4 Lessons Travelling The World Taught Me
At the ripe age of 18, I traveled on my own for the first time.
With only a briefcase, a book under my arm, a pair of John Lenon sunglasses, and with excitement running through my veins, I headed to Madrid for a year of volunteering.
This is when I would experience my first true sense of freedom.
Following this experience, a few years later, I got hired for what you could call a “dream job”, with all expenses paid to travel around the world as a videographer/assistant under a self-help coach.
Doing so, I traveled to over 16 countries in under a year, an experience that would push me to the limits of the amount of discomfort I can handle.
Through sleeping in couches, meeting dozens of people from all over the globe, all the way to returning home, concluding what you could call “The Hero’s Journey”, these are the top 4 lessons I brought with me.
#1— We Are Not Alone (Even If It Feels So At Times)
Originally from a small city, the type where everyone knows each other, I had always struggled to be myself.
As someone naturally on the introverted side, with interests that often didn’t match with the ones of those around me, I found myself pretending to care about soccer and on the best type of beer more than I'd like to admit.
I wasn’t miserable by any means, however, I knew I wasn’t happy either.
I knew there had to be more to life.
So, I went after it.
Through living in hostels for 3 months following the end of my academic career, and then volunteering in Madrid, I found the first piece of the puzzle I was desperately missing: genuine connections.
I found people, from all corners of the world, who cared about the same things I did, who saw the world through similar lenses, and more importantly, who I genuinely connected with for the first time in a long time.
I wasn’t trying to be someone I was not, acting cooler than I felt, nor pretending to care about subjects that disinterested me. I was, for how cliche it may sound, truly being myself.
A lesson that I’ve carried with me to this day. Not to always assume it’s the other person’s fault for not seeing eye to eye with you, after all, without trying to understand the other side and be open to change we can never grow, however, if we can’t find a genuine connection with those around us, know that there are people out there who you will fit with like a glove.
Don’t be afraid to go looking for them.
#2 — It’s OK To Feel Bad
At the beginning of what you could call my “Freedom Journey” I found myself quite conflicted.
On the one hand, I knew that I wanted to grow as a person, to become more comfortable, not only with myself but with others I interacted with, and I knew that for this to happen I would have to face uncomfortable situations. On the other hand, this discomfort caused so much emotional pain that, at times, the only thing I wanted to do was rush back to my parents' home and watch Netflix, cuddled under a blanket.
“Why does it have to be so difficult?” — I would think every night on the hostel bunk bed — “Is something wrong with me? I don’t see others struggling like this.”
An emotional pain I naively thought at the time was mine alone to bear, however, with time and experience, I found that most people leaving their homes for the first time struggle with this exact feeling.
The feeling that something is wrong with them.
When going from an environment where we are extremely safe and comfortable to one that is exactly the opposite, especially for the first time, there will be a period of emotional conflict.
If you haven’t yet, you will need to learn how to cook, how to do the laundry, how to keep things clean, you will have to (re)learn how to make new friends and connections, and above all, you will need to learn to be with yourself.
It’s in moments like these, moments when we go from an environment where we don’t have to worry about meeting new people, where we have life-long friends, to one where we are essentially forced to do so that we get to know a lot about ourselves. About our social anxieties, our insecurities, and the way we interact.
Obviously, for some people, this won’t even be an issue. However, if you find yourself, as I did years ago, struggling with a similar situation there is only one thing to do:
Keep improving, facing the discomfort, dealing with your insecurities because, eventually, they will go away.
Once the voice in your head realizes that you are not going anywhere, that you are going to see this discomfort through, all of a sudden, things become much better. The level of comfort you have with yourself rises, consequentially, the one you have with others also follows along, and quite honestly, life just turns more peaceful.
Remember though, without walking through the metaphorical fire that is “discomfort”, you will never get to a higher level of self-peace.
With that in mind, keep walking.
#3— Beauty Is Out There For You to Discover
The following quote, despite being a long one, is one of my favorite travel ones and it comes from a man who traveled more than pretty much everyone, Anthony Bourdain:
“I wanted adventures. I wanted to go up the Nung river to the heart of darkness in Cambodia. I wanted to ride out into a desert on camelback, sand and dunes in every direction, eat whole roasted lamb with my fingers. I wanted to kick snow off my boots in a Mafiya nightclub in Russia. I wanted to play with automatic weapons in Phnom Penh, recapture the past in a small oyster village in France, step into a seedy neon-lit pulqueria in rural Mexico. I wanted to run roadblocks in the middle of the night, blowing past angry militia with a handful of hurled Marlboro packs, experience fear, excitement, wonder. I wanted kicks — the kind of melodramatic thrills and chills I’d yearned for since childhood, the kind of adventure I’d found as a little boy in the pages of my Tintin comic books. I wanted to see the world — and I wanted the world to be just like the movies.”
The above quote, personally, never fails in bringing up the “hard to put your finger on” feeling that good travel provides. It’s a mix of excitement, anxiety, freedom, nostalgia, and a touch of romanticism. A feeling that few experiences can ever bring as a man and his backpack out to explore.
However, if those things sensations are present, there is something which isn’t: Life being similar to the movies.
For how much we may romanticize these experiences, striving for a cinema-like action sequence backed by a soundtrack hitting all the right beats, the perfect witty lines being delivered at just the right time, and everything coming perfectly together at the end, life just doesn’t work that way.
As Jocko Willink put it in his podcast when referring to the same quote:
“To me, the world is not like the movies. They aren’t real, they don’t exist. But you do, and this life is better than any movie there is. Movies are supposed to provoke something, make you feel something. But I have a better idea, go out into the world and actually feel it.”
All the romantic ideas you have in your mind about how these experiences should go will be destroyed as soon as the plane lands at your destination, and you know what?
That is the best thing that can happen. Because when we let go of how you think things should be, allowing space to see reality for what it is, then, and only then, we will see the true beauty that the world has to offer.
The highest of highs, and the lowest of lows.
For me, this happened in many ways.
I lived the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, sneaking into bars I had no I.D to get in, feeling for the first time the possibilities the world had to offer. I lived through the lens of a camera, having 1st-row seat to dozens of music festivals, capturing the moment as a photographer. I lived the near-death of a friend of mine in a Colombian mountain, having to carry him through the pitch-black night. I lived the beauty a stary desert sky has to offer and the connectedness to the universe it brought up inside, feeling part of it all. I lived to taste the most delicious fruit in South America, papaya that just melted in your mouth, and the worst one in Ukraine. I burned out, broke up with my girlfriend, and at times felt as lost as I’ve ever been.
Through it all, highs and lows, through tears of sadness and euphoria, looking back, I can say I experienced some of the beauty the world has to offer.
Moment of beauty so incredible that I believe they will hold a permanent space in the drawer of “top-memories” of my mind, and if I die never traveling again I can comfortably say I went and lived, having no regrets in this regard.
If you are on the fence about going and seeing the world, waiting for the right moment, when things will feel perfect, know that for how safe things may seem, tomorrow is never granted, and as Andrew Jackson put it:
Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.
Otherwise, if you never leave the planning stage, setting out to see the world, one day it will be too late. When that day arrives would you prefer to have lived through the highs and lows of adventure, or, in a much scarier scenario, with the regret of never having dared to experience them?
#4 — You Can Only Connect The Dots Looking Back
Steve Jobs, in a now-famous 2005 Stanford speech, eloquently said:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Personally, nothing taught me this lesson better than my traveling experiences.
During this time, I constantly changed the path I wanted to pursue, from photography to videography, digital marketing to copywriting, virtual-assisting to sales, even trying my hand at stock trading.
All things that I started saw me seeing some level of success (except trading), only to get bored quickly after, giving up with this loss of motivation. Defeats that at the time made me mad at myself.
“How can I want success so bad but not commit to anything?” — I would think every time a pursue would fall flat.
A thought that, later, I would come to find out was missing a big part of the equation.
All these things I was trying and developing skills in were giving me the dots to connect in the future. Marketing, design, sales, videography, and more, are all skills I use nowadays which allowed me to pursue the meaningful path I was looking for, with the success I so deeply craved.
Don’t be mistaken though, while it may seem like a smooth road, it was nothing but it. It wasn’t for me and it won’t be for you.
There will be moments so low you will question if you shouldn’t just give up on your dreams, whatever those may be.
Let me then finish then with the advice I wish I would have received when I was a confused teenager full of ambition:
Things will get better. If you keep trying, keep improving, learning from your mistakes, you will inevitably get to a better spot, but you need to give it time.
If you have 2 years of your life that make you seem like a complete failure, which then propels you to the success you desire, were they really years of failure?
Only if you give up, otherwise, that is simply called learning from your mistakes.
To finish, using the words of a much wiser man than I:
“When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way.”
Thank you for reading.