Whether you are leaving the country for a week or for a few months, nothing teaches you more about yourself than exploring and navigating the rest of the world. If you’re looking for some life lessons, you will undoubtedly find them abroad. Here are some of the things that you’ll learn as you experience what the rest of the world has to offer:
Traveling is about you and the experience that you hope to gain on your adventure. You’ll figure out which sites or experiences will be the ones that give you a meaningful time abroad, and its okay if that list doesn’t look like your friend’s. At the end of the trip you’ll know what made you happy and what did not, and how to incorporate the things that fulfill you into your travel experience. This mentality will quickly apply to your life when you return home as well.
One of the biggest things you learn while traveling is the ability to roll with the punches. Your plans will not always work out; you might miss a train, get lost, arrive somewhere to find out it is actually closed, or run short on time trying to see all that you wanted to in a particular city. Traveling is the time when you learn not to let those things get to you. There’s so much to explore and experience while abroad that when something doesn’t go your way, you’ll find joy in something else. Traveling is full of opportunities and you’ll never find yourself with nothing to do, even if it wasn’t what you had originally planned. Embrace the flexibility.
Traveling is the place for new experiences, and when learning about a new culture you are going to encounter a lot of things that you haven’t been exposed to before (and may not ever again). New places are perfect for trying new things, so don’t turn opportunities down for fear of the unknown. Go ahead and eat funky foods—and don’t ask what’s in them until after you’re done, or hop on a bus to a small town that you haven’t pre-researched. If you embrace uncharted territory, you’ll thank yourself later for being adventurous.
Everyone deserves the occasional splurge, and traveling isn’t the time to stress about how much something costs. If there is something that you’re only going to try once, you might as well have the best there is to offer. So order that nice bottle of wine instead of the house option at dinner, and treat yourself to the country’s famous delicacy—at least once. You don’t want to return home and regret that you never let yourself splurge just for one night.
We all love the luxury of a splurge, however you don’t need to wine and dine at a famous five-star restaurant every night. In fact, the real vibe of a country is found in the small everyday things, commonly eaten foods, and less visited sites that create the authentic culture of a place. You’ll want to experience these things especially since they aren’t fancy, and are what the residents of these cities encounter every day. Travel inspires you to find appreciation for the little things, an attitude that you’ll bring back to life in your own city.
Here is a secret that travelers don’t like to admit: traveling can- and will- be hard sometimes, especially if you are traveling long term. Your boundaries will be pushed in unfamiliar situations and you’ll quickly have to figure out how to do things that make you uncomfortable- don’t worry, I’m talking about this in a good way. When you’re in another country, you’ll have to communicate in a new language even if you fear you’ll mess it up, wander a city without the help of your cell phone for directions, and talk to people you’ve never met. Some of our best experiences come from doing something we never thought we would do, and to get there we have to push ourselves a little bit- something that happens often while traveling.
Don’t be in a rush when you are spending time in a new place, and don’t focus only on crossing items off of your “to see” list. You came to a city to take in the surroundings, and traveling is the perfect time to learn to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Stop to take pictures, listen to street musicians or watch performers, talk to locals who are out and about, and appreciate the culture of the city right there in the streets. If you fast-track from point A to point B, you’ll miss what the city has to offer and lose the travel experience itself. You may even realize that you’ve been bypassing things in your own hometown once you return.
Authentic travel experiences are gained among the locals in hole-in-the-wall places or on little-known side streets, but that doesn’t mean you should skip out on places deemed “most popular”. There’s a negative stigma when traveling about “tourist traps”, but sometimes places have probably gained significant recognition for a reason, so don’t just write them off until you’ve been there too. When traveling to other places, it’s definitely fun to see a city’s classic symbols and icons or visit a famous museum. As much as we all want to be like the real natives of a country, you have to realize that you’re still a traveler. So don’t go to Paris and bypass the Eiffel Tower just on anti-tourism principles.
You should seize the moment in any situation and take advantage of travel opportunities. Just because you’re visiting a country now doesn’t mean that you won’t be back. It’s easy when traveling to get caught up in the mentality that you have to cram too much into one trip because you think you will only be there one time in your life. If you loved a city that you visited, you can easily plan a trip back and not let anything stop you from exploring. If traveling is something that is important to you, you will make it a priority. You have your whole life to see what the world has to offer.
No matter where you go, traveling will be one of the most eye-opening experiences you have. You will learn as much about yourself as you will about the rest of the world.
Photo by Monika Thorpe