By Haylie Navarre
The past year of my life has been spent living out of a 40-liter backpack. I’ve worked all over the U.S. leading tours “from California to the New York island.” And I’ve found every excuse to travel since my first real taste of it in 2009. I travel for work, and I work to be able to afford to travel. It’s a vicious cycle.
Here are 10 life lessons that I’ve gained so far through my adventures.
- Pack half the clothes you think you need.
Less really is more when it comes to your luggage. Everything you bring will remain within eight inches of your personal space for almost the entirety of your trip. You’ll lug it onto the train, stuff it onto the bus, and schlep it through the airport. Pack a few pieces of clothing you can mix and match. Besides, all of your friends will be too blinded by how happy you look in your photos to realize that you wore that outfit yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that.
- …And twice the money.
No matter how strictly you budget and plan every single moment of your trip, there’s bound to be something you come across that you didn’t know you couldn’t live without. Maybe it’s a hand-knitted sweater adorned with llamas or maybe you decide you need to consume gelato no less than three times a day. Also, prices aren’t always as advertised. Some of the things you read online can be a couple of years old and outdated. Inflation is alive and well, y’all.
- Attitude is everything.
Traveling is the epitome of Murphy’s Law: things will go wrong. How you react to those ill-fated situations can really shape the outcome. You can sulk into a corner, avoid all human contact, and post a “poor me” Facebook status. Or you could view a setback as an unforeseen opportunity. Travel plans thwarted? Sounds like a golden opportunity to spend more time exploring your current digs.
- Be Flexible.
Having a rough outline of the places you want to see on your journey is a great idea, but try not to let it become a concrete itinerary. Everyone you meet is going to have amazing stories about places you didn’t even know existed. You’ll add a plethora of “must-see” places to your list, and if you’re lucky enough, you can toss your plans out the window and detour to newly discovered destinations.
Check in with your mom to let her know you’re alive, but don’t waste your trip trying to take the perfect Instagram shot or posting #humblebrags on social media. Go out there and make memories worth sharing once you return home. Sit in the park and people watch. Grab coffee with a new acquaintance. Browse the local shops. Wander around and get properly lost. There are few moments more empowering than finally figuring out which street your hostel is on.
- Embrace the unfamiliar.
On my most recent trip, I was very excited to make my first visit to Peru…until I found out that guinea pig is their version of a roast ham. I wanted to see mountains and ancient ruins—not to eat my second grade class pet. But after three days there, I bit the furry little bullet, and it was seriously one of the best meals I had during three months in South America. Whether it’s food or people, sometimes we fear the unfamiliar. If you let it, travel can break down those predispositions and open your eyes and heart to a new perspective.
- Don’t be the “Lonely Planet” gal/guy
Look, no one is immune to a little browsing through this travel guidebook giant. It’s a good starting point. Get some ideas, but for the love of everything sacred, please don’t let it dictate every place you visit. Travel is an adventure. Venture off the beaten path every once in a while and make your own discoveries. The real gems aren’t overrun with tourists or adorned with a TripAdvisor sticker on the front door.
- Be grateful.
Traveling opens up your eyes to both the things you take for granted, and the things you can learn to live without. You will meet people with resources far beneath your own, who are often more than willing to share what little they have. The world isn’t always as mean and scary as we think. Be grateful that you get to be a part of it. And be thankful for your friends and family; a seven-minute Skype session with someone who loves you can cure almost anything.
Trying to speak another language is the fastest way to check your ego. You’ll discover a newfound talent for charades and consistently order the one food you can confidently pronounce. But your respectable attempt to assimilate will not go unnoticed. People are often excited to speak with foreigners and share the pride of their culture. Poor translations also make for great icebreakers. No one’s intimidated by the person who yelled “nice butt” when trying to wish everyone “good night.”
- Carpe Diem.
When you’re traveling with a set end-date, everything around you seems so short term. Opportunities are plentiful, but they come and go quickly. If there’s something you want, you have to pursue it or risk missing out. This holds true as well for finding awesome deals on travel. Seeing the world isn’t just for trust fund babies. It’s so accessible; it just has to be a priority. Cut back on the nights out and the trips to Starbucks. The best prices don’t last long, so buy the ticket already!