“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?