State of the Nation(s): Final Count

I’ve been home nearly a month and still can’t believe my trip is over. I made so many amazing memories with incredible people in beautiful places. I learned more than I ever expected.

And, yeah…I’m already trying to figure out how, when and where I can go next.

But just as we did after three months of my trip, I want to crunch the numbers on what I did and where I actually went in the six or so months I was abroad. It’s quite remarkable and a reminder that if you really want to, you can do the exact same thing. Check it out:

Days abroad: 196

Countries visited: 22 (not counting the night I spent sleeping in Indonesia)

Total miles traveled: 49,863 (country to country, not counting most of the city-to-city travel within countries)

Budget: About 96% spent!

Nights spent couchsurfing: 13

Flights taken: 20

Trains taken: 26

It is overwhelming to think back to all the places I visited. Sometimes it doesn’t even seem real. But it was, and, as mentioned, I learned a lot. Especially in the realms of how to travel cheap, travel well and travel alone.

Below, with the help of some wonderful friends, I’ve listed ten thoughts about traveling that I’ve found to be helpful:

Don’t be shy. You’re never actually traveling “solo.” Sure, you are the ultimate authority on where, when and how you go places. You choose where to stay, eat and explore. But it would take a gargantuan introverted effort to not meet people and make friends along the way. Aside from a couple of train or plane rides, you aren’t likely to ever be really traveling by yourself. Embrace this. It’s an addicting bonus to your travels.

“Talk to strangers. Ask questions…saying “hi” is a closed statement. Saying “hi, what brought you to —-?” Is an open-ended question and that is how you start a conversation.” – Joanna, USA, met in Munich

Money is not an issue. I mean, don’t go to Europe with a $20 bill and expect to survive, but you can probably cut your expected budget in half and still live comfortably. Settle for the cheapest dorm rooms at hostels, cut out the fancy dining and take overnight trains. Not only does this enhance the adventure, but I promise you’ll meet interesting people in those dingy rooms or on the loud, bumpy trains.

“Just buy the plane ticket. Everything else will work itself out.” – Rebecca, USA, met in Iceland

“Travel is accomplished by an initial thought which is then fueled by our will to achieve it! Money or no money, there is never going to be a time when you say I regret spending my money traveling!” – Sammy, USA, met on Semester at Sea

Be a “Yes Man” (or woman!). Try only saying “no” to something if you don’t feel safe doing it or if you truly can’t afford the time or price. For example, I really could not afford the time aspect of going to the Running of the Bulls on my trip (it’s on the top of my list for my next jaunt into Europe). But don’t pass up an opportunity to see a museum or show, or meet a group of couchsurfers for a beer, just because it’ll cost you a train ride or you’ll get back late. The more you do, the more magic you’ll make.

“What I’ve learned is to be open-minded and accepting to any and all experiences! In my travels, I’ve had money and had no money, traveled alone and with people. When it came down to it, the biggest thing that influenced my day was just being accepting of all changes and circumstances and going with the flow.” – Emilie, USA, met in Australia

“My advice, passed on by other wise souls: Go somewhere you’ve never heard of before that’s been suggested to you by someone you meet during your travels. Also, if traveling for long periods of time, ask someone out on a date (if single) and set an intention!” – Scott, USA, met in college; reconnected in Iceland

Trust people liberally. You’ve already put your complete faith in a couple random pilots you’ll probably never meet to fly you in a huge hunk of metal thousands of miles across the globe. Are you really not going to trust the elderly shopkeeper in Germany who is trying to give you directions to your hostel in broken English? If I learned one thing on my trip, it’s that people are often friendly and helpful and rarely bad. Simple. Put it this way: if a foreigner approached you here and asked for help, would you give them reason to worry?

“On the news you only hear about the horrible things that are happening. And it makes people or cultures or countries seem scary. But from what I’ve experienced, most people in the world are just good. And they want to help and they want to inspire people just as much as the next person. And they take care of you and go out of their way for you. People are good!” – Kimberly, USA, met in Prague

Try all the food and drink. Basic rules apply: don’t eat food that isn’t clean and don’t accept drinks from strangers. After that? Suck it up and go for it! I’m the last person you’ll find eating anything raw or slimy, but when your cousins and their friends bring back a bowl of scary-looking raw fish concoction from the hawker stands, you dive in, no questions asked. Sometimes you’ll be surprised by how good it is.

“I’m a quote lover and I think this sums up the experience of traveling, meeting people and getting out of your comfort zone: “It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole lives waiting to start living.” Scare yourself. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Sam, USA, met in high school, but she is on an epic Australian adventure!

Appreciate but don’t worship home. Most of us are lucky enough to have a wonderful home situation (sometimes that’s why it’s so hard to leave in the first place!). You are going to miss your family, friends and comfortable, routine life back home when you are abroad. You will miss them all the damn time. Let that love grow inside you and be reflected in your attitude when you return; don’t spend time and energy wishing you could be both places at once. You can’t be, so make the most of the amazing places you’re already in.

“Don’t get hung up on the places you don’t get to go – there is a lot of world to see. Embrace where you are, and focus on what’s in front of you and make that place a recommendation of your own – there’s an adventure to be had at every stop. Most of the time the unexpected ones make the best memories!” – Lexie, USA, met about 24 1/2 years ago when she became my little sister

Talk. A lot. This ties back into my first point, but it bears repeating. Don’t you want to get to know these interesting people you’re riding trains with or bunking with in hostels? The couple speaking a strange language at the bar near you? The couchsurfing host who has 30 years on you? The musician on the street corner? Just start talking about anything, and it’ll likely bloom into genuine friendship quicker than you can imagine.

“Get to know locals! Couchsurfing is awesome for that, but there are also meet ups and so on that will help. They can tell you where to eat and what to do, but better yet you can hear their story and have a conversation, which will help you understand where you’re at better than any museum, book, etc.” – Joanna, USA

“Talk to people, listen to their advice, take it into full consideration and be willing to change your course. One thing I would say travel has taught me is that the world is full of good people who are not “out to get you.” Say hi to strangers. Smile at people. Put out good energy and it will be returned to you, sometimes in the form of a great new friend.” – Holly, USA, met in Iceland

Be a little selfish. You may get intoxicated with this inner peace and happiness on your trip. That’s a very good thing. But don’t forget to be a little selfish – this is still your trip. Don’t share all your pictures or memories. Hell, don’t even take all the pictures you want to take. Just sit there and enjoy something and remember it for you. Remember why it was meaningful and how it affected you, personally. Don’t be so afraid to “abuse” someone’s kindness, as long as you’re being kind in return.

“Smile, listen to your intuition, and follow your dreams.” – Firat, Norway, met when he hosted me couchsurfing in Oslo

“Take a lot of photos and videos, but don’t let it ruin the moment. I hate going to amazing places and people only see it through their cellphone screen.” – Kimberly, USA

Don’t regret anything. There is absolutely no point in going on an epic, life-changing adventure only to look back and sadly reminisce about the few things you chose not to do. You will never get to every city in the world and you will definitely never meet everyone. FOMO is real, and it sucks, but focus on all the good things instead. I’ll never forget a friend messaging me in response to a complaint I made about regretting something from the trip: “Don’t regret anything. Ever.” Nailed it.

“Don’t worry if things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes the best stories come from things turning pear-shaped (e.g. your van blowing two tires in a snowstorm in Iceland!). Everything tends to work out in the end anyway, so just relax and take each experience as it comes.” – Jayden, Australia, met in Iceland

“Be yourself! Sometimes you won’t click with people, and that’s okay. We are all different. With that, do step out of your comfort zone. Hate meat? Not religious? Don’t like to party? Try the schnitzel, go to mass, and go out for a night with your new friends! None will kill you, and all will give you a taste of life outside your bubble, which is exactly why we travel!” – Joanna, USA

Always go back. As unreasonable as it seems sometimes, make sure you’re always planning ahead. Even if it’s just a fantasy in your head, keep a list of places you want to visit and things you want to see for your “next trip.” That may be years away, or merely weeks, but keeping it front of mind at all times will keep you curious and keep you inspired to travel and be inspired more. As a buddy said to me on the phone this week, “Don’t forget about [traveling], dude. Keep it on the back burner at all times.”

“The more you travel, the more your life is ruined. No one realizes how great life can be until they travel…it’s like an addiction. Once you’ve seen one amazing place you hear about others and the more you see, the more you want to see! My fear is not being able to see the whole world before I die, which is likely. With all this being said, I feel lucky to have traveled and it has given me some of the best memories of my life and I know there’s still so much more to see!” – Peter, England, met in Prague

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