them, until you become acquaintances and then, if you’re lucky, friends.
A recent study even suggested that it will make both your day and a strangers day if you struck up a conversation (check it here).
And if I hadn’t put my trust in some strangers, based on my gut feeling, I wouldn’t have had some of the crazy adventures that I have had… or been saved from dangerous situations that I found myself in abroad.
LESSON 6: what we’re taught as kids about not talking to strangers ain’t a good lesson to stick by in adulthood. Talk to strangers — it might make you and them happy for at least a few minutes!
There’s more to life than 9–5
This is something that really is changing my life. And I am still in the process of finding my own way through the forest of paths towards my own harmonious sanctuary of living — away from the much-worshipped, but dreaded, status-quo of a 9–5.
And honestly, this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t explored the world, being exposed to different lives, and meeting people outside the circles of home, uni and work. Because, let’s be honest, if you don’t stray out of those comfortable circles you are exposed to limited ideas and opinions.
I love learning about peoples lives and how they live. I find it interesting because there’s no ‘right’ way to live. Trying to work my brain around understanding a different perspective truly opens my eyes (in the metaphorical sense). And everyone has a story to tell.
The thing that has opened my eyes most is that there are so many jobs beyond the classic corporate 9–5 or retail/hospitality zero-hour contracts. It started by meeting divemasters and dive instructors. But I have also met digital nomads, business owners and people pursuing their passions as a career.
And seeing that the traditional life schedule of school, to university, to career, until retirement, is NOT the be-all-and end-all… that’s pretty positive for those who seek more fulfilment out of life.
LESSON 7: If you want to make a change it’s possible. It’s achievable. And why not take the risk for a more fulfilling life?!?
And I have no doubt that I have learnt more…
Personally, I have learnt a hell of lot from travel. In the past year I have also changed massively as a result — and lots of my friends have mentioned this. But I have also grown to be more accepting and loving of myself in the process. Arguably that is the more profound thing that has happened, pretty organically, throughout the craziness of the turns that life has taken me on so far (read about those here).
A major side to the changes has been spending time with people… maybe I even hung out with YOU reading this right now. So if I’ve met you then thank you for contributing to where I am today! You will have had an influence.
For more lessons learnt from travel, check out Jay Shetty’s video on his ‘7 Life Lessons Learnt from Travel‘. And I’ll leave you with his words from the beginning of that video, which I urge you to follow, “Once a year go some place that you’ve never been before”. You never know what you might learn by doing something that scares you and exploring the world…
Lots of love from your wanderlust soul,