Last Monday marked the completion of my seven month journey through Europe. This trip was an incredible experience where I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted to do moving forward in life.
Today I’d like to talk about these lessons. Some of them are unique to my situation – While others will hopefully provide some guidance in your own life. I can’t say the entire trip was positive. But both the good and bad moments provided a ton of lessons that’s helped me grow as a person. So let’s talk about eighteen things that I learned since April:
Lessons I Learned About Traveling
Lesson #1- Be a Little Spontaneous
Traveling should be about having fun and relaxing. Unfortunately I’ve met a lot of people who approach it with a “to-do list” mentality. Typically people like this plan out their entire trip and leave little room for the fun, random events that are often the best part of a trip.
One of the first habits I had to eliminate was over-planning every facet of my travels. I’ve learned that it’s okay to get a rough idea of what you want to do but leave the finer details to what you feel like doing at a given moment. To be honest, some of my best memories came when I ditched a plan at the last minute and did something that wasn’t on my itinerary.
Lesson #2- Plan a Broad “Road Map”
This might seem like a contradiction of what I just said, but I also found it’s equally important to know the major things you want to see/do during a trip. Yes, it’s fun to be a little spontaneous. But leaving everything to chance often means missing out on stuff you’ve always wanted to experience.
As an example, I knew for certain that I wanted to do the following:
- Hike in the Swiss Alps
- Go to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany
- Take a road trip through Ireland
- See major cities like Prague, Dublin, Edinburgh, Barcelona, and Berlin
- Do outdoor activities like canyoning, kayaking/rafting, hiking, and scuba diving
During my travels, I made sure to leave time to do each of these activities. Once I knew these activities would be completed, I left the rest of my trip up to my mood and environment. Hopefully this shows how you can be both a planner and a bit spontaneous.
Lesson #3- Create a “Next Day” List
Okay, this might seem a little OCD, but I also learned the value of creating “next list” list. This is basically a rough plan of the sites and activities you want to tackle when you wake up.
Why is this important? Well, there were certain times I’d arrive in a city during the early afternoon. During the times I had a list written down, I managed to do a fun activity (or two) before it got dark. On the other hand, when I didn’t have anything planned, I usually ended up doing nothing that day.
Don’t feel like you have to go crazy with this list. Just jot down a few key highlights that you want to do in a specific location. Then do what you feel like at that given moment.
Lesson #4- Overanalyzing Logistics Can Ruin a Trip
I’ve met a lot of people who waste so much of their trip planning things out. You’ll see people like this hunched over a computer, wasting hours comparing prices trying to save a few dollars. In my opinion, this kind of ruins the point behind traveling.
The lesson I’ve learned is to pick the best site/resource for each need and only use that. That way you’re stressed out trying to find the perfect deal. For instance, I only used the following sites for my trip:
- Hotels for hotel reservations.
- Hostel World for low-cost shared and private rooms
- Trip Advisor for ideas for activity ideas in each area
- Wikipedia for history and background info on an area (Yeah… I’m a nerd.)
- Ryanair for low-cost flights within Europe and Morocco
- Orbitz for all other flying needs
- Google for other transportation needs
Using only these resources saved me a bunch of time during my travels. Within an hour, I could have a room booked, with transportation info and a list of what I wanted to do. Not a bad system if you ask me.
Lesson #5- Have an Emergency Kit
Being a “tourist” puts a target on your back for every pickpocket, mugger, and scam artist around. Getting your wallet/purse taken can ruin a trip if you don’t prepare for it. That’s why it’s important to create what I call a “mugging emergency kit.” This is a small bag you keep hidden away that contains these items:
- An extra credit card
- An extra ATM card
- A copy of your passport
- At least 200 Euros (or an equivalent of the local currency)
- Copies of other important documents
My point is you never know when something bad will happen. Prepare for the worst, but hope you don’t have to use these items.
Lesson #6- Look for Unique Experiences
A few months into the trip I was getting pretty tired of the typical tourist destinations like castles, museums, and cathedrals. After awhile all of these places seemed the same. Kind of like the movie “Groundhog Day.”
A lesson I learned was some of the best times you’ll have traveling come from unique experiences – Not looking at an old building, surrounded by mobs of tourists. As I look back, my favorite memories had nothing to do with a building. Expericiences like canyoning in France, hiking up the Jungfrau Mountain and sharing a few beers with Norwegians at Oktoberfest. The greatest memories can’t be found in a guidebook…they come from doing what you love.
Lesson #7- Find Alternative Ways to Travel
While I personally didn’t do this, I met a couple of travelers who met a lot of local through an “alternative” ways of traveling. Specifically they used two sites to save money, while meeting lots of locals:
- HelpX– This site lists volunteer opportunities in specific locations. For a few hours of work each day, most will offer free room and board.
- Couchsurfing– This site is like the Facebook for travelers. There are people offering a free bed to travelers and there are people who use it to find places to stay. Many of my friends use this site all the time and swear that it’s a great resource for meeting locals.
Again, I personally haven’t used either site. But a lot of my friends say they both help to create a unique travel experience.
Lessons I Learned About Work
Lesson #8- You Can’t Combine Work with Travel
I know some will disagree with this lesson. Before starting this trip, I thought it would be easy to work 20 hours a week and then spend the rest of my time traveling. The truth is its way harder than I originally anticipated.
While you might be able to do this for a short period, I don’t think it’s a good idea to combine work for an extended amount of time. When I was working, I felt like I should be having fun. And when I was having fun, I felt guilty for not focusing on my business. Then when combined with the stress of moving from place to place, I found I was often stressed out about all that I had to do each week.
Lesson #9- The “Laptop Lifestyle” isn’t Easy
A popular concept that’s gaining popularity is the idea of the “laptop lifestyle.” The idea here is that all you need is a laptop and you can bounce around the world, working a little and having fun the rest of the time.
Let me say this concept sounds great on paper, but it’s not a way to run a business. You can maintain a business this way, but it’s almost impossible to start a new business while hopping around the world. One of the techniques I use when home is creative brainstorming. While traveling, there is very little time to sit down and analyze what needs to be done to improve your business.
Furthermore, you don’t have a dedicated work location. Which brings me to the next point…
Lesson #10- You Need a Command Center
All businesses need an area that’s dedicated to work. This can be anything from a giant building to a small desk in a corner of a room. The challenge of the laptop lifestyle is you don’t have a dedicated workspace. I often found myself trying to do work in a room full of screaming, drunken idiots. That’s NOT a good environment for getting things done.
To maximize your productivity, you need what I call a “command center.” This is a dedicated workspace that’s specifically tailored to the activities you do on a regular basis. This area contains all your important paperwork, whiteboards for ideas, and has inspiring pictures/plaques on the wall. The idea behind a command center is to work in a productive manner with little to no distractions.
Lesson #11- I Actually Like Work
This one confused the hell out of me. I still love traveling and I’m already looking for ideas for my next trip. But one of the things that frustrated me the most about this trip was I didn’t have enough time to work on my business – Specifically this site.
It’s great to have fun, but after awhile I started to miss the experience of growing this site. After a few months I realized that I actually enjoyed Internet marketing. Before I left, I always thought this was something I do to pay the bills. It turns out that honestly enjoy doing what I do. Yeah, I know this sounds weird.
Lessons I Learned About Life
Lesson #12- Wherever You Go, There You Are
I met a lot of people from a lot of different countries. The one commonality about them all is they carried the same attitude they had from back home. So if someone was basically miserable in their country, they were probably miserable traveling around Europe. I really believe in the idea of wherever you go, there you are. Don’t expect a long trip to change who you are on the inside. Real change comes from finding what makes you happy and focusing on that.
Lesson #13- Be Open to New People
Traveling on your own can be a bit scary. And frankly, it can often be pretty lonely. So that’s why it’s important to be open to meeting new people. What I’ve learned is you have to be really proactive about meeting people on the road – Even if you’re an introverted person. Early on, I discovered the importance of being proactive when it comes meeting people. For instance, here are 17 tips for making friends while traveling solo.
Lesson #14- Say Yes to New Experiences
It’s easy to get caught in the trap of doing safe activities (like visiting a musty old cathedral) than it is to do something a little scary (like going into a dark Polish forest and shooting AK-47’s). Traveling is about breaking out of your normal routine and doing something unique. Sometimes that means saying YES to an activity – Even if you’re not sure you’ll like it.
We all have moments when we’re a little nervous to try something new. That’s why it’s important to use traveling as an excuse for breaking through your comfort zones. Don’t worry about making a fool of yourself. In all likelihood, you’ll never see these people again. So you might as well take advantage of your travels and do things that seem a little scary at the time.
Lesson #15- Possessions aren’t Important
I used to be one of those people who kept everything. What I learned during my travels is that every possession can be replaced or tossed out. For example, here’s what was lost/destroyed in the last seven months:
- 2 Digital Cameras
- 1 Amazon Kindle
- 1 iPod speaker/docking station
- 3 Long-sleeve shirts
- 1 Comfy head pillow
- 1 Digital 50-Lap Wristwatch
- 1 Penguin Beach Towel
- 80 Euros in cash from a crafty pickpocketer
- And…my favorite T-shirt of all time (This one hurt the most)
During a long period of traveling, there will be some causalities. If you lose or break something, it’s probably replaceable. Yes, it sucks to have to spend money on something you already had. But I guarantee within a few days, you’ll probably forget about it. As long as you’re still healthy, then learn the lesson and move on.
Lesson #16- S**t Happens
I was pretty vigilant for pickpocketers for the last seven months. That is, until a girl got my wallet in the last week of my travels. The upshot is I was with a couple of street-savvy guys from New York. They immediately noticed what happened and we kindly “negotiated” the wallet back from her and her cohorts. Of course, during the confusion, 80 Euros were taken from my wallet.
The point is no matter how vigilante or careful you act, sometimes s**t happens. Be cautious, but don’t think everyone is out to get you. As long as you implement lesson #5, then nothing is irreplaceable.
Lesson #17- Learn the Lesson
I had a lot of interesting things happen in the last seven months. Some of them were good, some were bad. I think it’s important to learn lessons from everything – Especially when things go wrong. At those times it’s important to reflect on what happened and then figure out what you would have done in the future. Doing this on a regular basis will help you grow as a person.
Lesson #18- I’d Do It Again!
Someone recently asked me if I’d do this trip again, if I could go back in time and relive my life over. I think I would. Sure, I’d change some destinations and maybe plan things better. But overall, I’m glad I took this trip. I learned a lot about myself and some of the places I’ve always dreamed of seeing. And while I’m now in work mode, I’m already thinking about where I’d like to see next.
Final Thoughts on Traveling Lessons
I’d agree that some of these lessons are a bit pessimistic. The truth is I think this trip was an extremely positive experience – One I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Sure things went wrong, but I felt that these provided a ton of insight into who I am and what I want moving forward. While I’ll probably never do another massive trip like this, I do feel it’s something we all have to do at least one point in our lives. What do you think?Take Action. Get Results.