Alright, now I know the BuzzFeed, shared by that high school acquaintance on Facebook, over-quoted and under-inspired energy that this title gives off, but give me a chance. I’m not here to tell you to seize the day, trust yourself, and disconnect from social media, however good that advice may be. It’s tired, I get that. Despite this, the egocentric part of my reptile brain thinks there may be a lesson or two that I’ve picked up somewhere along my road that might help you on yours, so here I am. Some of them are travel lessons, some of them life lessons, I’ll try and keep the cliche’s under 20%.
1. You don’t really need as much sleep as those scientific averages say.
Sure getting 8 hours a night on average is a solid recommendation for your physical and mental health, but let’s be honest, most of us are up till one scrolling social media on work nights anyways. Stay up to watch the sunrise even though your flight leaves at 8. Say yes to the second bucket of island rum even when you’re staring down the barrel of a choppy morning ferry back to the mainland. Fatigue is temporary but memories are forever.
2. Sometimes local food is for the locals.
There’s a berry native to China called the Yumberry and it looks like a cartoon fever dream of a raspberry on steroids. It’s big, it’s red, it’s juicy, it sparkles in the sunlight, and over 25% of foreigners are allergic. Do your research. Of course it’s ridiculous to fly all the way around the world just to seek out overpriced crap pizza; everyone should eat adventurously when traveling otherwise you’re missing out, but be smart about it. Because you know what’s more ridiculous than eating overpriced western food? Giving yourself hives and diarrhea before an all-day trek through Guanxi’s karst mountains because your caveman instincts tell you “berry looks pretty, pretty can’t hurt me, make me yum.”
3. You don’t need as much stuff as you think you do.
I did two weeks in South Korea with a bar of soup and 3 or 4 changes of clothing. You can wash your underwear in the sink. You can wear the same shirt days in a row. If you finish your book early stare out the window. It’ll be fine.
4. Budget for a keepsake actually worthy of the memories.
Instead of buying yourself every souvenir on “The Top Ten things you NEED to bring back from __” list choose one thing per visit and go a little more expensive with it. Souvenirs should never be things you could buy online or at a Pier One. Look for something locally known, handmade, culturally significant, environmentally friendly, and built to last. Some of my own examples of which I am so happy with: Japan: a vintage secondhand kimono, Malaysia: block printed batik’s on local silk, England: a ship in a bottle from Greenwich’s maritime museum. Don’t you wanna be that cool old grandparent/neighbor in a house burgeoning with the evidence of adventure. Get some conversation starters.
5. Spend your money on experiences.
Don’t think twice about the tickets to the elephant sanctuary or the Cantonese opera or the museum entrance fee. I still tell people about the amazing show I saw at club GAY living in London at 19, I still wear 0 of the super on-trend clothing I bought in Topshop that same month. C’mon, this one’s obvious.
6. Nothing is forever.
Everything rusts and burns and disintegrates. Give up on being memorable, memory is only temporary. Time is infinite and individual life is, for all intents and purposes, inherently meaningless. Have I sufficiently depressed you? Here’s the catch: with no great and noble meaning or purpose to strive for you can finally come face to face with the fact that you are free. Do you lead one life that drums on from point A to B to C, from small success to minor setback ad nauseam, or one hundred lives that as of yet have only played out in your dreams? Give up on living paycheck to paycheck just to live weekend to weekend just to live vacation to vacation. Life is but a brief sun-filled vacation from dark non-existence, spend it goofing off and messing around.
7. Reevaluate and tackle deep goals, forget about the surface ones.
I hate to tell you but if you sat down to make new years resolutions a few months ago and wrote a bunch of corporeal, tangible crap you have lost touch with your precious creative imagination. Take some time to contemplate what you need to make your life happier, what can help you continue to grow as a person and shape your life around that.
8. You don’t always know best.
You just don’t. It’s a fact. Check your ego, it’s sharing fake news. Listen to other people at least, I don’t know, 40% more than you do now. Unless the situation is potentially dangerous throw any intuition informed by prefabricated ideas out the window. Go with the recommendations, stop with the plans and itineraries. At least if it all goes tits up you won’t have to blame yourself.
9. You are who you are, stop worrying about it so much.
Both excessive pruning and over-watering are sure-fire ways to kill a plant and, metaphorically, your own personality and joy. Accept that the happiest most self-fulfilled you still has all of your personality quirks, pet peeves, and awkwardness. You don’t need to paint yourself as a masterpiece when you’re already a five-act operatic ballet. The good, the bad, the ugly: it’s far more interesting that way.
10. Ask for help
No, I did not say “learn when to ask for help”. Ask for directions before you’re even lost, ask for recommendations despite your full itinerary, ask for advice despite your contentment. You are with yourself 24/7, be with the world for a little while.
11. Roll your clothes.
No fluff to this one, that is some physics-defying magic right there and I need someone with a STEM degree to explain it to me ASAP. How does it make such a difference? I don’t know but it does.
12. Take all the photographs.
Sure I’ve read the think pieces on missing the experience looking for the shot and understand the pitfalls of this Instagram day and age we’re living in but ehhh I don’t really buy it. When’s the last time you thought “I’m glad I don’t have pictures of that day, that view, that sunset.” Take the pictures.
13. Get yourself lost.
My number one lesson that traveling has taught me. There’s no better, purer way to discover the magic of a place than to wander aimlessly. Give yourself time. The world can wait. Who knows what you’ll find.
14 Let them stare.
This is a lesson that I can certainly thank China for, though as a woman I started coursework in it as soon as I began to develop. In life people will stare at you, sometimes because of your clothes, your actions, your appearance, whatever. Smile back. Don’t worry about the why.
15. Driving is for suckers.
As a teen in suburban America I certainly did not feel this way. At 16 I was given my first car (granted it was as old as me and had been recently crashed into a tree. So recently in fact that when I got into the driver’s seat on my sixteenth birthday I had to brush dirt and some small forest debris from the dashboard.) I loved the freedom it gave me. Now I see driving as the prison it really is, shackled to fossil fuels and the paved motorways decided for you it limits where you go and how you travel along the way. After living outside of America for three years I am now in love with trains, with bikes, with my own two feet. That being said there are still a couple of special road trips on my bucket list.
16. You can respect and learn from other cultures without sacrificing your own.
The best example from this is the culture of street greetings. As a born and raised Midwesterner I am used to the smiles and waves of strangers passing you by. This is not the custom in many of the places I’ve lived. I still smile at every person I make eye contact with, despite the fact it has earned me many street solicitors on the busy city streets of China. Every now and then my efforts earn me a warm smile in return.
17. Be gentle with people you disagree with.
Life is a complicated thing. Whenever you can (read whenever it does not threaten your own bodily, mental, or emotional wellbeing) choose gentleness. Everyone, and mostly you, will be thankful for it.
18. Don’t sacrifice your life for your morals.
When I was a teen I was a militant vegetarian. After living in 4 different countries and visiting nearly two dozen others I now understand the sacrifice restricted eating really demands. It’s a sacrifice I am usually still willing to make, but I am easier on myself now and it has made me easier on others as well. Life is to be lived, not committed too.
19. You understand less than you think you do.
That’s it, that’s the whole lesson. For every one thing you know there’s at least 10,000 you don’t, and that’s if you’re actually smart (hard to tell). That’s exciting.
20. Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place in your life.
I don’t “believe” in a lot of Chinese medicine quite probably because I don’t know much about most of it. When I moved here I had the choice to stick to my entrenched ideas or welcome a bit of mystery into my life. Always choose the mystery. Have the teas, chi massages, and food regulation worked on my day-to-day minor ailments? Definitely sometimes. Is that scientific at all? Hell no. But why not go with it?
21. There is a difference between dependencies and addictions.
Both are bad though. I have always counted myself lucky to never struggle with addiction of any kind, even caffeine has never given me so much as a headache. But uprooting yourself every 1-12 months really forces introspection upon a person. Soon after moving to Europe for the second time I realized that though my life was addiction free it was riddled with dependencies. Everything from clothing and alcohol in social settings to my yoga mat and feta cheese; I had let dependencies wind their way through my life and had woven myself into a corner all the while assuring myself that I had no addictions and therefore no need to question my behavior. I’m better off every time I shake a dependency though. Travel helps.
22. Big things take time.
The end of college is really your birth in a lot of ways. You leave this place where you’re surrounded by the love of your friends constantly (if you are as lucky as me, at least) and by many of life’s greatest hedonistic pleasures. Suddenly you are launched from this cocoon into “tHE reAl WOrlD” and that demands some serious growth you may not have been expecting feeling already grown at 22. I certainly wasn’t. Becoming the adult you want to be is an undertaking. It may take a while for you to even get your feet (awhile as in YEARS). That’s ok. This is your life’s work. Let it unfold slowly.
23. No one believes anything until they’re taught, so be careful what lessons you attempt to impart.
Okay, so it was really working with children that taught me this and not so much the traveling at all. Before working with two and three-year-olds I believed that we were a mixture of nature and nurture and while I still think some underlying inclinations may be born into us I now KNOW that nearly all behaviors and beliefs are taught. And while this is a very important thing to be mindful of in early education its scope stretches far beyond that. We are all both learners and teachers, as a species we have evolved this way, and so you should always be thinking about what lessons you are imparting to those around you. I could write an essay circling this subject alone so I think I’ll leave it here.
24. Every problem is more complicated than it appears on the surface.
No issue we face is simple because we are not simple, life is not simple. If you think you get it, if you’ve formed an opinion, keep digging.
25. Let yourself be excited about things.
Life is too short for cool guy, forced apathy personalities. Apathy is boring, it really is, and there’s nothing worse in life than cultivating boredom. Let your idiosyncrasies breathe. If I meet one more person who answers the what kind of_(insert any interest category here) do you like” with “oh a little bit of everything, I don’t really care” I’m going to scream. What are you excited about right now? Tell me about that.