5 Lessons from a Half a Life of Travel
It’s official. I’ve now been traveling over half of my life. And I don’t regret it for one minute.
Now that I’m twice as wise as I was when I got my first passport stamp on 01/26/93, I thought I’d share a few of the hundreds of lessons I’ve learned from 23 years on the road. Be warned, these aren’t the normal things people tell you on travel blogs.
1. Travel Will Not Help You Find Yourself
You can read Eat, Pray, Love as many times you want, and wish upon a star that getting on airplane to a distant land is going to unravel all your emotional baggage, solve your life problem, and reveal who you truly are inside, but this is fiction. YOU are not lost, and you will not find yourself by traveling.
In 23 years of travel, I didn’t find myself at all, not even when I was in Egypt learning about their culture. I became myself. Travel, like any other life journey, will press you and shape you, make you uncomfortable, and open your eyes to new things that will change the way you think about the world and perhaps even your place in it.
Of course, you will definitely get actually lost at some point, but even then you won’t find yourself. Hopefully you’ll find where you were meant to be, or enjoy the discovery you didn’t mean to have.
2. There is No Such Thing as “Location Independent”
In the past few years the concept of being “location independent” is the trendy new terminology in the travel scene. This is a fancy way to say quit your office job and apartment, and “live and work on the road.” As a way of life, there is merit in modern day long-term wandering, but as a self proclaimed title, this is nonsense.
None of us are ever independent—especially as travelers. We are always interdependent on whatever place we find ourselves in and on whichever people we find ourselves among. You are always somewhere even if you don’t have a fixed address or a permanent cell phone number. (I mean, you do need an address after all to register for your points and miles earning credit cards to fund all this travel).
Call yourself whatever you want right now and #hashtag the hell out of it until it stops trending, but remember you can’t go everywhere without being anywhere. And after a half life of traveling, you may very well wish you had nourished some roots along the way.
3. The More You Learn, the Less You Know
Travel teaches you a lot, but it isn’t like school. The lessons you learn on the road are not cumulative. They are actually kind of reverse cumulative (if that’s a thing).
For example, you plan a trip to Italy and read all the books in preparation to learn as much as you can about the history, language, people, and culture. Even if you learn a lot in advance, when you get there you realize that you know very little. Then you stay for a few months or even a few years, and you realize that even though your knowledge has increased exponentially, you truly understand that you aren’t an expert on Italy at all.
The more you you’ve been exposed to, the greater your understanding becomes that you know very little. After nearly a quarter century and the memory erasing effects of chronic jetlag, I’m pretty sure I now know nothing. Thank God for Google.
4. The World, Like You, is in a Constant State of Change
It’s a fact, I look absolutely nothing today like I did in my first passport picture in 1992. I have changed not only in how I look, but also in how I act and think, and how I see the world.
Guess what, the world has also changed a lot in in the past couple decades.
Since I first started traveling, I’ve been to Thailand more than 100 times. (In addition to being obsessed with Thai food, I also have lived and worked there for extended periods of time). You know what? The Thailand of 2016 looks very little like the Thailand of 1997. The country is never the same twice. There is always something new to be discovered. And I’ll keep going back every chance I get.
I’ve traveled to a number of countries with my friend Chris who has been to every UN recognized country in the world (that’s 193 of them if you’re wondering), and even he has barely scratched the surface of the globe (he also knows very little-see point 3).
My friend Lisa has a pet peeve about people who talk about “doing” countries. I like to say, “Oh, we did Colombia for Christmas,” because the thought of “doing” a country, and checking an entire nation and people group off your bucket list makes her crazy.
No matter how you personally feel about this terminology, countries aren’t something that you “Do”. They are art, life, and culture in motion. You can only experience a place in its present moment. Some countries you may go back to experience again, the others will keep right on changing after you’ve graced them with your presence and departed. They aren’t waiting for you to return to continue their progress.
Keep count of your countries, continent, and passport stamps however you like (and enjoy counting—it’s fun). But remember that you’ll never be done. The world is on constant refill. There will always be more to experience.
5. You CAN Start Any Time You Want
The pictures in my series of expired passports prove it. I’m not the young backpacker I was in 1993. I know less, I care more, and I like to shower when I travel (even on an airplane sometimes). Sometimes I have the fleeting thought—“Maybe you’re too old for this, maybe you should finally settle down.” And then I snap back into reality and remember this truth: There are NO age limits to travel. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m still just getting started.
When I climbed Kilimanjaro, I distinctly remember my guide telling the story of a 80+ year old woman he led to the summit a year before. Maybe he was telling that story to encourage us up the mountain on our 6th day of trekking in hail, but nevertheless, I hope in another 23 years, I’ll be that grandma training for Everest.
Traveling doesn’t care if you’re young or old. Families are traveling long term, empty nesters are spending their retirement on the road, heck, even elderly ladies have traded in knitting for mountain climbing.
The world is more accessible now than ever before. You don’t need any special skills to get on an airplane. The cost of international travel is no longer prohibitive. In fact, the airlines and credit card companies have made it easier than ever in history to fly for nearly free.
If you want to travel—be it a single getaway to a destination you’ve been dreaming about or selling all you have and trading in your 9-5 for a life of living and working on the road—it is possible.
What are you waiting for? Get out there: Find yourself, be location independent, master the world, and do as many countries as possible.
Or maybe just enjoy the journey, love the people you meet, and try to learn as much as you can along the way. You and the world will be much better because of it.