Back in 2015, I flew to India to embark on my first ever backpacking adventure… 9 countries and 18 months later I decided to write this post to document the most important things I’ve learnt during my travels.
It’s pretty incredible how much you can gain from pushing yourself to travel; You learn just as much about yourself as you do about the world around you.
Here it goes:
1. PEOPLE THAT DON’T HAVE MUCH SEEM JUST AS HAPPY
Western civilisation is a double edged sword – better healthcare, technology and infrastructure comes at a cost, and that’s a culture of consumerism. Through the magazines we read to the TVs we watch, we are bombarded with adverts for pointless things that we don’t really need. The high you feel when you have a new toy or designer handbag will soon fade. There is so much more to life than material riches.
I’d say people not as privileged as you and I have more meaningful lives, they focus on what’s truly important in life – connecting with other people, not competing with them.
2. THE BEST PLAN IS TO HAVE NO PLAN
The only two things I had sorted before leaving the UK was my Indian visa and a one-way flight to Kerela. I didn’t know what country I’d go to next or when, and the uncertainty made me so happy!
The only things that you’re going to achieve in having a strict itinerary are disappointment and pressure.
You lose the true essence of freedom if you are restricted to a tight schedule – Imagine falling in love with a place that you had only allowed yourself a week to see and having to catch a plane to your next destination, pretty terrible right?
3. GOODBYES NEVER GET EASIER
I’ve lost count of the great relationships I’ve forged through travel.
I often find myself judging time by experiences; not days and weeks. It can trick you into thinking way more time has passed making a one-month friendship feel like the equivalent of a 5-year friendship back home.
Travel makes you connect with the people you shared it with in quite a special way. The friends you make are part of memories that’ll you’ll have for a lifetime.
Goodbyes never get easier, they are sadly part of exploring and part of life. I try to look at it this way though: The harder the goodbye the more meaningful the friendship… and for that, you should consider yourself lucky.
4. TRAVEL IS THE BEST EDUCATION YOU CAN EVER HAVE
This one may seem like a cliche’ because it absolutely is, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Experiencing other cultures and acknowledging their similarities & differences to your culture can prove to be an introspective experience. Through travel you become more aware of your wants and needs, you continuously test your ability to improvise and it teaches you how to be a more compassionate human being.
5. IT’S GOOD TO BE FRUGAL BUT KNOW WHEN TO SPLURGE
During my twenties, money was very much in one hand and out the other. Dare I say it’s wisdom, but I now know better.
I did a full 180° and become painfully tight, which was for a purpose; I wanted my travels across Asia to last as long as possible. There is a line though and you must know when to cross it. I found myself umming and ahhing over paying for excursions, entry fees and the like. I would have missed out on countless awesome experiences if I had sacrificed the experience for saving a few quid.
Long story short… be tight, but not too tight.
6. READING IS THE WAY FORWARD
This is something that has really changed for me. I’ve always wanted to be a reader but felt that it was a chore to read, I’ve chalked up more half read books than I care to remember. I’m also waaaaayyy too easily distracted and can lose interest in something if it’s not stimulating enough.
I’m happy to say this isn’t the case anymore. I must have read 30 books since I left home. I feel in my older age I’m putting a lot more focus into learning and personal growth; reading must be a by-product of this.
It’s the best way to pass time on monster train and bus journeys, and there is joy to be found in finding something that really interests you when swapping books in hostels or street libraries.
Unfortunately, I’m painfully sentimental and ended up coming home with 5 books that I couldn’t part with. Not ideal when living out of a backpack and having to lug them around everywhere, maybe a Kindle is the way forward! (Update: Since writing this, Lora has bought me a Kindle for my birthday. Good girl!)
7. WE’RE LUCKY TO LIVE IN AN AGE OF COMMUNICATION
There was a time when backpackers would say goodbye to their loved ones and apart from the odd postcard or expensive phone call, you’d never be heard from until your return.
Luckily this is a thing of the past – we live in the age of Skype, Whatsapp and Facebook. Staying in touch with your nearest and dearest has never been easier.
However, it does make travel lose some of its romance, but keeping bonds with the people you love is obviously very important.
I once Skyped my Brother (who was in Brazil) and my Father (who was in the UAE) at the same time, crazy when you think about it.
8. I APPRECIATE MY HOME COUNTRY WAY MORE
I’ve been asked by locals in so many countries to show them pictures of my home country – Wales.
I felt an enhanced sense of pride when showing them images of our pristine beaches, beautiful mountains and green rolling hills.
I did miss home quite a bit at times. This has definitely made me appreciate it that little bit more.
9. LISTENING TO MUSIC IS SUPER IMPORTANT
Don’t get me wrong, music is always important. However, when you listen to music as you travel, you create memories based around the artists and tracks that you listen to. For the rest of your life whenever you hear a piece of music with a memory tied to it it’ll instantly transport you back there.
Hopefully, it’s more listening to The Beatles while meandering through the hills of Laos rather than Nickelback whilst being mugged.
10. YOU CAN ALWAYS RELY ON THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
I once got chatting to a man on a train in India, he passed me his business card and said “The world is a village”, he then told me if I ever had any trouble to call him and he would help me… a total stranger. Pretty profound. There is comfort in knowing there are people like this in the world.
I found that no matter where I was, there were always people that were willing to help – We’ve been lost in Mumbai and someone insisted on catching a train with us in to show us where we needed to go, we’ve had a stranger try to pay for £20 worth of food in Malaysia because our bank cards weren’t working and Lora cut on her foot once and had it patched up by an old Vietnamese lady that couldn’t speak a word of English. I could go on…
Race, age, language is all irrelevant…. People are inherently good and will be willing to help.
The world is a village.
11. DON’T STRESS OVER WHAT YOU CAN’T CONTROL
I would like to think I don’t worry as much as I used to. I realise there are certain things that are outside of my control and worrying doesn’t help.
Whether it’s buses not turning up, shitty border crossings or people trying to rip me off. I learnt to not get worked up, to just step back and realise there are people in the world with real problems and it’s not worth getting upset about.
Remember, worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.
12. LIVING IN A VAN IS TRUE FREEDOM
I can’t stress enough how liberating it is to live in a van. Lora and I lived in our van (Enfys) in Australia for just over 2 and a half months and I’ve never felt so free in my life.
You wake up each day, look at a map, decide where you want to go, and then drive there, in your home! Unreal
One time, in particular, stands out in my mind – We were parked up at a beach in Queensland, I slid the van door open just in time for sunrise and laid there in our bed watching the sun slowly ease up from the Coral Sea. It was beyond beautiful. We eventually pulled ourselves up from bed, cooked breakfast and took a stroll along the beach where we saw a dolphin and her young calf jumping playfully in the waves. I remember thinking I never wanted to forget that feeling; true freedom. This was the reason why I found myself on the other side of the world.
13. PHOTOGRAPHY AND TRAVEL GO HAND IN HAND
I’m an aspiring photographer. I have an incredibly long way to go but I feel travel has stepped me up to the next level.
Photography makes you look at a place in a different way, you try to look for the little details that give meaning to a place. You absorb more of what’s around whilst documenting it for you to enjoy and reflect upon in years to come.
I’d recommend anybody who is interested in photography and looking to travel to just bite the bullet and buy a DSLR. You won’t regret it.
14. IT’S NOT ALL SUNSHINE AND PUPPIES
You can be easily fooled by these stupidly perfect Instagram accounts – You know the type: Beautiful Abercrombie and Fitch type couples globe trotting to every corner of the earth, trekking jungles in stylish (and mysteriously ironed) clothes, standing on majestic cliff edges and generally being oh so perfect.
When people post on social media you’re seeing the edited best bits, we’re all guilty of it…. But make no mistake, when you travel you will get ripped off by the police, beaches will be covered in litter, you will have explosive diarrhoea and you will step in cow shit.
15. AGE IS JUST A NUMBER
I used to be so fixated with my age. I even remember feeling old at 23, ridiculous.
Before leaving the UK I was worried I may be too old for backpacking. I was literally as old as a person could be on an Australian 417 Working Holiday Visa. I used to get these nagging thoughts that I needed to grow up, buy a house etc blah blaaahh. Then I realised that I was caring more about other peoples perception of me and trying to follow a typical life blueprint rather than doing something that I truly wanted to do.
I’ve stayed in hostels where I was the oldest person, I’ve met couples in their 40’s backpacking across Asia and I’ve stayed in hostels with people in their 60s. Age is just a number, do what you want to do. If someone has a problem with it then that’s their problem, not mine.
16. BACKPACKING CAN BE MENTALLY TIRING
This is something I never considered in the beginning. But it can be quite draining moving from place to place so frequently, sometimes arriving in a random village not knowing where you’re going to sleep that night and all too often after a monster journey crammed on a tiny bus (and no matter what country, the driver is always a nutter).
I ended up craving normality at times…. I know, ironic isn’t it – craving the exact thing I left the UK to escape. We would push the boat out and get a $15 room to combat this, big pimping.
I wouldn’t change it for the world though. Nobody has ever achieved anything being comfortable.
17. THERE IS A MASSIVE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TRAVELLER AND A TOURIST
I didn’t realise there was a difference before.
I definitely see the distinction now though – A traveller engages with his/her environment in a meaningful way, a tourist engages with their environment to tick boxes.
There are so many situations I’ve found myself in where it felt like us vs them… That being said – travel in any capacity can only be a good thing but I am glad to call myself a traveller.
18. I AM VERY LUCKY TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO TRAVEL
This is the most important thing I’ve learnt.
I’ve witnessed such abject poverty that it made me feel sick to my stomach with guilt for being as privileged as I am. I won the geographical lottery, plain and simple… and considering you are reading these words at this very moment on your smartphone, pc or laptop, so did you.
Travel has taught me to step back and take stock of the blessings in my life…. and for that, I will be forever grateful.