Travel is transformative. Think about the last time you went to see a different country, experienced a different culture, or spoke with someone who grew up a different way from you. Whether you were consciously of it or not, you were transformed and changed in some way after that experience. I remember my first cultural experience abroad. I was studying abroad independently to Hong Kong in 2008, when smartphones were just beginning to come out into the market (the iPhone was introduced in mid-2007), and I decided to chronicle my experience abroad on Blogspot.
*Please disregard the utter atrocity that is that blog. It was my first experience blogging, and I had NO idea what I was doing!*
Even though I looked physically Chinese, I definitely did not act like I was raised in China. I grew up in America; I was Asian American (AKA: ABC – American Born Chinese). I had western cultures and customs ingrained in me, as well as Asian customs from being raised in an Asian household. But living somewhere abroad for an extended period of time forced me to truly explore and experience a different culture, even one that I could read about and know about on a superficial level – THAT was the experience that gave me the trip of a lifetime and transformed me inside. And that was also the time I was officially bitten by the travel bug.
Since then, traveling has become a part of my life (and subsequently S’s life as well). We hope to instill a love of travel and exploration in our future children, and we hope to instill that same curiosity in you! I’ve been in the travel game longer than S, but we both have the same transformative experiences when we see new people, interact with new cultures, and experience new countries – Every. Single. Time.
Here are some life lessons that I’ve gained from my travel experiences.
Travel Lesson #1: Know before you go.
You can be the most experienced traveler and still get in trouble with offending someone abroad. Case in point: traveling to Malaysia. I did not do my due diligence of research and realize that Malaysia is predominantly a Muslim country. So picture a petite Asian girl walking around with shorts and a tank top on, and having hundred of pairs of eyes staring (actually, more likely glaring) at you as if you had something sticking out of your hair. Yes, that was me. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was grossly under-dressed and I was offending EVERYONE in the ENTIRE country by wearing shorts and showing my shoulders off.
Life lesson: Read a little about the country you’re going to explore and dress appropriately!
Travel Lesson #2: Learn to be flexible.
As much as I try to plan ahead and figure out how to get from point A to point B, there are so many variables that could go wrong – and will go wrong. When S and I were in Rio for the Olympics, we decided to use mass transit for the first time in Rio to see Sugar Loaf Mountain. All went well getting there, but getting back was a nightmare (and it was getting dark). Imagine yourself sitting on a bus, riding round and round, and then all of a sudden that bus pulls into its main hub and shuts off. You’re the only people left on the bus and the bus driver gets off. What. The. F***?! All this time you were looking for a familiar landmark so you can get off the bus, but nope, that landmark never manifested itself and now you find yourself sitting in a parking hub full of other busses…and it’s getting late. Thankfully, after asking some nice gentlemen in broken Portuguese and Spanish (English doesn’t get your very far in Rio!), we were able to navigate our way home. Our knowledge of the bus system got better, REALLY FAST.
Life lesson: Be prepared for the unexpected – utilize the power of positive psychology. And adaptation is key. Things won’t always go as planned. So when they don’t, take a big deep breath, be flexible, and view your situation as a the learning opportunity.
Travel Lesson #3: Embrace the Independence.
Even if you don’t travel solo, you can still gain a sense of independence. Often times, there will be two types of people in your group of travelers – followers and leaders. The followers are those that follow the itinerary that’s already laid out and planned for them (picture: giant bus tour of tourists), and the leaders of the group are usually those that pull out their phones, search for off-the-beaten path cafes and restaurants, and help plan the day. You can be both, and it’s okay to be both! There have been plenty of times when I’ve just wanted to follow – sometimes your mind can only handle so much planning and organizing; and there have been times that I felt the desire to do something more in a country and looked up how to get there. Regardless, when you travel either solo or in a group, travel will help you gain that independence you might not get otherwise.
Life lesson: Travel can help develop your sense of independence and you’ll feel more and more comfortable each time in a new environment – so comfortable that throwing you into an African Safari will sound like an adventure more than a terrible experience!
Travel Lesson #4: Not everyone cares about your experiences.
Truth bomb here – not everyone cares about what sights you saw, the people you met, or the experiences you encountered during your trip. WHAT?! Yes, be prepared for no one to care. I remember when I came home from my first experience living in a different country for 8 months, I was ready for everyone I knew to sit and listen to everything I had to say about my journey. What happened in reality? CRICKETS. It was disheartening at first, because those experiences you have when traveling are so transformative for you, but be confident in yourself and hold those stories close to your heart – they’re the ones that helped make you who you are today.
Life lesson: Be prepared for no one to give any F***s about your experience abroad. And that’s okay. They’re not like you (or I, or S)!
Travel Lesson #5: Confidence to do whatever, whenever.
After you come back home from your out-of-this-world experience, you’ll feel a difference in yourself – maybe not right away, but definitely after several months. The change within you will happen gradually, and you may not even notice that change until something happens in your daily life and you realize you are more independent, confident, and driven. At that point, welcome to the world of travel!