Lessons from Abroad

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Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first; lessons afterward.

-Vernon Law

This quote is one I first read when I was undertaking my assessment course for Outward Bound to become a group instructor and has stuck with me ever since. In something that was such a great challenge, the clarity in which I remember this still astounds me, as it resounded so truthfully within me. The best lessons we learn come not from sitting in a classroom, being told how things should be but from experiences, where we can see how and why things are as they are. Packing up your life and moving to the other side of the world in the hunt for adventures has presented me with many a lesson, some about myself, others about the glorious world we are fortunate enough to inhabit and after a year out there solo, these are the ones that stand out the most to me.

  1. Money is far from everything

Growing up there is a massive expectation placed upon kids to “have a good job, be successful and to get yourself a house to provide for your family.” Screw that! I’ve got years and years ahead of me before I become a working stiff and needing to prepare for later life. Right now, disappearing to pursue things that I love and am passionate about will take priority and who knows what that will lead to. I am fortunate enough to currently be in a situation that when my money dries up and I am unable to keep travelling off it, I can find work which will pay me to do what I love in a new place, an experience that is invaluable in itself. It is somewhat of a strange situation to find yourself in when you’re genuinely excited for your free time off to end and for a job to begin.

When I am travelling, I rarely let how much money I have dictate what I want to do; if you cut down in areas that slowly add up (coffees, pub beers, new clothes etc), you can have enough money to do all the fun things. This mentality also helps making things fit when it comes to creating plans like my journey to Lagos in Portugal as I write this. The money slowly adds up but I know that on the other side, it is going to be worth the investment. At the end of the day, travel is an investment where you won’t see financial returns, and if you value experiences, nearly every investment is a great one!

  1. Travel is a lot easier now than it was

It’s not just a trend as to why there are so many young people travelling today, it’s the fact that it has become a lot easier than it was, say, 20 years ago. As I travel, booking my hostel or flight the day, if not hours before I arrive there is as simple as a few clicks and the input of a 16 digit number. Getting lost is nigh on impossible courtesy of Google Maps (unless you choose to do so on purpose) and new friends are no longer added to an address book but to your largely growing Friends list on Facebook. I literally will book a flight two days in advance, a hostel for the first night and then just show up and figure things out from there, it’s just ridiculously easy!

There are times I question how I would’ve fared travelling in the pre-internet era and find myself smiling at the thought of that challenge. One of the reasons I’ve chosen to travel indefinitely is because of the challenging aspect of it, how to make things work in a place where you are alone, cannot speak the language or when running short on funds. Anybody can travel for a few months nowadays, few disappear for longer stretches. At the end of the day, it’s all just a big game with gargantuan rewards along the way!

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  1. Make your own luck

“Make your own luck,” they would say as I would roll my eyes and think how naïve a saying that was. That is until a year of travel made me understand. You have to pay credit to yourself in many cases when amazing things happen and I feel travel has taught me this. Whenever I experience something incredible that I know will stick with me for the rest of my life, after a while it will dawn on me that this has happened because I took a risk, the less secure option to go explore and have adventures and to see what there is to be seen. There is no way my life over the last 12 months would have been this exciting if I were still in Australia and I will occasionally say to myself that I made the right call by just getting out and going, irrespective of how ominous or stupid it initially seemed.

  1. Which friends are worth it

I think I found this one to be the most eye opening of everything I’ve self-realised as I’ve gone along on my travels. You make tons of new friends as you travel, some who you will keep in contact with and others not so much. But it also puts an emphasis on the friends back home who matter. There are some friends who a Skype call with every month is a necessity and others with whom a Facebook message every few months are enough. However you do soon recognise who is interested in where you are, what you’re up to and how things are going, and which ones you’re wasting your breath with. Oftentimes it can be surprising and a little painful but at the same time, it does help you appreciate the good friends who you can tell actually miss you.

  1. Travel helps you to go with the flow

I’ve always liked to think I’ve been pretty laid back and relaxed but travel has definitely helped me not to worry when things go wrong. The number of times that plans having fallen through and have turned into amazing experiences because of it are already countless. It helps to deal with minor road bumps and helps you to accept when things have already happened, that there is nothing whinging and moaning about it will do and that you might as well shut up and get about fixing it. When you travel solo there are rarely people around who give a damn what you have to say and so you just get it done. I’ve been to the hospital 5 times in the last year, more than I had ever been in 22 years back home and despite being an inconvenience, you just accept it and do what you have to do. I guess this ties in with the laidback approach to money as well but when you live carefree, why gripe about it?

  1. How many amazing people there are

When you travel alone, you have to meet people or you start going insane. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a hostel, a hiking trail or in a tram going up a mountain, you find yourself chatting to a large variety of people and learning some of their amazing stories along the way. I like to think that my own story has some people walking away with awe but I know I have heard people’s tales and instantly been inspired and amazed. I met a bloke who was hitchhiking from Denmark to Pakistan; a guy who had just landed a gig running Busabout tours, getting paid to lead what many spend thousands of dollars to go and do; a girl solo road tripping around Canada and the States in a car that inspired no confidence from appearances, yet had never broken down; another girl who might just be one of the best photographers I’ve ever seen and manages to find her way to the most beautiful places on Earth; a self proclaimed Skyrim hermit, who was working in a fish factory because he couldn’t get a job as one of Santa’s elves and who boasted a mean game of chess; a world class mogul skier and so many countless others that I could write a novel on their adventures. If I were still home, chances are I would still be meeting the same students leading very similar lives to every other person I met as opposed to being amazed by complete strangers from all corners of the globe!

 

  1. It’s important to keep learning and developing skills

When I first started this blog, I had no idea what I was doing from a technical aspect. Yet as I committed more and more to it, I found myself relishing in the new found skills I was developing from a site building and blogging aspect as well as the refinement of actually writing once more, something I pretty much hadn’t done since high school. Combining this with learning pieces of languages from all over Europe in an attempt to not appear too naïve, problem solving skills from when shit hits the fan as well as developing my photography skills and understanding of my camera and I have found myself thoroughly enjoying each endeavour. Although I still find myself procrastinating and getting distracted and try to justify it that it’s just me “living” while everyone else is a boring nerd…

  1. Not being materialistic

When you live out of two backpacks, everything in there has to have justification. I carry a few more toys and things that most people would leave behind because they’re what I value. A basketball, harness, camping equipment, it all makes its way into my pack at some stage and certainly get their use. Because there is only so much I can have, it’s a simpler life. Designer clothes have no value to me, when I can get a tee that looks just as good for £2 from Debenhams. This is also extremely handy when you somehow manage to destroy 5 pairs of shorts in 12 months, all the same way. Might be time to get back on the basketball shorts…

However, when you have everything that you need, you find desires disappear and are replaced by places to visit and things to do rather than things to have. Certainly a far better alternative in my eyes.

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