When I left the United States just over five years ago, I thought to myself that this would be the traveling experience of a lifetime. Since I returned home, I reflected on what I had learned about the process of traveling as well as what I had learned about myself. Along with the adventures and experience, traveling can also give way to a generous amount of self reflection. Below are the conclusions that I came to during my time abroad.

1) Only travel the world if you are prepared to discover uncharted territories of other countries as well as within yourself.

Chances are that wherever you are going, millions of people have already been. When I left for Thailand I thought that I was going to be a modern Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, or even Colonel Kurtz (minus the colonialism, the imperialism, and “the horror” ) and would be a solo intrepid earthly navigator. Come to find out that I was quite wrong. Wherever we travel in this world, there have been scores of other travelers there before us, not to mention those actually from there. I thought I would be the first outsider sharing my story, but instead many had stood where I was before me, sharing their own stories as well. At first this bummed me out, thinking that a fair amount of the individuality and uniqueness of my experience would suffer but when I revisited the idea I found out what I was worried about as a negative turned into a humble positive. I came to discover that the story of traveling isn’t a selfish one that is for me alone, it wasn’t an experience that I should be able to look at by saying “I did this first” or “I traveled the longest”, (although you’ll meet more people like that than I care to mention) but instead traveling—and living for that matter— is a shared experience for everyone who roamed there before and since. The streets, trails, beaches, hostels, bust stations and airports turned into some sort of an heirloom passed down from generations of travelers. The entire experience changed from a stale, solitary experience into a something like an old pocket knife from a grandfather.

2) Learning to mime is probably more important than all out learning to speak the language.

In a world of 7 billion people, we have just over 6,000 widely used languages. Only a handful of people (pun intended) know how to speak an accredited sign language, yet I am convinced that there is an untaught natural consciousness that we are all innately familiar with. I have had many a scattered conversation about everything from food and friends to religion and politics all with only waving my hands and awkwardly moving my body, and not only have I gotten the point across quickly and effectively, both parties had a great laugh at my expense.

3) Only leave the material comforts that you are surrounded by if you are willing to come back and understand how unimportant they truly are.

Deliberately pack your bags light so that you are slightly underprepared. Then realize how little you need how little they actually mattered in the first place. Downsizing in material things can be truly liberating.

Fight-Club-min

As the great Tyler Durden says what you own ends up owning you. True indeed, Tyler.

4) You are still yourself. You shouldn’t expect (or want) a massive change through traveling alone.

While traveling extensively I was in search of something just about as much as I was hoping to lose something. I was a confused kid recently out of school and struggling with anxiety and depression, which is unfortunately not a rare condition in this age it seems. However, when I was traveling for short spurts I was able to show those around me my best side. Everyday I was on the move, learning, communicating, experiencing and unable to crawl into myself as I did when I was home. I was no longer concerned with the little things that bothered my mind anywhere on a sliding scale from minor pestering to an all out plaguing. The constant stimulation refocused my brain, but it simply couldn’t last forever. After I stopped moving to teach, I truly understood the phrase wherever I went there I was. After a while I was in a new country with the same old self-imposed anxieties. I had to face the hard truth—traveling wasn’t going to turn me into a different person. Nothing happened magically and instantly, but what traveling did do was give me a large tool belt of how to deal with anxiety and depression before it took it’s hold on me. Traveling gave me the confidence to know that I could form amazing friendships half a world a way with people of another language. Most of all traveling gave me the appreciation that even on the darkest of days, that I have everything I need for happiness within myself.

5) Brace yourself for the possibility that once you leave home you are embarking on a lifelong decision from which although you may come back, you may never quite return.

You’ll find yourself thinking about the beaches you visited on a cold winter day. Or you will recall a friendly demeanor that a country or area seemed to have when you are cut off by a frustrated motorist. Whatever it is, you will have a personal solace of international travel from which to return when the real world just isn’t cutting it.

6) Finally, and most importantly, never stop smiling.

School Children in Sacred Valley, Peru

School Children in Sacred Valley, Peru

(Fight Club Image Courtesy of Fox 2000 Pictures )