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In 2011, my wife Lianne and I decided to “retire from our 20’s” by taking an around the world trip. Our plan was to head west and keep going until we got back to the States. We put together a rough plan and headed out into the adventure. That was nearly 9 years ago, and I was recently revisiting our journals and pictures. It reminded me of 5 life lessons I learned during our trip.
1. Plan But Don’t Over Plan
You need to have a plan or framework of what you want to do in life or travel. Working towards specific goals requires laying out a strategy to get there. Otherwise as Yogi Berra said, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.” That’s why we planned out high level places we wanted to visit and things we wanted to do. We sketched out a rough schedule of countries and date ranges. Some things like the Trans-Mongolian Railway, Russian Visa and invitation and Chinese Visa required pre-planning to book and get all the required documents or they would not have been possible.
On the other hand, we didn’t want to be too rigid in our approach. We wanted to visit several countries in Southeast Asia, so we set aside 10 weeks for that area. However, we kept our itinerary almost completely open. This gave us the maximum flexibility to pivot our plans to stay longer in places we liked and move faster through those we were less enamored with. This also able allowed us to act on recommendations from other travelers and locals that would have been impossible if we completely planned everything. It’s absolutely a balancing act between planning and spontaneity. Each traveler needs to find their own sweet spot, but it generally makes sense to avoid either extreme.
2. Be Open-Minded and Have a Great Attitude
Travel and life are both all about experiences. Whether it is meeting new people, trying a new food, or tackling a less than ideal situation, the adventure is what brings us all back for more. In China, I found out that I kind of enjoyed fried ants, crickets, and spiders after giving them a shot. We also were invited to explore an amazing unmarked cave in Laos with some locals after our motorbike tire exploded in front of their place and we laughed it off and bought them beers while we fixed the tire. If the tire hadn’t busted the odds are good we would have driven right by that gem and never have had that great experience.
3. Be Friendly and Kind
It amazes me how far a smile will get you. We found ourselves in situations where communication was difficult because our local language skills were lacking, a smile and earnest attempt to interact were almost invariably met with a return smile and patience. Travel helps you realize that most people all over the world are similar and care about the same things…their family, friends, and living the best life that they can. Friendliness and kindness make the journey better for you and those you meet along the way.
4. Take Chances
Life is a risk vs reward proposition. I had always wanted to break away from the daily routine and spend a year or more on the road. Lianne shared this dream and we set it as a goal before having kiddos. As we shared our RTW trip plan with friends and relatives we ran into two types of responses. Those who said, “Go for it now while you can! You won’t regret it!” and those who said, “What about your career?” or “What if you can’t find work when you return?” Someone shared a Mark Twain quote that really spoke to me and it was our battle cry of sorts. “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.” Looking back at the journey and experiences now, I can confidently say that I am glad we listened to those that said “Go for it!”
5. Make a Record of Your Adventures
Whether you do this through writing, pictures, videos, art, or souvenirs, make sure it is part of your journey. As time progresses the memories inevitably fade. Having things to jog your memory or memorialize your adventure is a great way to relive your trips. During our RTW trip of 13 months we wrote about the trip in a blog and took countless pictures and videos. The kids love watching the YouTube videos and the blog is a great way to escape back to our journey and remember how amazing it was.
I hope our kids will have the same opportunities to travel and experience everything that the world has to offer. I would like to think travel will teach them the above lessons as well as many others.
What lessons has travel taught you? Leave a message in the comments and let us know!
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