I booked an $80 room at a beach resort on an island in the South Pacific expecting… well… a beach. Or a resort. After my $40 taxi ride, what I got was a room that doesn’t lock, barely big enough for a bed, in the back of a not-yet-open café in which I am not allowed to cook. The unopened café wasn’t private, though, as I was joined by a group of backpackers who set up camp on the floor. My room looks out over a graveyard of gardening tools, the shower doesn’t have hot water and the milk for my tea is sour. And I can hear the pig for tonight’s dinner show squealing in protest as it’s being led to slaughter.
I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me… but if you told me that I’d be sitting in this less-than-stellar spot a year ago, I’m not sure I would have believed you. Last August, I quit my job, sold my belongings, sent my dog to live with grandma and grandpa, put on my traveling shoes and set off on a mission to find the world’s best desserts and greatest adventures around the world.
Planning is second nature for me, but so much happened this year that I couldn’t have imagined when I stepped onto the plane in Texas last August. Most of what has happened has been amazing, some of it’s been bad, and some of it has been just plain wacky. If someone had told me what to expect… I wouldn’t change a thing.
That being said, there are a few things I know now that I wish I had known then:
1. You never get used to saying goodbye.
I thought the goodbye to friends and family last year would be my hardest. It wasn’t. I got used to hellos and goodbyes that felt as regular as breathing when I was traveling through Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, and Thailand, but once I settled down for a bit in Queenstown, New Zealand, the goodbyes snuck up on me. These were the tough ones. I know I’ll see my friends and family back home again. But these friends-turned-family in a foreign land? Who knows if we’ll ever be on the same side of the world again.
2. It’s worth letting your guard down… even when it hurts.
Don’t put up protectors just because the inevitable goodbye is coming. Laugh often, live without abandon and love deeply.
3. Your travel friends won’t look like your friends at home… and that’s ok.
I left home with hopes that I’d find (temporary) replacements for my besties at home. I’ve got new besties around the world… but if I had met them at home, we might not be friends. I’m so glad I was open to meeting people who are different than me…each one of them had something important to teach me.
4. Sometimes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. And if not, there’s always FaceTime.
Technology leaves no room for excuses about friendships that fail because of distance. Start a WhatsApp group with your core group of friends before leaving home… a little encouragement from overseas is sometimes just the boost you need and a message from you goes a long way to maintain friendships at home.
5. It’s possible to feel alone, even when surrounded by people.
I lived in a house with 20 people in Queenstown. Yes 2-0. Some hostels I stayed in had triple that amount of guests at any given time. And some days, in the midst of all those people, it can feel lonely. Acknowledge the loneliness and figure out if there’s something that’s causing it. If that something is fixable, fix it. If not, feel it, and get back in the ebb and flow of people milling about.
6. Finding alone time can be the biggest struggle… Do it anyway.
And on the opposite end of the spectrum, a little alone time is good for the soul. Make time for you—whether that be reading, journaling, praying, or meditating. Do something that forces you to look inward on a regular basis.
7. You are not what you do.
In the U.S., we define ourselves and those around us by education and occupation. Some of the most brilliant, creative, amazing people I’ve met on the road haven’t gone to university or held an office job with a fancy title. No one cares that my title at home had director in it… they care about whether I’m a willing adventurer and a trustworthy friend.
8. You are also not where you live.
When I moved out of a 3-bedroom condo in Dallas, I had plans to stay only in hostels with 8.5 ratings or above and find a cute apartment in cities where I would stay more than a few weeks. What happened: That cute apartment was way too expensive on my backpacker budget and a little boring. I actually bought a non-working car to live in so that I could be with my car-dwelling community. I’m not sure I’d do it again… but my days living in a giant metal tent sure were memorable.
9. If you’re doing a working holiday… Do not compare former salary to current wages.
It will make you depressed. Work hard and know that the experience of living in another country is racking up capital that won’t show in a bank account.
10. Budget isn’t just a rental car company.
If you’re quitting your job to travel, chances are good that you know a thing or two about budgeting. When you’re working for nearly minimum wage… it will become even more important.
11. Have a few knock-em-outta-the-park recipes in your back pocket.
Most of my friends have their go-to recipe for community meals… I’m still struggling with this one and wish I’d mastered a few cheap and easy meals before I left home.
12. Be prepared to talk politics.
Everyone will want to know what you think of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Have a response or a witty deflector ready at all times. As for me? My 2-year trip might be getting a 4-year extension this November.
13. Bring a bit of home with you.
If you’re planning to leave home for an extended period of time, chances are good you’re cutting lots of ties at the moment. Bring a piece of home with you… whether it be a book of notes from friends, a favorite sweatshirt, or a giant Texas flag. Don’t forget where you came from… it’s gotten you where you are.
14. A change of plans isn’t the end of the world.
Longevity is important in a career, but when you’re traveling, it’s ok to change plans if things aren’t working out.
15. Freedom comes when the things you own don’t own you.
Monthly rent payments, car payments and storage unit costs add up. After the initial moment of panic passes, once you rid your life of everything but the necessary, you are free to begin the trip of a lifetime uninhibited by monthly costs. And those things you sold or gave away? You won’t even remember them after a month or two.
If you’ve taken the plunge to travel full-time, what has surprised you most? If you’re considering a long-term trip, what’s holding you back?