21 Things I've Learned Whilst Backpacking
Santa Marta (Distrito Turístico Cultural E Histórico), Colombia
I know it's been a while, but I've been quite busy. A lot of things have happened and I promise I will write more about them in my next post. But right now, I'd like to do something different; today I want to share my wisdom with you. I've learned a lot during my travels. In fact, it has been the greatest learning experience in my life. Not only have I learnt how to be a bettter traveller, but I've also learnt things about life, and more importantly I've discovered myself.
1. Take That Leap of Faith
Many people are used to so much security in their lives that they can't imagine a life without it. They plan everything, and try to make rational decisions in every imaginable situation. I'm not saying a decision should be made without any thought, but every now and then you just have to let it go and follow your heart. Take that leap of faith, it may just be the best decision ever…
2. There's No Wrong Way of Travelling
Don't judge people by the way they travel. Everyone should determine their own travelling style. I met a fellow traveller in Argentina, and his plan was to travel in South America for 6 months with only €2000. Not really my cup of tea, but if that's the way he travels so be it. Others spend €200 on a daily basis. Again, not my style, but hey if that's what makes them happy, why not? Some travel just for the parties, and some go to every museum there is to visit. Determine what kind of traveller you are and create your own opinion on this matter, but don't judge people by the way they travel.
During your travels you will meet many people from the opposite sex that attract you. It's hard to work on a long term relationship while being on the road, and chances are that the other one is not staying at one place either. Though heartaches are never fun, and goodbyes are always horrible, I've learned that you need to seize the moment and enjoy the time you have together.
4. Chase the Special One(s)
Returning to the previous lesson, you may meet someone you have a deeper connection with. Travelling is not merely about one night stands and temporary friends with benefits as some of you may think. It is possible to genuinely like someone whilst travelling, and yes, you may even fall in love.
It's hard to give advice on this matter as it's an issue that is entirely based on emotion. I just know that if you don't have anywhere to go to, and are head over heels, you should just take that leap of faith again (lesson #1). Goodbyes are tough, but why say goodbye if you don't necessarily have to? Give it a shot, and see what happens. You don't want to end up with those annoying 'what-ifs'. Even if the circumstances are not ideal, just pursue it. It may lead to something beautiful. Sometimes you just meet that special one, and when you do, don't run away from it…
5. Quality, not Quantity
"I've been to Rio de Janeiro. Where's my list? Yes, tick it off!"
It doesn't work like that. One should focus on the quality of his or her travels, not on the amount of places one has seen. I've met travellers smashing the beaten track, and though I may not judge their way of travelling I personally dislike it. Nothing satisfies me more knowing that I really know a city, and that I will easily find my way again when I return.
Travelling is extremely tiring. Travelling with a high pace is possible, but it's definitely not sustainable. You are going to expose your body to many different circumstances, climates, altitude levels, parties etc. Every now and then you are going to need to give your body time to recuperate. The mental aspect shouldn't be forgotten either. Sometimes it's just nice to stay at one place for a longer period of time to get to know people a bit better, and to develop a deeper relationship with your fellow travellers (or with some locals) instead of "Hey, how you doing? Nice meeting you, but I need to go".
6. Stay In Shape & Take Care of Your Body
I'm probably the biggest hypocrite ever as I haven't really done this, but if I had the opportunity to do it again I'd definitely work out more and eat healthier (when possible). Apart from hiking I haven't done anything physically challenging. I'm sure some of you will disagree with me and say "f*** it, I'm travelling, I have better things to do". I'm not saying you should hit the gym every single day, but why can't you exercise for a bit when you have the time? A 30 minute workout program every once in a while won't hurt anyone, and it will be enough to keep you in shape. And you will look better once you hit the beaches...
7. Stay Flexible
I believe the best travels are the ones with no plans involved. If you like a place (or person), stay! If not, then proceed with your travels. It's as simple as that. Personally, I never book flights in advance, because that's just not my style. You never know what can possibly happen between the day of purchase of your ticket and the departure date. I'm sure I'll get a cheaper ticket if I book it in advance, but I'd rather pay a bit extra for flexibility. In my own experience, the coolest parts of my travels had not been planned at all…
8. There's Not Much We Need
Many travellers pack too many things when they start a big journey for the first time. I can't blame then, you want to be well prepared after all. I did the same, and during my travels I realized that I don't really need that much. Obviously, the amount of stuff you need will depend on what kind of journey you're going to make, but before leaving the apartment ask yourself this question: "If I had to get rid of 10 things, what would they be?"
9. Surround Yourself With The Best
I believe in energy; I believe in positive energy and unfortunately, I believe in negative energy as well. The thing is you want to surround yourself with positivity. There are enough negative people on this planet already, and you don't want to hang out with them. They basically drain all the good energy from your body and destroy your spirit. Instead, hang out with people with a strong positive energy. They will make you feel better, they will encourage you, they will inspire you, and they will definitely bring the best out of you…
10. Discover With Your Own Eyes
I don't like travelling with guide books. I've hardly used them during my travels. Why? It's simple, I don't like following the beaten track. I check the Internet every now and then, but I mostly rely on recs from fellow travellers and locals. It's hard to decide sometimes whether to go to a certain place or not. You will hear mixed stories about a certain place, which is completely normal as people have different tastes. I'll give you one of many examples.
Whilst travelling everyone told me I should skip São Paulo. Apparently, it's an ugly city that resembles a concrete jungle, and it offers nothing more than chaos. Defying all stories I decided to go there. I just couldn't believe there was nothing to do in South America's largest city. My initial plan was to stay there for 3 days, but I ended up staying there for 3 weeks. I love this city, I've had a blast, I've met some amazing people there and I've made friends for life. Discover the world with your own eyes!
11. Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover
It's easy to judge people by their looks, their nationality, skin color, etc. I would lie if I claim I never do it, but I'm doing my best to stop judging. Not all Americans are loud and obnoxious, not all Israelis hang out with only other Israelis, not all Italians know how to make pizza, not all Swedish are blond, and not all Australians do coke. Talk to people and get to know them first. Then you have my permission to judge, but just a little bit…
12. Learn Languages
I can't think of any disadvantages of speaking an extra language. Even if it's not a 'useful' language, it's still a piece of knowledge. I personally believe that you won't ever be able to completely understand a culture if you don't speak its language. Speaking the local language will change your experience and it will lead to many new opportunities. Being able to speak Spanish has made my journey through South America many times easier (and better) in many aspects. The thing I love the most is hanging out with locals, grab a beer with them on the streets, and share experiences. Besides, it's quite cool to tell people you master several languages. And local girls love it when you speak their language…
I believe that anyone can learn a language. Some people obviously have more talent than others, but anyone can do it. I'm not saying it's easy; you are going to have to put a lot of effort in learning a new language. When I arrived in Spain 4 years ago I couldn't speak a single word of Spanish. I started to take classes every single day, did my homework after class, and lived with a Spanish host family that didn't speak any English at all. It was tiring, and oftentimes very frustrating, but hey… guess who speaks Spanish now?
13. Different, But The Same
People travel to get to know new people, to learn about new cultures and to discover exciting things. There are many differences between countries, people and cultures. But when you travel you will also realize that everyone basically wants the same thing. Everyone wants affection, everyone wants love and everyone wants security. We all have the same basic desires, and I quote a fellow traveller "You can relate to everyone in the world if you look past the superficial things that separate you".
14. Happiness Is Not a Destination, It's a Journey
Most of you know this phrase, and it has become a huge cliché. But it's a good cliché though. Many people focus on that one thing that makes them happy and do everything in their power to get their hands on it, and once they have it they realize it didn't make them happy at all as they have developed new desires that will supposedly make them happy in another future.
Happiness is now! Live the moment and enjoy that beautiful moment. Appreciate the things you have now! Pursuing future happiness will only lead to a major anti-climax and will eventually disappoint you. Because once you find that so-called happiness you will need other things to make you happy again, and that's not how life works…
Have interesting conversations with your fellow travellers and respect the beliefs and opinions of others. Discuss, but don't let it get out of hand. It's fun to discuss with people with completely different opinions. You will learn a lot from it, and hopefully others will learn from what you have to say as well. Have the guts to disagree! You don't want to hang out with people who agree with you all the time. Seek challenges!
16. Aren't We All Confused?
I don't think I've met anyone who had it all sorted out. Everyone is thinking about their future, they're confused, they're lost, and they don't know what to do with their lives. To be honest, I'm experiencing the same thing. I'm going to have to start a new chapter in life once I fly back home again; I have no idea of what to do. The important thing is to realize that it's completely normal. You're not the only one being lost. Talk with people and talk with your friends and family, it always helps. And most importantly, have a little bit of faith. I don't know what I'm going to do or where I'm going to end up, but I know everything will be fine…
17. Stop Being Everyone's Friend
In an ideal world you would want to become friends with everyone, but let's face it... that's now how life works. Sometimes there's just no chemistry and putting energy in trying to develop a good friendship is just a waste of time. Just accept that some people are not meant to hang out with one another and let it be..
18. You're Never Alone…
I've been travelling alone for 11.5 months now and I love it! There's nothing wrong with travelling with one or two friends, but it will be a different experience. When travelling alone you will be more open to people and definitely more sociable. The best thing to me is that you will experience ultimate freedom. You can do whatever you want whenever you want. Also, you are going to have to do everything yourself, and this is a great learning experience. In the past 11.5 months I've learned so much about myself.
Some people don't understand the concept of travelling solo, and believe they will be lonely all the time. Fact is you will never be alone. I've met many people on the road, and it's easy to meet fellow backpackers, especially when you're in a traveller's environment. Hostels usually offer common areas for travellers to get to know each other and oftentimes organize fun activities. You'll be sharing a dorm with many other travellers, and there's no way you won't interact with others when you're sharing a dorm! I've never been really alone during my travels. In fact, I felt more lonely back home…
19. Use Common Sense
Before coming to South America I got warned! It is not safe! And that didn't stop when I got there. Locals told me to avoid certain places and I highly appreciate their help and concern, but it's not as bad as people think it is. Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bogotá and many other cities were supposed to be dangerous, but to be honest I'm a bit sceptical about this. I'm sure there are areas to avoid, but I believe that using common sense will prevent bad things from happening to you. If something does happen, it will be pure bad luck, and that's something that could happen back home as well. I believe that negative stories dominate the positive ones, and that's why people keep on warning you. It's not a bad thing, it keeps you alert. But believe me, most places are safer than you think they are.
20. Give & Share
Give and share without expecting anything in return. You might get it back one day, but then again maybe you won't. But does it really matter? I give and share, because that's just what you do as a human being.
21. People Are Good
I've been helped countless times by complete strangers with the best intentions. I've received so much compassion and love from these people, and that's also what makes travelling alone so much fun. People usually have a good heart and are willing to help you, even if you don't ask for help. I'd like to be the same type of stranger to others.