What I Have Learned From One Decade of Nomadic Travel
In just two days I will turn thirty. My twenties were quite an adventure! Amongst beautiful memories filled with love and joy are a sprinkling of memories about heartbreak and hurt, fear and anger. But mostly, I look back on my twenties with gentle eyes and a proud heart for all the adventures I lived through.
Thirty scares me. Not because I fear getting old, or even because I often find myself overwhelmed by how quickly life seems to slip through my fingers. No thirty scares me, because my twenties were spent learning, absorbing, trying, failing, laughing, crying, falling in love, feeling lonely, traveling the world and so much more. And now, I have the opportunity to take all that I have learned from a wide range of life experiences and apply it to become a clearer image of myself in a new decade.
From the moment I stepped off the airplane on my first backpacking trip at age twenty in Ireland up until now, I have learned a lot. So here are some of the key things I have learned from one decade of nomadic travel.
Fall In Love, Even If It Can’t Last
One of my favorite things about traveling is all the magnificent people you meet that you would otherwise never cross paths with. I could spend hours thinking over how every little decision in my last decade of travel has brought the most special people into my life. Some I have not spoken to since we said goodbye, others I still consider my closest friends even if I will never see them again in person, and the occasional one I have fallen in love with and will hold in the highest esteem for the rest of my life.
Whirlwind romances while traveling, not just with people, but also with places, can be thrilling, yet also devastating. After my first travel heartbreak, I became quite guarded about opening my heart up to people and places that would fleetingly cross my path. And maybe I am being overly sentimental now as someone who will be parting ways with their current love in just a few weeks' time, but I do believe it’s a beautiful thing to get to love, even if it can’t last. Fall in love with cities, restaurants, and people while you roam. It will hurt when it ends, but it will be beautiful during, and something to cherish once you heal.
It Is Okay To Take Rest Days
One of the best pieces of advice I got before my first big backpacking trip was to give myself proper time to rest. Whether you’re a digital nomad, backpacker, or on a special holiday, when in a new place it can be tempting to want to do as much as possible. However, you will need time to rest and recharge, especially when extended traveling.
Don’t beat yourself up for needing to spend a day in bed watching Netflix. The city you’re exploring will still be there waiting for you in the morning. Especially for backpackers, giving yourself the proper time to recharge will help you travel for longer periods of time. The quicker you burn yourself out, the sooner you will have to stop traveling.
Stick To Your Freakin’ Budget
Budgeting is not the sexiest of topics, but it sure can make a huge difference on how often you travel and what you do while you’re there. Being anxious about finances is a quick way to ruin your travel experience. While everybody views money differently and has different access to money, having at least some form of a budget plan in place, and actually sticking to it, will make your adventures ten times easier.
✈️ Pro Tip: Use these tips on How To Budget For A Backpacking Trip to make your travel planning easy.
Paying Extra For Convenience Is Worth It
Okay, if we are being honest, paying for convenience is not always doable, especially in your early twenties when on a tight backpacking budget. I remember returning from my first backpacking trip through Southeast Asia and bragging about the twelve-person mixed dorm room hostels I spent every night in and being confused when my seventy year old aunt commented on how she could never travel like that anymore. But dang, now that I wake up with back pain most mornings, I totally understand what she was saying.
Apart from living arrangements, transportation is often something travelers will be tempted to skimp on. Sure, sometimes sleeping on the floor of the airport can save you a good chunk of change you can spend on other adventures. However, sometimes it is worth it to pay a little more to get to a destination via a more direct route. Above all, paying for safety and peace of mind will always be worth the extra dollars you have to spend. You don’t need to splurge every day, but don’t put yourself in unsafe, uncomfortable, or inconvenient situations just to save a few bucks.
You Can Always Leave
There are moments of travel in my twenties where I can remember feeling so clearly that I was at the right place at the perfect time. This feeling made it feel like anything was possible. The world was my oyster. However, not every trip, every new country or city, and every excursion felt like that. And more often than not I would force myself to wait it out because I had already created an itinerary in my head I felt I had to stick to, booked accommodation, or didn’t want to offend someone.
It can be tempting to try to push through an adventure, after all, you have spent your time and money planning it, but it is important to remember that you can always leave. Whether you feel homesick and lonely, unsafe, or just don’t like the place you are in, you won’t get the beautiful benefits of travel if you aren’t enjoying your environment.
You’ll Lose Touch With People Back Home
While traveling, it is easy to forget that just because your life back home has been paused in exchange for adventure, doesn’t mean your loved ones back home are not still chugging along with their routines. Unfortunately, while you’re out seeing new places and meeting new people, you will inevitably lose touch with people.
Before you leave, make sure you know who your core people are and have a plan in place to communicate with them throughout your travels. I have friends I talk to daily, once a week, every few months, friends I will only see when I am home for the holidays, and then there are people who I once was close to, but now only know what is going on in my life based off of what I post on social media. Of course, be present and take advantage of every great opportunity while traveling, but remember, you will lose touch with people back home, so prioritize communicating with the people who matter most to you.
You Probably Need Less Than You Think
There is a huge part of me that dreams of one day having my own little cottage that I can fill with endless rows of books, art supplies, and silly nicknacks from my adventures. However, if living out of a backpack for the last decade has taught me anything, it is that I do not need as much as I think I do to live a fulfilling life.
When in a spot for an extended period of time, I will often find myself accumulating things under the assumption that I am “treating myself.” However, when it is time to hit the road again, those things either must be sent back home to collect dust at my family home or donated. I am sure there are many moments throughout my travels when I have longingly looked at a piece of clothing or homeware item considering whether or not I should get it. But in truth, I cannot remember one of those things now, meaning it really was not essential for my life.
I know I am very lucky to be in a financial place where I can buy things purely because I want to. However, in the long run, I have learned that those physical things really do not add much value to my life.
Traveling Solo Doesn’t Mean You Need To Be Alone
It took me multiple solo backpacking trips before I felt truly comfortable being alone. Learning how to feel comfortable navigating new cities by yourself when you don’t know the language, eating a meal alone, being put in stressful situations with nobody to rely on is scary! With time it will become easier. However, as you navigate solo travel for the first few trips, you’ll often feel overwhelmed by the feeling of loneliness. Still, solo travel doesn’t need to be lonely. There are tons of places to meet likeminded people and make new friends as you explore.
✈️ Pro Tip: You can sit with us! Find out Where To Make Friends While Solo Traveling.
Do Activities You Love, Not Just What Is A “Must-See”
Sometimes, things are considered “touristy” because they are amazing experiences. After all, you wouldn’t go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower, or travel to Pisa and not take a zombie-like picture holding up the Leaning Tower! However, sometimes when traveling it can be tempting just to tick off a list of sites that are the “must-sees.”
Do yourself a favor and spend your time and money on activities you are genuinely interested in, not on things you feel obligated to do. If you’re traveling in a group or meet new friends on your travels who want to do something you aren’t interested in, go off on your own for a bit. If there is a line a mile long for some attraction you don’t really care about but were told you have to see, ditch it and go spend your time doing the things that will make you positively remember the destination. Similarly, if you really want to do something and someone advises you not to based off of their opinions or experiences, don’t listen to them! We all love giving advice and it can sometimes be helpful, but prioritize your interest first.
One of the worst feelings is arriving in a new place hungry, only to find everything is closed. Especially when arriving at a destination in the early morning hours or late at night, you’ll be grateful to have a snack on hand to ease your growling stomach. As someone who gets “hangry,” take it from me and pack a snack so you don’t get grumpy while waiting in line to explore a site you’ve been dreaming of visiting.
If my thirties are anything like my twenties, I am certain there are some epic adventures up ahead for me. While not every adventure has been easy, I have learned so much from living nomadically for the last decade. The lessons I’ve learned and the people I have met will forever mean more than the physical places I have been!
What is the best travel advice you’ve ever received? Tell us in the comments!