How did this happen?
I returned from our one-year around-the-world trip three months ago. Time has been moving at a record speed, far more quickly than while traveling.
They say time flies when you’re having fun. I say time flies when you’re working 40-hour weeks and reuniting with family and friends you haven’t seen in 12 months.
I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the trip, and answering questions about our travels and return has helped me sort out what this trip really did for me. There are a lot of small discoveries and understandings I don’t discuss and I don’t provide any answers-to-the-questions-of-the-universe sort of revelations.
I suppose that’s one of the things I learned from traveling: sometimes what the world has to teach us is very small and not always earth-shattering. Here are my simple but significant reflections from one year of traveling.
Travel lessons: I’m a cheap date
Before setting out on my journey I assumed that, as a treat, I would enjoy staying in a nice place every once in a while. A place with soft white robes in the room, gourmet buffet breakfasts, and soundproof walls. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to indulge in a little luxury and live like rich travelers for a few nights, soaking away the night in our Jacuzzi tub?
After traveling for a year, I realized that the price gap between luxury hotels and budget hotels, apartments, or hostels is way out of proportion. Two hundred dollars for a room was twice our daily budget, and that didn’t even include our food and activities. And for what, really?
Sure, a fancy room is a comfort for a weary traveler but it’s just a room. It’s possible to get just as good of a night’s sleep in a private hostel room for $20–$40 a night. Now I have a hard time justifying a room that’s more than my daily travel budget. I’ll take a budget picnic along the Seine in Paris over quadruple-the-cost night at a fine-dining restaurant any time.
Traveling has turned me cheap. In other words, traveling has made me realize how spending more does not always ensure a better experience.
Travel lessons: It’s okay to just travel
When talking to people about my trip, I always felt like I had some explaining to do. That I wasn’t taking a vacation, or “a year off,” and that I was actually planning to do a lot of work writing, taking classes, and learning languages. The American in me felt guilty about abandoning my career as a 30-something professional, blowing my savings, and taking off to see the globe.
Now I’m less self-conscious about my reasons for travel.
I’ve worked really hard all of my life and am simply choosing one way to spend the money I’ve earned. I’m choosing to spend my money on experiences rather than a house, a car, or lots of possessions.
It may be a more unconventional approach to adult life, but it’s really just a choice.
I enjoy writing and I appreciate the freedom travel gave me to develop this blog and other projects. But if I didn’t have anything tangible to show for my 365 days spent not working at a conventional job, that’s okay too. The experiences, people, places, feelings, and revelations I experienced on my journey are enough for me.
Travel lessons: I still hate to fly
I used to hate flying because I was (illogically) afraid the plane would crash. Flying 14 times in one year forces one to get over that quickly. I still hate flying. I find it the most boring, frustrating, and at times excruciating method of getting from one place to the next.
Many times, people fly to save time. Why drive 10 hours when you can fly for 2?
Because the process of flying never amounts to just the flight time. Add up the drive to the airport (they’re most often far from a city’s center), the extra time for customs and security, the possible delays, the customs and baggage claim at the other end, and the drive time from the airport and you could easily spend 8-10 hours getting to your destination.
Plus, for much of that time, you’re trapped at an airport, aimlessly wandering the duty-free aisles to kill time. Not going anywhere.
Aside from cross-ocean and continental passage, I’ll travel when I can by bus or train or car. Moving. Watching the land change. Going somewhere.
Travel lessons: Less expectation + less planning = less heartache
Peter and I have talked about expectations before, but I’ll mention it again because it still blows me away how powerfully the mind can alter experiences. If you’ve ever loved a movie everyone hated or felt disappointed by a hyped-up restaurant, you know what I’m talking about.
It’s one reason I’m becoming less and less of a planner.
Before, I loved researching a new destination and learning as much as I could about it, even finding what hotel we would stay at or what restaurants we would frequent.
I came to learn on this trip how disastrous this can be. The internet and guidebooks offer such a limited glimpse. The layers of a country or city or town are so much deeper than the surface the reviews scratch. The more you know ahead of time about a culture, the more you’ve already formed an opinion about it. You spend a lot of your time measuring how the place lives up to your expectations rather than letting it surprise you.
Traveling more spontaneously opens the door much wider. There will always be a bad experience here and there that adds a negative spin to our perceptions. But I’d much rather be open to the possibility of falling in love with a place.
Travel lessons: Having more “free time” doesn’t necessarily change your life
It was one of the aspects of taking a year off my 40-hour per week job I was most excited about. I would have so much time to work on all the activities I never had time to do while I was spending 40 hours per week behind a desk. Writing. Reading. Meditating. Exercising. Working on my resume. Teaching myself design.
I have a surprise for you folks: I did not accomplish all of those things.
Why didn’t I do all of the things I set out to do? Am I lazy? Do I have ADD?
Maybe ennui and attention span are somewhat to blame, but I think my problem was assuming that time was the issue, and not considering how much my bad habits had preventing me from achieving goals in the past.
The trip was a good lesson for me that changing the external factors in my life (my job, my commute, my friends, my time) doesn’t automatically result in a personal transformation. There was a lot I had to work on, and still have to work on, internally.
My former boss posted on Facebook recently that, even after retirement, she still leaves clutter around the house, having before blamed her habits on a busy schedule. Nope, she wrote, I’m just a messy person.
I too am a messy person (literally and figuratively) and working on my stuff is a messy process, and that’s okay. Traveling the world helped me accept that.
Every day my trip reminds me that I’m okay.
- Like this post by Lindsay? Pair it with Peter’s lessons from the world trip →