Two years ago, I decided to go on my first solo trip. It was a quick two-week getaway to Colombia. Those brief two weeks sparked a fire in me. As soon as I got back to the states, I bought my first big boy travel backpack and booked a flight to Peru to meet up with some of the friends I had made in Colombia.
Two years removed from that first backpacking trip, I’ve learned a lot of things, a lot of things about travel but more importantly, about myself. My life has changed drastically since then, with friends coming and going and countless memories made and countless memories missed. A lot of life lessons have taken place, from those sketchy Colombian bathroom stalls to the posh cafe in London where I currently sit. It’s hard to sum up those two years but if I could narrow it down to the important stuff…
Friendship Is Only A Beer Away
Let’s start this off with a good, solid ~ the partying traveler ~ type lesson before we move on to the cheesier life lessons. Sound good? Perfect.
One time, I was traveling solo in Bangkok and sat myself at the hostel bar. I started talking to the Dutch man next to me, about our work, passions, dreams, and experience. As an American, we inevitably got to the depressing topic of American politics. After a brief pause, he said “oh well, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“Actually… there is. We can sit here, share a beer, and be friends.”
That random Dutch guy whose name I no longer remember inadvertently put to words what ~ the partying traveler ~ has always been about. It’s never been about getting drunk in dope places, although I’ll admit that it’s a pretty cool perk. But for me, it’s always been about the social aspect of traveling and the unforgettable friendships you make, no matter how briefly they last.
If you can leave a lasting impact on someone during your short time together, you have done your part towards making the world a better place. All too often, we hear the stereotypes about people from different countries. When we travel and meet people from all over the world, we can debunk negative stereotypes and reinforce positive stereotypes of our country. I can show the world that not all Americans are loud and ignorant and that all Filipinos love karaoke more than life itself.
Your Attitude Defines Everything
If you live life with a positive attitude, things will be pretty positive right back. A lot of the terrible things that happen along the way won’t seem as terrible. A lot of the good things that happen along the way become that much better. When traveling long-term, you really have to learn how to roll with the punches. Not everything is going to work out exactly as planned. If you stress over something that you cannot change, that’s just a double negative whammy.
I’ve always been a pretty chill person that goes with the flow. Basically, if you want to travel long-term, you’re going to have to go with the flow. I’ll admit that at first, I was a stickler for everything and always wanted to make sure I did everything I wanted to do and never strayed from my original plans. Looking back, I wonder if I actually even had any fun while traveling. Sure, it was great to see and do as much as possible but at the end of a busy day, you realize that you didn’t really give yourself time to truly take it all in and be in the moment.
It’s fine to want to do and see as much as possible. Just be okay with it when things don’t work out as planned. Not everywhere is going to be as magical as you imagined it to be. Not everything is going to run as smoothly as you’d like. Like I said, just go with the flow and keep your attitude positive no matter what happens. Once you look back on a trip, even the worst days will make you smile or laugh.
Your Comfort Zone.. Get Rid Of It Right Away
As soon as I hopped off the plane in Cartagena, I ordered an Uber. Little did I know that Uber was illegal and the drivers brave enough to do it anyway had to improvise. My car came, a random person hopped out of the backseat, started hugging me and yelling at me in Spanish before putting my luggage in the car.
What the f*ck just happened? The driver explained to me that since there were police and security around, they had to make it seem like they were picking up a good friend and not a paying customer. Comfort zones. Get rid of them. A week later, I was waltzing through Medellin’s most dangerous neighborhood all by myself. I ended up befriending a few locals and joining a pickup soccer match before sharing a drink with them before having to leave. Comfort zones. Get rid of them. Two weeks later, my fat ass made it to Machu Picchu after 5 days of trekking and being completely unprepared. Comfort zones. You get the point.
Do More Of What You Love And You Will Find Your People
This is perhaps one of the biggest life lessons I’ve ever learned. I love my friends that I have made through every stage of my life but the fact is, a lot of those friendships come as a result of convenience and proximity. Take high school for example, once I went to college, 99% of my high school friends pretty much disappeared from my life. The same thing happened with college, to a lesser degree. In college, you do have the freedom to choose your interests and your passions, so the friends you make are more in line with what you love to do.
However, once you graduate college and are able to experience true freedom with what you want to do, that’s when you truly discover who you are and who you want to be friends with. In short, I’ve discovered my true loves for traveling, photography, storytelling, and all things creative. By doing more of what I love, I’ve stumbled into more and more people that love doing the same thing. People that I can truly say understand me and accept me, as opposed to those acquaintances that have been formed out of convenience.
Stability is Just a State of Mind
For as long as I can remember, my parents have preached a stable life to me. My long-term girlfriend and I also just split up, and stability was definitely a factor. For me, stability was the ever-changing road. For her, it was settling down. For my parents, it’s having a job that gives you health insurance. Or at least, that’s what they keep telling me.
Whenever I am at home, my feet get restless and my mind begins to daydream of more exciting destinations. Stability does not necessarily mean staying in one place. If you are constantly traveling, then maybe the road is where you will find your consistency. I didn’t grow up in one place. My family and I moved every few years, from the Philippines to New York, then to New Hampshire, then to Missouri before I went off to college and then started traveling. I guess growing up that way, I never considered staying in one place for a long period of time.
Of course, things change as you grow up and different things start to matter in different ways, but why rush or force things?
Material Things Are Pretty Overrated
To each their own, obviously. I’m not saying that my way is the only right way but for me, I’ve learned that I’ve come to value experiences significantly more than the material things I’ve owned. Part of that is because of how frustrating it is to sift through the hundreds of clothes I’ve bought that I’ve never even worn. Especially when packing your life into a 60 liter backpack.
I got into entrepreneurship at a very young age and struck gold with social media when I was 19. At the time, I was restricted to college and couldn’t exactly waltz off wherever I wanted in the world. I spent a lot of my money on stupid stuff to show off to people who didn’t really care at all.
In short, I’ve been happier living off $20 a day while backpacking than I ever was when I could buy anything I wanted. Everyone’s priorities are different but I do think everyone needs to try to discover what will give them long-lasting happiness as opposed to just quick bursts of retail therapy.
Be A Good Person, People Will Be Good To You Back
The kindness of strangers goes about as far as the kindness that you’re willing to show. Kindness is the universal human language and I’ve found this to be true from Cuba to Thailand to Norway.
When traveling, you find yourself constantly in unfamiliar territory. The languages, the environments, and the cultures may be difficult to adapt to at first. However, the people will always be there to lend a helping hand to the traveler who needs it. I’m not saying that you should take advantage of the kindness of people. Trust me, it is a lot easier than you think to tell whether someone has a good heart or not. Treat people with kindness and you will get kindness in return. This has been one of the truths that I’ve found to be universal.
It is one of my most hopeful realizations. For every bad thing that we constantly hear about, there are thousands of good things happening across the world silently. For every one person that’s been a dick to you on your travels, there are hundreds more that will selflessly help you for nothing in return.
Everyone Has Their Own Time Frame and Life Path. Don’t Rush Yours.
Perhaps one of my most recent but most significant realizations has been that you shouldn’t feel forced into going down a path that you don’t feel is right. Sure, there are plenty of factors that affect this decision and it isn’t always as black and white as “do it” and “don’t do it.” However, if you force yourself into doing what you think you are supposed to do, you might not end up happy.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, why put yourself into a box? In most cases, you can always choose eventually, once you have a better idea of what you truly want to do. Sometimes, if you force yourself to do something that you aren’t even sure you want to do, you might not be able to get the time or opportunities back that you sacrificed.
This one is more of a life lesson but hey, I learned it while I was backpacking so it counts.
It’s Going To Be Okay
Like I said earlier, you really learn how to roll with the punches while traveling long-term. Oftentimes, things don’t work out the way you want them to. I’ve learned this more from meeting people than through traveling but meeting people is perhaps the most important part of traveling. Meeting people from across the world who have walked different paths of life and have experienced things you might never experience is the true reward of traveling. Those are the conversations that will change your worldview, more than any world wonder or hidden beach will.
When you are staying at home for extended periods of time, it’s kind of easy to imagine that everyone else is following the same path as you. All your friends have jobs, families, routines and so on. But to think they all are following similar paths is just not true, and that becomes even more apparent when sharing life stories with people from all over the world.
Every person you meet has walked a different path to get to where they are when you met them. The one thing that every person has in common? Is that they have made it that far and that they are okay. Those people have lost their jobs, lost their loved ones, suffered through life-altering tragedies. And they are still here.
Mental health has been a topic that has been coming up a lot in my life lately and I feel like more than ever, I should at least address it. There have been many times in my life where I feel like I cannot express myself properly because I will be met with “dude, you travel for a living, how bad can life be?” Even the slightest hint that I’m having a bad day will be met with “oh, boo hoo.”
Mental illness is something that can affect everyone and I have definitely not been immune to it. The past few months have been a huge struggle for me and continue to be a struggle. But one thing I’ve realized while traveling is that people from all walks of life have their struggles and their dark times. And all of the people that I’ve met have helped me realize that I will be okay. A lot of them have survived and struggled through times more difficult than I’ve had to face. It is wrong to compare one’s struggles with another person’s but it is an optimistic reminder to see that people will be okay no matter what difficult circumstances life has dealt them.
I’m Nowhere Near Done Yet
There is so much more to see. There are so many more people to meet. There are so many life-changing experiences that are just waiting for me to answer their call. I feel like Moana, who knows how far I’ll go? Stay tuned.
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