Personal take : What I’ve learned traveling

il_570xn-132127969I’ve always loved to travel. I remember my yearly trips to the seaside when I was little, where my grandparents were, from Brasov. I didn’t feel the stress of packing, or the nervousness of the trip, rather an excitement that I am moving, changing scenery, places and people.
With years, and first trips abroad, this evolved in quite a disease, presently I can barely stay put in Bucharest for more than 5-10 days without planning the next “escape”. I try to explain this by saying that my life goal is to see the entire world, everything, at least once.

Some people might say that I am running constantly from something hidden deep in my subconscious. One friend of mine told me that I am afraid of falling in love, thus I run constantly with every occasion that I get, and I force myself to like travel in order not to divulge my fear of commitment. And because of this I chose a job like mine, and inherited this “bug” of constant movement.
Another friend of mine said that I am trying to find my place in this world. That I was born in the wrong place and I am searching for my actual roots, a place where to feel in peace. My parents told me (ever since I was 20), that this phase will pass and I will calm down, settle down. I will get attached to a place, a house, and I will start having other goals rather than seeing the world. They said the same thing about partying and clubbing, and they were right about that 🙂 (reaching 31 soon, and I can honestly say going in a club is no longer appealing).

I don’t know the honest and final answer yet :).Or maybe there isn’t just one answer, and my appetite for travel will change, or be replaced by something else. But, after 36 countries visited, hundred of cities, and being on the roads 80% of my last 5 years (including work related trips), I’ve learnt some things that I don’t think I would have learnt otherwise (cultural enrichment is a given, and I will not mention it here). These things might or might not be applicable to you/your experiences.

  1. I am adaptable – I do not have any siblings, this should say enough about how I was raised :). When I was little, I could eat only food cooked by my mother. I would only sleep in my own bed, and everything had to be done as I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted it. I started to change when I moved for University in Bucharest, but the biggest changes came while traveling.

6ad841586a403bbb2f80c3fe918c4c3bI ate street food cooked by an old dirty lady in the middle of a dirty road in India, filled with trash and toilet water. I ate grasshoppers, snakes, alive worms etc. I ate food that I had no idea what was in it in Gambia. And I survived. I can honestly say I am able to eat anything at least once.I slept on top of a bar, on the floor, in Cambodia. I slept with 11 other unknown persons in a hostel in Siem Reap. I slept on a conveyer belt in Kolkata airport. I once woke up with a lizard, a cockroach and a bird in my room/bed. Not to mention the hundreds of hours sleeping in a plane in all weird positions (I am very tall!). If I am tired, I will sleep anywhere, in any position.

  1. I am comfortable traveling alone – My job requires a lot of solo travel. This gave me confidence to actually go on a solo trip in Asia for 4 weeks, and it was amazing, and I will do it again.

aloneOf course traveling with friends or your lover could be better, it’s always nicer to share an experience with someone. But if that doesn’t happen it is ok, I know for a fact that I will feel comfortable and have fun alone as well. But realistically speaking, in most of the countries I’ve been to, I was surrounded by travelers, and I always connected with people, always made friends, foreigners or local, so complete loneliness rarely happens to a solo traveler.I ate at restaurants alone numerous times. I went in bars and clubs alone. I drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back (15 hours in total) alone, and it was good.So… If you want to visit a place, don’t let the thought of loneliness scare you.

  1. I need way less than I thought: You know those first trips, when you pack like crazy, create lists of what you need, start packing with days ahead. I became a master of packing, I can get ready for a month trip 20 minutes before departing, and I would have everything I need.

Traveling so much opened my eyes on what I really need, you do get tired of carrying kilos and kilos of clothes. Plus the airlines can really help you with this, by having a kg limit to luggage :). And in life in general, I stopped caring about possessions ( clothes, shoes, bags, latest phone, tv, laptop etc), because I realized that I would rather invest those money in memories and adventure, rather than carrying 40kg of clothes with me in an all-inclusive trip to Turkey. On the other hand, I did discover things that I should have, and I never thought I would: a mountain backpack (way easier to travel with it), locker, multipurpose scarf (big one to be used as clothes, blanket, scarf and beach towel 🙂 ) etc.

  1. I should not plan in detail or have set expectations – This is a tricky one, and I am still trying to learn applying it. Traveling without expectations and a rigorous plan is the happiest way to travel. Best way to discover a place is by going with the flow and local events. Things are not always as you read them online/in a guide, you might want to spend more time in a place, might discover amazing things just by walking around an area of the city, might meet great people with which you want to spend more time with.

no_plan_zoneLess expectations you have, the better, because any small nice thing can make you happy and surprise you.I went to Sri Lanka thinking that is a poorer, dirtier India( if that would ever be possible) and I was amazingly surprised that it was nothing like that, becoming one of my top 3 countries visited that I love. I went to Croatia expecting to be amazing, and I left disappointed by the local people’s attitude.On my second trip to Asia I had all my flight tickets bought and most of my accommodation, and I had to change them numerous times, losing lots of money. In my most recent trip there I learnt my lesson, and only bought the flight return home, and it was the best experience I ever had.

  1. The world is not that dangerous and people are generally good – I admit, I had a fear of unknown: if people were speaking a language I did not understand near me, I immediately felt unsafe (especially since some languages are very “violent”, people seem upset when they speak it). I might be naïve, but I now believe in my instincts and that almost all people are good and have good intentions. You need to judge this on the spot, and be a bit careful, I would not go in a car with an unknown person, if my instincts/brain would say not to do it. I would always take care of my bags, don’t keep my wallet/money visible, don’t walk alone at night on a dark alley etc. I think I had only one or 2 memories when I felt unsafe in a foreign place.

I was invited to dine/have a cold drink by families in Vietnam and Sri Lanka while I was walking on the streets. And were the best and authentic experiences I had in those countries. I worked with an Indian travel agency via phone, booking me various tickets, for which they got their money last minute in a train station in Delhi (they trust us travelers too!).I was helped by a man in Thailand to get to a marina, 30 minutes away, without accepting any money for the drive. I needed a hospital in US and everyone around me jumped to help me and make sure I am well, even delivering flowers the next day. And I have so many other examples where unknown people helped, advised me, with no hidden agenda or requesting money.

  1. I should stop stereotyping, but keep in mind cultural differences – Stereotyping, we all do this( and apologies for the following descriptions) : Indians are poor and dirty, Chinese cannot drive , Mexicans are dangerous and part of drug cartels, Romanians are thieves , French are smugs , Russians are drunk, Americans are fat. Try not to go in a country fixated on these stereotypes, and you will be surprised. All countries have their poor, their wealthy, their dirty, their bad drivers, their drunk, their fat, and their thieves. At least all I’ve visited so far :). Of course you can create an opinion based on your personal experience and preference, but that might not be the same experience others have with that culture.

Culture-Shock-700x300Cultural differences are real, shockingly real, and you will notice them, even the small differences. Don’t get angry if things go slower in Mexico or Sri Lanka. Don’t get confused when you talk to an Indian and they move their head horizontally saying yes. Don’t give an “all ok” thumb up sign in Greece :).

  1. I am more confident when I travel – Or since I started my crazy plan to see the whole wide world.

Back home I was constantly stressed about the opinion of others: how do I look dressed like that, what would they think if I did that or that in public, for example eating alone in a restaurant etc. After a couple of years and a couple of countries I realized a crazy thing: people really don’t care:). Or at least, you would not be influenced in any way of their opinion or thought or stare. As long as you don’t disturb other’s lives, do as you feel comfortable, dress as you want, and follow your path, with a smile on your face. More comfortable you feel in your actions and appearance, less critics you attract. Plus it doesn’t matter :). I don’t know how to explain better this gain, but I now can drink a beer alone in a club without caring if I am judged, I can dance if no-one is dancing without caring if I am ridiculed. I can walk in a 5 star hotel covered by rain and dirt with a smile on my face (true story) :). I am still getting almost sucked back in at home, because Bucharest is filled with narrow minded people with a stingy look, but I am getting there.

  1. Day to day problems are nothing comparing to others’ – And this is not valid just for traveling in other poorer countries, rather when you get out of your bubble that you live in. You get sucked in the daily routine, and consume yourself with stupid issues which are actually not issues.

I’ve seen the dirt and poorness people are living in parts of Romania, Gambia, Senegal, Cambodia, even USA. I’ve experienced living without phone, internet, hot water, electricity. I have not seen yet worst, but I am sure I will unfortunately get the chance to see that. Enough said about this one, I am sure we all know how lucky we are with the environment we live in. But traveling I’ve put myself in situations where I realized how stupid I can be back home complaining about my internet not working, or not having that brand of toilet paper… 🙂

  1. I’ve learnt to live in the moment. Ok, maybe I am still trying to assimilate this one :). But seriously, how else can you understand what you are visiting? You need to be THERE, with the eyes, ears, nose, mind and heart wide open in order to understand and appreciate a new place. You might never get to see that place, to feel that experience, so better make it count.My personal sad example is Nepal. I still lively remember Kathmandu, the cultural sites, the crowd, the smell, and now parts of it is gone.
  1. People change places/experiences – All my travel memories are influenced by people I was with, people I met during the travel, or my personal mental state.

11049114_10155748333530721_5841697614627748050_nI’ve been in wonderful places where I felt like crap because I had things on my mind. I’ve traveled 25 hours with a bus in Senegal, the dirtiest and most unsafe bus, without sleep, but I remember it as a nice experience due to the people I was with. People matter. Connections influence your experiences. So I will make sure from now on either that I surround myself with good compatible people, or that I “live in the moment” and don’t let other feelings influence my experiences 🙂

Last but not least: I’ve learned ME , what I can do, what I cannot , what I like and feel comfortable with, and what not. And I am still learning. With every new experience, with every new culture, city, country seen, I discover more and more who and how I am.

Maybe my friend was somehow right, I am not searching for “my place”, I am searching for me.

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