I’ve been travelling in Latin America for about two years now; ten months in South America, and 13 months in Cuba, Mexico and Central America. I am still no expert, but I have definitely learned a few things along the way! I wrote a similar post about what I had learned after one month of travel, but now two years on things have changed a little. As I am in my final couple of weeks before coming home, I started thinking about advice I would give to myself if I was starting all over again, so here are just ten of the things I’ve learned after two years of almost non-stop travel.
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Your bus is an hour late. The restaurant ran out of your favourite dish. Your friend forgot your birthday. Don’t sweat it, it’s not a big deal. Even if the sh*t really hits the fan and you get robbed, the hotel you booked is a building site and the airline loses your luggage, no worries. Usually things will work out in the end. Usually.
2. Some you win, some you lose
Some days you will wake up and the world is smiling at you. The taxi driver gives you a discount, you get an upgrade on your flight ticket and find a lost tenner in your back pocket! However, other days you lose your phone, get soaked in the rain when the forecast was glorious sunshine and you step in dog poop in your favourite shoes. You can’t win ‘em all. Just hope that tomorrow will be better – which it probably will! Optimism goes a long way in this game, I truly believe the universe will reward us for good deeds eventually, even if it takes a while!
3. Appreciate the simple things in life
Long term travel can take its toll on your ability to enjoy a new destination. Big whoop it’s another waterfall, yeah well, I saw three bigger than that last week. Instead of searching for the next big thing to top your last high, take a moment to look around you and remember why travel is so special. Notice the old couple dancing salsa in the street, the squawk of an unfamiliar bird in the tree, and the rays of sunlight dancing through the water as you snorkel by. These moments are all unique, no matter how many times you think you’ve seen them before, and that is what makes travel, and life, so special.
4. Always check under the bed
I don’t mean to look for monsters, I mean to check you’ve not left anything behind. It’s worrying how easy it is to lose things along the way – so when you’re packing up to leave, check under the bed, in your locker, in the bathroom, on the washing line and basically anywhere you have been in the last 48 hours. Or, always keep your stuff together in the same place, which is not as easy as you might think. Living out of a backpack for a year is tough, and if you are in one place for more than a couple of days you automatically start to spread out and make yourself at home.
5. Choose your seat wisely
On a boat, always try to sit on the side closest to the shore. Not only is there ore stuff to look at, but any waves hit on the other side so you usually stay dryer! On a plane, I prefer a window seat so I can see what’s beneath us and to prepare when we come in to land. Some of my favourite photos are taken from an aeroplane, and I love getting the first glimpse of my destination! In cars, buses, trains, and pretty much all land based transport I choose a window seat when I can. The only down-side for a solo traveller though is you might get trapped between the window and an unfavourable passenger – legs spread apart, personal hygiene problem or overly-friendly (read: creepy). However, that is all part of the wonders of travel!
6. Don’t do anything you don’t feel comfortable with
Use your woman’s intuition, spidey sense or gut feelings. When you feel like something isn’t quite right, it probably isn’t, so get yourself out of there. I have found it best to err on the side of paranoia with this one – it is better to be safe than sorry after all. Even in relaxed, social situations, remember that you are the boss of your own life; and no means no, whether you are declining sexual advances or a cup of tea. Sometimes you just don’t fancy a cup of tea.
7. Talk to people
As well as other guests in your hostel, chat to the hostel workers, volunteers, cleaners, bartenders, waiters, taxi drivers, little old ladies who remind you of your nan, anyone basically. You might just learn something, or make unexpected friendships who can show you an awesome authentic experience. And who knows, you might make their day too, and prove that foreigners are pretty cool people! In the end, travel works both ways, and as you might have prejudices or presumptions about someone from another country, so might they. So have chat, and learn more about the rest of the world.
8. Choose your friends wisely
I like to stay in hostels because they are cheap, and great places to meet people. However, not everyone is going to be your best friend, and that’s ok. At first, I try to be friendly with everyone (let’s not burn bridges now), and soon you will see who you would really like to be friends with, and who you would rather avoid like the plague. Don’t forget too that not every traveller is as awesome and honest as you. Things in hostels go missing all the time – from toothpaste to expensive cameras, so keep your stuff locked away, and try not to let anyone see where you keep your stash of cash, you never know.
9. Its all about compromise
Oh I would love to eat at fancy restaurants every night, stay in swanky hotels and travel forever. But, as Mick Jagger says, we can’t always get what we want. I compromise by staying in hostels so I can travel for longer. I sometimes eat packets of instant noodles for dinner so the next night I can eat sushi or afford to take a tour. Decide what is the most important thing to you, and be prepared to sacrifice some less important things in order to get it.
10. JUST GO!
There is never a good time to travel. You’re really busy at work, you just paid your credit card bill, or it is half term week and the prices are nuts. But think about it, you deserve a break. Studies show that travel and vacations are good for our mental health, and no-one ever said “Wow, I really regret taking that life-changing trip”. Just do it and book the damn flight. It will be awesome! And if it’s not, well, see number 6 above. Next time will be better. Just make sure there is a next time.
What have you learned from your travels? Share your experiences in the comments below.
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