You learn a thing or two when you get out of your everyday context. I’ve traveled before, but being gone for almost three months gave me more time to discover my own abilities and the realities of being in new cultures, along with navigating the complexities of all that newness.
Traveling is definitely hip, at least in our little nook of the world. Perhaps the possibility of the privileged in some ways. But there is so much to learn, and if you go as a learner all the hipness doesn’t matter and it makes you thankful and humble towards the opportunities you have.
I learned a lot, and I hope to continue to learn as we continue to travel.
It was hard to narrow them down, but I wanted to share at least a couple. So, here are ten things I learned, and I think you would learn, while traveling.
1. Being afraid isn’t a good excuse to put your travels on hold.
I flew into Ben-Gurion airport the same day Hamas officials threatened to bomb it. I would be lying if I said I didn’t give out a sigh of relief once we landed and I walked off the plane.
The world is messed up, yes. But being scared should never be a deterrent from seeing it.
I went back and forth about whether or not I should go beforehand, and the news only fueled the fire of anxiety. The reality is that most news coverage sensationalizes the circumstances and dehumanizes the people involved. It becomes this real-life drama of good and evil being played out before our eyes, but meanwhile people continue to live their lives as normally as possible. Life on the ground was a lot different than what I was watching on TV.
We all know that you can’t control when and where horrible things will happen. There was a massacre two minutes away from our home in Isla Vista that Mulch and I could have easily been in the midst of. Too often our fear of the unknown often paralyzes us into submission; a submission that drives us into full obedience to that fear. We choose what is safe, convenient and practical. Wisdom should never be thrown out of the equation; common sense is common sense for a reason. But we have to learn to separate hyper-sensitivity from wise counsel.
Traveling will always be full of unknowns and what-ifs. But that’s life, and it’s a lot richer with new people, cultures and experiences that you wouldn’t experience otherwise.
2. You are much more capable than you think.
Navigating public transit systems in a different language is daunting. But it’s also attainable. Mulch and I successfully got around four different countries with public transit. Buses, trains, subways and planes. And a ferry.
I remember when I arrived at my apartment in Tel Aviv, fresh off the plane and alone as can be. How was I going to survive the next week all by myself?
Easy. In Tel Aviv I stuck to walking, and was surprised by my ability to follow a map. Who would’ve thought.
And I made it to Jerusalem alone as well. The old sherut (shared van) driver was of no use to me, other than the transport part of the trip. Figuring out where to tell him to stop so I could get to my hostel was a gamble.
I looked out the window. The unfamiliar streets were full of unfamiliar people wearing unfamiliar clothes. I had no clue where I was.
“Um…can you stop?”
The driver glanced up at the rearview mirror to look at me, mumbled something in Hebrew and continued to stare. He was hunched over with age and his white furrowed brow made it clear he had no idea what I asked.
Another guy got his attention to stop, so I made my exit by tagging along. The driver nodded, almost drove off with my luggage and sped off after I shut the door. I used a map again to find the hostel. I made it. I survived.
Foreign travel can seem tricky, and I’ve had my fair share of “leap of faith” moments; but the people who live there do it everyday, and with enough prodding and begging and google searches you’ll figure it out. Don’t doubt yourself.
3. Humans in a different part of the world are still humans.
Humans have a lot more in common than they think. We are obsessed with labeling, sorting and separating ourselves from other humans, but we really aren’t that different from each other.
I met Palestinian moms and dads, secular Israeli yuppies, ideologically motivated Jewish settlers, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Hungarians, Londoners, Scots, Northern Irish, Dubliners, North-Shore Hawai’ians and Honolulu city dwellers. Lots of people who contradict each other. All sorts of backgrounds, beliefs and world views.
But, we all had one thing in common. We were human.
Traveling has convinced me that I don’t need to be as hateful, confused or scared of other human beings that I don’t know or understand as I may naturally want to be.
No matter how different, we all share in this crazy existence of life on planet earth. We were shaped with the same mold, all by the same creator.
4. History is meant to be shared, and preferably experienced.
It’s one thing to talk about the city of Jericho and a whole different thing to actually walk through it.
Throughout our two month trip we visited areas rich in history, with dates of existence that put the age of Santa Barbara’s Spanish Missions to shame.
We visited ancient druid settlement remains, walked through the ruins of cities like Capernaum and sat in churches constructed over a thousand years ago.
It’s out there. Reading about it is fascinating. Experiencing it is unmatched.
5. You don’t need tons of money.
I will admit that we received an unexpected sum of money through an award I won at school that we used on our trip. Even so, we could have cut back dramatically and survived without it if needed.
Credit card reward programs and sites like airbnb make travel a hundred times easier and way less expensive.
Example: we were able to save close to a thousand dollars on a car rental through the insurance coverage offered with our credit card. Example: we didn’t have to buy any international flights. Thanks, Chase ultimate rewards.
You may need to sacrifice luxury, but you can tailor a trip to any budget.
6. Airbnb is totally worth it.
As I just mentioned, airbnb is the budget travelers dream. But it’s not limited to just the cheap; you can get as fancy and luxurious as your wallet allows.
But for those of us concerned with dollar signs (or shekel or forint or pound signs…) airbnb has plenty of options that fit within any budget.
On top of that, when you stay inside someone’s home you actually get to meet people who live in the places you visit, which aids in the realization I discussed above (number three) and humanizes the people of your vacation destination.
Hotels offer a sterile version of these destinations, which I admit can be a wonderful and needed getaway when the situation calls. But for two introverts like Mulch and I, we needed to be forced to meet the locals, and airbnb was the perfect format. We had all-star stays, with only one questionable experience throughout our trip. And that was with close to twenty different airbnb bookings.
7. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
The world, man. Can we just take a moment and marvel at how beautiful, diverse and crazy our planet is?
I was just as breathless and blown away by the bustling chaos of the Old City of Jerusalem as I was by the peaceful, heather-carpeted fields of Skye.
Traveling made me appreciate the beautiful place I call home even more, and pushed me to see beauty in what I would have otherwise overlooked.
Irish clouds, Hungary’s perfect little alleys, the olive trees of Bethlehem and London’s cityscape. The modern, the natural, the ancient and the accidental. Beauty can be discovered no matter where you are.
8. Flexibility is key.
Traveling 101: things will not go as planned. No matter how well you scheme, you book, the amount of dollars you pay or travel agents you use, you are still at the mercy of the travel gods. Well, not really.
But seriously, flights get delayed without explanation or reason, traffic forces you to miss your bus connection, you miss your train by five minutes…the possibilities are endless.
We got lost on foot while toting our luggage around, realized the 5 minute walk described from the station to that nights apartment was actually 30 and had to sleep in all sorts of uncomfortable positions and places.
You learn to not get your hopes to set on something; the rain may make it impossible to see that beautiful place you wanted to go, your drive may actually be 3 hours longer than you thought so you miss the entrance time, your bag gets lost and you don’t get to wear all the outfits you carefully planned out. Or if you’re lucky, the “interesting” local food may actually be a diarrhea-bomb waiting to sabotage your perfect morning’s adventure.
At the end of the day, it’s not about things going as planned. It’s about being present and experiencing all the newness of the destinations you are visiting; the good, the bad and the ugly.
9. Document your trip.
I guess it’s possible to over-document a trip, and miss out on really experiencing it.
But even though it may seem fresh in your mind a week later, our memories are tricksters and are laughably unfaithful. We forget, we mix-up and mush together. Being disciplined in documenting your trip isn’t only good for sharing with others, but also building a memory that will last.
You really can’t go wrong. What were your emotions? The sights, the smells, the flashes of life or moments of serenity? Be specific. Write down silly stories or circumstances that challenged your beliefs.
Maybe start with a question at the beginning of your trip, and write down all the different answers you come up with that are shaped throughout your travels.
Take photos, videos, audio. We have so many tools at our fingertips to remember.
You never know what history you may be walking through. Will this city be here in twenty years? Will natural disasters transform the landscape I’m enjoying today? Even the minuscule and minute; document them all.
10. There’s never a “right” time.
I hear this all the time.
“Man, I wish I could travel.”
There are life circumstances that prevent us from being in the lovely, yet vulnerable, place of traveling. Maybe a new job, a baby, a family emergency. Those, among many others, are legitimate reasons to put your travel dreams on hold.
Yet there may never be the “perfect” or “right” time to begin the adventure of your dreams. It takes a little faith, sacrifice, and as I mentioned above, vulnerability to travel.
You have to make it the right time. Maybe instead of three months trekking through Asia, you take your vacation allowance of two weeks and choose to visit the top two destinations. Make it a family-friendly trip and bring the kids. Get creative; traveling doesn’t just have to be for the wanderlust college drop-out.
Mulch and I have come to the conclusion that the experiences and people we encounter are priceless. We’d rather be poor and well-traveled. But that’s just us. Really consider if your need for financial security is worth putting travel on hold. Because sometimes it isn’t.
That “someday” has to be someday, and it might as well be today. Again, don’t throw common sense out the window; but don’t turn down opportunities to take that step of faith and travel.
If you are so inclined, go see the world. I promise, even with all its messiness and unpredictability, there is so much to learn. And so much to see.
“The sight of the huge world put mad ideas into me, as if I could wander away, wander forever, see strange and beautiful things, one after the other” C.S. Lewis