Life Lessons From Travel, On and Off the Road — Part 1

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

– Henry Miller


Travel has long been a way to discover oneself, while experiencing the world at large with fresh eyes. My friend Nikki has taken the nomadic lifestyle to another level as the founder and editor of South East Asia Backpacker Magazine. Her inspiring story about founding the magazine merits a post unto itself, but to bring everyone up to speed in the meantime, SEA Backpackers is a free magazine that’s circulated throughout South East Asia’s travel spots: distributed at guesthouses, tour agencies, and restaurants, it acts as a tangible bond between travelers — whether as contributors, or readers.

Experiencing a city-wide water fight in Laos is natural inspiration for story-telling. Having a user-friendly, inclusive publication like SEA Backpacker enables travelers to share their enthusiastic tales, and vent their frustrations within a single, glossy flip-book of fun.

As I skimmed through the magazine over breakfast, I smiled to myself at the bright, colorful pages that have been upgraded from the publication’s earlier days of rough, matte paper, and noting that while the printing quality has increased, the magazine’s charming, authentic feel — akin to a personal diary or scrapbook — hasn’t changed a bit.

What I love about SEA Backpacker is that it is written by the same people who read it — Nikki’s original vision was to create a universal travel diary, bringing together the experiences of SEA travelers from all walks of life into a single, unified keepsake, recreated monthly so as to keep up with the changing times, and changing travelers. An amalgamation of memories, the magazine acts as a collective space in which to share inspiration, tips, and common experiences. I’ve written for her before, and in doing so I’ve felt a part of a larger community. Her editorial letter in this month’s issue reflects her spirited passion for bringing people together, and encouraging us all to follow our hearts:

When you stop thinking of life as a business to be managed and start thinking of it as a mystery to be lived — you can begin to break the boundaries of what you ‘should’ do with your time here on this planet. (…) Who knows which is the right path to tread? [Whatever you do], what does it matter as long as you are happy? (…)

Remember Steve Jobs‘ quote, “You can have anything. But you can’t have everything.” Work out what’s important to you and then pursue it with all of your heart.

Sometimes travel can be the ticket to discovering where our passions lie. But no matter where we are, following our hearts is a journey worth embarking on — from the inside, out.

Motivational gurus like Tim Ferriss have great posts about this relevant subject, too. I’ve always felt strongly that the bits of wisdom culled from travel are not relegated to life on the road. With more and more people taking the plunge, and giving the nomadic lifestyle a try, taking a moment to glean the life lessons learned from seeing the world anew feels pertinent. Most importantly, these tips can be applied no matter where we are in the vast world, or how stationary we may be — they’re all-around good practices for healthy, positive living.

Today, I’ll share the first of four main takeaways I’ve garnered from the past several years of my travel experience. I hope they will resonate with you, as they have for me personally.

Teaching May how to use a disposable camera was one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had so far in life. With the help of a translator, we watched as she started taking pictures of her world, erupting with glee. This image helps to put things into perspective when I’m feeling off-track.

Respect your personality: introversion vs. extroversion

One of my role models, the remarkable Susan Cain, has written a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts, where she speaks on behalf of introverts everywhere about the importance of respecting our natural personalities. Anywhere from a third to a half of us are introverted, meaning that we need to spend a lot of quiet time alone in order to create and generate energy. It is equally important for extroverts to understand this personality type, so that we can understand one another better, and respect each other’s needs.



For me, traveling has really instilled the importance of this. During solo travel, we’re the sole arbitrator of our daily schedules: we can easily choose to spend the whole day inside reading, or stay out all night, partying; making time to chat with strangers is entirely up to us, in addition to how much we share, or withhold.

This makes time spent on the road perfect for practicing communicating our needs for space — or for social time — with others. It is also easier to recognize how much time we really do need for ourselves when we’re removed from our regular routine of work or family life. During travel, demands on our time are generally limited to whatever we choose.

While there are always parties to attend, networking events to frequent, and other social obligations to meet, not everyone enjoys being out so much — in fact, we all need some down time every now and again. Saying no, or gracefully exiting early, can help us to navigate our extroverted culture.

At home, when we’re with our partners, families, or longtime friends, introverts still need to learn how to actively set boundaries around solitary time. Likewise, healthy relationships also require that extroverts convey their own needs for face-time with their loved one. In her book, however, Cain rightly points out that our society is very biased toward extroverts, making it more challenging to navigate life as an introvert. Noticing how much alone time we authentically need and communicating this to others is a positive practice for everyone to engage with. Doing so will also result in increased productivity and creativity — when we listen to our emotional and physical needs, we’re much more able to fulfill our true potential.

Living to our potential and becoming our authentic selves are one and the same, to me. The life lessons learned from travel can help us on our journeys, whether we stay nesting in one place, or fly off to explore different skies.

In the following segment, I’ll touch on three more key life lessons culled from my time hopping from country to country. Whether we’re stationary or nomadic at heart, remembering to revel in whatever journey we’re currently venturing down will help bring perspective and lightness to the experience. The ultimate travel expedition will always remain the one we make inward, toward our hearts, as we evolve further into our authentic selves. No matter the path we take to get there, this most precious journey begs to be wholly embraced, with due pride and perseverance.


Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.

– Anatole France