Four Lessons Learned While Traveling for Four Years

6 min read
This weekend was all about celebrating friendship here in Sydney. For me personally, I was also celebrating four years of travel. For this occasion, I decided it was time for a brand new look for the blog! The previous design went online while I was in Vietnam (Dalat to be precise) about 3.5 years ago. It was time for an update! So here it is, the brand new design! I hope you love it as much as I do. There are a few more things that need to happen, so if the blog isn’t perfect yet, please bear with me.

Four Years of Travel!

Knee-deep in categories ( i.e. the structure of the blog) and old post, I realized that I had been on the road for four years now. On the 14th of December 2014, I jumped on a plane to India and haven’t returned to my old life.
I was excited when I realized how much I had learned over the years. Both in the world of blogging as well as in the world of travel. I figured there would be no better way to launch this new and improved blog by sharing my favorite lessons learned while traveling.

What have I been up to for four years?

For those of you who don’t know me, I left the fashion industry in 2014 and decided to travel full-time. Over the past four years, I have been to more than 20 countries with most of this time spent driving around Australia. I’ve been paragliding in New Zealand, Couchurfed my way through Japan, went scuba diving in Borneo, drove through Laos on a motorbike, worked in a national park in Australia, swam with crocodiles and learned how to drive a 4WD like a badass.
I’ve been blessed enough to have been able to go back to my home country, Belgium, to meet my niece and godson, to see a few of my wonderful friends get married and to explore Europe with people I love. Over the past year, I’ve had a more settled life in Sydney, Australia, and I’ve been able to connect with some awesome fellow adventurers.

Solo female traveler at hooker valley new zealandPhoto taken by Pablo Heimplatz during the Hooker Valley Track in Mt Cook National Park, New Zealand

Traveling through countries where you do not speak the language or know the culture is like standing in the middle of a food fight while trying to stay squeaky clean.

Four Lessons Learned while Traveling for Four Years

If you are considering leaving your home country for a short period or maybe even for a few years, these tips are for you! This article started out writing about my four favorite moments, but I quickly realized that was impossible. Even boiling everything down I learned over the past four years to four simple lessons is not an easy feat. These four lessons learned while traveling, however, I carry with me on a daily basis and never forget them.

female solo traveler in LaoPhoto taken Vang Vieng, Laos

  1.  Patience and positivity is key, it isn’t going to be easy

Everything will go wrong, but you will find your way back

You can compare traveling through countries where you do not speak the language or know the culture to standing in the middle of a food fight while trying to stay squeaky clean. Arriving in a new country or city, you’ll try and get to your hostel (if you pre-booked one) while not getting ripped off by a taxi driver or tourist company. While following along on the GPS, you need to make sure that you have all your stuff with you and that you get off at the right village. This means that sometimes you will get dirty, you will fail, you simply won’t be able to do it all.

Traveling is one giant life lesson thrown at you all at once. This is where positivity comes in. You have to believe and know that 99% of people are good people and they will want to help you navigate through this journey unharmed. But there will always be that one percent that will notice you’re struggling and will take advantage of that. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll believe the wrong person and you will lose your patience.

It won’t take very long, however, to learn how to recognize this one percent. You will learn how this new culture works. You will soon even know when to use the famous “but we’re such good friends” to your advantage! Avoiding all the obstacles thrown at you will make you proud. And oh boy, you’ll learn to love the chaos (or you might not and that is ok too)!

Stay positive

If you are ever going to believe in Karma, it is while traveling. Even when everything goes wrong (and it will), you will bounce back. In the end, you will have met great people and you’ll have an epic story to tell! I’ve seen so many people hold on to the negativity in which they think that somebody will rip them off or that they will get hurt. The truth is that these people often get ripped off or get hurt. It’s almost like they are living a self-fulfilling prophecy.

While it is super hard to get into the positive mind-frame when everything is falling apart. Once you start believing that everything will work out for the best, people will start appearing out of nowhere to help you and, strangely, all the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place.

Watching the sunset with friends

2. Being flexible and open-minded will lead you to great adventures

Time as a money saving method

The biggest asset you have when you quit your job or take a break from the 9-5 to travel is TIME. The second of the lessons learned while traveling is that being flexible in your time will save you more money and frustration than anything else you can imagine.

Everything from accommodation to transport will become cheaper. You have the luxury to pick the cheaper train, the longest layover or to live in long-term accommodation while exploring the area with a base.

three girls at a wedding in India
Going to a wedding in India

Make friends with the unexpected

A lot of us will head out into the world with a preconceived notion of how a different culture will work. We’re also raised to not trust any strangers. While that is super important for small children, I often do think I would have liked to not have built this wall to begin with. You see, the truth is, the bad apples really are that one percent and traveling will make you very talented in recognizing who you can trust and who you can not. I’m not saying to be completely carefree here guys, especially if you are a woman, but a bit more trust in humanity goes a long way!

The life of travel is a life without a rule book. Opening up your mind to accept people you would normally not be friends with or putting your trust in absolute strangers will lead you into amazing adventures. Now, I’m not saying to trust just anyone or to get into a car with absolute strangers. What I am saying is that the average person will do their best to help someone out.

Small kids in Laos

Travel is also my best cure for a broken heart, read why here!

  1. Money isn’t everything (but it sure is fun)

From the action of saving money for travel, stretching your money to travel longer or how to get enough money together when you are traveling, money is and will always be a big part of travel. During the past four years, however, one of the biggest lessons I learned while traveling is that money isn’t everything and it isn’t something that should hold you back.

Getting money together

Money was the biggest hurdle for me back in the day when I felt stuck in my home country. I had chosen to come to Australia and decided I needed the biggest budget to make that a reality. For years I used money as an excuse. It’s only when you start moving everything around so you can save for travel that you will actually get enough money together.

There are sacrifices to be made for a life of travel and living on a smaller budget one of them. Still worth it though!

We often that travel can be cheaper than life back home. Once you no longer have to set money aside for rent, the electricity bill or even your wifi connection, money magically doesn’t seem so scarce! While that might not seem like the biggest difference, the 60 dollars you spend on WIFI per month equals about 4-5 nights in a South-East Asian hostel. I realized quickly that if I was careful I could travel a lot longer than I ever thought was possible.
Hostel life in Vietnam
Hostel life in Vietnam

Working abroad

If you’re under 30 years old, you also have several work-holiday visas you can apply for! Most people know that you can work and travel in Australia, but countries such as New Zealand, Canada and even South Korea offer it as well. And don’t forget that, if you are European, you can actually work in 50 countries without any age restriction. Find a complete list of countries offering a work-holiday visa here.

Stretching your budget

While you might start your trips as a big spender, you’ll realize quickly that your budget will shrink (unless you are only working). When I first saw my bank account go below a certain threshold, I became amazed at how much more it was stretching once I was more budget conscious. Using resources such as Couchsurfing or work for accommodation and by traveling with local transport or sharing rides added on many more days of travel. Moreover, most of my favorite experiences over the past four years did not cost me a single penny.

To this day, however, my biggest worry was and still is my finances. Living a life of travel often comes with leaving behind the security of financial stability and never know whether your next job will turn out well. If you decide to move to a city like Sydney, you might be able to get a job as you did back home. You will, however, have to use everything you learned to your advantage to combat the fact you are not on your home turf. There are sacrifices to be made for a life of travel and living on a smaller budget has been the biggest adaptation for me. Still worth it though!

  1. Making friends with strangers while taking the cheap midnight train to my next destination (mild food poisoning set in shortly after this photo was taken)

    Leaving is the most difficult part

By far the hardest lesson learned while traveling is how to leave. I’ve left my family 4 times now, I’ve left 2 previous long-term boyfriends behind and I can’t even count how many awesome friends I’ve said goodbye to. Leaving is so damn hard and it, unfortunately, does not get any easier. This time around I ended up on the floor of the Paris airport, by myself, almost not getting on that flight. I was only leaving for Prague this time around but hated the fact that I was still in Europe and not with my family. Guys, that moment is so very hard, but you have to remember it is an isolated moment.

Your first time

When you leave for the first time you don’t know what’s ahead and it is super scary. Again,  I wish I could tell you it becomes easier, but it does not. While that moment of departure will always be hard, after the first time you know why you are getting on that plane. A friend gave me the best advice the last time around: “you know what you’re doing, you’ve done this so many times before and if you don’t like it, just come back, it’s that easy”.

We often feel like leaving is forever, but you (and your family) need to remember it is only temporary. If you don’t like traveling, there is no failure in going home. However, I can guarantee you, chances of packing everything up and going back home after two weeks are slim, very slim! Once you set foot in a new city, meet some friends and have that first bite of new food and maybe even a cocktail, you’re off! One friend snowballs into another and another and adventures are just around the corner.

What about friends and family back home?

While it will never be easy to miss your family, they will still love you even if you are far away. Your true friends will also still be there and those that don’t want a friend that is abroad, hunny, they ain’t worth it. Yes, you will miss some moments and, yes, people will have a life back home without you in it. Weddings will be had, babies will be born and, to my greatest sadness, grandparent may pass away. That, however, doesn’t mean you can’t build those ties back up when you get back or mourne the loss of your grandparent while abroad. Keeping those ties alive will require effort from your part though, after all, you are the one leaving. Good friends are worth those 3 am calls back home, trust me!

  1. Bonus: Trust your gut and enjoy the simplicity

Trust your gut and dive into adventure

I know, that’s two more lessons learned while traveling, but I told you it was too hard to choose! As I mentioned a few times above, one of the greatest talents you acquire from traveling abroad is learning how to trust your gut feeling. After a while, you can tell within a few seconds whether you trust someone and whether you’re happy to spend 5 hours per day in the car with this stranger. Even after four years, I still get it wrong sometimes. Letting go of that fear and trusting your gut instinct will lead you into insanely epic adventures with basically complete strangers.
Enjoy that you will meet people who have zero prejudice about who you should be and who let you be 100% you. That is why travel friends are often different from friends from back home. Your friends from back home have always been there and they will (hopefully) always be there. They know what you have gone through, they have seen you grow and they support you. Friends you meet while traveling, have met you in this free state, cut off from any ‘box’ that you may have grown up in. They judge you solely on what they know of you and like you for exactly that. That can be a very freeing feeling. They are friendships that can be short or they can last for years. It is, however, impossible to say what kind of friend is better as they both have  different qualities that make them just as valuable to your life.  No matter where you met your long-time friends, treat them with the respect they deserve and love them, even if it’s from a distance.
Reaching the top is never easy (oh the cliche ;))

Enjoy the simplicity and leave the responsibilities at home

Finally, enjoy the simplicity of travel. In this rat-race our society has created for us, we are often preoccupied with financial responsibilities, career development and even meal plans to get through those busy weeks. While you are traveling, you are stript of most of these burdens (and if you were clever, almost all of them). Enjoy the moment where your biggest worry is where you are going to sleep that night or whether or not you want to stay in a location for another day. Roll with the moments, travel along with people you like and leave the ones you don’t like behind. Lay by the ocean, go skydiving on a whim and make friends with the local dog. Everything is allowed and nothing is obligated. Enjoy the simplicity of it all.

Our 8-person roadtrip in two cars with all camping gear through one of the most remote parts of Australia, Cape York

Most of these photos have been taken by myself, but I have been fortunate enough to travel with a few amazing photographers. All photos taking in New Zealand (paragliding and the mountain hike) were taken and edited by the talented Pablo Heimplatz, the beach photos taking in Byron Bay were composed by Lindsay Buckley and edited by myself. 

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Four Lessons Learned While Traveling for Four Years