Nothing broadens the mind like travel, or so the old saying goes. I embarked on my first solo journey as a seventeen-year-old, fresh out of high school, yearning to explore the world around me, with equal parts naivety and idealism. I never anticipated that it would be the start of a decade-long journey of personal growth. While things didn’t always work out the way I wanted them to, the coming trips would be the making of who I am today.
I was living out of my backpack for the next ten years as a global nomad of sorts. Little did I know it at the time, but that first plane ticket would plunge me into the great university of life. As the writer and prolific world traveller, Miriam Beard once observed, ‘travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.’ Now it’s time to take stock and share some of those life lessons from a decade of traversing the globe—the good, bad and the ugly.
1. Make Fear Your Friend
A decade of leaning into my fears has taught me that the greatest rewards come from embracing what scares you. Embarking on my first trip as a wide-eyed unseasoned solo traveller at the tender age of seventeen was a huge milestone in facing my fears head-on. Even before I stepped onto the plane, it took courage to overcome negative self-doubt and stick to my guns when well-meaning naysayers only saw danger where I saw opportunities.
By staying steadfast in my determination to face my fears, I became truly independent. That first trip marked an important rite of passage into adulthood where I proved I could stand on my own two feet, even with misadventures along the way.
Life is not meant for dwelling over what-ifs and regrets. Go after new opportunities, and I think you’ll find, as the saying goes, that fortune really does favour the brave.
2. Friends Are Like Seasons
Some friends will come and go, while others will stand alongside you for life. Sometimes it’s difficult to have the foresight to see the difference between those friends who have your back and those that don’t, and the fallout can be especially painful. The self-assuredness that comes with age and a decade on the road makes you hold dear those friendships that are authentic and add value to your life, while tactfully distancing yourself from those that don’t, and unfollowing those ‘friends’ on social media who aren’t really friends at all.
3. Self-Worth and Acceptance
Travel teaches you that the world is an incredibly diverse place. There are 7.9 billion people on this planet we call earth, and no amount of people-pleasing will ensure that everyone is going to like you. There’s no knowing sometimes why someone may not ‘click’ with you. I have certainly come across people who outwardly disapproved of the fact I’m a natural introvert who doesn’t care to partake in binge drinking. It helps to keep in mind that you wouldn’t want to befriend someone who doesn’t want to be your friend.
4. Self-Knowledge Can Be Ugly
Let’s face it, sometimes we don’t like what we see in the mirror (and I don’t mean literally). Sometimes the loss of friendships teach us things about ourselves we would rather not admit, which can often lead to a crisis of confidence and going into a spiral of self-doubt. Rest assured that it’s just part of the messiness of the human experience and we have all been there. Over the years I have got better at resisting falling into the ego-trap, taking a step back and looking at how I can make myself a better person, not for anyone else’s approval but my own.
5. Pain is our greatest teacher
One of Buddha’s four noble truths is that life has inevitable suffering. You will experience inevitable pain, whether that be through loss, hardship, or heartbreak. Life is generally hard; friendships are hard; goodbyes are hard; and don’t even get me started on romantic relationships… Have faith that no matter what happens, time will heal. While no one enjoys suffering in the moment, it’s the challenging times that really serve up life’s most important lessons.
6. Never Forget Your Privilege
Remember that not everyone is as fortunate as you to be able to travel freely. I call bullshit on everyone being able to achieve anything they set their mind to. Call my a cynic, but I’ve walked the streets of the different cities of the world for long enough to realise that there are an awful lot of people out there who have been dealt a hand they didn’t ask for nor deserve. The ability to freely travel is a great privilege that should never be taken for granted.
7. Living Life With Vivid Appreciation
When American writer and director Ann Druyan paid tribute to her late husband, the great astronomer Carl Sagan, she didn’t seek solace in the belief that they would one day meet again, but rather, reflected back on a life well-lived together ‘with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is.’ Living with an awareness of the grim reality of death affords you a rich appreciation of life in the here and now, as well as an ability to hold onto cherished memories. The experience of travel is a precious gift that I walk around with every day—it has made me who I am, and for that, I am deeply grateful.
8. Strength in Vulnerability
Being vulnerable is scary, but it is a must. You can’t live life without taking risks, whether it’s leaving your comfort zone to travel, sharing your opinions without fear, or telling someone how you really feel about them. Vulnerability lies at the heart of all connections, romantic or otherwise, and it really is the only path to living authentically and with courage. Take it from me, I’ve been rejected countless times, but do I regret putting myself out there and making my feelings known? Absolutely not. As a friend once told me, “If you never swing the bat, how can you expect to hit the ball?”
9. Realise What Actually Makes You Happy
Developing the self-awareness to realise what makes you happy is one of the most important life lessons of all. Before I left Australia to live in Europe for three years, there were certain things that I was lacking—I didn’t enjoy my job, and I didn’t have many close friends. Living in England completely independently gave me the opportunity to do things without the support of my family back home and find my own way in the world. I hopped from job to job for a time, but things really clicked when I became a bartender; my confidence grew and close friendships developed over time. Take the time to find out what makes you happy, and do it.
10. Accept Diversity of Thought
Travel expands your perspective and allows acceptance of differences. The world is a vast place, and no upbringing is the same. It’s inevitable that you will cross paths with people that have radically different views from you, but when it is a friend who has different political or religious allegiances, things get more difficult. You can respectfully accept these differences in some instances, but at other times, particularly if it has turned a friendship toxic or they go against your core values, it’s important to have the strength of conviction to walk away.