I recently wrote one of those stories about the X number of things I have learned through traveling. I know, I know, there are literally thousands of these floating around the web, and they usually all say the same thing. I believe the lessons I shared were really heartfelt with lots of personal advice. The piece was published on one of my favorite travel sites, Matador Network. If you haven’t given it a read yet click here to read the story featuring 21 things I wish I knew about travel when I was 25.
It’s been almost two years since I left the United States and booked a one-way ticket to Spain. My life has altered since I left New York City. It is overwhelming to recognize just how much I’ve changed as a person, and as a traveler. In the last few weeks, I’ve thought of a few more lessons that I’ve learned on the road. See below for 5 more things I wish I had known about travel before I became a full-time traveler and digital nomad.
GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Most travelers feel safe in Europe, the western culture gives us a pretense that nothing bad could happen. But new travelers get anxious when thinking about visiting less explored continents like Africa and Asia. The second month of my life overseas brought me to Africa on a group trip. I learned that I don’t love group travel, but I do love Morocco. I went back twice that year and look back and laugh at how anxious I was about safety concerns in the North African country. My first big solo trip was a month exploring Thailand. Through these adventures that were far outside of my comfort zone, I discovered that my favorite travel destinations are the ones with exotic, ancient cultures. This year I lived in India for six months. I will spend the next year in Southeast Asia. Western culture is now my uncomfortable zone.
PLASTIC IS THE ENEMY
I used to be pretty oblivious to all the plastic I was consuming on a daily basis before I started traveling full-time. This month I totally failed at participating in Plastic Free July. I tried. I have an awesome bamboo straw and reusable water bottle. The water bottle only really serves a purpose though when filtered or mineral water is available and many places where I have stayed do not have clean water and only sell plastic water bottles. An alternative that I am considering is investing in a LifeStraw, which makes any contaminated water potable. I ask for street food to be wrapped in paper whenever possible. I refuse a plastic bag whenever possible and carry around a cloth bag I bought at a local market in India. I have my own pair of chopsticks that I carry with me always. Not only is this better for the world but dirty cutlery is actually one of the biggest culprits for travel tummy. But plastic is just unavoidable in Asia. Lately, every drink I have purchased is literally served in a plastic bag, tied with plastic string, and served with a plastic straw. If plastic consumption weren’t a big enough problem it’s also littered and lingering everywhere. There is next to no education about recycling or the harm plastic causes on the environment in this part of the world. I preach about it whenever I have the chance, especially to parents and children. You can read 8 more of my ideas about how to become a greener traveler over on Tourism Concern.
YOU’RE NOT INVINCIBLE
Especially not when it comes to wild animals. I visited Chitwan National Park in Nepal and went on an 8-hour jungle walk where we got to observe many one-horned rhinoceros. We had to sprint and climb up a tree in order not to get mauled by two rhinos bathing a few feet away in a river. I spent weeks in a tent in the Sahara Desert that is ‘secured’ with a blanket flap and never once wonder if a wild animal has wandered inside. That all changed when I was glamping at Camp Poe in Sri Lanka on a stormy evening and was woken up by a massive mongoose that managed to get into my tent. If you’re having ethical animal encounters or staying in a place where a wild animal may come for a surprise visit, be sure to ask your hosts in advance what precautions to take and how to handle the situation.
DON’T BE ASHAMED OF SELF-DEFENSE
Unfortunately, I’ve been subjected to a lot of harassment and unfortunately more than a few encounters of sexual assault. I plan to write a more in-depth look at the toll these situations have taken on me personally and physically but in the meantime here is some quick advice. Being sexually harassed in a foreign country might make you question your entire lifestyle as a female traveler. Don’t lose your confidence. You did not bring any of these situations upon yourself, no matter how many other travelers will want to know the nitty-gritty details and tell you what you should have done differently. A dear friend visited me in India and brought me taser gun, which is TSA approved for checked bags globally. I hope I never have to use it but it gives me peace of mind knowing it is in my bag at all times. The taser gun she bought is on sale on Amazon for less than $10. A ridiculously affordable investment in your safety. Unfortunately, many other travelers, mainly females, ask me why I have a weapon. Remember, you don’t need to explain yourself, all you need to do is protect yourself.
LET GO OF ANYTHING HEAVY
From physical objects to mental blocks make space in your luggage and your mind for new adventures. If you’re like me then your baggage is a 40L backpack. My backpack has become my turtle shell, and often my chair on the go. Only bring the essentials, which you’ll realize is not much as you can buy most toiletries, medicines, and necessities anywhere in the world. I left New York City with around 5 suitcases and initially moved to Europe with a suitcase and a carry-on. For the last year, I’ve only carried my items in a backpack and could never go back to having more belongings.
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