5 important lessons you learn about life whilst travelling

1. Where your priorities should lie

Taking a dip in the River Kwai

It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of expectation and judgement. We’re fed this lie that success and happiness is directly linked to how we look, what we own, how smart we are, when really this isn’t what life is like at all. For example, whilst travelling in Thailand, I felt comfortable enough to go outside without make-up on for the first time since I started wearing it as a teenager. I usually wouldn’t have gone to the corner shop without at least a splash of concealer under my eyes for fear of judgement from someone who might recognise me, and yet my hair and make-up was the furthest thing from my mind during this adventure – and it only just happened to be the best time ever, and people still accepted me just fine. So what if you don’t have all the latest gear. So what if you’re hair’s not perfect or you’re in comfy shorts instead of a cute skirt. It’s not even about jetting off to another continent; even spending the weekend in a different city with a friend helps – just so long as you leave your little bubble. Experience is a far better investment than non-essential material possessions will ever be, and the more strangers you meet, the more you’ll come to realise that no one really gives a shit what you’re wearing or what model of phone you have, as long as you’re a nice person.

2. The breadth of the world

New friends in Zadar, Croatia, representing England, South Africa, Australia and USA

You might think you have a good knowledge and understanding of the world, but until you’ve got out there and experienced it for yourself, anything you read is just the tip of the iceberg. When travelling, and especially when meeting other people from other parts of the world, you’ll soon start to learn things you hadn’t even realised you should try to learn, whether it’s something minor and silly like the fact that the orange Fanta we have in England is a different colour to most of the rest of the world (this particular example sparked huge debate between me and an Australian guy in Amsterdam – a good ice-breaker at least), or something more political, like how differing countries’ healthcare systems work or how laws are made. I’ve learned more from the foreigners I’ve had contact with, whether other travellers, bartenders, or tour guides, than I can even retain. The world is massive, and if you veer slightly off the beaten track, you’ll see there’s so much more to life in other cultures than a different language and some famous landmarks.

3. How to appreciate what you have

Burmese children praying

Back to this idea that we must have the best of everything all the time, travelling is humbling; it helps you to realise that you might not have things so bad after all. You will sometimes see communities in other cultures with far less than you, and yet they appear infinitely happier. The more you learn about the rest of the world outside of your own little hotspot, the more you realise how silly it is to fret over the little things. While you, as someone who is travelling, have the opportunity to make time and buy a plane ticket somewhere, someone else might not have. While loose change may be an inconvenience for you, it may make the day of somebody you choose to tip with it. The more you practice this mindset while travelling, the more you’ll also start applying it at home, leading to a happier life and being an all-round better human.

4. The significance of history

Mummified in ash, Pompeii

You might read about it in history books, or study it in school, but nothing compares to actually being there, amongst sites of tragedy and despair. You can try to imagine all you like, but once you walk amongst abandoned buildings or rows of graves, it all just hits you like a ton of bricks. Even if you have no active interest in history and the mere thought of spending hours in museums sends you to sleep (just like me), travelling to historical sites allows you to connect with the people who lived in whatever city/period you’re visiting on a whole different level. Visiting Pompeii and neighbouring Ercolano (which also suffered from the eruption of Vesuvius, but to a lesser extent) in Italy was a prime example of this for me. Walking through what used to be a thriving town reduced to the bare backbones of structures, seeing tiny patches of surviving but peeling mosaic that help you to visualise how grand it all must have looked once upon a time, seeing the ash-covered figures of people, pets and their belongings… It’s indescribable. These kinds of experiences, in turn, help you to develop a better understanding of the world and its development, and adds to your feelings of thankfulness for your own privilege.

5. Tolerance and understanding

A couple of monks in Chiang Mai, Thailand

To expand on the above, it’s easy to stereotype and judge a certain race of people based on a few misinterpreted notions or the actions of a few individuals, but when you are suddenly the foreigner in their land, the one mistakenly disrespecting their culture, you realise how intimidating it can be to be the minority, and you can also start to see firsthand why certain cultures are the way they are. I’m not saying you’ll start agreeing with every belief or change your religion, because that would just be unrealistic, but you’ll naturally begin to build a tolerance for others as you build a greater understanding. If you get the opportunity to speak with someone from an entirely different culture, I urge you to take it. It’s the best kind of education and will change the way you look at issues such as discrimination, immigration and equality. As long as you’re sensible and stay alert to avoid endangering yourself unnecessarily, it’s amazing how quickly you come to realise that we’re all just human beings trying to get by in this world, just like each other.

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