Back in 2016, when I had planned my trip to Bhutan for a month, there were many people who wondered how one can travel for a month at a stretch! Of course, you can’t expect everyone to understand your moves and motivations in life, but on the contrary, being on the roads for a month isn’t an easy ordeal. Nonetheless, the journey taught me some valuable lessons for life and helped me see myself in better lights.
Last year, I was in Kenya for a month and realized how cultural differences, language barriers, & social norms can impact our journeys profusely. I’ve heard from friends and fellow travelers often, that they feel out of place at times when exploring a foreign country or suffer from stress & anxiety, unable to figure out things in an unknown land.
It’s kinda’ easy to become overwhelmed and feel intimidated when you’re miles away from life’s comforts at home, but here are some of the lessons that I’ve learned on the way, and they might help you travel longer, happier – and better.
1. Make sure to pack well and travel light.
This is surely gonna be a piece of advice that you’d thank me for, later! When you’ve planned to travel for a month or more, the one thing that would keep bothering you is – what to pack & how much to carry? Well, let me be honest – half the things that you think you’d need would never come out of the bag! And you’d definitely not want to pay for extra luggage or carry that huge luggage from one place to another!
So, make a list of things that you know you’ll absolutely need (like your travel documents, essential clothes, toiletries, comfortable shoes & slippers, etc) and pack light so that your trip turns out to be stress-free exploration. As they say, travel unburdens your soul, but make sure not to burden your body.
2. Eat healthily & stay hydrated.
We tend to eat a lot of junk while vacationing abroad, but long-term traveling might take a toll on your health if you aren’t eating well and drinking enough water to keep yourself going. If you want to enjoy your travel with full energy and without getting sick, it’s important to plan on getting proper nutrition as often as possible. Make sure you pack or look for healthy travel snacks and never skip your meals!
I’m not asking you to miss out on the authentic delicacies – and being a foodie myself, I believe that the local cuisine can tell a lot of stories about the place. But make sure to balance your diet, eat fruits and vegetables, which are full of nutrients, limit your portion sizes when you’re eating something that’s high in fat, salt, and sugar.
Since it’s extremely necessary that we travelers emphasize on reducing our carbon footprints, I would suggest you carry your own reusable travel bottle instead of purchasing disposable plastic bottles.
3. Try not to be too engrossed in updating your Instagram!
Being a social media addict myself, I’ve realized that it’s important for a digital detox at times, especially when during long-term traveling. I don’t deny the fact that Instagram does help us discover destinations that we otherwise might not have heard of, and it enables us to share our adventures with people all over the world. But it also means that when we visit some of the planet’s most incredible destinations, we’re more likely to spend most of our time trying to take the perfect photo, rather than enjoying it in real-time. There have been days when I’ve spent the entire mornings, engulfed in putting up my Insta-stories and replying to messages, only realizing it later that I missed out talking to my hosts during breakfast – trust me, it wasn’t a nice feeling after all.
Eventually, I figured out that more than sharing with the world what I’m experiencing, it’s much more therapeutic to pen down my experiences, thoughts, and feelings. It gave me mental and emotional clarity, validated my experiences and helped me come to a deeper understanding of myself & the journey I was undertaking. When you’re out there, exploring an unknown place all by yourself, you’d know that not everything is as rosy and postcard-perfect as social media portrays it to be.
So, my dear traveler, slow down and step back, soak in the vibes and pour your heart out – not on Instagram but in your journal. It’s gonna be something that you’d want to treasure for life.
4. Let go of the stereotypes and be open to experiencing new things.
Unless we break free from the regular mundanes of life and explore the world, we’d never know what’s in store for us, out there! There are a lot of things that textbooks could never teach us and it’s only when you embark on a journey, would you get to know what lies beyond the classroom lessons. There are certain stereotypes that we have in mind – for example, it’s not safe for women traveling solo in India (that’s not true, and if go by the statistics, majority of solo travelers in India are women!); Kenya & Tanzania are all about wildlife (while there are breathtaking beaches bordering the Indian Ocean as well); Australia is too expensive for a backpacker (but there are some of the best budget hostels, considering the fact that it’s one of the most popular gap year destinations); so on and so forth!
Ethiopia is considered to be one of the poorest countries in the world, but when I was stuck there at the Mekelle Airport, struggling to get money from the ATM, a local person helped me by paying my Visa Fees! Felt unreal, when he refused to take the sum back – but I figured out one thing, that the country might be economically poor but the generosity of the people definitely is richer. As a traveler, it’s important for you to be open to learning new things – and maybe even change your beliefs if needed.
5. Listen to other travelers’ advice & be open to questioning, ‘coz it’s okay to not know everything.
While most of the time I would trust my gut before taking a decision in a foreign nation, but at times, it’s important to pay attention to what others (who have been there before & done that already) have to say! The best way to avoid making mistakes on the road is to learn from other travelers. During my trip to Kenya, there was a fellow traveler whose phone was stolen while he was walking down the Maasai Market – and he warned me to be safe with my valuables. Sometimes, just a word of caution is enough, I believe!
There have been several occasions where I’d had some incredible offbeat experiences – thanks to all those lovely souls who cared to suggest to me those. Your fellow travelers might likely be a fountain of good advice on everything – from where to go for the best street food to how to get from one place to another, without spending hours on a bus ride! Be open to listening to them – and you never know, you might just bump into someone who adds new meanings to your journey.
By getting to know the dozens of travelers I met along the way, my world expanded. I learned about the Venezuelan societal turmoil from a lady who was with me while I was volunteering in Kenya, about Khmer history from a tuk-tuk driver who showed me around Cambodia, about eco-friendly means of traveling from a Sherpa in Nepal, and so much more. My curiosity and openness for truth came alive during my travels simply because I was willing to ask.
6. Take some ‘Me Time’, go into solitude and make traveling a deeply spiritual journey.
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”– Anonymous.
As I’ve mentioned earlier as well, long term traveling often becomes overwhelming and intimidating. There comes a point when you’d realize that it’s not just about seeing places but a deeper spiritual experience where you can learn to connect with the unknown, other than connecting to your own self. It is a journey beyond the comfort zone, to seek greater knowledge of patience and perseverance, discover a profound sense of peace, joy, and appreciation. In one way or another, you will grow and learn, and that’s really what travel is all about.
Take some time out for yourself, slow down and meditate (that’s what works best for me) – or do something that relaxes your mind, body & soul. I know of some people who make sure to practice yoga religiously for 15 minutes daily, even when they’re traveling. While traveling together, there are times when my partner would go out for a walk on the streets, clicking portraits of the locals – that’s his way of unwinding and rejoicing in his ‘Me Time’.
To make traveling a deeply spiritual journey, it’s important to clear your mind, go at your own pace, and even exercise without fear of judgment through some planned alone time.
7. Make sure to smile…a LOT!
Want one of the best travel tips of all? If there is anything that will help you be happier, make more friends, or get a discount for dinner while traveling – it’s being friendly.
No matter which part of the world you’re traveling to, whether they speak your language or not – keep a smile on your face and you’ll see that everything will fall in place. Human beings, in general, are warm and nice – and even though we’ve always been taught to keep a distance from strangers, it’s only when I started traveling by myself that I got to know how strangers can become friends in no time.
“Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.”– Frank Borman.
There’s something thrilling about traveling and embarking on newer adventures – the open sky and unknown road, that lends itself to the edification of the soul and self-discovery. As they say, you never return the same as you had left. With a little ingenuity and planning, we can surely travel longer, better & happier.