It’s pretty much impossible to travel the world and absorb nothing, have nothing that you’ve learned. So, like so many bloggers before me, I figured it’s time to tackle the subject of the things I learned when traveling the world.
1. I’m no longer picky about toilets. Look, after you’ve squatted over a reeking, fly-swarmed pit in the ground surrounded by a tarp on only three sides on the Mongolian plains to relieve yourself, you gain some perspective. I notice now how some people will go into a bathroom, then come right out and say “it was gross… I’ll just wait.” I was never particularly picky – horse shows force you to use some pretty awful porta-potties – and I don’t remember ever passing up a bathroom for lack of cleanliness. But now I know there is worse. If I ever find myself complaining about a toilet, I’ll just remember peeing directly onto the moving ground from a train (fearing I’d lose my already terrible balance), or a communal trench toilet in China (honestly not so bad).
2. I am extremely privileged. This is something I need to remind myself of often. It can be hard to empathize with people when you’ve had a totally different upbringing, when you grew up with so many things that others did not. To understand a lot of what happens in the world you have to understand differences of privilege. I don’t think that my being privileged means I have no right to ever complain about my life, or invalidates the suffering of other privileged folks, but I do think it’s important to remember your privilege when you’re trying to understand other people’s lived experiences. Traveling definitely allows you to begin to define your privilege.
3. People around the world are just that – people. Sure, cultural differences can make communication and understanding hard. But in the end we have so much in common. Most people we encountered were wonderful and most of them wanted to be helpful.
4. You have to be true to yourself to be happy. Travel can really help you reflect on yourself and be more honest than you might have otherwise. I realized I was more introverted than I had thought and learned to give myself the quiet and alone time I need. I discovered how much of a hypochondriac I was and that I do get anxiety, and started to learn ways to work through it. Being true to yourself doesn’t mean you can’t work on changing things, but it does mean you have to be very honest about your limitations. You find them quickly among the new and trying situations of long-term travel.
5. A good attitude gets you a long way. This is especially true when trying to communicate with someone with whom you share little to no language.
6. If you’re angry or in a bad mood, think about why. Sometimes realizing that you’re just irritable because you’re hungry (a frequent state for me I call “hangry”) is enough to diffuse a bad mood or prevent a fight.
7. Traveling makes the world smaller. News seems more immediate when you’ve been there. It’s easier to connect with people whose home countries you’ve been to, and the shared experience of travel really brings you together.
Of course, there were many more things I learned while traveling. At some point, maybe I’ll write more. But this is a good start.
What have you learned from travel?