27 things I've learned from 27 years of travel

As a woman who's lost track of how many countries she's been to, all of those journeys would be worthless without lessons learned from every boarding pass, right? So here is some pre-birthday knowledge from a woman who was raised moving and continues to live in a constant state of motion.  

1. The things you fear will probably happen at some point. You'll miss a flight, get stuck in a country without access to your funds, or get heartbreaking news while you are abroad. Life happens no matter where you are or what adventure you're on. 

2. Packing light allows you freedom. As a former over-packer, I don't know how I did it for so long. Only having to worry about your carry-on is literally weight off your shoulders. 

3. No travel blogger or Instagram-Nomad has it all together. Their hair doesn't always cooperate in humid climates. They have probably experienced a bad sunburn in Thailand and homesickness at some point. 

4. You are not a failure for calling your mother on the road. One day she won't be there to talk you off the cliff when you get another visa rejection letter and you have to say goodbye to the love of your life and everything feels horrible. Call her. Tell her you love her. It doesn't make you less brave. 

5. Religion is not 'one-size fits all.' You will probably travel places where there are golden temples or where you must cover your head or where cows are sacred. Be open-minded. Take it all in. 

6. Traveling solo is fantastic, but traveling with people you love is priceless.

7. If you want it badly enough you will find a way. I've worked 3 jobs at a time. I've lived at home {which, admittedly isn't much of a sacrifice given the lovely family I'm blessed with}. I've worked overseas so I can be in a place I love even if the job isn't my career fantasy. I've utilized my paid vacation days to my greatest advantage. I've traveled off-peak when tickets and accommodation are cheaper. Do what you can with what you have until you get more. That being said...

8. ...give credit to those who help you. While I find my travels, it would be a lie to say I do everything on my own. My parents watched my dog while I traveled, provided emotional support during moments of self-doubt, and helped fund my university studies. Without that help, my student loan wouldn't be as minimal as it is, I wouldn't have had three beautiful years with Poppy, and I would have cracked and caved during stressful times. I owe them so much for their love. 

9. Don't let your vanity stop you from living. When you see pictures of yourself without makeup on in South America, it should remind you that you spent a month backpacking with your best friend and hiked the Inca Trail and that makeup means nothing after four days of trekking {you don't wear makeup anyways?!?!}. When you see photos from that semester abroad in New Zealand when you went a little too heavy on the Frozen Cokes with Mike and let S cook you too many hash browns, you should feel full knowing that in those moments you felt fully yourself and you were creating some of the most meaningful relationships of your life. Life doesn't stop because you feel bloated or have a spot on your face. 

10. Don't ever let someone you love make you feel like your lifestyle isn't right just because it's not the same as theirs. I've felt at odds with people I love because I don't have kids or a husband or a home of my own yet. But my travels have taught me invaluable lessons about the world and myself that I wouldn't trade for anything. My experiences are my own and I don't and cannot compare them to the experiences of others on different paths. It's because of my wandering that I know I want babies of my own and someone to partner in this life with me. And that, eventually, I'd like to have a home to rest my head in night after night. 

11. Missing big life events doesn't mean you love people less. Weddings, funerals, birthdays...all of them. It doesn't mean you love those people any less. I hurt friends this year because I didn't go to their beautiful wedding. But I also missed an uncle's funeral. I miss birthdays all the time. Send them a card or a message or your love and let it go. If they love you like you love them they will understand. 

12. Play by the local rules. Your comfort matter less than cultural preservation. If the custom is to swim covered, leave your string bikini at home and swim covered. If you want a picture in front of a temple in a pretty dress, make sure that pretty dress covers your shoulders and legs. 

13. Leave the world better than you found it. If you travel far enough outside the lines, you'll step into places where babies starve, dogs are food and not pets, and a majority of the population can't read. Use less plastic, support ethical tourism, and spread kindness. 

14. Just because you planned the perfect trip doesn't mean everything will go perfectly to plan. You can't control the weather, so don't let rain stop you from seeing Cuba's countryside. You can't control when you get poison oak, but that shouldn't stop you and your closest friend from enjoying the beaches of Thailand. 

15. Read. It's the sexiest feeling in the world when you can talk about literature with people from other countries. Poetry is not a luxury. It connects people. And you also won't feel like the ignorant American living up to the reputation if you understand the themes of Hemingway or Orwell's symbolism. 

16. People who write things about you, talk about you behind your back, hate you without having met you...all of that says more about them than it does about you. Don't let the envy, jealousy, or insecurities of others eat away at you. Send them love and know that everyone is fighting some kind of battle. Some chose to throw you in the ring you don't belong in because they want someone to fight other than themselves for a change. 

17. You are allowed to take up space. Stop apologizing for what interests you on your journey. Don't say 'sorry' when you want to go to the Te Papa for the millionth time. Wanting to attend quiz night with your partner's family isn't dorky if you love spending time with them. It's not silly to want to visit a beach just to see the red sand. 

18. Find your personal style and stick to it. Wearing floppy hats because that's what gets your travel photos 'likes' is absolutely stupid. Wear what feels good. People will 'follow' you if they feel you are authentic. Everything else is bullshit. 

19. Trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe at the hostel, pay for the private upgrade. If you feel unsure about the alley you've walked down, turn around. Your gut is right more often than not. If you're alone and something doesn't feel right, listen to that voice in the back of your head. 

20. Let yourself be loved. For too long I thought living here-there-everywhere made me too hard to love. That my partner would find converting time for Skype calls more trouble than I'm worth. That the person I loved would be annoyed when we messaged one another at odd hours. If they love you, and you know when they do for real, those things don't feel like a heavy effort. They aren't annoyances. They are meaningful and important and should be honored. If he says he loves you and he acts like he loves you, let him love you. 

21. Wear sunscreen. Seriously. I have eye wrinkles and scars from too many days spent out in the sun without protection. Your skin is something you wear every single day. Take care of it. 

22. Buy travel insurance. Yeah, it sucks to pay for something you then never use. But, trust me, it feels miserable to need something and not have it. This translates to almost anything in life, including love. 

23. The other way is not always wrong, it is just different. I was {and still am} put off by the idea of dogs being gathered, slaughtered and eaten...until it was pointed out to me by a friend that Americans do the same thing to cows and call it a BBQ. I don't endorse elephant riding, but I understand that it is local tradition places in Asia where they think riding horses is cruel. The way someone else's culture does something isn't automatically wrong. You can understand without agreeing with something. 

24. Nothing worth anything comes easy. Visas, for instance. 

25. Money may not buy happiness, but it makes traveling less stressful. Keep a couple thousand in the bank, emergencies happen. Paying off your debt before you travel is the ultimate feeling of freedom. Collecting coins from the couch cushions should be a last resort. Travel when you can and when your bank account allows you to fully envelope yourself in a place. Spend your money on experiences and not souvenirs. 

26. Resources matter less than resourcefulness. Traveling has opened my eyes to how resourceful I can get. I develop strategies every trip. What's the most cost effective way to get there? How can I see as much as possible in limited time? You can hurdle any obstacle that being a 'road warrior' presents if you are resourceful. 

27. Having a passport is the ultimate privilege. There are people that don't have passports because they don't care to travel. There are also people who don't have passports because they can't travel. They can't leave their country. Even if they could, they don't have the means. Know what a blessing it is to live the life you do.