I turn the big 3-0 this Wednesday and I’m happy to say that I’ve reached that millennial goal of traveling to thirty countries by age thirty. I’ve traveled to thirty-seven to be exact! I started traveling when I was twenty years old, so it’s fair to say there were a lot of travel adventures packed into those ten years.
There’s a reason there’s so many travel memoirs out there. Traveling changes you and is a constant learning process. No one goes into it and comes out the same, which is why multitudes of writers feel compelled to put that metamorphosis to paper. I certainly am not the young girl with the backpack who got off the plane in Rome ten years ago. She didn’t know the horrors of a hostel yet!
But here I am now, on the precipice of thirty, ready to give you my thirty travel lessons that I’ve learned in these past years. I can’t promise they will all be helpful, but at the very least, they may keep you from repeating my mistakes…or inspire you to make the very same ones.
- Traveling never goes to plan and this is both a beautiful and horrible thing.
Sometimes you miss a bus, but other times you end up in a city you’d never heard of that becomes your favorite part of the whole trip.
- Yes, you can pay too little for a hostel.
I paid one dollar for a hostel in Cambodia and it was the rankest, most debaucherous place I’ve ever stayed. Our dorm was like the lower level of the Titanic…when it’s sinking.
- A booze cruise is the backpacker’s equivalent of Vegas.
What happens there, doesn’t always stay there. Poor choices will be made.
- Street food is always the best choice. Until you get sick.
Street food is the cheapest, most authentic way to dine when traveling, but soon enough, you will be stuck in a toilet all day. It’s the price we pay.
- Always listen to your intuition. If something feels wrong, GTFO.
I’ve jumped out of taxis earlier than I needed to and said no to rides that could have been helpful because of a feeling in my gut. Some say that is crap, but I’m still alive and something told me that it was a bad situation.
- But many times, you will have to trust strangers.
Other times, random people have told me to get on the back of their scooter and they would help me find a hotel. Logic told me this is crazy, but I didn’t have that feeling in my gut. So I trusted. And I ended up with a sweet hotel at a discount.
- Traveling solo is the most difficult and amazing way you can travel.
I met people from all over the world, felt more independent than I ever had, and realized how much bravery I had in me. I also cried when I felt lonely. It’s tough, but it makes you stronger. There are also many experiences that I had that I wouldn’t have had traveling with others.
- As a female traveler, there is, sadly, much more to worry about.
I have to worry about being out alone after dark, I worry about what I’m wearing, I worry about having a drink by myself, I worry that if I don’t tell taxi drivers that my “boyfriend” is coming to meet me, then they will harass me, and I worry about that lock on my door.
- Drinking with the locals beats drinking with other travelers.
I mean, I love drinking with anyone and I love meeting other foreigners, but having beers with the people who actually live in a place is far more interesting.
- Ouzo is the most delicious shot. Snaps is the most disgusting. Soju is the most dangerous.
To be fair, I haven’t had ouzo in a looooong time, but I have glorious memories. Swedish snaps is like gasoline on fire. Soju tastes like watery grass, but that’s where it gets you. It’s potent and far too easy to take down.
- Overnight buses are not always worth it. If you love sleep.
People will disagree with this. Who wants to lose a day of traveling by sitting on a bus? Umm, I do, because every overnight bus I have taken involved me not sleeping at all and then wasting the next day napping and trying to recover. No, thanks.
- Try to go to one place that the tour guides don’t even mention.
I once ended up in an Italian town that I’d never heard of. We were the only foreigners and we got to see a circus show where everyone was on stilts. Then we ate pasta with the circus performers. You can’t make this shit up.
- Knowing the basic language of a country is one of the more respectful things you can do.
Don’t be lazy. Learn “hello”, “thank you”, “goodbye”, “where is…”, etc. Most of the locals have already learned YOUR language!
- If you don’t have the currency figured out, people will take advantage of that.
I had my biggest issues with this in Vietnam, but it has happened to me in multiple countries. Taxi drivers grabbing handfuls of my money while I try to figure it out and even an old woman literally swiping money out of my hand while I tried to pay her for an orange. Don’t be counting it out in front of people. Know the exchange.
- Bargaining is essential, but be aware of the cost of living in that country.
I love a deal and some of the things being sold in the market have majorly jacked up prices. Everyone loves to screw a tourist. But look at how these people are living. Are they in shacks with no running water? Should you be bargaining them down to a dollar? Pay what is fair, but don’t screw over someone who has very little to begin with. This also applies to scooter/tuk tuk rides, etc.
- Happy pizza and happy shakes are stronger than you think.
I don’t know from personal experience….buuuuutttt maybe you share a happy pizza with your friends and you think, I don’t feel anything so you order a happy shake. And then all of a sudden, you are in space and a salt shaker is talking to you. Not that I would know…
- Knowing a country’s history changes your whole perspective.
I always try to read a novel or non-fiction about the country I am visiting on my way there and while I am traveling. There’s so much you don’t know when on the tourist trail. So much that is hidden away from foreign eyes.
- Be up on all your visa and immigration information or you’ll get royally screwed.
I once had to pay hundreds of dollars because my working visa had expired and I had no idea. I also heard of a guy who didn’t know the limitations of his visa, tried to go to Japan, and got turned away because he hadn’t researched enough. Vacation over before it began.
- Stereotypes are an oversimplified view of a people, but….ok some of them are true.
Italians are emotional and they all smoke, Spaniards are casanovas, Koreans are obsessed with their looks, and the Chinese are horrible drivers. Stereotypes and yet, I see so many examples…
- Teaching abroad is the best way to afford travel.
The reason that I’ve been fortunate enough to visit so many places is because I was teaching abroad and used my vacations to see as much as I could. If you enjoy children and want to see the world, there is no better option!
- People who teach abroad are some of the most fantastic and vile humans that this world has to offer.
Schools have become more selective, but when I first went abroad to teach, I met many “teachers” who didn’t care about their students, got wasted every night on cheap beer, and would throw up in the school bathroom. On the flip side, the majority of teachers abroad are passionate, caring people who love their job and appreciate the opportunity that their new home gives them.
- Getting involved in the local community is the easiest way to connect to a place.
I cleaned beaches in Phuket, ran with a running club in Taiwan, and volunteered at an orphanage in South Korea. They were all fun ways to help out and see a country, outside of only contributing to tourism.
- An accent will get me every time.
I definitely went for many men who wouldn’t have held my interest if they were American, but damn….that accent. You can forgive anything.
- I have never regretted splurging on a kick-ass hotel room.
In Bali, you can find pretty cheap accommodation, but when I found a room that had a PRIVATE SWIMMING POOL for double the price of a regular place, I went for it. Being served breakfast next to your own pool is a lifestyle that I could lead.
- If you want to make friends, you have to stay in a dorm or approach people like a creeper.
Sometimes I wanted to stay in my own room when traveling solo, but when I did, I saw that it was much harder to meet people. When you’re in a dorm, conversation almost has to happen, as you are sleeping practically on top of people. It used to be that you could meet people in the common room and strike up conversations over beer, but that is happening less with many people glued to their devices instead of talking to others.
- There are no good animal experiences when traveling.
This is another one many people might disagree with, but here’s what I have gone through. I was on an elephant that raped another elephant, a dog chased me down a street, cockroaches and geckoes took over my living room, and a monkey threw trash at me. I’ve also seen a groundhog dressed in human clothes, chained to a log in a mall. Animal tourism, and maybe just animals in general, are the worst.
- Smart phones have made travel easier, but at what cost?!
I’m a Luddite and I only recently got a smart phone. I never had one when traveling and honestly, life wasn’t that hard. I read more books, talked to lots of people, and asked locals and other travelers for advice instead of my phone. There’s certainly a ton of apps that can help you travel, but it might be a good idea to put the phone down every once in awhile..
- The friends you make traveling are lifelong.
I love the fact that if I contacted a friend that I had made while traveling or living abroad and said “hey, I’m coming to your area, can we meet up?”, they would be down, even if it has been years. I’ve got places to stay all over the world and everyone knows they can always stay at mine. Travel friends are always open to saying yes to adventure and that’s what makes them my favorite.
- Whoever said travel on your resume is impressive was a liar.
I read so many articles in my early 20’s that were like, omg travel on your resume is really going to impress employers! Meanwhile, I am still on the job hunt…#realworld
- Once you travel, you will no longer be whole. Pieces of you will be strewn across the world, just waiting for you to return.
To celebrate my 30th birthday, I am traveling to South Africa for the first time to see some friends that I made in South Korea and then on to Taiwan, where I used to live. I can’t wait to make more memories and to learn more lessons. Here’s to my 30th year around the sun!