If you had asked us 22 months ago what we thought our lives would look like after almost two years of travel, I guarantee you it would have nothing to with what our life *actually* looks like today. These past 22 months of living and working while being on the road have pushed us, broken us, brought us back together, and given us a fresh breath of life. Because that’s what travel does; it changes you in ways you can never anticipate.
There have been countless life lessons, but here are the top 22 things we’ve learned from traveling for 22 months:
1.) Traveling as a couple is the best way to test your relationship. There have been several moments where Eric and I have been at our wit’s end with one another. Travel brings up all your baggage. You see how one another reacts under pressure, in very stressful situations. And it isn’t always pretty. BUT, if you can make it through traveling together, that’s usually a good sign. There have been a few times, where I demanded Eric just leave me behind, and that we should just go our separate ways. Now, he knows I’m a drama queen, and that I just need a few minutes to calm down. Knowing how the other person reacts and knowing the best way to respond to help the two of you get through the situation is something that travel teaches you quickly.
2.) All the fear/worry that travel often brings up is worth it. You might be scared of flying or worry about what will happen in another country. I get it. I’m sometimes scared out of my mind. Before we left DC in 2012, I knew it would be easier and more comfortable to just stay. But I would have missed out on oh-so-much. Sometimes bad things happen when you travel. Bad things can also happen close to home. So if you want to travel, don’t let those fears stop you.
3.) Hospitals in other countries are not nearly as scary as I once thought. At least the ones I’ve been to. I had surgery in Greece and neither my Doctor nor the nurses spoke much English – I was terrified, but they took amazing care of me. Eric had to go to the hospital for a week in Costa Rica, and it was some of the best care we’d ever received. I can say without a doubt that our Costa Rican hospital stay was much better than most of our U.S. experiences.
4.) You should always make friends with locals. Each time we travel to a new place, we immediately make friends with a few of the locals. You get the best insider tips and often times they take you to off the beaten path places that no other tourists will go. Plus, you get a much better perspective and appreciation for the culture.
5.) You should always learn a few basic words before going to a new country. Knowing how to say things like, “hello”, “please”, “thank you”, “how much?”, and “goodbye” can take you a really long way.
6.) You will always forget to pack something, but you can almost always find it wherever you are going. Unless it’s a sink stopper. We forgot to get a sink stopper before leaving the U.S., so we can do our laundry in the sink, and it’s the one thing we cannot find anywhere. And we’ve so far looked for one in Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia, Montengro, and Albania. Go figure!
7.) You will meet amazing people along the way. We have made more deep friendships in a short period of time than almost ever in our lives. And we’ve stayed close friends with many of the people we’ve meet during our travels. It’s truly amazing how travel has the power to bring people together.
8.) Travel opens up your mind to new ways of thinking and seeing the world. It gives you perspective and makes you a more creative person.
9.) Let go of the small things in life. When you travel, there are a lot of things you can’t control. If you don’t decide to just let go, you will feel challenged by everything. So just let go, and look at it all as part of the adventure.
10.) It’s important to know how to read a map. Seriously. Some of the roads in other countries are insane. Just ask our friend Bekky about Eric’s reverse driving magic thru the labyrinth of hell in Split, Croatia. Also, the GPS the Albanian car rental company gave us got us lost on our way to Kosovo- on purpose we think. At least she took us to see some beautiful scenery.
11.) Respect the laws of other countries. Don’t even think about pushing the limit. This is how Eric and a few of his friends once ended up in a Mexican jail in their early 20s. Learn from his past mistake; don’t even tempt fate.
12.) When you are in places you are not familiar with, whether or not it’s a “dangerous” place, walk like you belong, but be respectful of the cultural.
13.) It’s a really good idea to know how to drive manual gear. Almost all the cars we’ve rented have been stick shift, which I don’t know who to drive. Thankfully, Eric does.
14.) Time zones are whacky. Some people claim they’ve figured out how to beat jet lag, but I have never not gotten jet lagged. Most likely, jet lag will mess you up. It may take you days or a week to fully adjust. You will feel tired, and you won’t know it’s breakfast or dinner. The best thing you can do is try to get on as normal a schedule as quickly as possible by waking up at your regular time and trying to go to bed early. Keep yourself active during the day. Eventually you will adjust. And sleeping pills are maybe the best thing ever- right next to not having jet lag in the first place.
15.) Try the local foods, even if it puts you way outside of your comfort zone. I never thought I would say this, but I’ve now eaten kokoreç (intestines of suckling lambs), pig’s liver, and rocky mountain oysters. Yes. Rocky.Mountain.Oysters. Will I try them again? Not sure, once may have been enough for me, but at least I tried them.
16.) It is possible to OD on Baklava. It’s just so good. And did you know you can get chocolate Baklava?
17.) People always say this, but it cannot be stressed enough…unless you are prepared to lug around heavy suitcases, leave half the stuff you think you need behind. Take it from us, you will be much happier packing light.
18.) Raki (unsweeted, anise-flavored alcohol) will bring you tons of fun in the moment but nothing but pain the following day. But if you are in the Balkans, Turkey, or Greece, be ready to drink up, because it’s handed out like candy.
19.) Watch out for those tricky discount airlines. If you are traveling on a budget, look into the cheap airfare, but ALWAYS read the fine print. Well known discount airlines, like Ryan Air and EasyJet, have super low ticket prices, but they get you on everything else. And crazy stuff too, like if you don’t have a pre-printed boarding pass at check-in, you have to pay $118 extra.
20.) Make sure to check out the visa requirements. We almost over-stayed our visa in the Schengen agreement areas last year, which would have been really bad. REALLY bad. So always google ahead of time, and make sure you are well within the law. The last thing you want is an illegal immigrant mark on your passport, fines into the thousands of dollars, forced deportation, and the loss of freedom to travel into certain areas of the world for a very long time.
21.) The passport control people in Texas like to question Eric whenever we travel back into the country. Seriously. We have come to expect it. At DFW, he was detained for an hour (because his hair was long and he was wearing a Turkish scarf), and they searched his laptop and researched my business, even though I wasn’t detained with him. In Houston, after flying from Costa Rica to Panama to the U.S., they sent Eric and I thru the “additional screening” process, where all the contents of your checked baggage is searched. The irony was that Eric had just been released from the before mentioned Costa Rican hospital, and he was being pushed in a wheelchair by airport security. When the guy in charge of searching laid eyes on us, he said, “I’m so tired of them sending me nobodies.” Our thought, “We are more than happy to be nobodies in this situation.” As soon as he realized we were probably not running drugs, money, and/or guns, he sent us on our merry way without a crazy search. Lesson here: sometimes going through passport control and customs is a breeze, and sometimes it’s a big, ole pain in the tuchus.
22.) I know it is cliché, but it’s really NOT about the destination, and it IS all about the journey.