“Travel is like an endless university. You never stop learning.”Harvey Lloyd
Time flies. I still can’t believe it’s been 3 years since my first epic journey to China. 3 years ago I was sitting at the Birmingham International airport waiting for my first flight to Chongqing, China. How did I feel back then? I was excited and fearless. I can still recall this moment when I was holding China Lonely Planet book in my hands without having a clue where I was going to sleep. Nothing was planned. I was counting on good luck and some crazy adventurous.
It was supposed to be only 1 year journey, but it turned into 2 and then 3 year adventure across Asia (2019 Update: it actually turned into 8 year journey across the world). From China, through Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia to Vietnam, Indonesia and much more. Have I learnt anything from my travels? Sure I did! The more I travel, the more I learn. Every journey is a lesson of history. Every voyage is a lesson of life. People keep surprising you. The scenery leaves you speechless for a long time. The food makes you wanna come back again.
Today is a day of celebration. It’s time to bring back all memories, the good ones and the bad ones, and think of what I have learnt from my 3 year journeys across Asia. It’s high time to ask myself how I have changed as a person, woman and traveller. Was it all worth it? Am I fulfilled and satisfied or I still lack something?
Lessons Learned from Long Term Travel
#1 Pack lite
3 years ago I would have never packed lite. Actually, I set off for my China journey with 2 pieces of suitcase (40 kg in total) and I felt like it was way too little. I carried all of my favorite books with me, cosmetics, 10 pairs of shoes and stuff I would never use, but that was just in case. Look at me now! I travel with a small backpack which weight never exceeds 6 kg. I don’t need much clothes. I can easily survive without make-up. I don’t sweat anymore. I feel comfortable. I travel lite.
#2 Loneliness? What’s that?
Although I traveled solo for my first year in Asia, I never felt lonely. I was always surrounded by hospitable locals who were like family to me. On my journeys I came across extraordinary travelers whose stories from the road just knocked me down and left me speechless.
At first it was scary to just throw myself out there and talk to strangers. Nevertheless, after some time I got used to just saying “hello” to strangers and now it seems like second nature!
#3 It’s totally OK to be myself
Everyone is different. For some people I might seem to be cute, adorable, for others I am ugly and stupid. Some people love my smile, others don’t. Sometimes I can play on peoples’ nerves and sometimes I act like an angel. After 3 years of my travels I have heard many times that I should never change the way I am. It’s ok to be childish. It’s totally fine to be myself. It feels great to be childish. I love being silly sometimes. It’s hard to please everyone.
#4 Relationships come and go on the road
People come, people go. It’s sad, but that’s something I had to take and deal with. It’s a part of adventure, right? Although I have met some amazing people on the road, we always had to say goodbye to each other hoping to meet up somewhere in the world once again. I try not to attach emotionally. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If you get too attached too often, you’ll have nothing but heartache as people come and go.
#5 I do miss home A LOT.
Traveling keeps you busy. Sometimes it’s so crazy you don’t even have time to miss your friends and family. However, there are moments and days when I wish I was back home for a week or two. I miss my friends and my mom. Sometimes I just want to teleport myself to Poland where I could have a long night chat with my girl friends and see my mom’s smile once again. Yes, I do adjust to a new environment quickly and I am not a typical family person, but the longer I travel, the more homesick I feel.
#6 Yes, I’m a foodie
I never thought that food could be so important to me. I honestly never paid any attention to what and when I was eating. I had my favourite dishes, but once I went traveling, I started appreciate food more. Right now food is an essential part of my travels. I love to try different dishes, experiment with new foods, mix flavors and spices to see what new food combinations they become. I am always curious about foreign cuisines and there is nothing better than indulging in a Belgium waffle, Italian pizza, Chinese baozi, Japanese sushi, Polish pierogi, Czech trdelnik or Indian curry, right? I also went a little bit extreme with eating, for example, when trying Chinese bees, fried Thai cockroaches or Vietnamese bugs!
#7 Don’t trust taxi and tuk-tuk drivers
For some reasons all my problems start when I take a taxi or tuk-tuk. I always get ripped off. I get annoyed and angry. I often argued with taxi drivers and stopped trusting them. They are pushy, noisy and try to take advantage of travelers. Their smile is creepy and they scare me off! Well, at least most of them.
#8 Smile speaks any language
Kindness is a universal language. You don’t need to speak a local language to express your gratitude. A simple smile says more than 1000 words. It can make your day. Be kind, be polite and keep smiling. People always appreciate that.
#9 Don’t let a fear hold you back
If you feel like going bungee jumping but you are afraid of heights, don’t think of that, just do it! Don’t let your fears stop you from doing adventurous things in your life. Don’t regret things. Just do them. That will make you stronger than you think.
#10 I’m American
No matter how hard I try to explain that I am not American, nobody listens to me in China. For all Chinese I am another “Měiguó rén” (Měiguó – America, rén – person). I tried. I tried really hard and then I gave up. Yes, I am from America!
#11 Never compare yourself with others
After nearly 3 years of traveling and blogging, I’ve learnt that comparing myself with other travelers and bloggers is not good at all. In fact, it might be very unhealthy and stressful. I do travel on the cheap and I do stick to my $25 a day budget. I don’t want to compare my travel equipment with those people who spent thousands of $ on their camera and laptop. I don’t want to compare my poor writing skills with those bloggers who are native speakers. I don’t want to stress myself out anymore… I just keep doing what I like and what makes me happy.
#12 Always be honest with your readers
Nowadays, everyone is blogging about how wonderful their travel experiences are. The food is always delicious. Locals are extremely hospitable. I always read posts filled with excitement reflecting positive experience from the road : “I had a time of my life!”, “I loved this country and wish I could come back!”, “The food was just heaven”. It’s great to read about good things, but nobody seems to criticize anything. I do. I do tell the truth. I am straight forward and I am very honest with my readers. I hated Oslo and I wrote about it. The street food in the Philippines was disguising so I decided to share my culinary nightmare in “I would rather go hungry than eat Filipino street food again” post. I had the worst Couchsurfing (sexsurfing) experience ever when traveling in Europe and guess what… I wrote a full post on that. No lies. Of course not everyone agreed with me. I was insulted and criticized many times for my blog posts. I was accused of seeking attention and being an ignorant and inexperienced traveler. Did that in any way influence my experience and the way I write my blog posts? Nope, I don’t think so. You can find here nothing but honesty even if not everyone likes that.
#13 I am cheap
I’m a tramp. It’s not only a creation for my blog promotion. It’s true. I do spend less than $25 a day when traveling. At least on average (if I spend $40 one day, next day should cost $10). I really do travel on the cheap and count each $. I’m not rich. I don’t have possessions neither saving account. I earn money and I spend it all on my travel and blog. The more I spend, the shorter my journeys are. When you travel on a budget and need to make your money last, it’s easy to be cheap. Guess what… I am cheap and I am not ashamed of that, but I do agree that being cheap only fills you with regret.
#14 Don’t over plan
Failing to plan is planning to fail, but over planning isn’t that good either. Sometimes it’s much better to just jump in the boat and let the river take you for an amazing ride. You will get to the ocean eventually and it will be way more fun!
#15 Language learning is the key
Chinese people will be over the moon when they hear you talk some Chinese, often treating you with some nice free food and won’t stop talking to you. Some of them might even ask you to stay overnight at their place. Once you visit the places where tourists are rarely seen, you quickly notice that Chinese people do not speak English much. Therefore, look up some basic Chinese words you will need for everyday conversations such as “hi”, “order”, “food”, “how much”, “too expensive” and go try to speak to them. I’ve learnt to always carry a small dictionary with me. The more of the language you know, the bigger your chances are of having an amazing time and being able to haggle down prices.
#16 Travel off the beaten path
On my travels, I try to avoid touristy spots and keep exploring off the beaten paths instead. Reason? It is much cheaper and definitely more adventurous. Getting to see off the tourist paths in Asia will allow you to spend much less money than you would spend when visiting big cities. All over Asia, people are extremely hospitable and they will often invite you for a meal, drink or even let you stay in their houses for free. After traveling for a week, you will see your wallet is much bigger than you thought it would be. Moreover, you will have a great opportunity to experience authentic cuisine and traditions and no longer feel like a walking ATM.
#17 Teaching is not easy, but it’s fun
I must say that teaching English in Asia has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life. It was a lot of fun, but also a hard work. I spent hours in my office preparing my classes. I was determined to teach as much English as possible to my Chinese and Khmer students so there were days I felt knackered. I got really involved into Chinese education system and used various methods of teaching to become more successful and effective. I could be one of those who don’t care, but I just couldn’t. I took my job very seriously and set up the targets I was aiming to.
#18 People are generally good
If you keep your heart and mind open when traveling, you will always come across good people. Some locals treated me like a member of their family making sure I was fine. Some people were willing to give me more than they possess in order to make me smile. I can recall many situations in which I was left speechless due to incredible hospitality. In these 3 years I’ve learnt that we should not be afraid of trusting others. Not everyone is a murdered, rapist or thief. People are generally good and they want your happiness. Locals are people just like you and me who are trying to get by, to help their families and go about living their lives. There is no race, religion or nationality that is exempt from this rule.
#19 Everything happens for a reason and it all works out in the end
There were days when I felt like nothing was going according to my plan. I got lost. I missed my train. I lost my wallet. I felt sick. I didn’t know what to do. But suddenly, all of these failures and bad luck turned into something good. I met people who helped me out, ended up in a place where I would never think of going to and became more independent. When things get worse, just keep cool and it will all work out in the end.
#20 Less is more
It’s sometimes better to pack less stuff when going for a long-term journey. It’s also much better to go to less destinations and explore them properly instead of going from one country to another like crazy and missing out on many things. I’ve also realized that I don’t need much to be happy. It’s no longer about collecting things, it’s more about collecting memories.
#21 Hard work pays off
Nearly 3 years ago I started blogging. Since that day I never gave up and I have been working very hard to become a successful budget travel blogger in order to reach a big audience. I was blogging on the beach, at various airports, parks, temples and hostels across Asia. I replied to each comment, e-mail and spent hours in front of my laptop editing pictures, collecting collaborative post contributions and interacting with fellow travel bloggers. Today I look at eTramping with a proud face and tell myself “It was all worth it”.
#22 Long-term travel is not a vacation (it’s a full-time job)
Dear friends and family,
I am traveling full-time. It’s a full-time job, not a 365 day holiday. If you don’t believe me, let’s swap and we will see how long you can live this life for.
#23 Travel slowly
Traveling slowly makes you see more and spend less money – that’s the lesson I’ve learnt. Once I slow things down and spend more time in one place, I can get a much better feel for the destination. Moreover, I can take time to really see the sights and explore different neighborhoods without feeling rushed. Spending more time in one place not only allows me more opportunity to connect with people, but also see more places and experience the authentic cuisine.
#24 Yes, it’s possible to travel with a male friend without being in a relationship with him
Let me tell you for the 100th time that me and Cez are best friends. We are not lovers. We are not engaged. We are not married. We just travel together and yes, it’s possible for a couple of friends (female and male) to travel together, share great travel moments and experience without being in a relationship. This is the power of friendship. You stick together. You help each other. You love each other like a family, but you are not physically attracted to each other. End of story. Nobody seems to understand that in Asia though…
#25 Traveling is so damn tiring!
Think of all of these hours spent on the train, at the airport and on local buses. Wasn’t it exhausting? Gosh, traveling is tiring! You can feel absolutely knackered after 10 hour overnight bus ride or your 8 hour flight back home. Think of how many times you got stuck at the airport as your flight was delayed or how many times you had to wait for the next bus to come as the last one just left. There are times when you don’t take a shower for a 2 days (or even longer), you sleep on the floor or you don’t sleep at all feeling frightened you might get robbed while asleep!
Wow, I’ve learnt a lot of things. Way more than I expected. The list goes on and on and the more I travel, the more I am going to learn. I will also make more mistakes and fail sometimes, but it’s life. It’s the life I’ve chosen. It’s the life I am proud of and happy about.
What lessons have your learnt from your travels?
152 thoughts on “25 Lessons Learnt While Traveling In Asia”
Great article. I love that you are honest. I’m honest too. And you’re English is great!
Hey Brittany! Thanks for the feedback xxx
Brilliant post Agness! Wow, three years has really flown by for you and what great lessons you have learned on the way. I definitely agree that speaking a little bit of Mandarin in China can really go a long way.
Keep on being honest, girl. :-)
Yes, time flies!!! I hope you keep enjoying your China adventures!
25 truly wonderful and inspiring reflections of the last 3 years Agness.
It is wonderful to hear that looking back at what you’ve achieved with this blog makes you feel proud. It should! You’ve both done an amazing job and really connected with a lot of people the world over.
Stay being you. Never try to be anyone else. Remain honest and true to your values. That is why we all love you.
Keep the honesty in your articles. Yes, some people will not like it but if anyone thinks you can please everybody then they seriously need to think again. Tell it as it is, not what anyone thinks people want to hear.
Your friendship with Cez is wonderful and a real blessing to you both. Having met the two of you I know how well you work together and share these amazing travel experiences. You say earlier in the article that you make many friends on the road but then you say goodbye. That is true for the current lifestyle you have. I do hope though that the friendship you and Cez have will only continue to grow stronger through your experience of working so well together.
No one knows what the future holds. For now, the 2 of you should be very proud of what you’ve achieved and what you mean to so many.
I would like to take a moment and say thank you for all of your positive energy and support. That means the world to me, seriously. The day we met was one of the most memorable days here for me! Yes, I promise to always be myself and keep the honesty in my blog posts.
I’m saying goodbye to Cez in 3 months and I’m back in Europe. We will still work together, but live differently I guess. We shared some great moments together and hope we can stay friends for a long time.
I really hope to see you once again!!!
Keep up the hard work and never stop being frustrated :D (if you know what I mean) :).
Thank you Agness, that is incredibly sweet of you.
I have exceptionally fond memories of the weekend I met up with you both and seeing that you both are as true and as genuine as you are on here. I promise you that we will meet again.
Your going separate ways in 3 months will be tough but I’ve little doubt you’ll be travelling again together someday on a trip of some kind.
You two have a wonderful friendship and a great blogging partnership.
I feel proud to call the two of you as my friends. x
This comment made my day and I’m speechless!!
Wow, what a great list! I agree with all of them, but especially packing lite, that a smile is universal and to be yourself. All of these might be lessons learnt while travelling, but you can apply them to every aspect of life. Isn’t that why we travel – to learn more about ourselves, other people and the world? :)
Yes, definitely. We do travel to learn about ourselves, foreign cuisine, people and the world!!
Awesome post! The pictures were great but most of all, I appreciated how honest and candid you are. There’s no reason to sugar coat things or not be honest with your readers. Keep it up and happy travels!
I agree. Honesty should go first! Wishing you happy travels as well!!
Girl I’m lovin this post! I like how you Keep it REAL it’s cool that you still reply to comments after having a blog for 3 years! (most big timers don’t reply anymore) .. and still find time to comment on other people’s blogs like mine :) thanks. I think the honest ones are important and you should keep writing them. I didn’t know if you and cez were friends or what , but now I know! & also, I think it’s nice someone admits to being cheap. most backpackers are, but try to act like we arent… but it’s how we get by!
Oh Rachel! I love interacting with others. It’s a pleasure for me to follow your adventures and others! I guess that will never change no matter how long I am planning to blog for :)!! Being cheap is nothing wrong and I have finally understood it and accepted that :):):)!!
This is wonderful Agness, and really, really funny! It made me laugh out loud at people in China not accepting that you aren’t American! I also completely agree with you about teaching, and everything you said about blogging. I really admire your honesty, and wish you the best of luck!
Thank you Sam. I really appreciate that!
I think this is one of my favorite posts that you’ve written Agness – great job!! I also have traveled with guys who are just my friends and people don’t seem to get that…but on the plus side, they are an instant-husband around for when creepy dudes are bothering you :) best of both worlds!
Hahahahaha, so true Rika!! :D
It’s such a beautiful post, Agness. I always love your honest stories.
Cheers to many amazing adventures ahead :D
THANKS Debbie! x
It’s interesting to see how often you mention people judging or criticizing you, but I’ve noticed that most of the time, criticism comes from people who don’t really listen to what people have to say. They just want to complain, and if you explain that what they’re complaining about wasn’t actually what happened, they just complain more. It’s weird, but after it happens a few times, it’s easy to see how they’re just trying to feel better about themselves.
You nailed it!
these are great! great lessons about travel in general! nice article
Thank you Rebecca. Without a doubt, travelling is a great lesson of life, isn’t?
Congrats on 3 years of traveling, blogging, living and learning! What a huge accomplishment, and it’s clear from this post that you haven’t wasted a second of this time. We haven’t been traveling quite so long as you, but I’d agree 100% with everything you wrote here. I think traveling teaches you more about yourself and about life than pretty much anything else on the planet!
THANK YOU STEPH!! Yes, we can learn more from the road than in a classroom :).
I really thought your in relationship with him :) Anyway I see that most of your photos are from Banaue. That place is so cool right? Though some of the terrace are damage. And the people are very hospitalize and friendly.
NO NO NO :D! Yes, Banaue was one of my latest travel destinations. So inspiring and beautiful!
Awesome and inspiring post, Agness! I really admire how determined you are – speaking (and blogging) in a language that is not your own and dominating the budget travel blogging scene (and sticking with it for three years!). I also admire your crazy lite packing skillz!!!
Congrats and keep up the great work – blogging is no easy task!
It’s crazy sometimes, but I’m doing my best!!
WHAT CEZ IS NOT YOUR BOYFRIEND!!!! This blew me away. I agree though, traveling with a partner of the opposite sex is totally doable. If you are going out, they are the perfect wingman / wingwoman too!
#8 is so true and #4 kills me a bit inside. But you know, now that I am home, I realize that this happens at home too. People move away for business or to reach their dreams.
#12 is the reason I follow your blog. I too try to call it out when I dislike a place. I try to be positive, but people can learn from your bad experiences.
This is easily one of my favorite articles.
HAHAHA! No, we are just travel buddies and friends :).
THANKS JULIO xx I’m glad you can relate to #8 and #12 :D!
Hi Agness Walewinder, First of all congratulations to you for learning many more things to 3 Years. Traveling is such a wonderful part of live & I love it but I’m Indian & I can’t do solo traveling but I love it so much, Well leave it. This is such a nice post which teach us many thing which you learnt in your 3 years. All photo’s are amazing & Beautiful. My favorite pic is 16 Travel off the beaten path. “Feeling alive” This is awesome.
Thank you Monica. I hope you can go travelling one day either on your own or your a travel companion xxx Keeping my fingers crossed for you! xx
Well done Agness on reaching three years. You & Cez have built up an excellent reputation and I thank you for your advice and inspiration. I raise a glass to the next three years.
CHeers Steve!!!! Thanks for your support, we could always rely on you :)x
I love your list! It’s so inspiring, honest and funny :) I can’t believe you can pack an entire month into that little backpack! That’s amazing! :D
Packing will come with time :)
Really great article! I can definitely relate to a lot of these, especially the kindness of strangers and tuk-tuk drivers haha!
By the way, I think your English is excellent – you totally don’t need to worry about native speaking bloggers in comparison, you write really well. :)
THANKS! I’M SENDING A BIG HUG TO YOU!
You are an inspiration! Number 17 is so true, the amount of enjoyment you have definitely correlations with the amount of work you put in. I bet your students love you!
They do and vice versa! :D We’re like a big family.