What travel teaches you about life and happiness? In May 2016, I quit my job and studies to start an indefinite round the world trip. I’ve been traveling for a while now, so I thought I’d write something about the effects this journey has had on my thinking.
Here are a 9 things solo travel has taught me about life.
1. You Need Variety
I’ll tell you a secret: traveling is often a bit boring. Sure, you can go sightseeing every day during a short holiday, but if you do that for months and months, all the rushing around gets very monotonous and tiring very quickly. Back home, you don’t want your every day to be fully booked and exhausting. Why would life on the road be any different?
Here, the key to happiness is variety. Instead of just doing the same thing everyday, fill your daily life with various meaningful tasks. This also makes your life more balanced and less vulnerable to hardships. If your life is all about your work and you loose your job, you’re left with nothing.
2. Having a Purpose Makes You Happier
Every now and then, you’ll ask yourself: Why am I doing this? If you can easily come up with an answer, it will help you endure the dreary periods. Travel teaches you that having reasons for your actions often brings happiness. You feel a sense of progress when you live by your values and approach your goals.
Quitting my studies and leaving my old life behind was a big decision. I’ve had to ask myself if I’ve done the right choice. Was it foolish to drop out of a steady life to pursue my other goals? I’ve lost many things, buts I’ve also gained things that I couldn’t have otherwise. And yes, I believe I chose the right path.
3. You Are the Same, Wherever You are
Many people dream of a big getaway, thinking that their life will change completely if they do it. While there are times when changing the environment can have a huge impact, I’m also a bit skeptical after all the things traveling has taught me.
As my trip goes on (and on… and on…), I occasionally notice how my current life starts to resemble the life I left behind. If I wasn’t at ease with myself, I might find this disappointing. Now, it’s mostly amusing. For example, I sometimes joke that quitting my job and studies had no impact on my amount of work. I keep myself busy, wherever I am. And that’s completely fine for me.
4. There Are More Choices Than You Realize
As my life started to follow familiar paths, it made me think. Why does this happen? If the environment is completely different, there’s only one thing that keeps elements the same: myself. I wasn’t the most outgoing person before my trip, and I’ve had periods when I’ve felt quite lonely during the trip.
However, I’ve now come to realize my own role in my solitude. I have plenty of chances to be social, but I quite often prefer to be on my own. For example, I’m now writing this blog post in a hostel, surrounded by numerous other backpackers. But right now, this is what I prefer to do. My unconscious way of behaviour has turned into an active choice.
If I wanted to be more social today, I know I could just put down my laptop and join the conversations around me. There are more options available than you first realize.
5. Freedom Is Not All Good
There’s no such thing as a complete freedom. And if there was, it wouldn’t be a completely good thing. This is something that travel teaches you.
During my trip, I’ve often found the vast amount of possibilities more stressful than inspiring. I’ve changed my plans countless of times, as I haven’t been able to pick just a few things I want to do. During these moments, I’ve found the limitations of schedules and seasons a relief that help me narrow down my choices.
Freedom is a two-sided coin, and there’s always an element of detachment included. Responsibilities can be burdening, but when you get rid of them, you will miss the connection to your surroundings that they gave.
6. Your Brain Creates Imaginary Limitations
With too much freedom, it’s helpful to have some limitations. However, the way your brain filters your choices can also cause suffering if you don’t notice what’s happening. When I’ve been in low spirits during my round-the-world trip, I’ve often felt sad about things I can’t have when I’m traveling. Hobbies, studying, get-together parties, I miss some of those things.
Then, I’ve become aware that my trip doesn’t completely limit me – I just think it does. If I wanted to study, I could take online courses. I’m also often following my own plans too strictly – not understanding that I’m free to change my itinerary at any time.
7. Craving Is the Problem
It’s okay to want new things. If you’re buried waist-deep in a cold swamp, you might want to find a way up. However, your desire to reach your goal in the future shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the present. In other words, you shouldn’t painfully crave for things you wish had, because it doesn’t help you in any way. Instead, it just takes your mind away from the current moment, limiting your enjoyment.
Craving has been a common travel companion of mine. I’ve worked on projects, waiting for them to end. I’ve dreamt of things I could do after the trip is over (ironically, many of these plans involve traveling). So, what’s the cure for craving? Instead of dreaming of the finish line, you should learn to enjoy the progress. A quote from my favourite psychology book, “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom” by Jonathan Haidt sums this up quite well:
“The final moment of success is often no more thrilling than the relief of taking off a heavy backpack at the end of a long hike. If you went on the hike only to feel that pleasure, you are a fool.”
8. You Can Endure More Than You Think
Whether it’s sleeping with rodents, surviving the traffic of India or eating weird parts of animals, traveling will kick you out of your comfort zone. And that’s a good thing. Once you try new things, you realize how much you can actually handle.
What travel teaches you is endurance. Besides learning how much you can take, you also learn how little you need. Things that felt vital back home become trivial, as you survive with just a few of the luxuries that you used to have.
9. Happiness Loves Company
Yes, I just borrowed that title from a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. Living a happy and meaningful life is almost impossible without strong social connections with other people. Traveling teaches you is to see this more clearly.
When I talk about the benefits of relationships, I don’t just mean connections where I “get” something from others. Sure, it’s nice to know people who ask me how I’m doing and care about me, but the opposite side of communication is perhaps even more important. I feel good when I’m able to make others happy, show how much I care about them or if I’m just able to help in any way.
Keeping in contact with friends and family is a bit more difficult now that I’m not able to meet them face-to-face. However, modern technology has made staying in touch possible, no matter the geographical distance. In fact, I even feel that I’ve grown closer with some people during my trip. I can’t expect to run into my mates downtown, so keeping contact has become more of a deliberate choice.
What has travel taught you? What did you think about the list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Very nice thinking, nice write up. (Y)
Thank you Khaled! 🙂
Nice post! After two years, I’ve found many of the same points. Believe me, it only gets better. My most recent realization is the need for a travel buddy.
Thank you Skye! I’m also slowly understanding the importance of other people. I’m trying to stay more in touch with my friends back in Finland now, but it doesn’t completely replace the need of face-to-face meetings. How do you deal with loneliness when you don’t have a travel buddy?
Happiest on my latest journeys I have been when I have found a nice (= comfortable, beautiful setting, enough privacy) room/hut/apartment to stay and I have concentrated on writing and exercising. In those moments traveling have had meaning and pleasure to me. Writing can be very rewarding no matter what is the result. Writing is a haven you can always escape to when the world seems to troubling.
(I don’t know if you are familiar with books of Kyllikki Vila. She wrote several travel books and in those books she well describes the connection of traveling and writing. )
I took a look at your latest post only at this point, and I was happy to see that you are back to writing and this happens in a country where I have had probably my best writing-traveling experiences.
A part of those periods was also jogging. After a long day writing it was a pleasure to do something physical.
Anothere thing. In several posts you bring up the question of internet connection and being connected. I remember the moment when I noticed that traveling had changed. It was May 2010 in Romania. I was in a hostel and I saw around me travelers that were not talking to each other but hitting their lap top. My biggest and best journeys I made before lap tops. If I was feeling lonely I had to leave my room and meet other people, usually local. And I met a lot of people. And here we come to another topic: romances and one night stands. I had them plenty and they nurtured me while traveling.
Nowadays it is too easy to stay in your guest house and fill your evenings with website comfort.
I was too young to truly experience the era of backpacking without technology, although this is my first trip where I have smartphone with me, and I didn’t have a laptop on my first InterRail. Now I feel quite dependent on the technology, although it’s a shame how it stops people from interacting with each other at guesthouses.
(No, I have’t read any books from Kyllikki Villa yet! My current project is to read a bunch of literary classics that I haven’t read previously, starting with LOTR and continuing to books like To Kill A Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451 and a few others.)
I’m hoping that I’ll soon find another relaxing place like that, where I could stay longer. Most of my accommodations in Philippines were good, but they weren’t very suitable for writing, as there weren’t many comfortable tables and chairs available.
I think this is the most honest and beautiful insights I’ve read about solo traveling. I love every point you made.
Thank you so much, I’m really glad you liked it! 🙂