I know it’s cliche, but I really am a different person because of traveling. The experiences I have, the people I meet, the food I try, they all stay with me for the rest of my life. Much like school or a job, when I travel I always, ALWAYS learn something new. It’s a thing. It’s really great because I often come back with a new skill or idea about the world or myself. When I took off solo backpacking through Europe I didn’t know what I’d learn. Honestly I didn’t even know what to expect. But sometimes those are when the best lessons happen. When you don’t realize what you've learned until you realize they're a part of you.
Here’s 4 things I wasn’t expecting to learn when I started traveling overseas.
#4 Travel Can Be is Cheap!
Holy moly traveling is cheap. Like shockingly cheaper than I was expecting.
Of course, it’s all what you make it. No matter where you are, you can always choose to spend a mindless amount of money, sure, but you don’t have to. Some of my favorite memories cost little to no money.
My advice? Determine how long you’re going to be traveling and set a budget. Bonus tip: if you’re traveling with others MAKE SURE you’re on the same page about what your budget looks like. This is so important. I met a girl in Zurich who was supposed to be on a 3 month backpacking trip but was headed home after 1 month because she ran out of money. She was traveling with a friend who liked to spend money going to fancy restaurants every night and buy expensive Italian clothes and the girl got caught spending too. Too much….and had to go home in a panic 2 months early.
The biggest expense you’re going to have is getting where you’re going and back. Even then, flights from the US to somewhere overseas are often cheaper than flights within the US. Once you have your flight booked you can decide what type of place you’re going to stay at, what activities you can afford, your expenses for food, and a miscellaneous category based on your remaining budget.
Don’t be afraid of hostels, street food, and free activities. Hostels aren’t just for the backpacker. They often have private rooms and might be a better option than a hotel. Sometimes they even offer an open kitchen (buy and cook your own food) or free breakfast which is a bonus for your food budget!
Street food is almost always awesome but be sure to ask a local where they recommend eating. Since they live in the area, they’ll probably recommend something more authentic to the culture and at a decent budget. Bonus: If I do take the advice of someone recommending a restaurant and I enjoyed my experience, I’m sure to let my server know how great everything was and that “so and so” from “so and so” recommend them so they know they have fans out there helping send people their way.
Finally, things like free walking tours, outdoor gyms, or simply walking with a book and a blanket and sitting in a park just watching and listening will be things you talk about when you get back. Obviously, if there’s an activity you’re just dying to do or a place you absolutely need to visit by all means don’t skip out. I’m just saying don’t get caught in the doing it all that you forget to enjoy where you actually are.
I like people. Like, reallllllllyyyyy like people. And I’ve met some great people while traveling. But one of the biggest things I learned was how to be alone and more importantly, be ok being alone. To be honest, it’s a big part of why I left in the first place. See, I’ve never been alone. Sure, I’ve had my own apartment, I spent time being single, but even then it always seemed like I had an activity going on or was hanging out with friends every. single. night. Even when I stayed in I was catching up with old friends or checking in on what other people were doing. I wanted to be totally away, totally reliant on myself.
See I’m a pleaser. I like to make other people feel awesome. That often means doing what they want to do. But it thrilled and excited me to think of what I would choose. An unplanned day in Paris? Where would I go, what would I do? I was giddy because even I didn’t know the answer.
I wanted to be alone and I was. Traveling in solitude, for someone who likes being around people so much, was definitely a learned thing. I had to constantly tell myself I was ok. That I could sit without a phone. Without talking. Without someone else. And I had to decide if I was really happy. Turns out I was. I would take a book, a map, and a camera and go out every day. Deciding what I wanted to do, not for anyone else. It was the best, and a great lesson!
#2 Life Came Alive
Hear me out on this one. I know it sounds silly but because of the previously described solitude I was seeking, one night I had an epiphany. I realized I would be the only one who remembered everything I was experiencing. It seems obvious but it wasn't. These incredible, 'is this really my life!?' moments were only significant to me.
That was a shocker.
I remember it like it was last night. I was ice skating on the Eiffel Tower. It was night and the stars were shining and lights were going and music was playing and kids and families and friends and couples were all holding hands and going in circles on the second floor. Yes, it was as greats it sounds. Suddenly I had this moment of “Oh my goodness, no one, absolutely no one, is going to remember this with me. This incredible thing I’m doing doesn’t mean anything to anyone. When I call my parents next it will just be a story for them. But for me, it was real. For me, it was life. It wasn’t just ice skating on the Eiffel Tower, it was a feeling, it was real, it was alive. The cool winter air, the music, the lights, the 4 friends laughing and skating together, the two kids blazing through people the wrong way, the stars, the freaking Eiffel Tower…I knew that I had to find a way to fully remember the moment.
So I did this thing. I stopped. I looked around. And then I veerrrrryyyy slowly turned in 360 degrees. I wanted to remember...everything. I looked up and saw the golden lit structure. I actually looked at peoples’ faces. I closed my eyes and listened. I could hear the music and the laughing and the blades cutting through ice. I felt the temperature of the cool air. I took a deep breath and could see it. I felt my feet jammed in to uncomfortable used French ice skates. I was, for the first time in my life fully and completely in that exact place. It was the best thing I could have learned and something I’m so thankful I learned early on.
Shortly after, I met an Australian girl in Amsterdam. I was telling her about my experience and she said she knew exactly what I was talking about and had a story. Her 3 year old nephew was walking one day and stopped suddenly. He started blinking hard and she asked what he was doing. He said “Auntie, I want to remember this forever so I’m taking a picture with my eyes.” Boom shocka. Thanks kid. It only took me 21 extra years to figure that one out.
I now reserve the ‘taking a mental picture’ experience for those times where I fully and completely want to remember everything about a moment. Try it sometime. Don’t overuse it You’ll know when it’s right. And if you find yourself in a moment that has you truly in awe, stop, take a second, and completely feel everything about it. I promise you’ll feel alive.
#1 You Just Figure It Out
Wait a second Steph, the #1 thing you learned was you just figure it out? Yes.
Simple? Yes. Boring? I know. But oh. so. true. It’s the #1 thing I’ve learned and will always default to.
People always ask how I did it. They ask how I packed for 3 months. They ask how I survived traveling solo as a female. They ask how I figured out where to go. They ask what I used to get around. They ask how I was able to understand people. They ask how I was able to afford it. They ask how I knew I was safe. They ask how I knew what I was eating. They ask where I stayed. They ask so many darn questions and the #1 answer I have for them....for you is……you just figure it out.
Traveling isn’t a whole lot different than everyday life, it’s just outside of our routine and therefore scary. Let’s say you’re home, run to the grocery store without your phone (I know, unheard of but try it with me) go buy a bunch of groceries, and suddenly you realize you locked your keys inside your car. What do you do? You figure it out. You kindly ask someone to use their cell phone or you go inside and kindly ask to use their phone. You put your groceries somewhere. You figure. it. out. Same with traveling. Let’s say you need help finding your way back to your hotel/hostel/Airbnb. You kindly ask someone on the street for directions. You go in to a store or restaurant and kindly ask them for help. You hail a taxi and kindly have them take you where you need to go.
Hopefully you saw a theme there. Be kind people. It’s a universal language. Be kind and grateful. If they help you, thank them. If they can’t help you, thank them. You’re a guest in their country. If you’re kind, grateful, and respectful they’re more likely to help you.
See, you can’t plan for it all but that shouldn’t scare you. It should only give you confidence that you’ll be capable of figuring it out.
I learn something new about the world and about myself every time I travel. It’s one of the many, many great things about it. The best is when I learn these new things, and often without realizing it until later, they suddenly become a part of me. They go from being something I learned while traveling to something that’s now a part of my everyday. I now see traveling as financially doable. I’m ok being alone. I have a mental picture book filled with my extra special mental pictures from over the years. And even at home, whatever comes my way, I’m confident that I’ll be capable of figuring it out.
I’d love to hear some of the biggest lessens you’ve learned while traveling. Drop a comment below and let me know!