6 lessons we learnt in 6 months of travel
Six months ago, we announced to the world that the pesky travel bug had bitten too hard and we were off to explore the world. No longer could we resist the lure of far off places we were only dreaming of seeing; we had to go, move, adventure.
Fast forward those six months to today and we’ve not only experienced amazing things, we’ve learnt a LOT.
In far-flung corners of the earth, as we’ve come face-to-face with the extremes of good and bad, abundance and poverty, beauty and squalor, we’ve been schooled BIG time in this beautiful little thing called life.
Not a single classroom, textbook, lecturer, or lecture from our parents could have taught us what we’ve learnt. In the last six months, we’ve let travel become our headmaster, and boy, have we been eager students!
6 Life Lessons we've learnt from 6 months of travel
#1 Value Experiences Over Material Goods
Ok, a moment of realness here: we can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen a shiny new iPhone 6 in the hands of a person and thought, “we want!” in the last six months. BUT: It takes less than a second before we tell ourselves to SNAP OUT OF IT! Why?
We’ve visited 20 countries and experienced things in real life. We’ve gasped for extra oxygen during a final push to summit Thorong La pass in Nepal; spent two nights sleeping in hammocks deep in a Cambodian jungle, washed in rivers and eaten forest food; traversed the forest canopy via zip-line in Laos; slept in a monastery in Myanmar and been woken by Buddhist prayers; watched the sunrise from Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka, then joined a religious ceremony for Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus; danced in the street under a sea of colour with thousands of Nepali people during the Holi festival; sampled only the best gelato Italy can offer (there’s lots!); gone for midnight swims with plankton, joined pesto classes in the Cinque Terre, enjoyed late nights out with new friends, and sampled endless amounts of amazing street food.
You know what all these cool things have in common? They’re worth far more to us than any material good known to man. That shiny iPhone 6 is great for the first few hours of having it, then it just becomes another ‘thing’.
In the last half year we’ve collected a whole treasure box of awesome memories to look back and laugh at (like the time Mim got stuck in a runaway Tuk Tuk by herself - that’s a story for another time!). When you learn to value experience over ‘things’, you learn to appreciate every place and person you encounter even more, especially when you’re there in the moment!
#2 People Are Fundamentally Good
When telling our family, friends or travel buddies our travel plans, there were a few worried faces. In our minds, we weren’t visiting dangerous places, but in their mind we were. They had heard media reports that Nepal was cut off following the earthquake, that Africa was a war-torn continent and that Europe was overrun by terrorist organisations like IS.
Fast forward six months and you know how many times we’ve had a negative experience on the road?
Once. In six months.
You know what would happen if we were to tell you all the amazing experiences we’ve had? Or about times locals have gone out of their way to help us find our way, make sure we were fed, or just stopped for a friendly chat? We’d probably be typing till our hair went grey and our grandkids were asking to be fed. Srsly.
And therein lies a key outtake from our travels. People are fundamentally good, and good is far stronger than evil. So cheers to all of you humans that go out of your way to make others feel welcome. You’re awesome.
#3 Be Grateful For What You Have
Spending six weeks in Nepal really opened our eyes to a side of life we’re rarely subjected to in Australia: extreme poverty.
We saw things that left us speechless; families left homeless by the earthquake, old men bathing in the black waters of the Bagmati River, kids defecating in the street, and beggars struggling to make it through the day. It was terribly sad.
What was sadder was the realisation that nothing separates any of us at all except our birthplaces. Just by virtue of where we were born (and a little hard work along the way) we have it all. A high school education, a university degree, access to the finest health care on the planet, a nice car, an apartment, healthy family and friends, safety, and to top it off, we’re living our dream life of travel.
We’ll never take any of these things for granted, and realise that we’re extremely fortunate to be able to follow our dreams and live the life we do. Never take your health, happiness, and opportunity for granted!
#4 Trust Your Judgement
One night, less than a month into our travels we were exploring the gorgeous streets of Luang Prabang. A local family were out on the street, makeshift table and chairs set up, having beers and a bbq.
As we walked past, they waved enthusiastically for us to come over and join them. We hesitated for a moment, unsure if it was a trap or sincere. Their beaming faces seemed ‘safe’, and with that, we found ourselves making a whole group of new Lao friends.
Over the next two hours we spoke in broken Lao and English, laughed like old friends, and shared beer after beer. In that couple of hours we enjoyed our most authentic local experience in Laos.
Remember that one bad experience we mentioned earlier? Well. One day in Bangkok, we were running a few minutes late for a job with Urban Adventures and decided to jump in a taxi to make up time. From the second we parked our butts onto the taxi seats something seemed off.
The driver was scattered and completely brushed aside our directions with a nod and “yes, yes”. After 20 mins of telling him we were headed the wrong way, and taking his assurances that he was taking us a ‘quicker way’, we ended up on the complete other side of the city. Angry, we jumped out, refused to pay him, hailed another taxi and arrived 20 mins late for our tour. The moral of the story is to trust your judgement, good and bad, always!
#5 SLOW DOWN and take a moment
20 countries in six months. That is a lot!
Coupled with work & blog commitments, our first four months on the road was a complete blur. In the midst of frantically trying to build our blog and source content, edit photos, post to social media, send business emails, as well as actually get out to explore and have fun, we realised we weren’t actually enjoying ourselves any more. We were tired, stressed, and snappy; our content was suffering, our business was suffering and most of all our generally happy-go-lucky relationship was suffering. Burnout was nigh, and something had to change.
On a bed in our terribly run down hotel room in Kathmandu, we agreed to slow down and focus on enjoying what we were doing. We allocated ‘days off’, date nights, reading time (books only!), and planned our working days better. Our enjoyment began to take priority and we began to take a moment for ourselves.
Since that conversation in our dingy hotel room, we haven’t looked back. We’ve realised life goes too quickly to not stop and smell the roses (or the croissants! Mmm croissants...).
#6 Only Hard Work Will Get You Anywhere
Sometimes truth comes in bombs, and we’re about to drop a big one.
Travel blogging is not easy nor glamorous all the time (or even most of the time!); not even remotely!
At least not when you’re starting out anyway.
We’ve spent too many nights to remember staying up past 2am just to get a story posted, or edit a photo for Instagram. Over a week of our time in Nepal was spent in a cafe hunched over our laptops as we wrote content for our Annapurna hike with Geckos Adventures. We’ve spent 13hrs in a tuk tuk, in 35 degree heat and 100% humidity just to get a ‘story’ in Sri Lanka. Our current ‘to do’ list has over 100 items. Not easy.
We do all of this because a) despite all of that, we love what we do! and b) we’ve realised that things won’t just happen for us, we have to make it happen ourselves.
The only way to do that is through freaking hard work, just like anything else in life. You want it? Go hard and get it.
BONUS LESSON! Make an effort and you’ll be rewarded
When we left our comfortable lives in Melbourne, we left in search of culturally rewarding experiences; the type you can only get from scratching the surface of a destination to reveal the true layer, not the refined tourist product.
Here’s the thing. The only times we’ve really experienced this is when we have made the effort. Whether it’s by learning a little of the language, as we did in Italy recently, or saying a simple hello; making an effort to get involved opens up doors like you wouldn’t imagine.
In Bagan, we were searching for a story when we stumbled into a lacquerware store. After being offered the usual sales pitch, we began to ask questions of our salesman, Two-Two (okay, interesting name but maaaaybe lost in translation!). Eager to share as much about his life as possible, he told us all about the business that had been in his family for centuries and even pulled out National Geographic mags from in 1974 that featured his family!
Two-Two proceeded to take us to his home, show us the family workshop and let us have a secret peek at their pride and joy; the furniture they wouldn’t sell as it was too precious. Then, he offered us some tea and wished us a safe journey in Myanmar. That remains one of the biggest highlights of our trip so far!
Two-Two’s genuine friendliness and openness to welcome us into his life for a few hours showed what happens if you’re willing to put yourself out there a little. Make an effort with everyone you meet, and see where it takes you!
What has travelling taught you? Have these things been life changing or life enhancing? We’d love to hear them!