Without a doubt, travel has shaped who I am as a person and given me so many hugely treasured experiences. I am completely intoxicated by the whole process of travel. From planning to those first giddy moments of arrival in a new place. I love it. As a teacher by trade, I take such joy from immersing myself in a new culture or the history of a place, but I strongly believe that my travel experiences go deeper than my appreciation of a new place. The independent journeys and opportunities I sought out, particularly in my early twenties have truly formed the adult I am now. So, here are some of the most important life lessons travel has taught me.
1. Budgeting & the value of money
As a young adult or university student, you don’t tend to have huge reserves of disposable cash. Therefore, if you want to travel you’ll need to budget and work for it. I remember taking bar jobs in university and working as a nanny and nursery assistant to earn some extra cash to fund my trips.
Travel is brilliant for helping you to budget. If you’re travelling for four weeks, you’ll need money set aside for food, transport, excursions, tips, accommodation and always, always, always keep some cash for emergencies.
Remote travel is equally perfect for encouraging you to stick to your budget. If you know there will be no access to a cash point or bank then you’ll have to carefully consider spending limits each day.
Travel, in addition, gives you an unprecedented understanding of the value of money. Think how far your money goes in places like Thailand compared to Iceland. The cost of living varies hugely across the world. So, when you are haggling with a street seller over two hundred rupees think to yourself how much that is in UK Sterling. Is it worth haggling over £1? Particularly if that money would make a big difference for that individual.
Travel and money can also come with a few nasty surprises, which most young travelers will only fall foul of once. Bank charges for using your UK bank card, astronomical mobile-phone bills, medical charges if you’ve not bothered with insurance can all be a financial wake-up call. Make sure you do your research and speak to your bank before you travel if you have any concerns.
2. Get out of your comfort zone
Travel will undoubtedly put you in situations you never thought you’d find yourself in. Whether that is standing atop a cliff, digging deep for the courage to jump into frigid waters or desperately holding it together whilst rescuing a seven-year-old from notoriously big kayak spiders, seriously they are huge. Or a personal favourite closing your eyes and hoping nothing bites you as you try to pee in a hole in the ground in Kenya.
There will always be something new or unknown when you’re travelling. The best thing you can do is embrace it. When you approach a situation with an open mind and a positive attitude there will always be something encouraging to take from the experience.
Travel is about broadening your experiences. How can you say you don’t like a thing if you’ve never tried it? How can you say its not your type of thing if you haven’t given it a go? My husband’s response to white water rafting is the perfect example. He was sceptical, a little moany and very much like this is not my thing. I will not enjoy it. Cue fifteen minutes into paddling; he’s right at the font, bossing every rapid and living his best life.
What have you got to lose?
3. Working & interacting with new people
You can’t avoid it, whether you’re a people person or not you will spend your whole life working with and having to interact with people. Travel is one of those things that makes you strike up a conversation. Group travel particularly is brilliant. The one thing you all have in common is your choice to travel; that’s a pretty good starting point.
Travel also gives you the ideal opportunity to test out your language skills. I am always ashamed by my poor linguistical skills. So many people across the globe possess a phenomenal grasp of English and I can just about muster ‘hello’ and mime my way through ordering a meal. But these interactions are priceless.
One of the steepest learning curves I found was work in a different country. Nothing prepares you better for the working world than throwing yourself into a job in another country. I landed in Canada five days before I was due to start work at a summer camp teaching outdoor sport. Three of my five days were taken up with a first aid course to gain the appropriately recognised qualification, and two days were devoted to travelling. Suddenly I was working with a team of strangers, welcoming children from the age of seven to sixteen and taking full responsibility for my group 24/7. In those situations, you bond quickly, forge strong relationships and you get your head down and do the job in front of you.
As a teacher, one of my biggest niggles is that students give up so easily and seem to lack a deeper layer of resilience. Don’t give up. Whatever you are doing see it through to the end. The sense of accomplishment you feel at the end will completely outweigh any negative sections of the journey. The parts of our journey we find the hardest are often the parts we look back on most fondly. Language will be a barrier, you will have setbacks and plans will get changed, but stick with it.
I remember taking a group of eleven-year-olds on a kayak trip in Canada. As one of two adults in charge, I felt such a weight of responsibility for the children’s safety and well-being. So, despite the choppy water and toeing one of the less confident paddlers, I pushed through. The combination of responsibility and the physical challenge was a real test of my perseverance.
Challenge yourself, set ambitious goals and reflect on your success. You might surprise yourself with grit you didn’t even know you had.
5. Confidence & self-belief
Travel presents you with so many opportunities to learn and grow. Only when you stop can, you reflect on all the things you got right, or how you were able to learn from a particular situation. Making your flights, planning excursions, ordering in a different language, sharing your shower with local reptiles or even your Imodium lasting you an eight-hour bus ride across Rajasthan. Take confidence from the small wins. Whether it was your careful planning or your mental attitude, you did those things. You made them happen and came out on top.
6. Organisational skills
I remember sitting on my bedroom floor in 2008 and again in 2009 carefully laying out every item I would need for four weeks in India and seven weeks working in Canada. I wrote lists, researched and added more things to my list. My trip to India was my first big independent adventure without my parents, so I wanted to prove that I could do it. I wanted to get it right. Being gifted the opportunity to go and explore this fabulous country with my best friend was incredible. As newly turned twenty-year-olds we were so naïve but with naivety comes enthusiasm, we certainly weren’t short of that. Throughout the planning process, packing and even when we were away, the organisation played such a key part to the success of our trip. Clothing, money, visa’s, transport and connections from our group tour to the second part of the trip all had to be carefully thought about.
Without the opportunity to take responsibility I would never have unearthed my love for a planning spreadsheet or colour coded budgeting.
7. Adapt. Change. Go with the flow
Change is inevitable and perfectly laid plans are great. But travel doesn’t always fit into your carefully crafted schedule or itinerary. Flights get cancelled, transport is delayed, miserable weather scuppers your outdoor adventures or the world goes into lockdown forcing you to move your adventures closer to home or indulge your wanderlust via Instagram.
I can honestly say, I struggle with big changes but I love spontaneity when I travel. An odd mix, I know. However, when I do make plans, I like sticking to them. But for every situation that hasn’t gone as I’d hoped, I’ve learnt, grown and ultimately, it’s all turned out ok, if not better.
The ability to adapt and change your plans at a moments notice is a crucial life lesson. Being flexible will not only improve your travel experiences, but it’s vital in the wider world. Embracing the unknown when travelling truly is part of the whole experience, so don’t sweat the small stuff, think on your feet and roll with it.
Travel will leave you with a newfound appreciation of different cultures, cuisine and the natural environment. Standing at the bottom of Victoria falls in Zambia listening to the water pound the rocks or sitting in the sunshine on the shores of Lake Windermere listening to nothing but bird song it’s hard not to be in awe of mother nature.
During my time in India, we stayed with a local family in Bellary. The family were so welcoming and generous with the little they had. Despite three generations living in the house, we were offered a whole room and use of the bathroom to ourselves. Everything in that family was shared but they were the most joyful people who appreciated everything. I left their home after two weeks feeling humble and buoyantly thankful for their kindness.
9. Experiences out-weigh possessions
What is more valuable? Is the photograph taken straight after your first exhilarating cliff dive? Or a small tourist souvenir that will be destined for a cupboard before making its way to the charity shop? Travel has taught me that experiences outweigh stuff, every time. Experiences and memories will stay with you so much longer than a tourist souvenir bought for the sake of it.
Meaningful experiences help you get under the skin of a place and its culture. I remember visiting a wood carving workshop in rural Bali. Whilst my parents bought the most fabulous carved elephant from the roots of a mahogany tree. I remember wandering around the back. Air thick with smoke. Men and women hunched on bamboo mats completely engrossed in their work. I was transfixed on their dexterous and skillful working of the wood. Animals, Gods and Goddesses materialised before my eyes. So, although the elephant is a gorgeous and beguiling thing, it is the memory of the place and the people that have stayed with me.
10. Unforgettable experiences and interactions
My travels have taken me to some incredible places, and I hold those experiences close. Travel is inspirational, the more you do the more you yearn for more.
Some of the best experiences are those which cannot be repeated or recreated. The magic of adventure is in the culmination of circumstances. Combine sheer exhaustion with sitting on the banks of the Zambezi watching elephants drink from the other side and a moderately strong mojito and you’ve got a perfect moment.
Transient relationships and interactions with people from all walks of life are special nuggets that enrich your journeys. I remember taking a local train India with my ginger best friend. With gorgeous Scottish milky skin and fiery red hair, she was an absolute novelty and the brilliant catalyst for conversation.
I would love to know your travel stories and how travel has impacted you.
Stay safe & Happy travels.