After spending some months on the road, I had my worldviews challenged in ways I’d never imagine. I also found beliefs reinforced. Traveling changes you – for better or for worse. Here are a few things I’ve learned after 18 months on the road:
There’s No Perfect City
I’ve been all over Latin America. Some of my best friends have been all over the world. I’ve done the research. I’d love for someone to prove me wrong, but I don’t think it can happen. I’m convinced:
There’s not a perfect city anywhere in the world.
Now everyone will have a differing viewpoint on what makes a perfect city, but from my perspective – I’ve yet to find a city that comes close to perfect. Before I started traveling, I dreamed of my paradise city. A city filled with stunning beaches, a bustling economy, great energy, perfect weather, cute girls, cheap prices, and only a few other gringos.
It doesn’t exist. Any city with a decent population, cheap prices, stunning beaches, and good looking locals will always get packed with foreigners looking for their piece of paradise. With the internet, there’s no such thing as secret spots any longer. And without secret spots, you have no perfect cities.
The Value of Money
Being from the suburbs, money was never one of my major concerns growing up. I was blessed. I never had to worry where my next meal was coming from or if I could get clothes that fit before school started. Everyone in the suburbs has enough money for basic things like food, school clothes, etc. Thus, the value of money was underplayed.
Plus, I was always focused on sports. And I knew I’d never get rich playing basketball. Money was never the motivation. The love of the game was. Due to these two factors, I was never that concerned about money. Even after college, I quickly got a sales job and started making a few bucks.
Then I started working online and traveling. And my whole worldview regarding money was shattered. Completely. Once you realize many don’t have the money they need to live comfortably, you start to truly understand the value of money.
Once you have the unfortunate opportunity to meet people who value your dollars more than your life, you quickly realize that most view money much differently than those in the suburbs. I haven’t looked at money the same since I started traveling.
Words are Irrelevant
Traveling without speaking the local language well can be incredibly frustrating. But it’s really not that bad. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. They’re just bitching. Non-verbal communication makes up how we communicate more than most ever imagine.
Think about it: if you’re in a bar, and a large man walks up to you with his fists clenched and a menacing look on his face, you don’t need any words to tell you that he wants to fight. You know without a shadow of a doubt what he’s saying without opening his mouth.
And drunken bar fights aren’t the only situation where non-verbal communication is crystal clear. Once you start communicating with your body more, you began to realize just how unnecessary words are in getting your point across.
P.S.: Don’t get me wrong – learning a language still has value.
People are Inherently Good
I can count the number of experiences I’ve had with truly bad people while traveling on one hand. For the most part, people are people. And most of them are good people. Friendly, helpful, genuine. Even in purportedly dangerous countries, you’ll find most people to be good natured. Even people who look like they’re not “good” have turned out to be perfectly fine. A lot of my preconceived notions have been challenged while traveling.
I was scared shitless when I hopped on the back of a motorcycle with a girl I knew and her “friend” of a driver to head to the waterfalls. The two teardrop tattoos stemming from his eye didn’t exactly inspire confidence in how he’d treat this traveling gringo. He turned out to be one of the friendliest motoconcho drivers I encountered throughout all the Dominican Republic. And the only one that didn’t hit me with gringo pricing.
Minimalism is Vital
When I first started traveling, I had a giant suitcase and a big backpack. I had packed every supplement under the sun and enough clothes to last me a few weeks without a wash. I look back and chuckle thinking how much stuff I brought that I never use.
These days I only pack a carry-on suitcase and a backpack. And I have more than enough space to fit all the things I need for the road. I’ve adopted a minimalistic travel style and could never go back to hauling around a bunch of stuff. It’s just not necessary.
While I don’t have many things, this doesn’t mean I dress like a backpacking bum every day. I still bring nice clothing, dress shoes, and a linen blazer with me on all my travels. You can pack light and still look tight. It’s simple. The key is to invest in high quality items that are long lasting and made for travel.
Always Be Investing in your Health
You’ll never regret investing in your health – especially while traveling. While I pack light these days, I still pack many supplements. I’ve learned you’ll have a lot of late nights on the road. Booze is often involved. You need to boost your system as much as possible. To ensure health doesn’t dwindle, I always join a gym within walking distance of where I’m staying. Due to the tight packing requirements and late nights, I’ve found packing pre-workout much more important than protein powder. I always invest in a good pre-workout while traveling.
Traveling for traveling’s sake is enjoyable. For about 2-3 weeks. Then I find myself bored and feeling terrible about my life. I hate the thought of laziness. I have to have something to build. I have to be creating. If you’re going to build a lifestyle around travel, you need to have something to work on.
Even just two to three hours a day of “work” will ensure you feel better about your travels then pursuing hedonism on a full-time basis. While many enjoy a gap year or a backpacking trip with no responsibilities, this isn’t a sustainable long-term lifestyle. You must be building something. Maybe it’s a freelancing business. Maybe it’s a travel blog. Maybe it’s an e-commerce store.
Even studying a language a few hours a day will ensure you’re becoming a better person while traveling. The last thing you want to become is the drunk gringo nursing hangovers at the hostel every afternoon. Wandering aimlessly isn’t something to aspire to.
Learning From Life on the Road
Have you been traveling for a bit now? What have you noticed? What have you learned? Everyone has different travel experiences. Sound off in the comments with yours.
Travel junkie turned blogger. Location independent. From the Midwest, but often based in Latin America. Big on beaches, rumba, and rum. Addicted to the gym. Committed to showing a different style of travel - one that involves actually interacting with locals and exploring different cultures.