I have spent large chunks of the last 15 years on the road and yet it seems like I’m still learning new travel lessons every other week. Here are five of the most surprising facts that I have discovered about living my life on the road.
Communities don’t need gates
The more I travel the more I realize that communities aren’t limited to places with four walls and white picket fences. Social media and the web allow tribes of like-minded people to connect all over the world, and travel is no exception. Some of my closest real-life friendships started from a tweet or blog comment, and anyone looking for encouragement to travel need look no further than a range of Facebook groups – and of course Tripping! Running into fellow travel addicts all around the world and sharing stories over a few drinks is one of the biggest joys of the road.
Less really is more
When I first hit the road I struggled for weeks to fit everything that I absolutely had to have into a 90 litre backpack. I travel for much longer these days – months or even years – but my pack size has halved. Baggage of any sort slows you down, but at least the physical kind is easy to get rid of. The more you travel the less you need.
The same applies to accommodation – I have far more fun and meet much more interesting people in hostels and cheap guesthouses than hotels, at a fraction of the price. Plans likewise – the fewer I have, the freer I am to take advantage of amazing new options that show up along the way.
Poverty doesn’t equal despair
I hadn’t experienced true, systemic poverty until my first trip through Africa. The rubbish filled slums of Nairobi and basic mud-and-dung huts in Malawi were a rude awakening to a naïve kid from New Zealand. Since then I’ve experienced similar conditions in several South East Asian countries, particularly rural Vietnam and Cambodia, as well.
There is one thing that sticks in my mind even more than the rags, the mud and the flies, however. It is the smiles. Children laughing and playing in the street. Parents sharing a joke, or inviting a stranger like me to join them for a meal that they can’t afford to provide and yet refuse any payment for. Teenagers talking of their hopes and plans for a better life.
Owning nothing is not the same thing as having nothing. Poverty and despair are two very different things.
Being different isn’t being wrong
“There is more than one way to skin a cat.” I had no idea what that phrase even meant until I started travelling. Despite popular wisdom, there really isn’t a ‘right’ way to live your life. There is no right education, job, religion, culture or anything else. Billions of people are living their lives in ways that are totally different to how I was bought up, and are very happy and highly successful doing it.
I have met people who dropped out of high school and earned small fortunes. People who have travelled fulltime for years and those who will never leave their hometown. Followers of most of the world’s major religions and followers of none. The one thing that binds all of them is that they are striving for a better life the best way they know how.
Just like you.
Just like me.
Not every day will be amazing (but most of them will)
If you believe the travel documentaries and websites, every day on the road is a joyful mix of blue skies and sunshine, wonderful food and friendly people, amazing sights and enlightening cultural experiences.
There are days where the bus breaks down, the food makes you sick and the only guesthouse in town has cockroaches bigger than you are. You haven’t seen a friendly face in days, clean underwear seems like something out of a long-forgotten dream and you’re trying to work out which organ you’d sell for a hot shower.
You’re tired, dirty and completely over it. And yet the next day you get up and do it all over again.
Because most days aren’t like that. Most days really are amazing – and unlike when you’re stuck in an office back home, if your day isn’t great you can easily choose to do something completely different tomorrow. Not knowing what the future holds today, tomorrow, next week is the most wonderful part of the entire travel experience for me.
Make sure you get out there and experience that wonder for yourself…
This was a guest post by Tripper and blogger Dave Dean. Dave grew up in a small town in New Zealand, which seemed like the perfect incentive to get out and see what the rest of the world looked like as soon as he finished college. Fifteen years later he still hasn’t quite figured out how to stop. He blogs about the highs and lows of life as a long term traveller at What’s Dave Doing?