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36 Life Lessons That Every Longterm Traveler Learns

by Tony · 19 comments

Title - Final

In 2012, we traveled outside of the US for an entire year. Our experiences were our own, but there were some universal lessons learned that every longterm traveler knows.

If you haven’t traveled longterm, you might recognize these lessons as well. But nothing brings them into more clarity than seeing them at work for 12 straight months.

  1. A 20 hour journey that only takes 19 will always seem better than a 5 hour trip that unexpectedly takes 10.
  2. It’s very, very hard to pack less than you actually need.
  3. A life of adventure lies in saying yes more than no.

    3 - Life Of Adventure - Final

  4. Always bring a bathing suit.
  5. If everyone else in a new culture does the same “weird” thing… you’re actually being the weird one.
  6. You can work out anywhere… but you don’t have to. Just don’t make excuses.
  7. The most memorable parts of travel come not from the destination, but in the uncomfortable travel in between.
  8. You can sleep anywhere… seriously.
  9. Bathroom culture can be very, VERY different in other countries (this means yours too).
    9 - Bathroom Culture - Final
  10. Do not judge a place to eat by its appearance, but by the line of locals waiting to eat.
  11. Corollary to #10: Food poisoning awaits those who eat at the sparkling clean – yet empty – restaurant.
  12. People are infinitely nicer than you imagine.
  13. Trust the person who you ask for help.
  14. Be wary of the stranger who volunteers to help.
  15. People – and travel – are all about contradictions.
    13 14 15 - Trust - Final
  16. Money is relative. You will drop a few nickels on the ground while trying to get through airport security and forget to pick them up. But you will haggle for twenty minutes at a stall in Indonesia to get a 1,000 Rupiah discount.
  17. Technology has made the world smaller. Keep in touch with friends on Facebook and family through Skype.
  18. Technology has made the world bigger. Go anywhere with advanced knowledge of what to expect and where to stay.
  19. Cliches are OK and cliche for a reason. Don’t hesitate to eat that warm croissant at the base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
  20. You WILL fall in love with a street dog – and your heart WILL break.
  21. Shower sandals are not just for college.
  22. Love of good food is the great cultural equalizer. If you don’t speak the same language as someone, eat a meal with them.
  23. You don’t need much to be incredibly happy.
    Happy family having fun in summer park
  24. The places you never expected to visit become the places you can’t imagine leaving.
  25. Talk to people you don’t know. Every day presents you with a whole new group of people to meet.
  26. Spend less time moving between places and more time in places.
  27. Never stay no to a night of staying up late drinking with people from other countries.
  28. Never stay up late drinking by yourself.
  29. Having no WiFi is infinitely better than dealing with slow or intermittent WiFi.
  30. Experiences are better than things.
  31. Things are still pretty nice.
    30 31 - Experiences and Things - Final
  32. Long distance travel does not get easier the more you do it. Your personal pain and aggravation threshold just increases.
  33. Merino wool travel clothes are expensive. But so very worth it.
  34. If it’s been awhile since you showered and you are just starting to notice that you smell bad… Sorry, but everyone else noticed yesterday.
  35. Patience truly is a virtue.

Your Job

Help us make this list better by doing two quick things: Tell us the #1 lesson you disagree with and then share a lesson you learned that isn’t on the list.


About Tony
Quit his job to try actually following his dreams for once... and is currently loving it. He is working hard to to make this life-style permanent by writing about his adventures and brainstorming money making opportunities with his partner-in-crime, Meg.

Maria November 10, 2014 at 1:00 pm

I love these 36 reasons! And I agree 100% on money being an equalizer :) After having postponed our dream RTW for health reasons, we are leaving rain or shines!!! follow me http://www.insearchofwonder.com

Tony November 10, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Thanks, Maria! Part of the reason we decided to do our trip was because of some health reasons… nothing can motivate you more! Have a great trip and feel free to reach out if you have any questions :)

Rachel Lloyd November 10, 2014 at 1:37 pm

This is a cool list! I liked reading through it- thanks for sharing

Tony November 10, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Thanks for stopping by, Rachel! Appreciate you taking a look :)

Pech November 10, 2014 at 1:51 pm

HA definitely #29.

Tony November 10, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Right? Something about knowing you’ll have no wifi and being able to relax vs constantly trying to get the wifi to work… So frustrating!

Maryn November 10, 2014 at 3:06 pm

These are so great – #26 + #27 in particular. And so true for life in general, not just travel!

Tony November 11, 2014 at 3:16 pm

#26 #27 are both true and have real travel stories behind them… as do all good “life truths” i’ve learned! Glad these lessons resonated for you beyond just travel. We have found they all apply to every part of our life since we’ve gotten home. Thanks for sharing, Maryn!

kelsey November 10, 2014 at 3:55 pm

#3 is amazing! :) love this for everyday life

Tony November 10, 2014 at 4:03 pm

It’s definitely something that we found to be true during our longterm travel and something that we have implemented big time since being back. It has paid huge dividends in having a more interesting and fulfilling life :)

Thanks, Kelsey!

Rhonda November 10, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Great tips:) Just reading them brought back so many memories and emotions from our time on the road. Thanks for sharing.

Tony November 10, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Thanks, Rhonda!

These were all universal truths that we found during our travels and really changed our perspective on life/people since we’ve been back. It’s amazing how longterm travel can make you see things from a whole new angle :)

Jenni November 10, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Loved everything about this post. I can’t agree more on #3. Haha… or about the Bathroom Culture. My one trip to another country made me realize how different even the bathroom could be from one culture to another. And, that 90 year old women can “squat” better than I.

Tony November 11, 2014 at 3:15 pm

I always heard stories about people from other countries doing crazy things in Western style bathrooms and couldn’t understand… until I got totally confused in bathrooms in Southeast asia. Now I have complete sympathy for everyone confused by another culture! And yes… it’s a sad day when you first realize you just don’t have the flexibility or leg strength for a squat toilet :)

Thanks for stopping by Jenni!

Peter Korchnak @ Where Is Your Toothbrush? November 10, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Always bring ear plugs and a headlamp.

I could relate to all of these except #20. Dog people are dog people, non-dog people are non-dog people, and never the twain shall meet.

Tony November 11, 2014 at 4:39 pm

That’s a great one, Peter! I learned the hard way about the headlamp when I dropped my tiny flashlight and broke it in the pitch dark bathrooms on the Inca Trail… whoops! Ear plugs saved us many times in the hostels of South America :)

You probably feel about #20 the way I feel whenever someone writes about all of the awesome cats they met on the road…

Jen November 11, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Great list! It covers a lot of what I’ve learned over the last 19 months. Although I disagree with #8… it gets harder as you get older. :)

This is implied in a lot of your lessons above but I would add that you get what you give. Negative and passive aggressive tourists/travelers don’t seem to have a good time, whereas we try to go into every (sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes absurd) experience with an open mind and a smile, and we haven’t really had a bad time yet.

Brian January 7, 2015 at 3:13 pm

This is a great list! I agree with all of them wholeheartedly.

Maybe one to add: At least in my mind, travel is hands down the best form of education that exists in this world.

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