At what was essentially the start of this little jaunt, I wrote an article for Groove Magazine (of Seoul, South Korea): Lessons Learned from my first 50 days of traveling around the world. This trip has been a constant learning experience, and after a quick Google search, it appears that I am not the only one who thinks long-term travel is exceptionally educational. Nomadic Matt has learned a thing or two, as has Benny, the Irish polyglot, and even Gary Arndt (as read on the blog of Tim Ferriss – the four hour workweek dude). Bottom line: there are a lot of lists out there. A lot of them (like the ones above) are fairly broad. Mine… not so much.
Instead of regaling you with yet again, another day in a minute in between airports around the world and boring pictures of us on an airplane (this time from London to Lima)… I thought I’d pick up right where I left off from my last list about some of the more specific lessons I’ve learned since our first fifty days… Especially since we’ve been through Nepal and India:
parts of the Middle East:
and even Europe:
Lesson #9: Traveling with cards? Be prepared to call your credit card company and bank every three months to verify which countries you’ll be traveling through. Otherwise the Fraud Department(s) will put a hold on your card the onetime you need to use it in that fourth month. In addition, I should have investigated my ATM withdraw and credit card international transaction fees more thoroughly. In 12 months of travel, trying my hardest to stick to a $50.00 (or under) a day budget, I discovered Citibank has charged me a whopping $341.02 – and that’s from only ONE of my two Citibank cards! That’s nearly one full week of my budget! Wiser travelers, Josh and Leanne haven’t been charged any fees using Capital One.
Lesson #10: Pay attention to that strange feeling in the bottom of your stomach when your bus or hotel room has a certain chemical smell to it. Open a window. Step outside. Change hotels. Whatever that smell is, probably isn’t good for you and the annoyance of moving yourself and your stuff far outweighs the possibility of permanent health damages (or waking up without any of your stuff!)
Lesson #11: When dealing with a ridiculously horrible hotel manager, like at Chiang Mai Thai House, don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself in front of other guests. This horrible (awful, terrible) manager truly embarrassed me in front of other guests, even though he was the one who made the booking mistake! You could say, the lesson learned here was to not stay at this hotel in the first place… (If heading to Chiang Mai, don’t make the same mistake!)
Lesson #12: Nothing in Nepal is free. Renting a car for an impossibly cheap fare for the day comes with the price of sitting in a tourist agency listening to an agent try to pitch trekking trips to you for an hour and a half, despite the fact that you told him you were probably the only tourists in Nepal NOT trekking.
Lesson #13: When you find yourself getting angry with your travel partner over something ridiculous, it’s probably time for a nap, a meal, a day of drinking, or a day of doing nothing at all. Traveling around the world is hard. Don’t let anyone who hasn’t done it tell you otherwise.
Lesson #14: Bathing with elephants in Chitwan, Nepal is not what you think it will be. You’re not going to soap up an elephant in the middle of the river, getting some intimate one-on-one time with an elephant. You’re going to pay a mahout to let you climb onto the back of an elephant whose spirit has been broken. The elephant is going to spray you with water when the mahout prods him/her with a giant spear to do so. And then after ten minutes (give or take) your experience “bathing” the elephant will be finished. You’re better off buying some bananas and feeding an elephant in between other tourists (who don’t know of the damage the mahouts have done to the poor beasts) bathing experiences.
Lesson #15: When your bus breaks down in the middle of the mountains in Nepal, don’t hesitate to hop on the next bus that passes. If you wait around (like we did) you’ll simply find out your bus won’t be up and running again in time to cross the border into India and catch your next bus. Better to jump on a passing bus with one or two others instead of twenty who are now equally in need of a ride to the border.
Lesson #16: Don’t drink sugarcane juice out of a glass from a vendor on the streets of Varanasi. Always drink out of a plastic (unused) cup. This will ensure that you won’t be spending several hours in the bathroom in the middle of the night and next morning. Furthermore: Charcoal tablets (and Apple Cider Vinegar) will cure all stomach issues. Now, I never travel without them. They have saved my life. My stomach, and some of my other parts… more than once on this trip since that unfortunate glass of sugarcane juice.
Lesson #17: Learn the scams of India. Which scam is popular in each city. Be prepared. But also be prepared to fall victim to a new scam that hasn’t hit the Internet yet… This is one of the many prices you have to pay for traveling around the world. It might make you crazy the moment you realize you’ve been scammed, but chances are you’ll merely shrug about it later.
Lesson #18: When asking if your room for the night comes equipped with hot water and wi-fi… Be. More. Specific. Ask; “Does the room have hot water and wi-fi today?” Furthermore, when you arrive exceedingly early thanks to your bus/train/plane into the city, and your hotel says you cannot check in early; use up any and all available sofa space in the common area or lobby to sleep until they magically find a room for you. As soon as you act like the lobby is your own private living room they are more likely to want you in your own private room.
Lesson #19: Women should not initiate conversation with Emirati men – especially by themselves. If you’re married, keep in mind your status doesn’t matter to an Emirati who wants to inappropriately grab you while you’re standing next to your non-Emirati husband (or in my case “husband”). Furthermore, at a party in the U.A.E. – never, not once, go anywhere on your own. Emirati men can and will do whatever they want, and because they are Emirati, in the U.A.E. they will get away with it.
Lesson #20: Jordanians are the nicest people on earth. Seriously, the nicest. However, nothing can prepare you for the day a Syrian child refugee punches you in the back.
Lesson #21: When going through Israeli immigration, it’s probably best to know your geography ahead of time so you don’t bat an eye when asked if you will be visiting the West Bank or any of the occupied territories.
Lesson #22: Floating in the Dead Sea is painful. Don’t shave any part of your body for a week a year before you visit. Wear a wetsuit! Stay in no longer than five minutes! No, three minutes! And bring a bottle of water to pour over your burning skin as you make your way to the fresh water showers two flights of stairs away!
Lesson #23: Israel is expensive and “Birthrighters” –especially of the young, American variety are annoying. Sorry Birthrighters, but this non-Birthrighter spending a fortune to see what you got to do for free overheard one too many conversations about how “wasted we’re going to get tonight/tomorrow/when we get back to the hotel” and “Ohmigod, You’re a Cohen, too?”
Lesson #24: Your politics will change, or at least become more defined the day your morning is spent at the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem and your afternoon in a Palestinian refugee camp outside of Bethlehem.
Lesson #25: You can never plan too much for your trip around the world. Had we planned more, we would have not even tried Europe in the winter, we wouldn’t have flown from Israel to Belgium to Morocco to Uganda, and we definitely would have looked into the overland tours (like this one) through Africa.
Lesson #26: You can plan too much during your trip around the world. There comes a point where you need to step away from the computer with the TripAdvisor forum on its screen.
Lesson #27: Marrakech is as awful as everyone (who has been) says it is. But chances are you’re going to have to go and see for yourself. When the man with the snakes/monkeys/magic tricks insist you pay him for the picture you just took – even though you were just walking by carrying your camera… just remember… “I told you so!”
Lesson #28: When a Moroccan man asks how much you cost, don’t say “I’m not for sale!” at least find out how much he thinks you’re worth! I promise, it will make for a better story, err, status update on Facebook.
Lesson #29: Postagram is cheaper than buying postcards and stamps around the world. Trust me. (Obviously I’m a bit biased because they foot my elementary school pen-pal project, but you fork over the equivalent of $30.00 for postage in the middle of Laos just to send postcards to your family and you might fall in love with the app yourself!)
Lesson #30: Malaria prophylaxis will drive you crazy. If you’re anything like me (sensitive to medication), you’ll feel like your skin is burning anytime you’re in the sun, you’ll cry for no reason, and you might even attempt to break up with your boyfriend over something you won’t even remember (nor understand) the next morning. My advice after nearly one month straight of taking them, (and crying all. the. time.) avoid the pills and take your chances with bug spray instead.
Lesson #31: When camping during your African safari, warthogs wandering through will eat your snacks by day and giant hippos will eat the grass outside your tent at night. When you wake up to the ridiculously noisy chomping in the middle of the night, do yourself a favor and stay inside your tent. While warthogs aren’t so dangerous, hippos are.
Lesson #32: When your thirty-year old bus blows a tire and flies off the road, landing in a pool of water in the middle of Tanzania, get your stuff and get. out. There are no emergency services coming to file a report, or take people to the hospital, or even to make sure everyone is accounted for. Flag down a bus passing by, climb in, and stand in the aisle until the next stop.
Lesson #33: Document your (car/bus/motorcycle) accident as best as you can. Ask your hotel/hostel to help find documentation of the accident to give your Travel Insurance Company when trying to file a claim for damaged possessions. Otherwise, self-insure. Because, if you’re anything like me, someone who invested in travel insurance for AFRICA – for situations just like this one… You will be out of luck when you realize you don’t have a bus ticket, a police report, or even your name on the guest registry at the hostel you’re staying at when you try unsuccessfully to file a claim for some damaged camera lenses. (Thanks for nothing, WorldNomads.)
Lesson #34: Feet swell during pregnancy (so I’ve heard). They also swell during overnight and/or 10 hour + bus rides. That being said; Mozambique is the most difficult country to travel through on your own. Domestic flights are crazy expensive, and every bus ride is at least 10 hours long. At least. And chances are they will be crammed with so many people you will spend the majority of your 12-14 hour journey holding someone else’s sack of rice, live chicken, or if you’re lucky, their adorably silent wide-eyed child. If you can survive one (or in our case, four) bus in Mozambique, you can survive anything. Keeping that in mind, Mozambique Island is beautiful. A bitch to get to, but beautiful.
Lesson #35: Reverse culture shock is standing in an aisle full of gummie candy in a gas station mini-mart after spending two months traveling around Uganda, Tanzania, and Mozambique. “Do you want tropical fruit or sour colas?” I asked my partner. I may as well have been speaking in Swahili. Although, chances are he would have been more likely to understand me, given the recent location(s) of our adventures.
Lesson #36: South Africa is a beautiful country. But it’s a strange one. Regardless if you come from a country with a history of slavery or apartheid, it will certainly make you evaluate equality in not only the country that you’re visiting but the country you’re from as well.
Lesson #37: Couch-surfing is a wonderful way to meet amazing people around the world. And when it’s not the perfect experience, it sure does make for a great story for future couch-surfing connections, friends in foreign countries, and family back home!
Lesson #38: Become a tissue/toilet paper HOARDER. Don’t underestimate the powers of an individually wrapped wet-wipe. (I hoard these, too!) And never leave your scarf in your hotel room. (Chances are you’ll get cold, or you’ll find yourself outside of a mosque you’d really like to visit, or you need something to wrap around your legs as a skirt when curious eyes haven’t seen a pair of bright white female legs before… It’s always worth tying around your purse strap or stuffing into the bottom of your day-pack.)
Lesson #39: Always pack your camera battery charger in your carry-on. Especially when flying Etihad Air. And when said airline’s third party baggage company cannot locate your lost luggage after an entire week stranded in Istanbul, get on the horn with other airlines and airports to find your own bag. If said airline promises you that they will provide a daily allowance to make up for the HUGE inconvenience, don’t count on being reimbursed for anything. It’s now been six months. It’s safe to say they didn’t (and don’t) care about inconveniencing past, present, or future customers’ travel schedules at all!
Lesson #40: There is such a thing as the 10-Month Travel Slump. This travel obstacle, too, shall pass.
Lesson #41: Buying lunch (or dinner) at the local grocery store and having a picnic can be far more memorable and atmospheric than eating in an overpriced tourist café. Forget the cold croque monsieur and loud Americans at the next table, head to the Seine with a baguette, some cheese and a bottle of wine! Guaranteed to be prettier and easier on your budget!
Lesson #42: Don’t stay with friends in foreign countries unless you really, really enjoy their company. A free place to stay could come with a price that could cost you time navigating into the center of the city, a vegan dinner when all you really wanted was a big fat cheeseburger, or even your friendship.
Lesson #43: Mailing boxes of replacement clothes, shoes, and toiletries to myself in different countries was quite possibly the smartest thing I’ve done in regards to preparing for this trip. As it turns out, wearing flip-flops for eight months straight wasn’t the smartest move for my feet. Reuniting with my barely used neon orange Nikes in the middle of England was glorious. As was indulging in my favorite SkinFood beauty products, refilling my empty cranberry pill bottle, and slipping into a pair of jeans for the first time in a year! Jeans! Who knew something so basic could bring so much happiness? Mail boxes to yourself. If you don’t have friends, find a couchsurfer.
Lesson #44: Don’t get lost en route to, or show up late for your shared ride via BlaBlacar. Otherwise you might find yourself stranded outside of Barcelona when you thought you’d be in a car en route to Paris for the day.
Lesson #45: Traveling without a point and shoot was a bad idea. I wish I had one in addition to my DSLR. Regardless if you’re traveling with multiple cameras, be prepared to buy a replacement camera and/or lens. Travel is hard on cameras and related gear, and accidents tend to happen.
Lesson #46: “Free” Walking tours are an awesome way to see a new city! That is, if your “free” guide is giving tours because he loves his city, country, and quite simply enjoys giving tours. The minute your guide suggests how much you should donate (I’m looking at you, Discover Walks Paris!) as a “tip” give half and research different Free Tours. In our experience, the best guides never suggest a specific amount and we always enjoy them, and tip them the most.
Lesson #47: Trying to couchsurf in Western Europe in the middle of the summer is an exercise in futility. Trying to stay at a budget hostel/hotel/guesthouse is even worse. Lesson learned? Pay more for a better located and higher priced hotel. Otherwise you might find yourself staying in the middle of a bus station in Prague in a room with leaky windows and staff that doesn’t care when you report a drenched backpack after you know you closed the windows before you left.
Lesson #48: I may have friends around the world, but when you’re on the road for as long as we have been, it can often feel like you don’t know a soul on earth. No one emails on the weekend. With the exception of my girl, Mindy, friends don’t comment on your travel blog. Celebrating Thanksgiving (or any American holiday for that matter) lasts as long as your Skype connection, and then you feast on Indian food in the middle of Varanasi. This brings me back to Lesson #2 (Choose your travel partner wisely) or else you better be good at making friends in hostels, or in my case in the middle of the street in a foreign country.
Lesson #49: “How can you afford this trip?” has become my least favorite question to be asked about my year of traveling around the world. I’ve been out of the country for quite a few years, so maybe things have changed… Is it currently acceptable to ask how friends, family, and random strangers can afford their house, their new car, or quitting their job to go back to school? Not that anyone needs to know, but I don’t have a house, a car, or any kids. I worked hard. I saved up. That’s how I can afford this trip.
Lesson #50: You’re going to miss it. You’re going to miss that feeling of awe when you’re standing in front of the Taj Mahal. You’re going to miss the feeling of sheer exhaustion during and after a 24-hour (or more) journey from one city (or country) to the next. You’re going to miss everything amazing and absolutely heartbreaking about your trip – no matter how long, be it one year, fifteen months, or however long your trip is planned to be… It will be over before you know it. And you will miss it. More than you can ever prepare yourself for.
Obviously the list of lessons learned exceeds this little list of fifty… like how I will never take for granted the super sonic internet speeds in South Korea again. How friends or perfect strangers who have bought us a beer (or lunch, or dinner) are acts of kindness that I will never, ever forget. How incredibly humbling it is to be so impatient, cranky, and at times mean and have your travel partner forgive you for being so… human. How incredibly scary the world and its people are not. I’ve learned more than any list can ever spell out, and perhaps the most amazing part of this journey is that I’ve possibly learned more than I might ever even realize.