Things I’ve learned

It’s cliched to say that you go traveling to “find yourself.”  Were you missing?  Lost?  I never reeeally understood what that phrase was even really supposed to imply.  And then I left home. I expected this trip to last about 4 months.  I thought, if I was smart with my money, and having a great time, it could be 6 months. I got ready to go, excited to see new things, and meet new people, but I wasn’t really thinking about finding myself.  I wasn’t lost.  I was pretty sure I knew who I was and what I wanted.  I didn’t think a trip around Europe would change that.

I was wrong.

There came a point that I hit, when I was spending so much time either completely alone or with people that didn’t know me.  No one knew anything I had done or been prior to this experience,  and then I realized it.  That’s when I realized how you “find yourself” when you leave home.  When you take out all the influences you’ve ever had in your life.  Strip away any idea of living for someone else, or living up to anyone else’s expectations of you.  And you can really explore the what and the why.  What do you want, why do you want it.  How do you feel, all sorts of things.  And you learn so much.  So here are a few of the things that I learned in the last two years, traveling alone.

I can do more than I give myself credit for.  Seriously.  When I started this trip I was usually only focused on why I couldn’t do things.  Talking myself out of things before I had a chance to try and fail.  Once I was on the road, I realized that possible failure wasn’t something that should have impacted what I did.  I think this is something we all know, but it was never something that I really believed until I was traveling.

Sometimes it’s easier to communicate with people when you don’t have a common language.  Now, yes, not having a way to speak to someone can make many many things more difficult.  Buying train tickets, asking for help, asking for directions… anytime some type of government facility is involved, be it an embassy, or a post office… those things can make you want to tear out your hair.  But it taught me the importance of a smile.  The fun of makeshift charades…  When you only have 4 words, and hand gestures… you get down to what’s really important.

Overnight trains are fabulous.  Until this trip, I had always been a bus person.  I swore by overnight buses.  They were usually cheaper and faster than the train counterpart, and what more could you really ask for.  Well, a good night sleep and a snack car… that’s what you could ask for, and that’s what you can get on a train.  I never paid for the sleeping cabin (I’m thrifty) but even in the regular compartment, I always had room to lay down and sleep.  I got to the destination the next day somewhat alert and ready to do things, rather than the zombie I often was when stepping off a night bus.

If you find someone you like to be around, don’t question it.  Yes, you might only be in the same place for 2 days.  But enjoy those two days for what they are, and then move on.  Maybe you’ll meet up again on the other side of the world.  Maybe you’ll decide to stick around for a bit and see how things work out.  Don’t dismiss anyone or any opportunity because it might not have any long term potential.  Nothing wrong with the short term!

When traveling in the Balkans, allow extra time.  Seriously, figure out the amount of time it should take to get from point A to point B.  Then double it.  That should be you’re projected arrival time.  Now add another 50%, and I think that’s about what it will be.  I seriously rode on a bus around Skopje, Macedonia… while the bus driver pulled into restaurant parking lots to chat with friends, pulled over on the side of the road to take a phone call… I missed my connecting bus, because I had thought it would be a relatively quick trip.  It’s never a relatively quick trip.

Don’t miss out on opportunities because you feel like you need to stick to the schedule.  Unless there is a lot of money involved, never feel like you have to stick to any schedule.  I had the opportunity while traveling in the Baltics to possibly crew a sailboat in the Mediterranean… It didn’t work out (they needed someone that had more experience than me… pretty much any experience at all)  But I caught myself thinking about how that wasn’t where I was supposed to be…  I had that portion of my trip pretty planned out… and then I had to throw that out the window.  What an experience it would have been!

Seeing your own culture from the outside will change your outlook.  I couldn’t believe how different everything seems back home when you’re living abroad, when you can see everything that is happening in the context of another culture.  You can be much more open minded when considering different political topics back home, when you aren’t there, caught up in the midst of everything.  And when you see things in other countries that, gasp, work really well… you can make more informed decisions.

It doesn’t have to take a ton of money to travel.  Yes, If you want to go and stay in 4 star hotels in Paris and Rome… it’s going to cost you.  If you want to stay at an all inclusive resort on the beach… it’s going to cost you.  But if you simply want to travel, and experience other cultures, it doesn’t have to cost that much.  Hostels are great, and they’re cheap.  Most places I stayed were around 10 euros a night.  Some less, some more… (I’m looking at you Sweden!)  Most hostels are also looking for volunteers, so if you’re interested in staying somewhere for a few weeks or more, you may be able to get your accommodation comped in exchange for some cleaning or reception work.  For the slightly more adventurous, there are different homestay options that either cost money, airbnb for example, or are free- couchsurfing!  There are also volunteer websites where you can sign up and then volunteer in different places all over the world, most of them covering room and board while you’re there.  I used to find volunteer jobs in Romania and Albania.   So many options are available to really experience a foreign culture for not so much money.  Volunteer at a vineyard in Italy for a week- it’ll be a much more authentic experience than going on another wine tasting and vineyard tour!

So there you go.  The ranting and ramblings of one that’s been found, even though she didn’t even know she was lost in the first place.


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