I sat down in front of my blank laptop screen thinking that this would be an easy post to write. After all, I feel like I’ve learned more over the past few years of traveling than I did in all the years leading up to leaving Canada. Instead, I found it difficult to describe just a few things travel has taught me because truly no other experience has shaped my life to the degree that travel has and continues to.
How to Cook
Even after graduating from university, I was still a pretty typical student when it came to culinary skills, with my idea of cooking involving either baking frozen mini-pizzas or reheating take-out leftovers. Then I arrived at my first work exchange in France and learned that my host family assumed I would be able to pluck a few veggies from the garden and put together a reasonably palatable meal. Once I was thrown into the deep end of the kitchen, I realized that cooking, at least the ability to prepare a few simple meals, wasn’t nearly as challenging as I had always built it up to be. After learning the basics in France, I ended up cooking for many other host families, until I can say I’ve reached a point where I feel pretty comfortable in the kitchen, even learning to rework recipes based on the local ingredients available. The strange part about learning to cook on the road, however, is that back when I had my own kitchen I never used it; and now that I can cook a decent meal, I never have a kitchen to do it in.
That Train Travel is Always the Best
If there’s a place where train travel isn’t the absolute best way to travel from city to city, or even country to country, I have yet to go there. I look forward to whole days of train travel almost as much as I look forward to actually arriving at a destination, whether it’s on a sleek high-speed train in Europe or run-down old one in Asia. I love the almost motionless speed of bullet trains in Japan, and watching all the other passengers simultaneously unwrap their meticulously-assembled bento boxes. Likewise, I love stepping onto a neglected Thai train, nudging the dusty overhead fan to create a wisp of breeze, and listening to the vendors walk up and down the aisles selling fried chicken and beer. It’s a beautiful way to watch the country’s landscape unfold. You miss all of that speeding overhead in a plane or rumbling down the ugly highway on a bus.
How to Stand Up for Myself
I’ve always been a pretty shy person, and that was sometimes challenging when I first started traveling. I regularly got railroaded by aggressive touts, got lost because I didn’t want to ask for directions, and even experienced conflicts with host families because I was reluctant to confront issues head on. It’s been a gradual change, but I’ve learned to be assertive when it’s necessary. Even when I compare my last experience in Thailand (a country where you really do need to stick up for yourself sometimes) to my experience now, I surprise myself with my willingness to insist on a lower price when the songthaew (share taxi) driver tries to charge me double the usual fare; or even with my confidence in approaching locals to ask for recommendations. I think I’ll always be introverted and I’m totally fine with that, but travel has given me the strength to speak up when it’s important.
How to Sleep Anywhere
I really didn’t know the meaning of the words dirty or uncomfortable until I came to Asia. Don’t get me wrong, I love Asia, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for those $7 guestrooms with floor-hard mattresses, dusty, exposed wiring, and moldy, cockroach-infested bathrooms. Beyond guesthouses with seriously questionable hygiene, I’ve slept curled up around my belongings in airports, on buses filled with mosquitoes, and on pretty much every other kind of transportation. Traveling overnight saves money on guesthouses, plus leaves more daylight hours for exploring, so it’s often just the most logical choice. Now I usually carry a few sarongs to use as blankets and pillows, so I can pretty much create my own semi-cozy sleep nook wherever I am.
That Anything is Possible
I feel this is a mantra that a lot of travel blogs preach in one way or another, to such a large extent that it can start to sound like a bit of a cliché. But I’m saying it anyway, because it’s so profoundly true, regardless. When Brent and I started traveling, I’d never read a travel blog, I’d never met anyone traveling long-term the way we were, and I honestly thought we must be a little bit insane to leave our jobs behind and take the risks that we were taking. Since then I’ve met countless people living their lives in so many different ways, and it’s been downright inspiring to see how they’ve managed to shape a life around their dreams. I’ve met backpackers who spent years saving up for their round-the-world trips; expats working as teachers, au pairs, cruise ship workers, or odd jobs on working holiday visas; and digital nomads earning a living online by writing e-books, doing web design, continuing a previously location-based job remotely, and even playing online poker. The overpowering message I’ve taken away from all of these people is that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and no matter what your circumstances are right now, you have the ability to do whatever you want with your life and become the person you aspire to be.