Let’s think back to the time I got my passport stolen in France. I was terrified, speechless, but most importantly, proud that I had the guts to confront the guy who stole it from me. That day, I learned that something as simple as the way you zip your backpack can make you a target for theft as a tourist. From that day on, I always used an inner jacket pocket or a money belt to store my most valuable belongings, and I started zipping all of my zippers to the side. Terrifying situations, needless to say, can sometimes be the most valuable learning opportunities.
Of course, travel has taught me new languages and cultures, but it has also heightened my sense of alertness and awareness of the world around me. So, instead of feeding you clichés about my travel learning experiences, I’ll tell you a few of the weirder things that travel has taught me. From staying up til the sun rose dancing on the roof of a building to learning to kitesurf with someone I’d met 8 hours before, travel has given me deeper insight on the nuances of humanity. So, without further ado, here are five (unconventional) things that travel has taught me about life, love, and the world beyond my college campus.
1. Remembering everything you need is easier said than done.
I must be starting to lose my mind because literally EVERY time I travel, I forget something extremely important at home. Whether it’s an ID to get past security, my passport, my Epi Pens (I’m allergic to a ton of things), my wallet, or my suitcase itself, I have a real problem leaving behind items that I absolutely need for my trips.
Amazingly enough, I have had friends or family who have helped me out every time, whether that meant driving an hour away to pick up my ID for me and drop it off at the airport, to rush shipping me things I need, to driving from the airport to another airport because I forgot which one I was departing from. My forgetfulness has become something of a laughing stock to them, but I’ve realized from all of these misadventures that I truly do have a support system who are so supportive of my travels that they’ll put up with my clumsiness. I’d say friends like that are definitely keepers!
2. Pouring your heart out to complete strangers isn’t such a strange concept.
Some of my most vivid memories have been those where, in just a few hours, some people I met at hostels or cafés ended up being lifelong friends. Of course, travel friends are often fleeting, but with today’s social media and technology, it’s possible to keep up with just about anyone you want! I will never forget talking about my college relationships while hiking up a hill in Prague in the snow, or about my favorite music while sitting in a hammock in Jericoacoara, listening to the drifting sounds of smooth jazz until ungodly hours in the morning. Sure, I may never hear from these friends again, but the connections and conversations and memories forged in such a short time are definitely ones I’ll treasure. Travel certainly speeds up the friendship cycle, and it becomes so easy to connect with like-minded people on so many levels in a very short amount of time.
3. Never miss a perfect photo opportunity – keep your friends close but your camera closer.
This is a lesson I continue to struggle with; I get so wrapped up in an experience or a moment that I forget to take photos, and then later regret that I only had a few photos to remember that time. In some cases, like when I was in Rio, carrying around a camera posed a giant safety hazard, but even so I wish I’d taken the risk and taken more photos.
I am a huge fan of “people photos,” ones that expose the raw, candid emotions and actions of people in the world. Photography can give such a deep insight into the folds of humanity, the fleeting moments of life, and the colors of the Earth. Within reason, I’ve learned that it’s important to document these moments for rainy days of reminiscing.
4. Not everything is beautiful. But it doesn’t need to be.
Beautiful is an overrated word. There are lots of beautiful things in the world, but the word “beautiful” doesn’t even come close to describing them. The Hagia Sophia, for example, is a place that is majestic, powerful, and riddled with history, but definitely not a place I would call “beautiful.” Rocinha, Rio’s largest slum and the neighborhood in which I volunteered, is towering, enigmatic, dilapidated but progressive. But, as a whole, it’s certainly not “beautiful.” In order to truly enjoy each and every experience of travel, I’ve learned to get past things that are “beautiful” and to look deeper into a place’s personality and history. After all, every destination has its own characteristics and adjectives to describe them. Sometimes they’re beautiful. Sometimes it’s much more complex than that.
5. Travel opens your mind, yes, but more importantly, it opens your heart.
This one might be cheesy, but if there’s one thing I have learned from travel, it’s empathy and compassion. When I first drove past the massive, towering slums of Rio de Janeiro, I thought they were violent, crime-ridden places like shown in the movies. Little did I know, six months later, I would come to call one of them a “home away from home,” with people I came to consider my family. My time exploring the world has brought me in contact with so many different people, and hearing their stories and their jokes and their fears has enabled me to share things about myself, too. Travel has taught me that the world has so much to offer, in its people and its places, and the best way to take that in is to be open to everything: eyes, head, and heart combined.