7 things I’ve learned from years of travel

7 things I've learned from years of travel

I’ve been travelling on and off now for the last ten years and this is my third extended (i.e. over six month’s long) trip. In that time I’ve:

• visited more than 50 countries
• spent Christmas on a private island – Good Times
• been stoned off a tropical island (no, really) – Bad Times

In fact I’ve done all kinds of amazing stuff! Check out my Epic Quest to see some of the stuff I’ve done over the years.
In that time I’ve also learned a huge amount that has helped me really enjoy travelling and get the most out of it.

My top musings and tips on what I’ve learned over these years of travelling:

You’re not at home now

’What do you mean the bus goes when it’s full? When it’s full? But how long will that be?’  

 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people ask this, sad to say I’ve done it myself.

In many countries of the world buses only leave when they’ve got enough people. In the case of the Philippines, enough people can mean the driver waits until it is so full you have to have a small child sat on your lap. This happened to me once, six hours on a bus with a child on my knee, staring at me the whole time.

Things that certainly won’t make the bus leave any quicker are yelling at the driver, tapping your foot, tutting loudly or, worse, causing a scene so that everyone knows how unhappy you are and in your country this would never be allowed.

The thing is, this isn’t your home and expecting it to be will only lead to upset. The power might go out, the hot water may stop working, the lunch they promised on your tour might turn out to be only a banana but, believe me, complaining about it rarely gets you anywhere, other than more stressed.

So, if I’ve learned nothing else (and in that case this blog would be called ‘my one tip’, but it’s not so I clearly did learn other things), then it’s to take a step back, take a breath and chill. Your travels will be so much more fun that way.

Things learned from long term travel

 

Enjoy your own trip

‘Have you done the five-day Inca trek? You really must, it’s amazing!’

‘Have you done the W? Shocking weather but you can’t beat being in the wilderness’ (the W is the name of a huge hike in Patagonia, people say it’s great but mostly they just mention how cold they were)

‘Did you hike the volcano at..>’

‘Will you hike the lost city?’  

The answer to all of these questions is ‘no’, the reason is ‘I don’t want to, mostly because I don’t like hiking, don’t feel any interest in walking for more than a couple of hours to get somewhere and I bore easily, so the view might be amazing but after five days of amazing views and slow hiking I’d be about ready to kill myself!’

Thankfully, I have now learned more confidence rather than to say ‘no’ all apologetically as if I’m breaking some kind of travellers’ code. Now I just say a simple ‘no’ and, if I’m pushed, I add ‘I’m sure it’s great but I don’t like hiking.’

This is just me, of course, it would be a very crowded beach if we all loved the same thing. The issue for many people is that they end up taking trips and doing activities because they think they have to. If there is one thing that travel can allow, it’s for us to shed the sheep mentality that plagues everyday life and find the things that really suit you. Be that cities, scuba diving, chilling with the locals in a tiny fishing village, it doesn’t matter. Just think carefully about how you spend your time and who gets your money. Make this your trip.

Things learned from long term travel

 

Budget

It’s as boring as hell to most people (not me, I love spreadsheets I find their simple logic soothing), but without a decent budget your trip will be over in no time. You can see the amazing Machu Picchu for much less than you imagine – Check here to see how much - but spend that money on beers before you get there and you’ll have to stick to imagining it – boo! (Or, as they say in South America where I’m writing this, ‘buuu’).

Don’t compete

So many travellers feel the urge to ‘one up’ the people they meet. They’ll tell you stories about how they were the first to see or do something – ‘when we were at Machu Picchu, everyone walked off to the right but we like to do our own thing, so we walked left and it was, like, so amazing.’ That kinda thing.

Or, some travellers will try and pee all over other peoples’ experiences. Once just after we’d told a guy we were heading to Machu Picchu, he felt the need to tell us that it was ‘much too touristy and it wasn’t in his top 1,000 experiences’ – he’s clearly an idiot, don’t be that. Be a good traveller, ask questions and show an interest: don’t just wait for your turn to brag.

We’ve learned lots of really cool stuff when we paid attention to other travellers’ adventures – it’s how we learned about Workaway in fact.

Book

When Alex and I first started traveling, we never used to book anything in advance. Back then very few places were on the internet and prices of those which were always seemed inflated. Things have changed.

These days we always check the following sites before we arrive somewhere:

  • Airbnb is an amazing site that gives you access to places where you can’t just rock up (not used Airbnb yet – use this link to get a discount)
  • booking.com often gives you discounts that aren’t available offline

Things learned from long term travel

 

Recently, we got chatting to a couple on the bus to Lake Titicaca. We’d booked into a hotel with booking.com and got a 25% discount. The couple hadn’t booked, they never booked in advance and preferred to ‘go with the flow’ – they came with us to our hotel, booked into the same place but ended up getting a grotty room for more than we had paid.

You can go from hostel to hostel checking the prices and availability, but most likely you’ll go with the first one that looks ok because you’re warm, tired and your backpack is heavy.

Time is precious, a quick bit of research while sat somewhere with aircon can save you money, time and hassle further down the line – do you agree? If not tell me why not in the comments! 

It doesn’t have to be once in a life time

When we went to Borneo it felt like a dream. The diving there is world class and we got to see orang-utans and who doesn’t like eight-foot tall hairy apes? It really felt like a once in a lifetime trip and we really didn’t want to miss out on anything so we rushed from one place to the next and spent a fortune!

Two years later and we returned to Borneo to work as diving instructors, so it turned out that being there wasn’t once in a lifetime for us. We’ve now been back to a few places we only expected to go once, which serves to remind us that you don’t have to see everything the first time round. If a place really does have so much to see and do, then go back. We’re in South America and you could spend a lifetime here and only scratch the surface.

Plan for what you really want to see and what your budget allows and then, by keeping in mind that you can visit again, you’ll save yourself any feelings of dissatisfaction that you’re somehow missing out.

Say ‘yes’

I seem to have a thing against surfers, I don’t know why. I think it might be how cool they are with their six-packs and great hair (I don’t have these things), and thus I’ve never learned how to surf. (I imagine you’d never hear a surfer say ‘thus’.)

Things learned from long term travel

 

I’ve had lots of chances to learn over the years but always said ‘no’, and now I’m writing this on a surfing beach where I could go surfing every day and yet I still don’t know how.

I am going to fix this as I know just how childish it sounds but basically I’m saying say ‘yes’ to more things so that I don’t live to regret them later in my life.

In the same way as you have to leave the idea of things running on time back in your home country (I’m assuming that things do run on time where you’re from), it pays to leave your prejudices behind too, certainly if they are silly like many of mine and get in your way.

Life can and should be a big adventure, but it can only be if you say ‘yes’.

Do you agree? What things have you learned from travelling? Comment below or find me on Twitter and tell me there.


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