I turn 29 on May 7th.
I don’t know how I feel about my approaching birthday. I’ve heard hitting 30 makes you more confident about yourself, lots of my friends say so, but at the same time, I wish I would’ve accomplished more by now. I miss the days – way back when I was a kid – when I actually looked forward to my birthday as another exciting year. Now I just feel … old.
But I don’t want to act all emo on my blog! I’m sure I’ll eventually feel better about turning another year older. Instead of moping, I want to write something inspirational for all my readers as a way to celebrate my birthday and my traveling craziness.
And we all love celebrations, right?
So without further ado…
29 Ways Travel Has Changed My Life
1. I’m more patient than I used to be.
Being from NJ, I’m not one to “take things slowly” especially on the highway. But traveling has forced me to swallow my antsy behavior and wait my turn. Complaining won’t make that train or bus arrive faster, after all.
2. I have more courage than I thought imaginable.
Travel has forced me to step far outside my comfort zone. Like that time I paraglided off a mountain in Slovenia. I might be anxious but I’m brave. Very brave.
3. Going places alone is okay.
I actually like visiting certain places alone now! Like art museums. Before I traveled solo, I never went anywhere without friends or family by my side, and now I don’t blink an eye if I wanna go shopping, exploring, or doing anything else alone. Except maybe eating in restaurants. Still working on that one.
4. If I need help? I speak out.
I used to let everyone else do the talking for me. But traveling alone forced me to speak up. If I don’t know how to work the ticket machine or if I don’t know where the nearest metro station is, no one else is going to ask for me. I need to do it.
5. Getting lost isn’t that scary.
At one point, getting lost in a gigantic and unfamiliar city would have reduced me to tears. Now I take my time and try to get to know a new neighborhood rather than panic. Plus having “wifi free” maps on my iPhone reassures me that I won’t stay lost for very long. The magic of technology!
6. My weight isn’t everything.
Ugh, my weight and I have a contentious relationship. I even ranted about my weight when I first began this blog. But when I travel, no one cares about my weight other than me. So if I eat healthy and exercise, why should I worry so damn much about body image if I’m the only person who’s gonna act like a critical jerk?
7. Designer clothing, glasses, shoes, and purses also aren’t everything.
Okay, I’m still a little obsessed with nice clothes. Who isn’t? But I’m willing to spend much less on designer items if it means I can travel more. Chanel and Marc Jacobs can take the back seat to an excursion in Paris or Rome.
8. Travel is expensive. Budget wisely.
Controversial opinion time: Even budget travel can be expensive. You can save money and book discounted hotels and airfare so travel won’t necessarily crush your bank account, sure. However, if you fly to Europe from the United States, you’ll still have to spend $600-$1000+ for your airplane ticket. Budget for it.
9. Smiling brings new friends.
I smile more. Why? Simple. Smiling makes new people warm up to you. This is so important if you travel alone.
10. I don’t need all the comforts of a 5 Star Hotel to have fun.
When I traveled as a child and teenager, I liked the comforts of a higher end hotel, but now I can have just as much fun in a tent or hostel. Sure, I feel like I need my privacy. However I can survive without ordering room service and visiting a spa.
11. Friends come and go.
I’ve lost friends due to my traveling. I’ve missed important events, forgot to stay in touch, and the rest is history. In your 20s, your circle of friends changes as people find new interests, get married, move, etc. Life happens. I’m not bitter.
12. I actually like taking photographs.
As a kid, I hated whenever my mom forced me and my brother to pose for pictures. But now I’m obsessed with photography. I love taking perfect shots in a new bustling city or a serene National Park. If only my Instagram account would grow…
13. It’s okay to avoid following the crowd.
By traveling alone, I realize I don’t have to do what everyone else wants all the time. It’s perfectly okay to feel selfish. So if I wanna go to an art museum instead of a bar? Even if it means going alone? Awesome! I’m off!
14. It’s also okay to be single at my age.
At 29, I see more wedding and baby pictures on my personal facebook page than I can count. But at the same time, I’ve met plenty of people my age and older who are single and loving life. There’s nothing wrong if you don’t want to immediately get married. Nothing. Do you.
15. Embrace your mistakes. They make fabulous stories.
Mistakes happened. I even tell anxious travelers to embrace them. Trust me, you’ll laugh about them later. Like that time I got completely lost in Split, Croatia. Or the time I couldn’t find my subway station in Berlin. Or the time I forgot to buy a headlamp on my camping trip to Alberta.
16. Don’t take your family for granted.
If you’ve a good relationship with them, then you’ll miss your family when you travel for longer periods of time. Try to send a text or email every day and stay in touch. Well worth it.
17. Risks are a part of life.
Traveling requires some degree of risk. You run the risk of encountering pick pockets. Of getting lost. Of being “bumped” on overbooked flights. However, travel has taught me how to cope with taking risks. Living in a bubble isn’t living.
18. Not all strangers are planning to hurt you.
The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me. Like the incredible French couples who bought me lunch in Portugal. Just wow.
19. Always bring tissue paper with you.
Ugh, I should have brought tissue paper into the toilets on the Croatia-Hungary border. That’s all I have to say about that.
20. Travel won’t completely erase anxiety.
Sorry, but traveling solo won’t instantly erase your anxiety and turn you into a carefree superstar. I’m still coming to terms with this unfortunate truth. I wish I didn’t worry so much about expiration dates and random coughs. Oh well. One step at a time.
21. But travel will force you to fight it.
The good news, though, is travel forces you to fight your anxiety. For example, I fly even though planes give me sweaty palms. Each trip is one step closer to conquering my crazy mental beast.
22. Having a plan is great!
Do your research ahead of time to appreciate your destination! You want to know if those awesome attractions are closed on Mondays.
23. But don’t be afraid to ditch the plan and go with the flow.
To be honest, I have a problem when it comes to “overplanning” my trips, making it harder to be spontaneous. This habit is something I’m working on. Say “yes!” to new ideas if they sound wonderful!
24. Saying “goodbye” never gets any easier.
Ugh, I’ve met so many incredible people around the world. Saying “goodbye” always sucks. Not to much advice I can give about this one, except to make use of social media and add your new pals on facebook.
25. It’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to cry.
I’ve laughed hysterically at my clumsiness going into the Tomb of Eagles. I’ve cried my eyes out on a walking tour of (London)Derry in Northern Ireland. Travel makes you embrace your emotions, which is great! You are stronger if you laugh, cry, and everything in between.
26. Leave plenty of time to reach the airport.
Go to the airport early and save your sanity. Security is unpredictable. Also leave plenty of connecting time. I learned this the hard way at Toronto Pearson. Never, ever, ever again.
27. Comfortable shoes are a necessity.
I made the mistake of wearing flats to New York City and cute little platforms to San Francisco. Trust me. Comfortable trumps fashionable. Every. Single. Time. Your calves will thank you.
28. I’m very lucky.
I’m healthy. I have a job where I can save money to travel. I have an American passport – which lets me travel visa-free to many destinations. Damn straight, I’m lucky. It’s important to remember others aren’t so privileged. I take the time to appreciate my luckiness now that I’ve traveled. I want to be a grateful person.
29. My struggle at finding a job doesn’t mean I’m worthless.
As I’ve stated in my biography, I had a damn hard time finding an English teaching job in New Jersey. The job hunt absolutely shredded my self-esteem into bits and pieces. However, travel taught me that I’m a smart, resourceful, friendly, and interesting person. You are not your job. You are not the economy. Ever.
What are some of the ways that travel has changed your life? What lessons have you learned from traveling? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments. And wish me a “Happy Birthday,” haha.