On November 7th, 2007 I left Australia on a one-way ticket to Toronto, Canada. I was 20 years old, had a few thousand dollars to my name, a brand new backpack and absolutely zero idea about what lay ahead of me.
I was leaving to learn to snowboard, to meet new people and see what life was like on the other side of the world. I had a one-year working holiday visa, and I told myself that after those 12 months were up I’d head back home and figure out what came next.
11 years later and I’m still on the road.
It’s been a crazy journey since those early days as a 20-year-old. I became a pretty decent snowboarder, I made thousands of friends and I’ve had the opportunity to experience life in around 70 countries (more or less, I’ve never actually counted).
I also had the great joy of meeting my now-wife Alesha during that adventure, and we’ve been together on my adventures than I can count for over a decade.
Recently the travel company Wego asked me what some of my life lessons were after so many years travelling, and I thought it’d be fitting to delve into eleven of them – one for each year I’ve been wandering the globe.
Without further ado, here’s my 11 lessons learnt from 11 years travelling the world.
People are Inherently Good
This may be the most cliche observation given by anybody that has travelled long-term, but it’s completely the truth. And in this day and age of propaganda, hate and fear being spewed by the media, it’s important to reiterate this idea.
I can honestly count on two hands the number of times people have seriously tried to hurt or harm me in the last 11 years. I don’t mean being scammed, which is an unfortunate part of travel – I mean a time when somebody has gone out of their way to instil fear or make me fear for my life.
It just doesn’t happen very often. And here’s the crazy thing – a few of those times were in my own home country!
That’s because in general people are good, they mean well, and they just want the best for themselves and their families, just like everybody else.
If you ask for help, you will most likely receive it. If you give respect, you’ll get it back in spades. And if you open your heart and mind, people will accept you into their world with open arms.
Don’t be scared of strangers. They’re the ones that will show you a whole new world.
Everybody Should Travel on a Budget Once in Their Life
I’m a big believer in that travelling on a tight budget will make you appreciate so much more in your life in the long run.
When you need to stretch your dollars further to get you to the places you want to go, you learn to cut out non-essential items and become happy with the simpler things.
If you’ve had to stay in a $3-a-night hostel for a week because that’s the best you could afford at the time, you’ll learn to love little things like hot running water and mosquito-free rooms. (Book hotel rooms for less on Wego)
Living on $1 street food dishes means when you can finally afford $100 dinners, you’ll savour every mouthful.
It will also teach you humility. If all your holidays are only in 5-star resorts, how can you really understand how the majority of the world lives?
Do yourself a favour and travel for an extended period of time where you need to budget your money carefully. It will make you a better traveller in the long run.
Spontaneity is the Best Way to Travel
There’s nothing quite like waking up one day and completely changing your plans. Bonus points if those plans mean different cities or countries.
I’ve always believed that being spontaneous and open to change can lead to the best adventures. Sure, having a plan can be beneficial, particularly if you’re going somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit or during a busy time of year, but even then leaving a little room to move in your itinerary will open up a whole new world of possibilities.
For one year around Central America and two years across Asia, we never booked a single thing more than one day in advance. No transport, no accommodation, no tours, anything. We would simply show up where we wanted to go and figure it out from there.
Sometimes it would backfire, and we ended up in less than ideal hotels or be forced to move onto the next town because there was no accommodation. But 99% of the time we would find amazing places to stay and things to do based on other travellers’ and locals’ recommendations.
It also gave us the freedom to stay somewhere longer if we liked it, or leave quicker if we didn’t.
When we first arrived in San Pedro de Atitlan in Guatemala, we loved it so much we stayed for 6 weeks. When we got to Livingston we didn’t love it, so we moved on quickly. If we were following a schedule we would have had that opportunity.
Having this freedom is liberating when you’re on the road, and even if you’re not the type of person to be able to show up in a village in rural Tajikistan without a single thing booked, I sincerely encourage you to at the very least learn keep your schedule open so you can take advantage of spontaneous experiences.
Say Yes More – It Leads to New Adventures
When you travel, or even when you don’t, it’s easy to say no. No, you don’t feel like going out for dinner. No, you don’t want to go on that last-minute excursion. No, you can’t wake up early for sunrise.
The problem is ‘no’ often leads to one thing and one thing only – nothing.
Over the years I’ve learnt that even though it’s easy to skip an invitation because you’re too tired, or you’re not sure if you’ll like something, pushing past that initial no and turning it into a yes is almost never something you’ll regret.
When you’re on the road you’re always presented with new opportunities. Rather than making excuses, learn to say yes more. You never know where it will lead you.
Road Trips Are the Best Way to Explore a Country
Having your own wheels to explore a place offers a sense of freedom that you just can’t get with travelling by bus, plane, train or taxi.
It’s fantastic to be able to leave when you want to leave, stop where you want to stop and be able to spread out your gear so you have easy access to it at all times.
While some countries can be quite scary to drive in (Iran and Albania for example), the majority of places around the world are just the same as driving at home.
Do yourself a favour and rent a car on your next trip.
It’s Easy to Make Friends
If you have the desire to meet new people when you travel, you’ll find it extremely easy by just going to the right places, offering a smile and saying hello.
Hostels are the perfect place to meet people, as lots of travellers are there on their own and also looking to make new friends. All you need to do is ask where somebody is from and run the conversation from there.
Don’t want to stay in a hostel? No worries. You can still visit most hostel bars without being a guest.
Another option is to join the free walking tours that are in most cities. I’ve made friends for life by simply chatting to the other participants I’ve met on these tours.
You get chatting, discover a new city together, and depending on your schedules you can even go out for lunch/dinner or a drink with somebody cool.
Knowing this also makes travelling solo easier to embrace, as you know you will never be alone if you don’t want to be.
Comfort Zones Are Meant to be Escaped
One of the main wonders of travel is to experience something new, so don’t be afraid to try something you might normally be scared of or hesitant to do.
If you’ve never been on an overnight hike before, join one! If you haven’t gone bungy jumping, do it somewhere beautiful! Always wondered what it’d be like to scuba dive, but haven’t had the opportunity to do it at home? Go somewhere where the diving is cheap and sign up for a course!
The more you break outside your comfort zone, the more you’ll discover new activities that you love. For example I never knew I liked hiking until I moved to Vancouver and went out for a full-day walk with some people staying at my hostel. Now it’s one of my all-time favourite things to do.
Who knows what you’ll find you love when you do something you’d never normally do.
Everybody Ends Up With At Least One Poop Story, So Embrace It!
This might seem an odd lesson to have in an otherwise inspirational post, but it’s true, and nothing to be embarrassed about. If you’re travelling a lot you’ll probably have at least one encounter with dodgy food that leads to a funny bowel story.
It could be something like the time you stopped the public bus and ran into a Chinese family’s house to beg to use their toilet (yep, actually happened to me), or when you accidentally used the female toilet instead of the men’s, and stepped outside to a sea of disgusted faces.
The thing is these stories are just a part of travelling, and after a few drinks around a bar with friends they get tend to come out. Don’t be afraid to share it, because being able to make fun of yourself and share your most embarrassing moments is a great thing.
There Will Never Be a Right Time to Go
If you’re always waiting for the right time to travel, you’ll never leave. The truth is there’s no right or wrong time. There’s just time, and the more you wait, the less of it you will have.
It’s far too easy to set a date in the future with no genuine intention of meeting it. “When I have $10’000 in the bank, I’ll buy that plane ticket. When I retire, I’ll go to Patagonia. When work lays me off, I’ll trek to Everest Base Camp.”
The problem with setting these kind of end expectations is they’re often hard to hit. Once you have $10’000, you will probably tell yourself that you actually need $15’000.
You don’t actually know if you’ll be fit enough to travel when the kids are grown up (why do you think so many retirees stick to cruises?). And as for work, you may get a better offer somewhere else, or you might end up staying in the same role forever.
This goes beyond travel, and can be applied to anything. If you want to learn to rock climb, sign up for a gym or a course today. If you want to get better at photography, pick up a camera, even if it’s the cheapest one you can find.
I’m a big believer in that if you’re well, have enough money to survive and are in a position that following your dreams won’t put anybody that depends on you in a tough position, then you shouldn’t make an excuse not to do it as soon as possible.
Don’t wait for the right time, or you could be waiting for a lifetime.
You Are Not Always in Control, and That’s Ok
Some people can’t handle not being in control, and this stops them from enjoying certain elements of life.
It’s a normal personality trait, and nothing to be ashamed of, but if that sounds like you it’s time to accept that you can’t be in control 100% of the time.
Another thing I’ve learnt over the last 11 years travelling is that no matter how much you like having control of a situation, a lot of the times you just have to sit back and let someone else be in charge.
I’ve been in far too many situations over the years where I quite literally have no idea what is going on, but in order to get through something I just need to trust that someone else has a better grasp of the moment.
And you know what? It’s allowed me to do things I never would have done otherwise.
It’s hard thing to do initially, but if you learn to hand over the reigns to other people, you’ll achieve a level of experiences that far surpasses anything or anywhere you could get to on your own.
You’ll Never be the Same Person as You Were When You Left
The moment you leave home, you are experiencing a world that you have never seen before, even if it’s within your own country.
You meet people with different beliefs to you. You try food that you’ve never hear of before. You learn about history from the other side’s point of view.
These things change you in strange and profound ways. When you come home you might learn to not complain about the small things (those ‘first world problems).
You may have a new hobby or passion that introduces you to a whole new group of friends (such as what snowboarding and photography has done for me). Or you might feel like you don’t belong anymore, which is nothing to be ashamed about.
Growing up doesn’t just mean getting old. It means having growth as a human being. Travel fast tracks this process and leads you down a different path. Embrace it.