“Oh lessons learned, man they sure run deep
They don’t go away and they don’t come cheap
Oh there’s no way around it
‘Cause this world turns
on lessons learned”
I arrived back in the States about 6 or 7 weeks ago and my life has quickly reverted back to normal. It’s amazing how quickly you can fall back into the old routines. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I feel excited about work and I’m enjoying a little stability and the peace that comes with being at home.
Despite the routine, I’ve been thinking a lot about the past year and I’ve started to think about all that I learned about the world and about myself while I was away. I typically write these posts in an effort to share my ideas with others but I’m excited to get some of these ideas down on paper so I always remember them. I’m happy to be back in my routine at the moment but I don’t ever want to forget the lessons learned while I was gone.
Lessons Learned: #1 – Limiting Negativity
One of the best aspects of being overseas was being able to shut out negativity. The social and political climate in the USA is about as bad as I can remember and is the source of a lot of negativity for me and many of my friends. It certainly does no good to simply turn your back on these problems; however, it was incredibly refreshing to focus on positive people and learn about other cultures while not being confronted with all the nastiness that permeates life in the States at the moment. Now that I’m back and in the middle of all the drama once again, I’m trying to be purposeful about finding time to get away from the negativity and focus on all the wonderful people that I come across every day. So you can’t necessarily eliminate negativity but being more focused on the positives is certainly a start.
Lessons Learned: #2 – Working Smarter
I’ve heard a lot of comments about my seven-month “vacation.” What’s interesting is that my months on sabbatical were some of the most productive that I’ve had in a few years. My typical day involved waking up and having something to eat in my hotel or Airbnb. In every city that I stayed for more than a week, I searched hard to find great coffee shops where I could sit for a while and get some work done. I’d try out a few different ones until I found my favorite and I’d spend anywhere from 3 to 6 hours in there getting work done.
Without any distractions, these hours were super efficient. Time zone differences meant that I wasn’t getting too many emails and the fact that I was traveling solo meant that I had minimal social distractions. I mostly found that 3 hours of highly-focused work time in these coffee shops equaled what I typically get done when I’m working a full day in the office back at home. There’s a big movement towards shorter work days and shorter work weeks and though I was initially skeptical of this, after my sabbatical, I’m a big believer!
Lessons Learned: #3 – Coffee Snobbery
My regular coffee shop searches that I mentioned above provided all the evidence that I need that I’ve become a certifiable coffee snob. I was a pretty late adopter to coffee but I’ve developed very strong preferences for coffee and coffee shops. I’m not apologizing for it… I’m embracing the snobbery.
Lessons Learned: #4 – Spontaneity and Traveling
After deciding not to go to Cape Town because of their severe drought conditions, I wrote that one of the best parts of award travel was the flexibility to make and change last minute reservations. Before this trip, most of my vacations were 2 to 3 weeks long with fairly rigid plans to move from place to place. While I mostly followed my original plan made at the end of last year, I actually made a number of last-minute changes.
For example, I cancelled a side trip to Seville because of bad weather and the fact that I was really enjoying Valencia. I spontaneously booked a side trip to Minneapolis for the Super Bowl. After my initial 6 months was over, I decided to extend my trip an additional few weeks and added additional stops in Bali and back in Budapest and Croatia. I’m not sure I’ll ever be someone who can just buy a one-way ticket without a real plan, but I definitely learned to embrace a little spontaneity.
Lessons Learned: #5 – Becoming an Extrovert(ed Introvert)
I wrote about self-improvement at the beginning of my trip and the focus of that earlier post was about becoming a little more extroverted. Traveling alone for 6+ months could lead to some serious loneliness so it was important to me that I force myself to be proactive about meeting people and making friends. And, in the end, it was these experiences and interactions that were the best part of this trip. I’m still mostly a little uncomfortable talking to strangers but I’m getting better… and I’m determined to keep doing it at home and while I’m traveling.
Lessons Learned: #6 – People are FASCINATING!!
I met so many people while I was traveling. I met tourists and locals and transplants and nomads. Everyone has a story and it’s always fascinating! Most people are totally happy to open up if you’re inquisitive. Tourists will share with you their love of some of their favorite places and tell you beautiful stories about “this one night in…” Locals will tell you about their families and the experience of living in their country. They’ll tell you why they yearn to leave or can’t ever imagine leaving. Transplants will tell you about why they had to leave. These are mostly stories of love, professional ambition, or indescribable need for change. Nomads will tell stories of other places and amaze you with the connections they build to places all across the world. I was awed by their ability to thrive without structure or certainty in any aspect of their lives.
We should all ask more questions of the people around us. Everyone has a story and I promise you it’s going to be fascinating!
Lessons Learned: #7 – Traveling Slower
Last year, I visited Italy. In about two weeks, I visited Milan, Venice, Lake Como, Lake Garda, and Verona. It was an awesome trip! But by the end of it, I was exhausted. From the beginning, this trip was designed to give me a more immersive experience… and I loved it! It’s always great to see a city’s highlights but I found that I appreciate getting a feel for the culture and the energy of a city much more. I liked people-watching in bars and restaurants. I liked visiting neighborhoods outside of the main tourist areas. I liked spending time talking to people instead of walking through landmarks. It’s relaxing, slower, and allows you to know a city on a much deeper level.
Of course, there are trade-offs. If I spent my entire Italy trip in Milan, I would’ve missed all those other places. But to know Milan like a local is something that you can’t do in 3 days. I don’t know that I’ll always plan these immersive trips but I’ll definitely do them more often.
Lessons Learned: #8 – Building Confidence
I’m a huge believer in the educational value of traveling. But besides all of the things I’ve learned about people and places while I was traveling, I also learned a lot about myself. Travel changes people and one of the ways I think this experience has changed me is that it has instilled a new confidence in me. I feel like I have a new understanding of my world and I feel great about it. I still yearn to learn more but I’m confident in what I’ve discovered and I’m proud of what I’ve done in my pursuit of understanding.
Lessons Learned: #9 – Blogging is Hard!!
It’s hard to write content. It’s hard to build and maintain a website. It’s hard to manage so many social accounts. It’s hard to leverage social media across so many different platforms. It’s hard to attract followers. It’s hard to stay committed to it without much feedback. It’s hard to convince yourself that people care. It’s hard work!! I have great appreciation for people who create exciting and meaningful content and build a living through their blog. It’s incredibly difficult! It’s also frustrating to see people succeed with bad content and a lack of originality. I’d love to learn the magic formula!
Lessons Learned: #10 – Language vs. Communication
A few years ago, I was invited to teach a class in Seoul, South Korea. I stayed in Seoul for about a month and was “living” in a hotel in the financial district of the city. My good friend, Andrew, hosted me so most of the time I had something to do. However, over 4 weeks, I also obviously had time to myself. The neighborhood where I was staying was not touristy so most people didn’t speak much English and Korean isn’t exactly a language you can learn quickly. So I struggled to communicate. I was pointing and gesturing just to get my point across. I certainly wasn’t able to have any meaningful conversations.
I had a similar experience in Valencia, Spain in March. It’s not as big of a tourist destination compared to Madrid and Barcelona and therefore English isn’t as prominent. It’s also not a Spanish-speaking part of Spain so my limited Spanish didn’t get me very far. But I found ways to communicate and I had an amazing experience immersing myself into the culture.
As a solo traveler, these experiences can feel a little isolating and if I was spending more time in places where English isn’t the native language, I would certainly make the effort to learn the language. However, at the end of the day, there are tons of great ways to communicate and those experiences trying to communicate with someone who speaks another language can be a lot of fun. Plus, they’re certainly made easier with Google Translate and other language translation apps and websites.
The point is that you can always communicate, even when you can barely talk.
Travel is full of great life lessons. These were a few of the great takeaways from the most unique trip of my life (so far) and I’m looking forward to more great lessons that come from my future adventures.