LIFE

13 life lessons from (over) 13 years of travel

MEL NOAKES

The Self Care Coach

Do you remember standing on the precipice of your very first adventure?

Whether that was a trip abroad, your first time out with friends alone, or your first time in a nightclub  – Do you remember the sense of excitement mixed with fear?  The butterflies?  The need to prove you could do it, not just to everyone else but to yourself too?

I sat at Machu Picchu.  Breathless, inspired, invigorated and promising myself a different life.

10 years earlier I had set off on my first ever backpacking trip as a fresh-faced teenager.  Passport in hand, adventure ahead and no real idea of what awaited me.  It was a far cry from the self-assured woman who sat on the mountain top that day.

Hanging out with a seal, obvs.

Photograph taken in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

1.  An experience is priceless 

I rationalise my decision making process around money almost all the time in the “real world”.  I weigh up options, carefully consider a purchase and do my research.  I’ve never once questioned the money I spent on a trip or an experience.  The £500 bag or pair of shoes remain a lovely item, but you can’t compare it to hiking up to see the sunrise at Tikal or bungee jumping at Ben Nevis in New Zealand or tangoing in Buenos Aires.

2. You’re never alone

You learn to say hello to strangers and start to understand that by the end of the day the stranger could be your best friend.  No one knows you were the goody two shoes at school or had that awful hair cut in year 9.  No one cares either.  You make friends, build deep bonds and create a travelling family.  You create connections that last a lifetime just by learning to say hello.  Travelling alone is never travelling alone.

3.  Your world view shifts, for the better

You see life close up from a different perspective.  Che travelled South America and started a revolution; Darwin contemplated the origins of life on the Galapagos and you’ll compare everything you experience to the world you knew before.  You meet people from every corner of the world and your worldview expands, is challenged and you become part of the global community rather than just the local community where you grew up.

4.  You feel the fear and do it anyway

You get the opportunity to try things you’d never try at home.  You push yourself out of your comfort zone.  Challenge your fears, your belief systems.  You reconnect with old hobbies and find new ones.  Cannoning, scuba diving, hiking, abseiling, mountain biking down death road.  Sometimes the new is scary, but you’ll never regret the experience.

“The best gift you can have is to have roots and wings.”

5.  You learn you can handle anything life throws at you

You solve problems, overcome challenges and learn to survive in crazy situations.  You learn to plan routes, find out bus times, negotiate cities, find the best places to eat and learn the local culture.  You’ll also probably jump on the wrong bus and only realise hours into the journey and need to find a plan B.  But if you can survive on your own in Latin America, or learn to dodge cows in India, cross the roads in Thailand, then there is no stopping you when you get home.

6. You learn to own your time

Waking up each morning with no agenda can be incredibly daunting at first.  We’re so used to planning our days, knowing what time we need to get up, go to work to complete to-do lists, it’s a culture shock when there is no schedule.  Waking up and just deciding to move hostel, city, and country is hugely liberating.  You can decide if that “must see” is a must see for you, or not.  You can decide if you want to hang out in the party hostel, or not.  You can skip towns, countries and experiences at your leisure.  It’s your time, your experience and your trip.  You become the master of your destiny.

Learning to breathe in the highest capital city in the world

Photograph taken overlooking La Paz, Bolivia

7.  You learn to be flexible

“The best laid plans of mice and men”. That bus you planned to get on, decided not to leave that day.  There was a hurricane and the beach you planned to get to is now unreachable.  The person you hoped to meet spent the night partying and is incommunicado.  You have to stand on your own two feet, things change all the time on the road whether you like it or not.  You learn to relax into this and not stress the small stuff; after all, it’s all an adventure.

 8.  Things go “wrong”

You plan for certain things and then you meet someone that changes your mind.  You take a bus and it breaks down and you have a chance encounter with someone you wouldn’t have met.  You take a “wrong” turn and stumble across a little known place where you have the time of your life.  There is no such thing as “wrong” on the road; each decision gives you a chance experience, opportunity or lesson.  Your trip unfolds, as it should.

9. You learn to be truly present

There are limited ways to get in touch with people on the road (although Facebook and smartphones are revolutionizing things!).  If you say you’re going to be somewhere at 10am, you’re there at 10am.  Amazingly, if you have a bus or plane or somewhere to be, you always find a clock or way to get there on time.  In every moment rather than checking your phone or social networks, you simply exist in the moment and truly appreciate every part of it.  You learn to put your camera down and soak up the moment so you have it as a memory rather than looking at it through a lens.

New passions – hiking and diving.

Photographs taken in La Ciudad Perdida, Colombia and Ilha Grande, Brasil

10. It’s not the destination
Most of my favourite travel stories are the ones in between the places I was heading.  The train journies in India with amazing women who shared their life stories and food without speaking English or I Hindi.  The bus journey between Argentina and Chile, which took my breath away.  The train to Chiang Mai where I met a life long friend.  It was on a plane to Bali where my best friend met her partner.  Embrace the journey.

11. Less is more
You don’t need the wardrobe, the makeup or the fancy bags to have a great time.  You live in one “good” dress; a sundress and pair of shorts for 10 months and you never even blink an eye.  You swap clothes with friends you meet on the road, you share everything and you learn to accessorize.  Life is made of experiences, moments and friends, not possessions.  Who wants to carry more than 20kg on their back?!

12. You tune in
TV becomes a thing of the past.  Instead of zoning out you tune in.  You discuss life dreams, politics, social norms, cultures, experiences and hope and dreams.  Nothing is as compelling as sitting up through the night watching the sunrise and talking to new friends.

13.  Travel changes you

When you return from a trip you could step right back into the world where you left off.  The likely scenario is that you won’t though.  You’d have learnt so much that you’ll value things and people differently.  You’ll see the world differently.  You’ll have grown to a point when you return with your confidence is greater, with a greater sense of self and the knowledge you can do anything you put your mind to.

14.  You live by your own rules

Like having 14 lessons when you said 13.  Not all who wander are lost. Most of us leave where we are knowing there is more out there, that just because “everyone else” has a job doesn’t mean you should.  You carve your own path, own your destiny and learn to trust your instincts.

Here’s to exploring and living fully x

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