15 Life Lessons, 4 Continents, 4 Years


Growing up I often heard adults mention how they wished they had traveled more when they were younger. It’s advice that I’ve always given careful consideration to and since graduating college four years ago, I’ve made it a point to explore as much of the world as possible. I recently crossed the halfway mark, spending time on my fourth continent. Along the way I’ve uncovered a handful of critical life lessons. While these realizations are inspired by travel, they’ve proved just as useful in everyday life. The more you travel, the more you learn. If you do this while you’re young there’s a far greater upside, as you will have more time and opportunities to carry that invaluable knowledge forward.

1) There will be situations where you look like an idiot, embrace them.

A big part of traveling, and life, is overcoming your apprehension of failing or asking stupid questions. Once you accept this, life becomes significantly easier. If you can’t laugh at yourself you’re doing it wrong.

2) The ‘oh shit’ moments often make for the best stories.

It’s never the end of the world (unless it’s actually the end of the world). Things won’t always go according to plan and you might end up in some less than ideal situations. If you’re creative and resourceful, you’ll find solutions to almost every issue you face. Embrace the uncertainty.

3) Traveling overseas isn’t that expensive.

If you want to pursue new experiences and step outside of your comfort zone, you’ll be surprised at how affordable it is. With that being said, if your idea of traveling overseas is finding the nearest Hilton and having dinner at the Hard Rock Café, you’d be better off lighting your money on fire. You can have the same vanilla, sheltered experience at your timeshare in Florida.

4) Avoid restaurants with picture menus or an abundance of bright lights.

This one speaks for itself but for some reason humans flock to neon lights like insects. Some of the best meals I’ve ever had have been at hole-in-the-walls that I would have either A) never found or B) never set foot in. TripAdvisor is the best resource available when it comes to meals. 

5) Vietnam has the best coffee in the world.

You might be asking yourself if this is really a life lesson? It most certainly is. If you’ve been to Vietnam, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, their coffee is worth the price of admission.

6) You will encounter more genuine people in two weeks traveling than you will in an entire year back home.

Sometimes in order to find the most important people in your life you need to venture beyond your comfort zone and immediate circle. It’s here where you can discover relationships based on substance rather than convenience. Traveling opens the door by forcing you into social situations you wouldn’t normally pursue back home.

7) Developing countries aren’t that far behind.

Much of this has to do with expectations. Those of us from developed countries tend to believe that the rest of the world is decades behind. In all reality, it’s just not the case. I recently read an article by an American who reiterated this same idea then went on to explain how the opposite perspective applied to his Brazilian girlfriend. When she began traveling, she expected the U.S. and Europe to be light years ahead of her native country. Needless to say, she was always let down.

8) Smaller towns are far more memorable than big cities.

Most major international cities (with a few exceptions) are more similar than they are different. The smaller towns off the beaten path have the character and culture that offer a real glimpse into that country and its people. These are the places you’ll be able to recall distinct memories of long after your visit.

9) Sometimes it’s the places you least expect that steal your heart.

Once again, it’s all about expectations. Despite this realization, certain places will still catch you completely off guard. It’s almost always the culture and locals that allow you to connect on a deeper level. If you’re lucky, you’ll happen across a place that you can relate to almost effortlessly and immediately fall in love with.

10) Spend more time at fewer destinations.

You can easily turn your trip into a dead sprint from one city or tourist trap to the next. Instead, pick your top few places and give yourself time to explore. It will make for a more genuine experience. You can always take day trips once you set up a home base. There’s nothing worse than rushing from one departure to the next.

11) Valium is your best friend on long travel days.

Even with #10 in mind, planes, trains, automobiles, and the occasional tuk-tuk are unavoidable on your travels. I bought a generic version over-the-counter in Vietnam and it was a miracle worker. Let’s put it this way, during a ten-hour jarring (or so I heard) overnight train ride through rural Vietnam with six people packed three high in our hard-berth cabin, I didn’t move once. This lesson could also double as: sleep is critical.

12) Experiences trump material possessions.

Experiences are far more fulfilling than things. This shouldn’t be a surprise with all the recent studies done on the subject and commonsense, but for some reason most people insist on ignoring this reality. The friendships formed and experiences shared while traveling have a greater capacity to make you genuinely happy. These can be carried forward for the rest of your life. As long as those who shared the experiences and the stories themselves live on, they have no shelf life.

13) Don’t forget the opportunity cost.

Traveling internationally will force you to give greater consideration to purchases back home. As an example, car dealerships always try to talk you up from the basic model, which usually means around an extra $10,000. Here’s the opportunity cost: you can either use that money on upgraded leather seats and a sunroof, or that same amount will get you roughly four trips to anywhere in the world (or extended time abroad). You’ll find that a person’s answer to this reveals a significant amount about their character and priorities.

14) Less (things) is more.

Traveling is perhaps the best teacher of this. If you travel frequently you’ll quickly learn to consolidate and eliminate excess. There’s no need to pack for every scenario – just the most common. You can always buy things once you’re at your destination. It’s also a good concept to apply to life back home. Most people use 20% of their things, 80% of time (the Pareto principle). Eliminate the clutter (the other 80%) and you’ll free up time and money to pursue more fulfilling experiences.

15) There’s beauty in the impermanence.

What makes travel amazing and leaves everyone craving more are those fleeting moments that exist only because a certain group of people happened to be in a specific place at a single moment in time. Try as you might, there is no way to recreate these spontaneous experiences. Appreciate them for the precious moments they are.