I like to think I’m the same person today as I was before I left home to travel. Actually, I’d like to think I’m a better version of myself. No jokes, I prefer who I am when I’m not living in the place where I grew up. It’s hard to explain without insulting those back home or home itself. I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with where I grew up or my country but everything to do with what I get out of travelling. I started ‘travelling’ in December of 2010 but I can’t ignore the travelling I was privileged enough to do when I was a child thanks to my father. The life lessons I’ve learnt go as far back as the overseas trips with my parents way back when.
1. How to travel light
I remember checking-in for a flight to the States when I was about 15 and my father telling the check-in lady that we were only travelling with hand luggage. It was the first time she’d seen a family taking a two week vacation with only carry-on luggage. As a result of this up-bringing, I now find it sinful when people travel with everything and the kitchen sink. A survey once showed that Italians are the most fashionable travelers, and I can vouch for this after seeing them dressed ready for a photo shoot in airports. So unless you’re Italian and being fashionable comes with the territory, I’m going to judge you for packing everything you don’t need including all your going out clothes.
2. How to travel on a shoe string
I don’t come from a ‘rich’ family and yet I got to see the majority of Western Europe and parts of the United States before the age of 17. My dad made the decision not to send his kids away to an expensive boarding school so he could spend that money on educating us himself. Not in a home-schooling kind of way, no. We went to a normal school down the drag but he would feed his passion for the World Wars and take his family on an educational, museum, grave site and battle field filled vacation at the same time. When travelling with the family I spent the night in cars, in youth hostels, almost never ate at restaurants and almost always went out-of-season (autumn and winter). This was the only way he could afford to hold up his end of the bargain. At the time I was a bit put out that I couldn’t indulge in a nice restaurant meal or relaxing day by the beach but today I couldn’t be more grateful for this. It means I am able to do and see what I want without spending too much money. Granted, travelling alone is a lot different to taking your family on holiday and having to pay for everything. For this reason I do end up eating in the odd restaurant and allowing myself some luxuries, but I have a good understanding of how to make my money go further. Thanks, dad.
3. How to enjoy my own company
Back to the present. I know a couple of people who say they don’t enjoy their own company and thus can’t stand being alone. I don’t believe people literally feel this way, I mean, If you don’t enjoy your own company then how can you expect me to enjoy it? Taking yourself on a solo trip is good ‘alone-time’ practice. If you put yourself in enough solitary situations you learn to appreciate the peace-of-mind that comes with spending time by yourself. Taking two day bus rides and spending time in airports are good examples of where you’ll often find yourself alone with your thoughts. I’ve grown to love these moments. Other than times like these you’re pretty much never alone unless you take yourself off into the mountains. Because there will always be people to make friends with when on the road.
4. How to make friends
That brings me to number 4- how to make friends. Let’s cut the crap, alone-time can be great but everyone wants friends to share with. It helps that I’ve never been a shy person so making random conversation with people isn’t something I find difficult. Even if you’re the reserved kind, travelling alone is ideal for many reasons. Once you’re in a new place all by yourself you can be whoever you want to be. no-one knows you from before and there’s almost a 100 percent chance of no-one knowing you once you leave. Moreover, you have the floor to yourself which comes in handy for reserved people. It’ll give you time to shine and not have to be in the shadow of your more out-going-travel-buddy. I can safely say that I can go to almost any corner of the Earth and know someone there, even if that person is someone I knew for 5 minutes. I’m quite proud of this fact. And while some people don’t agree with automatically becoming Facebook friends with everyone they meet, I feel that it will only benefit me in the future when I’m looking for a place to rest my head in their neck of the woods.
5. How to appreciate your ‘true’ friends
These points are becoming unintentionally linked to each other. Travel has allowed me to appreciate the special people in my life who can really be called my ‘friends’ and family. Because, after all, me knowing you for 5 minutes doesn’t make us real friends. I have spent many a frustrating moment dealing with being stood up or forgotten about by people who I considered my friends. Not everyone has your best interests at heart. A friendship is more than a good laugh and a fun night out together, the real ones are the ones who wont let you down. How cliche!
6. How to be independent
Ok, this is a bit rich since I’m currently using my parents assistance to sort out my banking problems back in SA. But for the large part, I’ve learnt that mommy and daddy can’t fix everything when you’re far far away. Here I go again possibly offending someone, but I am really annoyed by my fellow twenty-something-year-olds who still call their parents for anything and everything. When you’re away and shit hits the fan and you don’t have internet or a call card or any other way to contact your parents… guess what….? you’ll come up with a solution all on your own! Your folks, if you’re lucky, are always there to help when you need it. So once the initial crisis is over they are there to comfort you and help in whatever way they can as you chat over Skype. But having to deal with being robbed, losing something, getting lost, getting sick, feeling lonely or scared is something you’ll be dealing with by yourself. With the threat of repeating myself for the hundredth time, a good example is when I was robbed in Chile and lost everything including passport, phone, iPod, money and any access to money. The thousands of kilometers, the language barrier and the time difference made it impossible for my parents to come to the rescue.
Other life lessons learned include:
7. understanding other cultures
8. learning how to go-with-the-flow as plans change constantly
9. realizing how comparing yourself with those around you and back home is stupid and pointless.
10. And one last one…… travel has taught me how to be happy and free!