Contributed by Blue Hamburger
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
I was 15 when I first read this quote. I didn’t even know back then that it was attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo. All I can remember is that it was one of the quotes that tugged a string in me and posed an early challenge.
“I don’t want to be that one person who only read one page.”
Be it literally or figuratively, I don’t want to be resting in one single page. They say the world is my oyster and I am up to learn more. I want to discover and learn things I cannot get from uni or books. I wanted travel and experience to teach me. Through experience and some miles, here are the 10 things I learned from travel in the last 10 years.
1. I learned that insurance is a must
Remember my previous story in Russia? Despite it being life-changing and me learning a lot from that experience, I would never wish similar things to happen again. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to travel responsibly and part of it is securing a travel insurance – at all costs. Never travel without one. Ever.
2. I learned to travel light
Like most backpackers, it took me a while to finally master the science (and art) of packing light. From bulky trolley, I bought my very first backpack — a freaking 65-litre High Sierra backpack. I would shove everything that I thought I would need without realising that carrying a 65-litre backpack was a complete torture especially when you are on a long-term travel.
Through trial and error, I learned to be a minimalist with my packing list and travel with nothing but my bare essentials. I learned how to roll instead of folding and all the nifty hacks I came across online which I found really helpful. Alas, I’ve been travelling wherever with less than 7 kgs (even in winter) and being on the move has always been easy!
3. I learned to travel slow
I guess your travel pace comes with age and maturity. It is quite common that those young travellers move from one city to another ever so quickly trying to cover as many places and experiences as they can.
While it is tempting to do so and hit that common goal of “X countries before X (insert age)”, I learned that it is much enjoyable and memorable to travel as slow as you can. I get to soak in as much culture as I can and learn new things about the place, the people and the environment in general. More importantly, I get to rest and save myself from that tired feeling from being on the road every three days. Take your time. It is the journey and not purely the destination so enjoy it. Stop that “touch and go” mentality.
4. I learned to travel inexpensively
I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. But contrary to what most people think, travelling is not that expensive. Yes, it involves money and maintaining a travel fund is a must if you want to embark on a journey every so often. With strategic planning and preparation, you can travel for less given that you are willing to do it in some unconventional ways.
It is through travelling that I learned about the concept of working in exchange for free food or stay, of internships and of Couchsurfing. I understand that it is not everyone’s cup of tea, and convenience or comfort would surely be in consideration. But the point is, these are means to travel for less and perhaps they paint a more interesting travel story with your journey. Sure there are cheaper hotels, hostels or Air BnB even, but what they don’t offer is the back story that each travel would bring should you take alternative means of travelling.
5. I learned that a smile makes wonders
I was once told, “Smile and the world smiles with you.” Quite a cliche, but when I started travelling and struggled with language, a smile has always been my universal language. It brightens up any situation and surely breaks the barriers between cultures. I may not be able to say what I want to say but a smile sends a message of warmth and sincerity. Whatever situation I end up with, I know it doesn’t take that much effort to smile.
6. I learned to take the road not taken
Have you ever tried going on an unplanned trip? A random one with no itinerary or booked guided tours. If not, then maybe it is about time to try something new and be a little more adventurous. I learned that my best experiences and stories are from random trips that I did — those instances when I decided to go off the beaten track and make my own route.
Sure, there might be risks involved and Google might not produce the search results you might want to have. But it is through these uncertainties that I learn to value every moment of my travels more. I can write about it and be that very first person to blog about it. It is my story to tell and something no travel guidebooks might have published.
7. I learned to unplug
In 2011, I spent 15 days in a summer camp in the middle of a Siberian forest. I didn’t have a local sim, my roaming wasn’t activated and my laptop charger then wouldn’t connect to Russian sockets. Hence, I was unreachable and unplugged from the internet world for that duration. It was hard and it felt uneasy but it was an unexpected detox I didn’t know I needed.
For two weeks, I forgot about work emails, social media postings and terrible world news. All I could think of was how different the environment was and the amazing kids I got to teach and play with every day. I got to enjoy the moment because I allowed myself to be “in the moment”. Having a gadget detox or just travelling with the mere basics gave me some sense of peace that I don’t get to enjoy anymore given that my work and everyday life relies on my smartphone and the internet.
8. I learned how to be alone but not lonely
It might be because of the fact that I am an only child and doing things alone is something normal to me. I would go to the cinema alone, go shopping alone and yes, travel most of the time alone. While travelling has both pros and cons, having some me-time while on the road taught me to be more self-aware. I am responsible for my own being and with that are those little discoveries I made. A lot of people would tell me that I cannot do such things because I was a spoiled brat growing up. It is through my personal little victories that I prove not only to them but to myself – that I am more than what people think of me. I might be alone but definitely not lonely.
9. I learned about tolerance
Being on the road and meeting random strangers showed me the fact that the world is a melting pot of cultures. Diversity poses a unique beauty that you would only appreciate if you have embraced the differences and tolerance. It is through these differences that my view about life and the world became different. I learned to accept who I am, the colour of my skin, my language and my imperfections – because I am unique like everyone else. I won’t get to learn about cultural understanding if I didn’t expose myself and went out of my comfort zone.
10. I learned that I am not into long-term travel
If you would ask me what my ultimate dream was when I was 20 and what my plans were after uni, I would instantly say that I wanted to travel the world continuously for the rest of my life and learn more about it. Ten years later, I learned that I am not into long-term travelling.
There are some things in life that you really need to experience first before you can arrive at a definite conclusion. While I thought that travelling long term was something I really wanted to do and make a living out of, I learned that I miss some structure. I miss a more organised schedule. I find peace with a specific duration of things rather than being uncertain on the road for a long period of time. I have nothing against those people who are on the road for years. I have high respect for all of you, but at the same time, I have high self-respect too for admitting that I am just not cut to that mould of being a long-term nomad. While I enjoy travelling slowly and relatively longer than the usual holiday, I know that I find my sanity having a destination I can go back to.
How long have you been travelling? Would you like to share the most valuable lessons you learned while on the road? I’d love to hear your story!