There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.
– Jawaharlal Nehru
The second anniversary of the beginning of our travels passed in December. We use this milestone as an opportunity to answer the oft posed question: “What have you learned from this journey?”
Although the following list contains a revelation or two, most items are re-affirmations of lessons that life had taught us previously, but whose importance we hadn’t yet fully realized. Unknown knowns, perhaps?
[Spoiler alert: No, we haven't yet figured out the meaning of life.]
Life Lessons after Two Years of Travel
1. Life’s common experience
If you are struggling with something in your life, take solace: chances are that there’s someone on the opposite side of the planet who struggles similarly. Our travels, the people we meet, their struggles and ours all bear this out.
Nelson Mandela used his brilliant smile to make his captors feel comfortable and to earn their trust. We don’t advocate goofy grins, but genuine smiles make a difference when engaging with others – especially when there is no shared spoken language. Remember, over 50% of communication is non-verbal.
3. Sleep is nature’s remedy to heal the body and the mind.
Almost everything looks and feels better after a good night’s sleep.
4. The beauty in the familiar
One surprising side effect of having traveled to so many unusual places: we now tend to observe almost everything as wide-eyed tourists. Traveling has conditioned us to keep our eyes open to appreciate the beauty and value of the everyday, the mundane. We all love a beautiful, exotic temple, but even the grayest of cities evince a certain aesthetic that’s worth reflecting on – if you look at them through the right lens.
5. Two outfits can go a long way
To say it another way, we realize how little we really need. As we travel the world with backpacks, the lesson regarding the limitations of our material needs is retaught to us in so many ways by so many people.
6. The world is not a place for black and white
Us/them, with/against, good/evil. The world and its people live and breathe primarily in shades of gray. Discourse regarding the world’s challenges and opportunities would be more productive were it to follow suit.
7. Earplugs are worth more than their weight in gold.
The chorus of babies, cats, dogs, and chickens rings loud in the wee hours in many of the places we’ve visited. Reach for a set of earplugs and enjoy the power of silence (see #3).
8. Plan with a goal in mind, but remain open to diversions on the way there.
It follows that it’s perfectly acceptable to never arrive at your original destination. Our most memorable experiences often happen on the way “there.” This is an application of the Dwight Eisenhower wisdom regarding planning and preparation: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
9. Walk there.
Another good one for mental and physical health. Walking also provides us a closer, more engaged relationship with people and our environment. It enables us to meet people and to see things we otherwise might have missed were we in a car. An entrepreneur we met in Pondicherry, India offered: “Many of the world’s great leaders were walkers.” We haven’t researched to confirm this, but far-fetched it’s not.
10. Long-term travel as an investment in yourself.
At the very beginning of our trip, an Afghan man we’d met in Bangkok suggested, “You are making an investment in yourself with this journey.” Words of wisdom and comfort when things aren’t going our way on the road or when doubt seeps in about the future.
The versatility of condensed milk. Some may argue that condensed milk – the condiment of kings, the dressing of divinity – deserves more than an honorable mention. After all, what other product sweetens oatmeal and coffee while topping rock solid bread in moments of desperation? OK, maybe honey. We’re not talking haute cuisine here, but a tube of condensed milk can go a long way for the nomad.