Like the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. If I had a dollar for every time I said that it has gone by fast, I would be rich by now. But, that is the way all good things go I suppose. What started as a crazy idea – quit our jobs and travel the world – initially seemed so out of reach and far away, but now, here we are almost one year later with the dream having become a reality.
Whenever you feel the end of something coming it makes you feel pretty reflective about what it meant to you and what you have learned along the way. Summing it up with just a few words is near impossible – it is either inadequate or cheesy. So, instead, we have made a list of our “biggest travel lessons” which sums up a lot of what we have learned. Hope you enjoy it
TOP 10 LESSONS FROM TRAVELING AROUND THE WORLD (in no particular order)
1) Most people are normal.
Watching the news anymore makes people feel like there is no safe place left in this world to visit, especially for Americans. The news makes us worry that we will be kidnapped, robbed or worse. It leaves us with a guarded and often mistrustful demeanor towards foreigners. But, the more we get out there, the more we see that the vast majority of the people in this world are just like you and me. They may dress differently and speak a different language, but in the end, they are just trying to live their lives as best they can. Overwhelmingly, they are kind folks who are proud to show off their country and are interested to learn about ours. And while we may feel like there is a lot of anti-American sentiment out there, most foreigners are pretty good at separating ones government from its citizens.
2) A little goes a long way with locals.
The world seems to be getting smaller as we globalize and it sometimes feels like we are all melding together. However, there are still cultural nuances in many countries and places in this world where we can feel the clash of old and new, east verse west, coming together. In Asia, raising your voice or wearing shoes inside is generally considered rude. In the Middle East, dressing modestly is expected, even for men (despite the heat, local men rarely wear shorts in public). Nothing makes me more uncomfortable as a foreign tourist than seeing a fellow traveler walking around a religious site without a shirt on or wearing booty shorts to the Pyramids of Giza. Though we may not understand or even agree with some of it, by following cultural nuances it sends the message – “I respect your culture” – and people appreciate these small gestures enormously.
3) Travel is an individual experience.
We have met a lot of fellow travelers on our trip, from people in their 70’s staying in hostels to young couples traveling with small kids, to people riding bikes across countries. In the process, we saw that while most of us are on the “tourist trail”, there are a lot of different ways to experience the trail. Some travelers spend all their time in one place or one country, while others quickly jump around from place to place, country to country. Certainly, there is a balance somewhere between stamp collecting and getting to know a place in depth, but the balance is for you to decide.
4) Take the news with a grain of salt.
It rarely seems like anything positive is reported in the news these days and it makes us especially wary of places like Africa and the Middle East. But now having spent time in both of those places, we learned that the news only covers a small fraction of what is actually going on. In Cairo, for example, while protesting was going on in Tahir Square, when we stepped just one block off the square, it was business as usual – folks out taking their kids for a stroll and drinking tea in street side cafes. I like to say that “things are fine until they’re not” – and determining when they are “not” is difficult. You never know where or when the next tsunami, earthquake, or protest will occur, but using the “what if” scenario as an excuse can be just as tragic if you are missing out on an otherwise great place to visit.
5) There is a big difference between being uncomfortable and being in danger.
This was a big one for me. I cannot tell you the number of times I felt uncomfortable on this trip… being swarmed by kids in Africa, unable to communicate in Brazil, held up at a checkpoint in Tanzania, telling our taxicab driver in the Middle East we were American, the list goes on and on… But what I have realized in all of these situations is that I was never really in danger – I was just uncomfortable. Though I was out of my element and feeling uneasy, getting out of our comfort zones gave us a great opportunity to learn about ourselves and to really see what the world is like. Some of the best moments of our trip occurred when we initially felt WAY out there and, because of it, got some amazing cultural experiences in return.
6) Most people in the world are poor.
How many times as a kid did you hear your mom say: “Don’t waste food; there are starving kids in Africa!”? Though we saw rich people in all parts of the world, most of the people we saw were poor on a level that we will never understand or appreciate. Making just $30,000 per year puts a person in the top 1% of income earners in the world. Contrast that to the fact that the average family in Africa lives on just $1 per day. With this poverty comes inconceivable challenges and limitations that are, in most cases, passed down from generation to generation. I will never pretend to understand what it must be like, but once you see it on a large scale, not just a pocket here or there, but globally, it is hard to turn your back on it. Which leads me to my next lesson learned…
7) Appreciate what you have.
I have learned to appreciate a long list of things I took for granted at home – running water, toilets, toilet paper, hot showers, good roads, fixed prices, air conditioning, and cleanliness. Moreover, being born female in the US makes me one of the luckiest girls in the world – hands down. Most women in the world fight tooth and nail to hold themselves and their families together. At home I find myself complaining that the line in Target is too long, or that they are out of avocados at Publix, but when you see how much enthusiasm you can get out of a kid in Africa by giving him a pen – it would blow your mind. While everything is relative and we do have a right to complain about things now and then, it seems so trivial when you meet a smart, young man in Tanzania who can no longer attend college because the tuition is unaffordable – just $800 per year. With lessons like this, I hope to always keep things in perspective before I go blowing my top about gas prices and the myriad of other non-life threatening things we complain about it.
8) American culture is everywhere.
How many times did we walk into a restaurant where they were playing Michael Jackson music nonstop? Too many to count. We saw a dozen plus movies in multiple countries and they were almost always American made. People love American culture, from music to movies, clothing, food and TV. Seeing the enjoyment people get from American culture around the world made me feel a sense of pride. And, it came as a shock to me to find out how insanely popular KFC is around the world – even more so than the golden arches. The debate rages on whether it is a good thing or bad thing, but it seems that for now, it’s here to stay.
9) You can get by almost anywhere with English.
I think people feel intimidated to travel abroad because they are afraid of not being able to communicate. But, like it or not, English is truly the universal travel language. It is hard to find a restaurant, hotel or tourist attraction where an employee does not speak at least a little bit of English. We had dinner in Mozambique (where the main language is Portuguese) with people from South Korea and Switzerland and we were all communicating in English – it is amazing! That being said, learning a few phrases in the local language – especially hello and thank you – will get you huge points (see #2 above). You will crack a few smiles just for trying and people are sympathetic enough to help you out if you are really struggling.
10) Don't let fear hold you back.
This trip is something we wanted to do for years, but we were always a little scared: what if we get sick…or injured…lost…or robbed…or don’t like spending so much time together…is it a bad financial move... the list goes on and on. But in the end, most of things we spent time worrying about did not happen, and if we had let fear hold us back, we would have missed out on a great experience and a lifetime of memories. I feel like too often we put goals and dreams on the back burner, or shelve them completely, mainly out of fear. You do not have to travel the world or jump out of a plane – everyone’s dreams are different – but whatever it is that you want out of life – don’t let doubt get the best of you. Go for it.
If you have any interest in traveling around the world with us in four minutes, we have put some of our best photos together with music and made it into a video. Click below:
Thank you so much for sharing in the journey with us and taking the time to read along! We received so much support and encouragement from our friends and family along the way, and in a way we couldn’t have done it without you Until the next adventure...