It’s a big globe out there, even if sometimes you think it’s small because you bump in to one of your friends in front of London Bridge, but feel like you know no one on the streets of Brisbane. It’s also a globe riddled with bad food, sleazy locals, scamming taxi drivers and dirty hostels. Movies like ‘Taken’ make you want to throw away that suitcase, lock the door and just watch David Attenborough documentaries showcasing the world. At 25 when I quit my job, sold my stuff and decided to live out of a backpack around the world, it was daunting. Call me cheesy, but as I celebrate my one year travel anniversary away from the hustle and bustle of home life, I’ve learned eight lessons that I don’t think I would’ve learned if I hadn’t hopped around the world.
1. You’re One Lucky Son of a Gun.
I was born in a western country with opportunity. I did not want for much growing up. You should see the clothes I owned, there would have been enough outfits to last me a year without washing. But somewhere between trying to haul several kilos of high heels overseas, being faced with abject poverty or seeing that people don’t have the same freedoms, I realised that we’re pretty lucky in Australia. Whilst one third of the world lives in extreme poverty, we have clean drinking water, electricity, adequate housing and more than ample to eat, far more than the average citizen of India or Egypt. Not everyone has that.
2. Humans are quite different from aliens, but not each other.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in, Macedonia, Romania, Israel or Belize, Europe or South East Asia, or whether you’re a Jew, Muslim or Christian– people are essentially very similar. We share similar hopes and dreams. We want to have a decent job that earns them some money, live a comfortable and quiet life with their family and get along with one another. They want to have enough food to eat and watch sports. We all have our cultural differences, but race and religion aside, we’re all the same.
3. Large groups of any nationality are the devil reincarnated.
As much as I love Australia, the moment I hear an Australian voice overseas I freeze like a deer in headlights. Large groups of any nationality travelling together, be it Russians or Americans, makes me want to run to the hills. Not only does it make you feel like you never left home, but it also brings out the worst in that group of people. In Germany I ended up on a tour with all French people and in Cuba with all English people. For some unknown reason it gives them the confidence to complain about EVERYTHING, get rowdy or be rude. For your own sanity, try to avoid them.
4. Somewhere, more than one time, taxis will swindle you.
I seem to catch taxis in places like Panama or Morocco where public transport is a rarity and meters just don’t seem to work or exist. I have been swindled and conned so many times, in so many places, by different taxis. Price fixing between drivers, sneaky charges for luggage, add on “fees”, the long way to my destination in a bid to inflate the cost, I’ve seen it all. There’s no point getting too upset, just use your GPS to calculate the shortest route to your destination! You’re bound to get ripped off, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last.
5. Unless you’re a wrestling champion, book the window.
I recently flew from Toronto to Hong Kong on a 16 hour night flight. The irony of this lesson? The one time I didn’t check in online I ended up in the middle. Two hulks on either side of me. One trying to viciously steal any centimetre of armrest I had and the other encroaching on my chair space in a bid to make me sit on the ground. This was 16 hours of pure hell and delusion due to lack of sleep. Unless you’re a sumo, book the aisle seat, or better yet the window, you can sleep on it.
6. Money trees don’t exist and things cost far more than you have.
I hate to act like your dad, but after blowing $20k in six months in Europe, I know that your bank balance doesn’t get you as far as you think it will. Money doesn’t last the same everywhere. If a meal is $2 in Mexico, that exact meal may well be $15 in France. Polish off those accounting skills. Budget money for each country you plan on visiting based on their cost of living. Consider flights, transport, accommodation, food, entrance fees and a potential rainy day that may pop up. Tally it, arrive at your total – then double it. If only money grew on trees.
7. There are too many languages you don’t know, but a rendition can help.
You may think that you’ll struggle with the language barrier, that you can’t comprehend directions, or that you’re too shy around new people or stress out in a crisis. But once you throw yourself in the deep end and have to survive on your own, you’ll come to realise that you’re not too shabby at figuring out how to deal with situations. Like the time in Japan, where English is as rare as a purple elephant, you partook in what looked like a rendition by making animal noises to imitate a cow and swing your hands around to demonstrate that you’re a vegetarian and don’t eat meat. See, resourceful.
8. Roll with the punches because patience is most definitely a virtue.
In my past life if things didn’t go according to plan, I would have a breakdown. After flight delays, wrong turns, lost hotel bookings and bad food choices, you realise that things go wrong when you travel. Lots of things. This was reaffirmed for me on a trip to Mexico when EVERYTHING went wrong. The consulate misplaced my passport and was closed the day before my flight, my electronic visa for transit in to the US expired and my ATM card wouldn’t work. If you don’t learn to roll with the punches, you’ll be on a sure fire way to insanity.
Away from the hustle and bustle of home, on those long haul flights, bumpy bus rides, and long train rides, what’s one life lesson you’ve learned whilst travelling?