By Jarryd Salem
Without exception, the best lessons I have ever learned in life have come from traveling the world. My partner, Alesha Bradford, and I have been backpacking around the globe for nearly seven years, exploring new destinations, discovering fascinating cultures, and meeting interesting people. Every day that I spend on the road teaches me more about who I am. I look back at where Alesha and I came from and how we’ve changed since those early years of travel, and it’s easy to see and appreciate how travel has turned us into the people we are today. Like St. Augustine said, “The world is a book, and those who don’t travel read only one page.” How right he was! Here are some life lessons we’ve learned from a life of travel.
1. The world is not that scary
Some days, it can really seem like the world is out to get you. From terrorism to bandits, drugs, and corruption, it seems as though there is no corner of the globe that is safe. But after nearly seven years of backpacking around the world, Alesha and I just don’t agree with that fundamental portrayal. In fact, I’ve often felt more scared in the “safe” places than in the “dangerous” ones: Walking around Sydney felt scarier to me than San Salvador, El Salvador; hanging out in Bangkok during the military coup felt safer than wandering the streets of Los Angeles. The point is, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that the world is a scary place. But do you know what’s scarier? Living your whole life in a bubble because you don’t want to take any risks. Our advice: Get out there and explore; you’ll soon see how beautiful the world really is.
2. People are good
It can be a little be daunting to trust a stranger. After all, we are brought up in the Western world to fear them. But just like you and your friends, most people are inherently good. Strangers in Dangriga, Belize, took us in, fed us, and gave us shelter for no other reason than that they wanted us to have a good time in their country. A man in Myanmar closed his shop for 30 minutes so he could walk us to a monastery to make sure we didn’t get lost. When you travel, you find out that these kinds of people aren’t the minority: The world is full of good, honest, and kind people.
This wonderful man picked Alesha and I up while we were hitchhiking in Tibet in China. He gave us some food and drink, and he also stopped at all of the great scenic viewpoints so we could take photos. He wanted nothing in return. (Photo: Alesha Bradford/Nomadasaurus)
3. The best things in life are free
Those days when you hike up to the top of a mountain to see the view of a distant Chinese city or stumble into a forgotten park away from the chaos in Paris prove that not every enjoyable activity has to come with a price. Cliched as it may sound, the best things in life — good conversations with interesting people; gorgeous views in an exotic country; dancing in the rain; reading a book in a park — really are free.
4. Everybody is on his or her own path
There is no right or wrong way to travel. While Alesha and I were motorbiking through Southern Vietnam, for instance, some people were enjoying a luxury cruise along its Mekong River. There is nothing wrong with that. You do not have to backpack across the Congo to truly experience the world, or be the next Indiana Jones in order to “live life to the fullest.” And just as people travel in their own way, people live in their own way, too. Accept everyone for who they are — and where they are in life at that moment.
5. Possessions do not equal happiness
I used to spend hundreds, at times thousands, of dollars on unnecessary items before I started traveling full-time. I’d think that having a new stereo or another musical instrument or some flashy rims for my car would make me happy. Then I started traveling the world, and I discovered that the happiest people are those who have very few possessions. Visit a developing country, and you will see exactly what I mean. This does not mean that possessions equal negative emotions; instead, it means that we tend to place too much importance on material objects. We should be focusing our energies on what we already have and drawing happiness from things that are available to us. Positive human interactions are more rewarding than any object money can buy.
Who needs tons of possessions when you have happiness? (Photo: Alesha Bradford/Nomadasaurus)
6. Friends and family are invaluable
The more we travel, the further we get from our friends and family back home. And that’s not just in miles; it’s an emotional distance as well. But no matter how long we’re gone or how many years pass between seeing each other, things are whole again as soon as we meet up. It’s like time has stood still. It can be tough being away from family for so long, but they say absence makes the heart grow fonder — and this couldn’t be more true.
7. You find the best places when you are lost
It’s going to happen when you travel: You are going to get lost. Sometimes you’ll get hopelessly lost in a place where you’ve never been before. This happens to us at least once a week. However, as long as you don’t view being lost as a negative thing and don’t get too stressed out, you can really discover some fascinating places that you never would have found otherwise. It might be a little restaurant tucked away down a back alley or a tiny temple with gorgeous murals that won’t ever be in a guidebook. Allow yourself to get lost — in travel and in life — and you will find some of the best treasures in the world.
Allow yourself to get lost; you’ll be amazed at what you may find. (Photo: Alesha Bradford/Nomadasaurus)
8. The cheaper the food, the better it tastes
If you spend $200 on a meal, you will expect it to be amazing. And if it’s not amazing, you will be hugely disappointed. But if you spend 15 cents on 10 samosas from a street food vendor in Mandalay, Myanmar, and they turn out to be the most delectable samosas you’ve ever eaten — ever — then you will talk about them for the rest of your days. Don’t be afraid to try the local food when you travel. And in life, don’t always equate cost with quality. The two are not necessarily linked. At all.
9. It’s all about the little things
Here’s an example to illustrate this point: Alesha and I were standing in the freezing cold on a Wednesday morning in Litang, China, trying to warm up our legs by a fire. A Tibetan man saw us shivering and brought over a bottle of steaming yak butter tea and offered it to us. At that moment, the sun broke through the clouds and hit our faces, and we couldn’t help but smile. The small things mean the most when you travel, and that’s certainly the case with life in general, too. Never fail to appreciate every moment for what it is really worth.
10. A smile is the same in any language
It doesn’t matter if there is not a common language that exists among all people, and that’s because a smile means the same in any culture. It is amazing how far a smile can really take you in any part of the world. We’ve made entire friendships with people we cannot communicate with simply by smiling and laughing a lot. There really is a universal language in this world, and it doesn’t take a lot to learn it. And even if you do speak the same language, a smile still works wonders.
Sometimes, a smile is all is takes. (Photo: Alesha Bradford/Nomadasaurus)
11. The world is the best classroom
I’ve met people with double master degrees from the best colleges in the world who are surprisingly lacking in the real-world knowledge department. I’ve also met people who dropped out of high school who can speak five different languages and can comfortably navigate any situation they find themselves in. Moral: You cannot learn about life and the world from reading books. You need to get out there and explore it for yourself. Then you will learn that the best personal education comes from spending time in the world’s biggest classroom.
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