Thursday, June 27, 2013

4 Important Things Travel Has Taught Me

Aside from the usual perks of travel: the excitement, the adventure, the escape from reality, there are also a few other things packing a bag and hopping on a plane can offer. I've learned a few pretty important lessons from my limited travels so far.

You get out of life what you put in
Market, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Nowhere has this lesson really made itself known, with clarity, like it does when I travel. For all the times you get to a new place and say "wow, this is incredible" without having to put any work into your enjoyment (yes, sometimes enjoyment takes work), there will also be a time where you say, "whoa, what was I thinking when I got off the bus here?!" 

When that happens you need to kick up the effort a notch, look for the good in something that on the surface isn't so great. That lesson translates easily to everyday life because life isn't always packed with rainbows and amazing job offers and surprise financial windfalls. You need to give some to get, just like you do on those travel days where you just want to go home, or you're not as enamored as you'd like to be with your newest destination.  Smile, try something new, introduce yourself to someone - you never know how even the smallest amount of effort can change your day or your path for the better.

It always pays to try something new
Little India, Georgetown, Penang
Whether it's a new food, a crazy-sounding drink, sport, activity or class, trying something new when you travel is an essential part of the overall experience. I find that even if I don't like that food or that activity, I always feel better about myself and my travels after having given it a shot. It makes me feel alive. I can't say I'm as good at trying new things at home as I am when I'm travelling, but the lesson has stuck and I know that the more I push myself, the more I put myself out there and say yes to new experiences (no matter how scary or outside my own version of "normal" they may be) the better I'll feel and the more I'll get out of life.

Planning has it's place but so does spontaneity
I've written before about how I'm more of a planner than a "let's just do it" type of person, but travel has taught me that you can be both (really). I always thought that in order to be defined as a "traveller" I needed to be more spontaneous, more willing to hop on any bus or train, or change direction on a whim, but I've since learned you need to do what's right for you, based on the moment and the situation that you're in. If you need to plan, if that's going to make your travel experience richer and you'll get to see more of a certain place with some strategies in place, then do it. But if you have the luxury of flexibility, don't feel pulled in any particular direction and are more interested in just "being" somewhere rather than experiencing specific sites, put the guide and itinerary away. It's totally OK to have a split travel personality - I do. The planning versus spontaneity rule also applies well to non-travel life.

Fear doesn't have to be limiting
Sarawak river, Kuching
Travelling is something I love, but it also scares the crap out of me. The tingle of excitement I feel when I start researching a new destination turns to a sliver of fear creeping up my back as soon as I book that flight. Yet I still get on that plane, still go wherever I've planned on going - despite that initial fear of the unknown. I used to think fear meant you shouldn't do something (and I know in many cases it does) but there are a lot of times fear is holding you back from something amazing - in my case, travel. If I were to stop planning or decided not to book that flight just based on those stirrings of fear, I would lose out. But by  acknowledging the fear without giving it power, I get to grow and experience something great.

What has travel taught you so far? I'd love to know.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

6 Awesome Things About Travelling Alone

In lieu of my recent post about shifting to solo travel, I thought it very apropos to write about the good points of travelling alone. And there are many, despite the adjustment period required in getting to that point might take.

You answer to NO ONE
Fairy Stream in Mui Ne, Vietnam
Sometimes you just want to do what you want to do, without asking if it's OK, or finding a more suitable time to do it, or knowing that the person doing it with you has no interest in whatever attraction or site you've dragged them to. Not to mention, if there's somewhere you have absolutely no interest in going (or feigning interest in), you don't have to go. It can be quite liberating to wake up in the morning and know you can do (or not do) whatever it is YOU want - and the debate or discussion stops there.

You can be cranky
Let's face it, as exciting and fun as travel is, it can take its toll on you (or at least it does on me) and when that happens, I get cranky. But when you travel with a partner, it can be tough to show your cranky side (we all do it, but how much of it you show can be the difference between an OK day and a terrible one for both of you). Travelling solo and feeling like crawling back under the covers or having a quiet day of wandering to ease the bad mood? Go for it.

There's an added element of excitement
Travelling as a couple (or with a friend) can be great but for me, it was always easier to rely on my partner to step in a make a decision when I didn't want to, to find our way when we took a wrong turn (or several), to help me feel more comfortable. But when you travel alone, everything is up to you and not having a safety net of a fellow traveller, although scary at first, is exciting. When I landed in Paris alone, when I landed in Barcelona alone, when I landed in Copenhagen alone (with no idea where I was going), I was scared but also totally exhilarated. The idea of "I can do it - alone!" is exciting no matter where you're travelling.

It can be easier to meet people
Meeting a new "friend" in Dalat, Vietnam
Though you might think that solo travellers blend into the wallpaper, being alone in a bar, hotel lobby or hostel common area can make it easier for people to approach you and for you to reach out to others. Travelling with someone makes it easy to be in your own cocoon of two that from the outside, appears somewhat closed off to people you night encounter. Whereas, a solo traveller sipping a beer on a patio, might be easier to say hello to.

It forces you out of your comfort zone
You know that scary aspect of solo travel I mentioned, it has another benefit (yes, fear can be a good thing). Travelling alone pushes you outside of your comfort zone. Lost? Find your way. Not sure where to stay or for how long? Figure it out. Feeling overwhelmed? Learn how to handle the ups and downs of travel without a safety net. That might sound harsh, but the more you accomplish on your own, the more you prove to yourself how much you can actually do.

It helps you learn about yourself
There's nothing like a solo trip (whether a week or a month or more) to teach you a few new things about yourself. When you travel alone, you're forced to think on your feet and make decisions without the luxury of someone to bounce ideas off of, which can show you new things about not only how you think, but what you  like, what bugs you and what makes you happiest. Most importantly, solo travel can teach you just how strong you can be. Of course, it can also teach you a few things you might not like about yourself, but that too, is an important part of that whole "life" learning curve that never stops.

*Note, pictures above are not from solo trips (I don't have too many of those...yet).

What's you favourite thing about solo travel? I'd love to hear about it.