28 important life lessons I’ve learnt while traveling
Yay it’s my birthday! I am now 28 years old and it may not be a really special age, but I feel like sharing some wisdom today. Some important life lessons I’ve learnt while traveling. The last couple of years have not been the easiest, but that’s what being a 20-something is all about, right? It was for sure a time of self-reflection, focusing on being confident and being content with the person that I am today. So here we go: 28 important life lessons I’ve learnt while traveling.
I don’t think traveling is THE ONLY way to learn these life lessons. But most of my life is focused on traveling and working abroad, so most of my experiences are travel-related as well. Besides that I do believe that traveling can teach you things way faster than in your daily life, in your well-known ‘bubble’.
28 life lessons I’ve learnt while traveling
1. You only live once
It sounds like such a cliché, but it’s true. Soms people are living their life like it’s a general repetition. But it’s not. You only live once, so make sure you absolutely enjoy it and make the most out of it. Make sure you don’t regret things. Of course you have obligations in life that are not fun at all (think about administration and taxes), but make sure you do/see/experience at least 1 thing a day that makes you feel happy about and grateful for your life.
2. It’s never too late
It’s never too late to start something new. I have met digital nomads that were experiencing this new lifestyle once they were 70 years old. It’s never too late to accept new challenges, to search for a new adventure. I have seen people climbing mountains and they never expected it to happen. It’s never too late to apologize to someone, because saying sorry is a great way of letting go. It’s only too late if you’re not here anymore: until then it’s never too late.
3. Spend time with the people you care for
Have you ever heard of the 5 love languages? This is a book from Gary Chapman. He explains that there are 5 ways to show people you love and appreciate them. It can be romantic, but also for family and friends. The 5 love languages are words, quality time, giving gifts, gestures (like holding doors, helping in the house) and physical touch. Quality time is my number #1. You can only spend your time once. So if people spend time on me I really appreciate that. It’s also MY way to show others that I care about them. Especially if I have to travel long distances to see people again. We live in a time that time is precious, because everyone is always busy. So it’s super important to spend time with the people you care for.
4. Protect your heart, but don’t close it for love
A broken heart is one of the most painful things in life. It can take months – even years – to recover from it. So it makes sense if you want to protect your heart and avoid that pain. But love is also one of the most beautiful things in life. It’s something that you don’t want to miss. That bubbly feeling if you’re staring in someone’s eyes for the first time. Feeling connected with someone. Waking up next to someone that puts a smile on your face, first thing in the morning. Being with someone that makes you want to be the best version of yourself. Simply because that person allows and inspires you to be the best version of yourself.
I have to admit: most love stories don’t have a happy ending. It’s sad, but it’s the truth. But is that a reason to miss out on all the amazing moments? In Israel I was together with someone for a couple of months. I knew it was probably not gonna last forever. But I love the time we have spent together. I cared for someone. We have amazing memories together – and nobody will take that away from me. I chose for a broken heart, instead of a closed heart. For years I didn’t expect to feel like that anymore, so the heartbreak that followed was absolutely worth it.
5. Focus on what you DO have, not on what you don’t have
If you’re focusing on something you don’t have you won’t be happy. Because you’re giving your attention to something that doesn’t exist. I have worked and lived in multiple developing countries. Colombia, Guatemala, Suriname, the Philippines, Egypt, Laos and Moldova are just some examples. I have seen families living with 15 people under 1 roof. We can’t imagine that people can be happy in those conditions. But I’m touched to see how happy most people are. They are healthy. They are together. And there is food on the table. They focus on what they DO have. Most of the times it’s not much, but those people for sure have a positive mindset.
6. Live in the present
Of course you can make plans and have goals for the future, but also realize that you are living NOW, in the present. So focus on this moment, because how you feel right now matters. You can only feel peace and happiness in the present. Israel is one of the countries where I really learnt this lesson. Most people live in the now, because they simply don’t know how tomorrow will look like. A new war can start out of the blue in the Middle East, always. So there is this constant fear that every day can be your last day. Because of that most people enjoy their lives right now. A great way to learn to live in the present is to meditate.
7. Be content with who you are and where you’re standing right now
There will always be another goal to achieve. But if you’re always focusing on the future you never realize where you’re standing right now. Who are you right now? It’s good to develop yourself, but also check what you already achieved. You probably made so much progress in 1 year. And who were you 5 years ago, in comparison with nowadays? Slow down to check where you’re coming from, what steps you already took and who you are right now. And be totally happy with that.
8. Life isn’t always fair
And most of the time there’s nothing you can do about that. If you’re traveling a lot you will experience and see a lot of injustice. Children begging in the streets. Abused animals. People who hurt each other. I’m an empath, so in the beginning this really broke my heart. Every single time. When I was in the Chinese city of Chengdu I found a market where they sold turtes in small boxes. The boxes were not bigger than my hand and the animals didn’t had any water. Chinese people believe turtle soup is good for your health. With tears in my eyes I bought the turtles of this salesman and brought them to a monastery where they take care of turtles. But of course by doing that I don’t solve the problem. The salesman will probably find new turtles. Or maybe the monastery will resell them. Even if these 2 turtles now have a great life, I couldn’t help the millions of other animals at that moment. Life isn’t always fair and there’s not always something that you can do about it.
9. Don’t take everything so serious
Don’t make a big fuzz about everything, because most of the times it will be alright anyways. Learn how to put things in perspective. Is it really that big of a deal or did you make it bigger in your head than it actually is? You will experience less stress if you don’t take everything so serious. I have worked for a news channel for children in Suriname, and in the beginning I really had to get used to their way of working. 10 minutes before going live and a computer would not do anything anymore? In the Netherlands I would be super frustrated, probably throw something to the computer screen. But in Suriname we would just take a little break and dance for a minute through the room to destress. And everything always worked out in the end.
10. Do a lot of what makes you happy
After my near death experience in the mountains of Romania people asked me if I was now done with hiking. If I was afraid to travel solo again and go on adventures by myself. But hiking and traveling solo is like breathing to me. I need it to feel human, to feel happy. I think that only people with those same strong passions will understand that need. For me it didn’t make sense to stop with something that makes me happy. You should do the things that make you feel alive as often as you can!
11. We have to be more careful towards our planet
You can’t deny it anymore: we have to be a bit nicer to Mother Earth. Luckily more and more people are thinking about the future of our planet and how we can save it. Because what will we do if we used all the natural sources? What if there is no way back, because we destroyed too much? During my volunteer work with sea turtles in Costa Rica we also cleaned the beach on a regular base. We would clean one day, but the next day the pile of garbage on the beach was as big as the day before. And lots of people say El Nido in the Philippines is a paradise, but for me it was an anti-climax. Most of the reef was damaged by boats and people, some coral was already dead. Sustainability is not longer a subject only for hippies. It’s relevant to everyone. Because everyone should learn more about how to save our planet and act on it.
12. A smile can make everyone’s day
Smile as often as you can. It’s not only good for you, but also for other people. It won’t cost you anything and it only takes a couple of seconds. And you can definitely make someone’s day by doing it!
13. Everyone has their own truth
Israel is one of my favorite destinations in the world because of the intensity and the complexity. When I arrived for the first time, in 2017, I thought I would figure out the whole Israel-Palestine situation within 2 months. Little did I know… The more people I was talking to, the more confusing everything became. I heard 20 different versions about 1 situation, all in a different perspective. Nobody was lying about what they had seen or experienced. For all of those people it was the truth. But the truth is: there is not only 1 truth. There are lots of interpretations of it. People remember different things. This is a life lesson that helped me a lot with conflicts and arguments. Have an open mind to listen to the perspective of the other person if you’re in an argument.
14. Not everybody in the world has bad intentions
If you’re traveling solo you have to be on guard, you can’t trust everyone that you will meet. People can hurt you, rob you or try to scam you. So it’s good to be aware of that. But if you’re always like that it can make you paranoid. When I was in Colombia I went to the Tatacoa desert: back then it wasn’t a touristy place at all. Only a couple of foreigners would go there. I met a guy and he asked me to walk along during the sunset, while I was taking photos. I thought he wanted to rob me, or kill me in the middle of nowhere. When I shared my thoughts with him he was flabbergasted. He was just happy that someone that wasn’t from Colombia was visiting his home and he wanted to show that to me. He couldn’t imagine people would even have bad intentions in that place. Of course there are people that you shouldn’t trust while you’re traveling, but it doesn’t mean EVERYONE is like that.
15. Your intuition is your best guide in life
Talking about trusting people: I always trust my intuition if I’m meeting new people. Do I feel uncomfortable by this person? Then I will just remove myself from that situation. I make most of the decisions in life based on my intuition. It’s not always logical for other people, but it is to me. And that’s all that matters. I’m an intuitive person by nature, but of course you can train this as well. By meditating and focusing what you’re intuition is telling you, instead of your head (logic). If you’re not listening to the opinions and tips of other people, what do you hear then?
16. You can attract happiness
I’m not saying depressions or unhappy feelings aren’t real – of course they are. But your thoughts are stronger than you probably realize. They decide where you’re energy is going to and what you attract. Everyone experiences sadness at some point in life, everyone has to say goodbye to people or specific situations. And I get it: it’s hard. But if you believe that you deserve happiness and are worth that happiness you will attract it by focusing on that. Everything that you give some attention will grow. So it’s important to put yourself in some positive vibes, for example by hanging out with people with that positive energy.
17. Eat fruit
Eat lots of fruit. Be nice to your body, because a healthy body can do so much more. I always eat more fruit abroad than in the Netherlands. No idea why. Maybe because it’s shitty weather in the Netherlands 360 days a year and I associate fruit with sun and good weather? But you can also put fruit in smoothies or mix it with yoghurt to get your daily fruit portions. And the best tip for a hangover? Eat a banana before you go to sleep. Bananas are hydrating your body and have acid-inhibiting effect, so you definitely feel less nauseous. I tried exotic fruit all over the world, so you can’t say that you don’t like fruit. There is so much that you can try and there’s definitely something that you will love!
18. Learn how to set boundaries
You don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything. When I was younger this was really hard for me (and sometimes it still is). I wanted everyone to be happy, I didn’t want to offend anyone. But you know: that’s never gonna happen. So if I don’t have time or the energy to do something, sometimes I do say no. Feels great. Like that time a bedouin in Wadi Rum wanted to kidnap and marry me, but I didn’t really feel like that.
19. We all should use way less plastic
It’s sad to see HOW MUCH plastic we all use. In the Netherlands I barely can buy a bell pepper or a cucumber without having it wrapped in plastic. It’s unnecessary and it would be quite easy to reduce the use of plastic. So if everybody is paying a little attention to the use of plastic it can make a big difference. One of the best ways to reduce plastic is to use your own water bottle. I love the brand Dopper (it’s really popular among Dutch people), but there are also great alternatives. And if you like to filter your water you have options like the Grayl bottle or Lifestraw.
20. Invest in things that are important to YOU – and let everybody else do the same
Everybody has different interests. What you think is important might not be the same for others. Some people love spending their money on fancy furniture or food in good restaurants. If that makes you happy: go for it! Some people think it’s strange I don’t wanna invest in a house and creating a home for myself. But because that’s important to them doesn’t mean it’s important to me. It’s not something that makes me happy right now, so I rather invest in other things like camera gadgets, camping gear, going to workshops or events and visiting friends in different countries. Don’t listen to others if it’s about spending your time, energy or money into something. You should spend it on something that makes YOU happy.
21. Start a spontaneous conversation with a stranger – just because you can
In a coffee bar, in the bus or on the beach. I have had many interesting conversations and even created new friendships via these spontaneous meetings. In the Cuban city Trinidad I was tired of the local guys hitting on me. So during a walk I saw down next to a Canadian guy. “You don’t have to talk to me, but I would appreciate it if I can sit next to you for some time, so those guys will leave me alone.” After that meeting we spend 4 days together and explored the surrounding of Trinidad. Just because I started a random conversation with this guy.
22. Keep an eye on your drinks while you’re going out
I always put my hand over my glass, so it’s not easy to put something in my drink. I have been drugged in Latvia once, while I was going out with some fellow students. Luckily those people took care of me and everything was okay, but you’re not always as lucky as I was that day. So never leave your drink unattended and keep an eye on your glass.
23. Go outside often and enjoy nature
When I was younger I was a nerd for my love for hiking / walking, but right now it’s super popular. People are all about mindfulness these days and a walk in the forest is hot right now. When you’re in nature you’ll get a peaceful mind, because you remove yourself physically from a busy daily life. Nothing really matters when you’re in nature: what you do, the stuff you have and other people are not important in that moment. And that feels great. Some fresh air is good for your body and soul!
24. Monkeys are crazy little bastards
Keep your distance if you see them abroad. I know it’s super cool to have a picture with a monkey and all, but when monkeys scratch or bite you the fun is over. You can even end up in the hospital, so it’s just better to avoid them and let them be. Enjoy the crazy little guys from a distance – because they can be super funny.
25. Baby steps are also steps
I keep saying this to myself (and others) during tough hikes. If you start a new adventure your goal seems really far away. This can be climbing a mountain, but also starting a new job for example. But every step you take will bring you closer to that goal, that destination point. Does it feel too big? Break it up into smaller parts. You will see it’s much easier to finish that small part and start the next part rather than thinking of you from the start to the end point.
26. Ice cream makes life better
Always. Some of my friends know me very well – and they know how to cheer me up: with ice cream. It doesn’t even matter if it’s -10 or 40 degrees is outside. Some chocolate (especially from Tony Chocolonely) will make me happy as well.
27. Don’t worry about the opinions of others about you
Because people will always have an opinion about most people. It doesn’t even matter if you worry about it or not. So it’s just better to ignore their opinions about you in general. Trust me: I know what some people think of me (because they told me or they showed me without words) and the way I live my life. Why would I not do things, just because people will think it’s weird? Am I less successful, grown up or happy if I live a different life than others? Is it wrong to walk the road less traveled and chase adventures? By now I’m more confident and I know who I am. Whoever likes me likes me, but otherwise it’s fine as well. But a couple of years ago I was influenced by the opinion of others about me. If it wasn’t for people like my mum I would now maybe live a life how others want me to life. That would be pretty weird, right?
28. Everything that starts horrible can end in a beautiful way
Hundreds of beautiful sunsets I have seen, all over the world. Sometimes days might start crappy, but those sunsets are proof that a day can end in a beautiful way as well. Just like all the situations in your life.
I hope you liked this blog. Maybe it made you laugh, maybe it made you reflect on your own life. Maybe it inspired you to think about the life lessons you have learnt the last couple of years as well. Share them with me in the comments below if you want. And of course enjoy your day!