This is Part II of my round the world (RTW) trip tips and lessons. For me, many of them also apply to life in general. As with part I, they are in no particular order or ranking.
1. Books and television only tell part of the story about the world we live in. In my mind, the best way to learn about our world is to experience it. That doesn’t necessarily mean go around the world either. It does mean to do those things you are passionate about. If you’ve wanted to learn a language, do it. Climb a mountain, then climb it. Play a musical instrument, go learn how to play it. Equally important, don’t let anyone tell you that your dream is outlandish or not possible. Experience is the best teacher. I have wanted to go around the world ever since I was a child. By doing so, I’ve more clearly learned that the world is not black and white – there are shades of grey everywhere.
2. Don’t take anything for granted. If something can go wrong, it probably will. I’ve talked about being a “go with the flow” type person. When you travel, being flexible and having a Plan B (or even C., D., and E.) is absolutely essential. Having minimal expectations when you travel, as in life, will ensure you are not disappointed when things didn’t exactly go to plan. In Brisbane, Australia, I stayed in a rat hole hostel that charged for towels and soap, as well as a per hour charge for the internet. My bed was 3 feet wide and 5 feet long (I’m 6 feet). Yes, I was pining for my comfortable bed in Denver. Sure, I could have gotten a hotel at an outrageous rate, but I decided to stay. Why is that? Besides the relatively low cost of staying in a hostel (albeit, nothing is cheap in Australia), the main reason were the people I met there. One person, Gareth Hall, is someone I befriended while staying at this hostel. Who knows, we may never see each other again, but should our paths cross, we will go have dinner, do a hike, or something else fun, as if no time has passed between us. Similarly, I am much more grateful for the family and friends I have here in the United States that I missed while I was gone. When you are thousands of miles away from home, you’ll find many reasons to be grateful about what you left behind. Simple things like potable water; a toilet that flushes and you don’t have to stoop over; plentiful toilet paper that you aren’t hoarding; your own car where you can go anywhere and anytime; a cell phone (I left mine at home); air conditioning; and central heating (it was cold at night in Nepal) are just some of the things I missed.
3. People are wonderful EVERYWHERE. I seriously can’t recall one instance where someone was rude or not helpful to me. I also made some lifelong friends despite only knowing them for a few days to a couple of weeks. This is what happens when you are enthusiastic about life and people. You only have to put yourself out there and you’ll make friends. Perhaps my biggest surprise was visiting France. I didn’t have too many expectations about my time in Paris, but I ended up loving it. Contrary to the stereotype, the French people are quite nice and helpful.
4. I was not interested in knowing what was going on in the United States. It was quite empowering not to be interested or affected by what I perceive as negative news 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Consequently, I rarely would watch television, even if it was available, which it frequently was not. Although I had access to the internet, I also rarely went to CNN or MSN for news, nor did I keep up with my sports teams that much. Despite my Mom, other family members, and friends, telling me to be “careful” or “safe,” I never felt unsafe while traveling around the world. Sure, there were people trying to scam me (all tourists are marks to be taken), but never once did I feel unsafe. I used common sense, remained aware of my surroundings, walked confidently, and as a result, I never had a problem. The one time I was ripped off – where I got my wallet stolen – was my fault entirely. Specifically, I should not have brought my wallet along for that day’s outing, with most of my credit cards and identification inside. What I should have done was only brought along a copy of my passport and sufficient money for the day. My bad for getting overconfident, even arrogant, thinking this stuff only happens to the other guy. Wrongo.
5. Speaking English was not a negative insofar as being able to communicate with the locals. Everywhere I went, people spoke English and where I had a situation that called for speaking in their native tongue, a friendly smile, sign language, playing charades and gesturing worked quite well. Do I wish I could speak French, Italian, Arabic, etc.? Yes, absolutely. However, it wasn’t necessary and anyone who tells you differently, doesn’t know what they are talking about. During my South and Central America back pack adventure the year before, I did study Spanish for 4-5 months prior to going, because I knew this would be the primary language during my entire trip. Learning more than a dozen languages and dialects prior to a RTW trip is ridiculous and moreover, impossible. In short, don’t worry about it.
6. A word to the wise . . . Life is short, so live it. There will NEVER be the perfect time for you to take a trip. If you wait “Until I make enough money,” “On my next promotion,” or “until you’ve done X,Y and Z,” you’re never going to do it.
7. Have you ever gone to a party and been uncomfortable? I can’t think of many situations where I now feel out of place. Doing a RTW trip puts you in situations where you have to think quickly on your feet. I can easily thrive on last minute changes and screw ups or deviations. This is the confidence that comes with traveling around the world. Drop me in any city and I can figure out the bus, train, or tram schedule in a few minutes. I know exactly what to research prior to arriving in a new city. What I don’t know, I can ask someone specific questions to determine the answer. I can now walk into a room full of strangers and can initiate a chat with anyone and everyone. I can be in a country where I don’t know a single person or have a single contact and be completely okay with it.
8. I made many new friends and acquaintances, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I got lonely on occasion. By doing this RTW trip, I was given a deeper appreciation of my existing relationships and friendships. I was always meeting new people, but it sucked big time to have to say good bye and start all over again in a new country.
9. Seeing the Mona Lisa was a big let down. Sort of a “so what” moment. Sure, I wanted to check it off my bucket list, but insofar as it being a momentous occasion, “meh” . . . Conversely, seeing Michelangelo’s David statue, in Florence was a wonderful spiritual experience in my mind. Like many others who viewed this statue, I stared at it from multiple angles for what seemed like a half hour to 45 minutes. It is that beautiful.
10. If I had to live anywhere in the world, I would have a difficult time choosing between two places, Ecuador (which I visited the year before during a 2 month back pack trip of Central and South America) or New Zealand. So different, but so alike insofar as being relatively undiscovered countries. I particularly liked New Zealand because of its wide open spaces. I discovered numerous beaches and trails where there were very few people. In Quito, Ecuador, you have a place that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for its stunning historical city center. These two places rock!