Sometimes, you don’t always notice the subtle ways in which you change as you grow older. Small changes take place over time, and oftentimes, it is those around us that notice a difference first. Since I’ve been travelling long term, I’ve started noticing some big changes in who I am, and I think that it’s less about getting older and more about exploring the world. So then, in the interests of self-awareness (and some good old millennial navel-gazing), I’ve compiled a list of all the ways long term travel has changed me!
1. Long Term Travel Has Made Me More Spontaneous
I used to be the biggest planner. Seriously, from when I was in high school to, well, just before I went travelling, I would sit down on a Sunday night and make all my plans for the coming week. I’d panic if there was a day where my plans weren’t confirmed, and the idea of doing something spontaneously was completely alien to me.
Before my first trip to Thailand with my friends, the 4 of us met up frequently to plan every little aspect of our trip, from routes, to accommodation – hell, we even bought bus tickets online! However, as soon as we arrived, we realised that we’d been incredibly silly, and from then on, I have refused to plan anything when it comes to my travels.
Take, for example, my most recent trip to Europe. I knew I was beginning in Poland, because I had a placement teaching English in Poznan, and I knew that I had to work my way down to Slovenia to see my friend Helene at some point. Besides that, I had nothing. In fact, my favourite country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was somewhere that was never even on my radar when I boarded the plane to Poland all those months ago!
I absolutely love the feeling of rocking up to a city and thinking “Okay, what do I want to do today?” rather than sticking to a strict itinerary. I love not knowing which city, or even country, I’ll be in from one day to the next. It is so freeing to truly have no commitments and just do whatever the hell you feel like doing, with no anxiety or stress. The ability to be able to be spontaneous is perhaps the thing that I am most grateful to travel for having given me.
2. Long Term Travel Has Made Me Less Shy
Before I went on my first solo trip, I was so scared. Not about the actual travel bit, but about meeting people! I’ve never been that person who’s naturally comfortable in a crowd of strangers – I don’t even like it when a taxi driver makes small talk with me, and it takes weeks for me to psych myself up to phone the bank/my mobile network/whoever! You can imagine, then, my predicament. I wanted to stay in lively hostels and meet other travellers, but I had no idea how to actually approach people.
Fast-forward over two years, and I can talk to anyone. I have absolutely no qualms about approaching a group of people and asking if I can join them. I am the queen of small talk (when I travel that is – I’m still painfully British when I’m back at home). Hostels will do that to you eventually.
3. Long Term Travel Has Taught Me the History of Other Cultures
You could be the biggest history buff in the world but there’s something about actually visiting a place that makes your understanding of it that bit clearer. You can read about Pol Pot’s evil regime until you’re blue in the face but nothing will prepare you for seeing the bone fragments and articles of clothing at the Killing Fields, nor for the blood on the walls of the S21 prison. The same goes for Vietnam, and Germany, and Poland, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
You can never understand something until you have lived it, so while it is therefore impossible for us to ever fully understand the horrors of years passed, visiting countries with bloody histories and making an effort to educate yourself about said histories surely helps.
One of the things that affected me the most on my travels were the stories told to me by a Bosnian war veteran that I had the privilege of spending the day with. He took my friends and I to the ‘Tunnel of Hope,’ through which he had to drag his father’s lifeless corpse, to sniper’s points around the city of Sarajevo, and even showed us his own personal photographs of lifeless bodies on the streets of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This is something that I could not have read about in a book or watched on the news.
Travel is the sole reason that I have such a deep understanding of Bosnian history, and to receive an education such as this is priceless.
4. Long Term Travel Has Taught Me How to Look After Myself
In England, it’s rare that I get sick. Of course, I get the odd cough and cold, as most people do, but for the most part, I’m in good health (ish). Travelling, however, is a different story. If it’s not a stomach bug, it’s a UTI, or an infected mosquito bite, or heat rash, or head lice or…you get the gist. I have learnt so much in the past year about how to prevent and treat UTIs, how to spot and take care of infected wounds, how to tell the difference between bed bug bites and mosquito bites, how to kill ticks to prevent them from laying eggs, how to stop head lice eggs from sticking to your hair, how to stop sandflies from biting you…the list goes on.
All of this is real, useful information that actually helps me in the outside world, and I have long term travel to thank for all of it.
5. Long Term Travel Has Taught Me to Be More Laid Back
Things never go to plan when you travel. Your hostel is overbooked, your bus is late, the border police want to be bribed (okay, maybe that’s only in Cambodia), you’ve got a stomach bug but you’re sharing a bathroom with 12 people and your phone breaks midway through a solo trip. Maybe not all at once, but you get what I’m trying to say. Travel is not always smooth sailing (in fact, it’s rarely ever smooth sailing).
However, when you’ve been on the road for a while, these things tend not to bother you as much as they usually would. Every single thing I referenced above happened to me, and more besides, but do you know what? It doesn’t really matter! In fact, things went wrong so many times in South East Asia that whenever something terrible happened, my friend Frankie and I would just start laughing and roll our eyes.
What truly matters when you travel are not the inconveniences and obstacles you encounter but the people you meet, the places you explore and the memories you treasure. Those bad things? They just become funny anecdotes further along the line.
“Hey, remember the time we got spiked in Thailand/pickpocketed in Croatia/almost died in Qatar?” (Again, all happened to me. No exaggerations. Maybe I attract bad luck.
6. Long Term Travel Has Stopped Me from Being So Judgmental
I’ll only say this once: we are all guilty of being judgmental.
We are all guilty of looking at a person and making a snap judgement on whether or not we would like to get to know that person better. We make a quick decision, usually based on whether that person looks like us (similar age, style, social class etc.).
Travelling, however, quickly puts a stop to all that. Friends from my travels have ranged in age from 18 to 73. I have met people from different social classes, religions, countries, careers, etc. etc. and have found that true friendship can be found in the unlikeliest of places. I’ve been friends with everyone from Khmer meth addicts to sorority girls from West Virginia (hi Nadia!). Where once I would roll my eyes at groups of “LADS on tour,” now I can’t befriend them quickly enough, and if you thought I wouldn’t find anything in common with a 40-something guy who sells roof tiles in Poland then think again!
Travel opens you up, not just to new places, but to the people that you meet in those places. You meet people that you never would get the opportunity to back home, and you become a better person for it.
7. Long Term Travel Has Taught Me to Appreciate What I Have
When you grow up in the west, you take things for granted. There are so many things in your home that you take for granted without even knowing it. I certainly did. And then I lived on an island with intermittent internet service, no hot water, limited flushing toilets, no A/C in 40 degree heat…you get the picture. I survived, obviously. After a while, you get used to living in these conditions, to the point where you barely notice them anymore. But my word, when I came home to a hot shower and a toilet that I could flush, I could not have been happier.
I’ve not been in Asia for 8 months but I still don’t take these things for granted. Every time I check into a hostel and I see that it has actual duvets and working A/C, I want to dance with glee. I still appreciate those small things, because I’m so used to not having them, and that appreciation for seemingly insignificant things is something I would never have gained without long term travel.
Have you noticed that long term travel has changed you in any ways? How? Let me know in the comments below!