“The pumpkin spice flavors are coming out,” a friend back home told me over the phone. Caught off guard, I looked at the calendar asking, “Wait, what month is it?!” I’ve been living in perpetual summer since I started traveling and without a changing of seasons—or any kind of schedule, really—I’ve lost track of where in the year we are. A quick glance at the date (and a counting of fingers, because math) made me realize that I have now officially been on the road for six months.
SIX MONTHS! How did that happen?? I can remember leaving like it was yesterday, and yet it also seems like a lifetime away.
It seemed only fitting to take a moment and reflect on the journey so far and everything I’ve learned and gained (like a dress size) along the way. But I always swore to myself that I would never become that cliché person who says things like omg travel has totally changed me and my outlook on life and now I realize poor people are just soooo much happier and the hipster life is for me. I’ve shied away from any kind of deep reflection on the process because of a fear of becoming that person. I did not decide to travel because of some existential crisis or a great need to “find myself”; I left because I wanted freedom and adventure.
But it would be a lie to say that I haven’t undergone some kind of transformation and learned some valuable lessons in the last six months (even as simple as the fact that I’m allergic to everything and geckos like to poop on me). Traveling, without a doubt, changes you, much like doing anything for six months will; it gives you ample opportunities to push yourself to your limits and come to understand yourself and those around you on a deeper level.
So, sitting by the pool in Bali with a cocktail in hand, here are a few of the things six months of travel has taught me:
It’s not the place, it’s the people
Some of life’s greatest meaning comes from the connections you make with others and travel is no exception. I have found that my experience with a place is often based not on the scenery or activities but on the locals I meet and/or the people I travel there with. You can be in the most beautiful place in the world watching fairies dance on a magical waterfall, but if you’re surrounded by asshats the wrong people it can create a really negative impression. Likewise, a local going out of their way to help you or sharing laughs with a good friend can make you fall in love with even the simplest of places.
Downtime is necessary
My facebook pictures may make it look like all I do is lay by a pool, but there is a lot happening behind the scenes. Travel—especially on a budget—can be long, challenging, and exhausting. I recently spent a month of waking early everyday for adventures around Indonesia, but by the end of it I was burnt out. While it was fun, I needed a break from constantly doing things and needed a “vacation from my vacation.” Taking time to recuperate and process all that you’ve experienced is vital to maintaining a long-term travel lifestyle.
Minimalism is more achievable than I realized
I have lived out of a very reasonably sized bag for six months. Coming from the girl who once brought an entire duffel bag to Europe just for shoes, I’d say this is quite the achievement. Do I love only having a few outfits to choose from? No. And yet I’ve come to accept and embrace the lifestyle. It also makes deciding what to wear so much easier.
Spontaneity leads to some of the best experiences
If travel does not teach you to be spontaneous then I don’t know what will. All I can say is that most of my favorite experiences have been planned completely on a whim. Volunteer for a week at an elephant sanctuary starting tomorrow? Sure! You want to go on a 4-day boat trip to see some Komodo dragons this weekend? Why not! Street food tour in 5 minutes? Hell yeah! Being flexible and willing to try new things on a moment’s notice almost always pays off.
Some stereotypes are true…
But most are not.
Humor is the best way to deal with challenges
Often an unfortunate situation is out of your control or you’ve done all that you can do. Stressing, crying, and worrying is not going to improve anything, so I’ve learned to just laugh in the face of adversity. Broken down on the side of the road and stuck in the rain in the middle of nowhere? Even if I can’t find humor in the moment, I always tell myself you’ll laugh about this later. And I usually do (or someone else does for me).
Solo travel is much easier than I thought.
I was apprehensive in the beginning. Won’t I get lonely? What if I get lost and no one knows where I am? Who will hold my bag when I go to the bathroom at the bus station? It turns out my worries were unnecessary because making friends is stupidly easy when traveling alone. I now even prefer traveling solo most of the time because I get to do exactly what I want, when I want, how I want.
Staying in shape is hard
For some strange reason I thought that I would magically lose weight while traveling. It turns out that only happens to men… Meanwhile, my gelato addiction is still going strong and it’s hard to maintain an exercise regimen between beach lounging and massages, ya know?
Some people will become best friends
I worried that despite meeting lots of people I wouldn’t truly bond with anyone. But traveling with people accelerates the relationship and while many have come and gone, a few people have become such close friends that they’re probably going to name their babies after me someday. Okay, kidding—but just throwing that idea out there for them…
I am awesome
I have done something that I didn’t know for sure if I could do; something that people continually tell me I’m brave for doing but I don’t feel brave for at all. I am living the dream I worked so hard for and I am finally full of some serious self-love–and that is the most important lesson of all.
This trip isn’t even halfway over, and I’m so excited to see what the next year holds!!!
Have you traveled long term? What did you learn?