When we quit our jobs to set off on this crazy adventure to explore the world, we ended up with a bag of mixed reactions from friends, family, and coworkers. The majority were thrilled for us, curious about our plan and how we were going to make it work, and proud that we had made such a big decision.
Then there were those who literally asked: “can you do that!?” in a quizzical way. Why yes, yes we can. It wasn’t that they didn’t mean well but rather were concerned for us. After all, we were “giving up” on our careers, “leaving at a crucial time in our lives,” and so much more.
Well, the truth is that jobs will always be there, and we both were yearning to learn things that simply can’t be taught in a job or classroom. We wanted to gain new perspectives, question our own motives and beliefs by experiencing different cultures, and meet people from around the world. Plus, we want to see the world while we are young and can do absolutely anything we put our minds to with less of the responsibilities that hold you back as the years go on.
Now that we’re 1 year in, we wanted to share a few of the (mannnyyyy) lessons we’ve learned. There are tons more to add, so if you have a lesson that you feel belongs on the list please add it to the comments, we’d love to know what you think 🙂
5 Things We’ve Learned On Our Journey
1). To Appreciate Others
On the road, away from home, friends, and your routine, you start reminiscing about all the good times and precious moments… about mom’s linguine and clams (ok, maybe that dish is just Alli!?), dad’s Bonsai passion, and sitting around the table sharing stories with family.
You think about Christmas dinners with families gathered together, the fire roaring in the corner, and the special platter used to serve holiday meals (even after it was broken and then magically replaced the following year). About those weekly girls nights watching the kiddos (and enjoying wine 😉 ) and long hikes to summits with no views. Tuesday night outings with 1/2 price wine and amazing co-workers and learning how to roll sushi and making dinners with friends over a few cocktails.
You long for golf days and beers with the boys and loading up the truck for summer trips to the Illinois River. Besides the newfound appreciation for friends and family back home, you’ll grow to appreciate the fellow travelers you meet on the road.
Appreciation may start to abound wherever you look (and wherever you let it into your life). Maybe it’ll show up with a local who helps you kickstart your bike when you don’t know how, the hostel owner who shares the best spots to eat locally in town, the little girl who takes you down the face of a mountain to find a waterfall, the couple you spend months traveling with that become lifelong friends, and many others who simply share the joys of travel with you and give you tips on where you might explore next. Traveling gives you a chance to see others at their best, excited and eager to share their thoughts and experiences with you. In some ways, travel is a trust exercise and most times, the majority of people you meet pass with flying colors.
Pro Tip: If you’re thinking about all those wonderful times you had at home consider sending some postcards over that way. Alli loves writing postcards (she tries for 1 a week) and enjoys getting friend’s & family’s addresses in stealthy ways so that when the postcard shows up it’s a total surprise! It’s a fun way to share in-the-moment happenings with those back home and let them know that you’ve been thinking about them. These little gestures are the glue that binds relationships together forever.
2). To Act On Curiosity And Leave The “Plan Everything” Mentality Behind
Some people like to have a plan, a backup plan, and maybe even a backup for the backup plan (Alli definitely used to!)… but traveling pushes you to find the courage to tread into the intimidating territory of freedom.
Of course, you will need to research visa requirements, plane tickets, and a few other necessities, but you don’t have to plan every place you want to visit, everything you want to see, and everywhere you want to stay. Leaving things open enables your curiosity to flourish and helps you make exciting decisions along the way. It allows you the freedom and flexibility to stumble into spur-of-the-moment events (like the 20-year celebration of operation for Hanoi’s Museum of Ethnology, local cockfights in Bali, and large celebrations for the end of Ramadan in Malaysia) that we would never have experienced had we stuck to a set plan.
And, it allows you to change your “plan” (or lack thereof) on a dime and decide to go somewhere you’ve never heard of because the girl you met at the hostel said she loved it, take a crazy bus ride through the mountains because you want to live life on the edge, or simply skip a location you were originally planning to visit because the weather took a bad turn and the suns already shining right where you are.
In one concise thought… we’ll leave it at this: Research, Don’t Plan.
3). Go With The Flow And Live Life Creatively
Unless you’re on a timeline to catch a wedding, funeral, or some beautiful new light coming into this world… having to wait a few more hours for a train to arrive, or needing to change plans at the last minute isn’t the worst thing. In fact, it can be a great thing, because it brings with it the element of surprise and opens the door to the unexpected!
Maybe your Airbnb doesn’t exist anymore (yes this happened to us), there are no bus tickets left (this too), you get on the wrong minivan (whoops!!), you’ve got no wifi and your maps.me is crashing (these things happen!). Just remember, it’s not the end of the world and you’ll figure it out. You’ll find a new home for the night, you’ll kill a few hours (or a whole night) waiting for the next bus, and you’ll ask others for directions. You’ll get creative in filling your time and feel proud of yourself after.
As weird as it sounds, those times where we’ve gone “O Crap” because something has gone wrong have ended up being some of our best travel stories and some of our funniest memories… like falling asleep on the sidewalk in the small town of Huay Xai, on the Laotian border because our local night bus arrived at 5:30am before anything was open (don’t worry mom, it was safe, and only one of us slept at a time!) and we were heading off to the Gibbon Experience at 8am!
Learning to go with the flow and thrive when life throws you a curve ball is a valuable skill that travel will test you on time and time again. Traveling is rarely the picture-perfect moments you see on Instagram, in fact, it’s darn right tough, but it will teach you to thrive in stressful situations and how to problem solve creatively, two skills that that will serve you well no matter where life takes you.
4). To Live Simply And Enjoy The Little Things In Life
Contrary to what some people think before setting off on an adventure abroad, you can survive with very, very little and be all the happier for it. To be honest, going home to our pile of belongings will probably feel a bit overwhelming after a year of living out of just carry-on sized backpacks – yep it’s possible! (check out our initial thoughts on this “crazy” decision!).
Living simply isn’t just about reducing your material beings and becoming content with having everything you need in your backpack. It’s also about enjoying simple foods like amazing noodle soup, delicious Jeow, warm steamboat and other delightful treats. “Simple” here doesn’t mean boring, but rather eating as the locals do, finding hole-in-the-wall restaurants and enjoying the local cuisine instead of looking for western food (which is often not great anyway!).
Opting for simple lodging can be great too. We’ve found in our travel that the nicer a place we book the more time we want to spend in it. It’s when we stay in places that aren’t quite as nice, or when we’re in dorms that we find ourselves out and about exploring our surroundings, meeting new people, and enjoying ourselves more. Plus, if you’re traveling to experience new things and see new places, the best thing you can do is to treat your lodging as just a place to sleep at night… that way you’ll be out the rest of the time exploring everything around you! We’ve met people along the way who book terrible rooms (or ones with no air conditioning in sweltering climates) just to help keep them outside (well, and to save money so they can travel longer 😉 ).
Living simply helps you realize how little you need, how material our world has become, and how easy it is to survive… and thrive off of what you can carry. After all, life is about the little things anyway.
5). To Try New Things And Push Your Comfort Zone
Let’s be real, trying new things is what we live for and is one of the sole purposes of traveling in the first place. Why would you travel halfway across the world to do the exact same things you do at home? We love trying new things and make it a goal to try something new every day if we can. One of the easiest ways to do this is through one of our favorite pastimes… eating!
When it comes to trying new foods it is often best not to know what ingredients are in them. That way, you will experience all that the local cuisine has to offer without psyching yourself out of trying something that contains an ingredient you might not like. You may just stumble onto your new favorite dish. While in Northern Thailand we tried Khao Soi and Khanom Buang for the first time, having no clue what was in them, and they’re now on our favorites list!
Trying new foods, particularly if you have a sensitive stomach can be nerve-wracking but it often has great payoffs! Even when the payoffs aren’t as high we’ve been really happy we tried things. Like when we enjoyed a bowl of Curry Mee in Malaysia and learned only later that the chunks of red we thought were some kind of weird tofu were, in fact, cubes of gelatinous pig blood!
Other ways we’ve tried new things and stretched our comfort zones include:
- Trying things we might not do at home like caving, canyoneering and jumping off 45-foot cliffs and biking on busy roads with barely working breaks
- Drinking 30-year-old Arak with wonderful Ketut in a homestay that may or may not upset your stomach
- Hiking in a leech-infested jungle in Thailand, and trekking from one town to another in the Cameroon Highlands (and getting chased by a pack of wild dogs)
- Following a 10-year local girl down the face of a mountain in flip flops in search of a waterfall
- Letting a monkey groom TJ’s head 🙂
- Trying to decipher public transportation (bus, train, car, schedules, payment, pick-up and wait, you take your shoes off before you get on the carpeted bus?)
- Learning the ins and outs of how to use a squat toilet
- Sitting on two wheels and practicing riding a motorbike (don’t make this mistake!)
- Figuring out how to communicate in a foreign language (make sure you know how to say “toilet” if you’re visiting rural areas or taking transportation that doesn’t cater to tourists)
- Gaining the confidence to start conversations with locals and fellow travelers even if you may make a fool out of yourself
- Learning new skills for our blog and careers
Well, there you have it! These are just 5 of the many lessons being on the road can teach you. We think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t have learned all of these, especially in the same way, if we hadn’t taken the leap to quit our jobs, terminated the lease on our apartment, sold off some things, packed up, and hopped on that one way plane ticket to the other side of the world! Thanks for joining us on this journey. Keep on Exploring!
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