10 Lessons I’ve Learned from Travel That Have Stayed With Me

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The most important things I’ve learned from travel.

One of the reasons I love to travel is that I learn so much. As a child, I was that annoying kid always asking Why? My curiosity has always been insatiable.

I’m drawn to travel to places that I think will have a big impact on me. Places that will challenge my way of thinking. And of course, places that will make me ask my favourite question of all time, Why?

When I reflect back on what travel has taught me, I’m thankful for all that I’ve learned and how much I still have to learn.

So  here are the biggest takeaways I’ve learned from travel in the past year:

1) I Find the Most Inspiration in Wildlife and Nature 

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I learn so much simply by observing wildlife like gorillas.

Without question, when I reflect back on what my biggest moment of the year was, it was observing mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

 I had studied and worked with lowland gorillas at the Calgary Zoon in Canada, but nothing could have prepared for the overwhelming gratitude of actually observing mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.  Unexpectedly, I also learned that they fart…a lot. They also get drunk on bamboo shoots at certain times of the year. Just like humans, when drunk, it leads to fights among males. 

A close second was tracking wild rhinos in Namibia.  I’m talking about completely wild animals. They overcompensate for their poor eyesight by blindly charging. This wasn’t even in a national park, but in a place where the rhinos are completely free. There are also wild lions here. You track them on foot. And for the record, your guide doesn’t carry a gun. I had no idea that places like this still existed. I also learned how important the direction of the wind was so that ensured that the wind wouldn’t carry your smell to where the animal was – assuming that you knew where they were. 

I’ve experienced few things as exhilarating as tracking wild rhinos on foot while being on the lookout for wild lions! 

The previous year, my favourite travel moments involved elephants and shark diving in South Africa.  

I learn so much simply by observing animals. I often think I can learn more from animals than from people, even if the lessons that animals teach are a little more obscure.

2) There’s No Such Thing as a Boring Monkey

colobus monkeys in rwanda baby20
I learned that there’s no such thing a boring monkey while observing Colobus monkeys in Rwanda.

On my Primate Safari in Rwanda I visited Colobus Monkeys.  I was least looking forward to visiting these monkeys as they’re known to be rather boring in the primatology world because they sleep so much.  But still, since I was already in Nyungwe National Park I was fine to spend an hour with these boring monkeys.

It turns out they’re not boring at all.  How can watching white fluff ball babies playing or dad teaching them how to jump, or observing how both parents play an active role in child-rearing be boring. I learned that sometimes the best parts of travel are the ones we least expect. 

3)You Can Do More Than You Think You Can

Hiking the TMB taught me that I can do more than I think I can.
Me hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc.

I was recovering from surgery, taking strong medication and unfortunately, the surgery hadn’t worked meaning more surgery would be required.  I felt out of control and wanted to prove to the world and myself that while I couldn’t change the results of my surgery, I could still do something epic.

 For me, that was the Tour du Mont Blanc, a 160km, 8000m elevation gain hike around the Mont Blanc massive. It’s normally recommended to do it in 10-12 days.  My then-partner and I did it in 8. My doctor said I was crazy.  

Despite getting up at 6:30 every day, on my vacation, I didn’t hate it.  Well most of it, I didn’t hate.  The day we walked 14 1/2 hours in the rain and didn’t even catch a glimpse of Mont Blanc? I hated parts of that day.  

But mostly I was grateful that I did it.  The TMB had made me stronger, both physically and emotionally. It taught me the power of perseverance. Later on, it also led me to start offering hiking and wildlife tours, including a self-guided tour of the TMB

You never know the impact a travel experience can have on your life. Be open and see what amazing things can come from a single travel experience. 

4)Travel Will Kick Your Butt When You Least Expect It

Doing this via ferrata in Catalonia, Spain I learned that travel can be a very humbling experience.
Me doing a via ferrata in Catalonia that was more difficult than anticipated.

It’s no secret that I love mountains, so I jumped at the chance to do a Via Verrata in Catalonia.  I’ve done a few tough ones in Germany so I assumed that being in Catalonia, Spain it would be an easy one and I would whistle right through it.

 That’s SO not how it went.  I almost quit.  I cursed, a lot.  But I did it.  But I still didn’t learn my lesson.  The next day I jumped at the chance to go white-water rafting.  It will be like a walk in the park, I reasoned. It was the end of September and the water would be low.  

I mean, come on, who gets thrown out of a raft in Catalunya at the end of September?  Yours truly, that’s who.  I would like to think I handled it with style and grace, but I didn’t.  Pride was the only thing that stopped me from crying like a baby.  

While Sand Boarding in Dorob National Park in I learned that travel experiences can be very humbling.
Me sandboarding (or attempting to) in Namibia. Photo by Lourika Reinders.

Or how about the time I thought I would be really good at sandboarding in Namibia. I had absolutely no reason to think I’d be good and I wasn’t. Actually, I  was really awful. I mean like face plant awful as you can see above. 


I learned to stop. To pause and take a few deep breaths. And accept that sometimes travel will kick your butt. And that those often make the most memorable experiences – after you’ve gotten all the sand out from places that you’d never want to have sound. 

I also discovered that

5)I Learn the Most from Travel When I Do Nothing

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I learned from travel that simply being, is everything.

I need to shut up more often and be still.  To observe what is going on around me.  I loved hiking the TMB silently, talking to no one for hours at a time (my then-partner and I often hiked sections of the trail a kilometre or so apart).  I felt at peace.

A peace that months later, I can still feel when I channel the TMB.

I felt that same peace with a good chunk of awe and wonder thrown in observing animals at the waterholes in Etosha.  Although I was travelling with a group, I would sneak out of my room just to observe the animals by myself.  No one to share commentary with.

Just me, observing, watching, learning. Doing nothing. But at the same time, feeling like it was doing everything. 

6) Travel Is Not an Excuse to Sabotage Your Goals

 I pride myself on being a lifelong learner. However,  despite the promise to myself to continue improving my German, my efforts completely flatlined.  I could easily use travel as an excuse, I did travel a lot. But at the end of the day, it boils down to one thing – lack of consistency.

 I’ve also used travel as an excuse to avoid other things I didn’t want to do for one reason or another. Lesson learned, I’ve resolved to still travel, but to not let it get in the way of my other goals.

7) You Can Travel Too Much

As mentioned in #6, travel did get in the way of some of my non-travel related goals.  Shocker I know, but yes, I do have goals not related to travel ;).

After realizing this, I resolved to still travel of course but less so. Despite, my love of travel, I also love being home.  I love working on Monkeys and Mountains Adventure Travel which takes a LOT of time. I love interacting with my clients. I also love hanging out with my boyfriend, my friends and Coco my adorable cat and hiking in the German Alps almost every weekend. 

This new approach gives me the best of both worlds. I appreciate travel so much more now. I learned that too much of anything, even something good like travel, might not be the best thing for you. 

8) It’s OK to be a Mischung

 Mischung is German for blending or mixing.  After living in Germany for several years and counting, that’s how I feel.  I am not Bavarian. Nor is that my aim, although I do want to be fully integrated.  But I’m also not the same person I was when I left Canada.  I’m a Mischung. I  now proudly call myself a Germadian.

Travel can teach you a lot about history that you've never heard about it and bring it to life in a fascinating way.
Entrance to the Franja Partisan Hospital, a secret WWII hospital in Slovenia.

9) The World Is Just Waiting to Wow You

Be open to new experiences and you may just be pleasantly surprised.  When I was in Slovenia with Hedonistic Hiking, a trip to the Franja Parisan Hospital was on the agenda.

 I wasn’t looking forward to it. I mumbled to myself that I’d rather spend my time hiking than visiting a WWII hospital.  Little did I know that it would turn out to be one of the highlights of my time in Slovenia. I was fascinated by the strength and will of the doctors and nurses to treat patients in secret, and in less than ideal circumstances. 

In Namibia, when I think of the dangers of being alone in the bush, I think of being attacked by a lion. The thought of deadly trees hadn’t even crossed my mind. But it’s the trees that you have to watch out for. And it was fascinating to learn about them. 

I could go on, but I think you get my drift.

10) Some Friendships Made While Travelling Can Last a Lifetime

I learned from travelling that you can make good friends quickly.
Me and Isabel from Diaro de a Bordo in Catalonia.

I am truly grateful for the international,  inspiring and often multi-lingual people I’ve met while travelling.  Despite only spending a couple of days with some of them, a few have become among my dearest friends. We have fun trying to figure out where and when we can meet again.  

My life is much richer for having them in my life.  I’ve learned that it isn’t always the quantity of time you spend with someone, but the quality. And the connection that you make.  A couple of travel friends, were my biggest supporters during difficult times this year, through something that had nothing to do with travel.  I’m beyond grateful that travel brought them into my life.

We’re also learning that ravel also has unexpected benefits like improving our health

I don’t know what else I will learn from travel next but I know I’m ready. 

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34 thoughts on “10 Lessons I’ve Learned from Travel That Have Stayed With Me”

  1. Such an inspiring post my friend and loved your subtitles for each of your lessons learned. My fave is no such thing as a boring monkey! LOL!

    You certainly have seen a lot over the last year but to stand in the presence of the mountain gorillas must have taken your breath away. WOW!! Such noble creatures.

    Keep up the great work you Germandian ; ) and keep hitting the books too!

  2. Congratulations on becoming a Germandian (I’d never heard that term before)! Love following along on your adventures, Laurel, doing many things that I just don’t think I’ve got the guts to try — but maybe I’ll surprise myself someday. Sand boarding is actually something I’ve thought I’d be good at , too. Maybe I’ll stick to snow skiing.

    • @Cathy – That’s probably because I made “Germadian” up :). You’ve definitely got the guts and you should try sand boarding. I’d try it again….I think.

  3. Hi Laurel,
    You put into words — so easily — what I have trouble expressing. It’s about nature and what it can do for you. I love how hiking silently puts my thoughts in order and calms me. I love how observing wildlife, (for me whales and barrier reefs), make me feel I’m a part of something bigger, more elegant.

    Your amazing 2013 experiences are just that — darn amazing! Thanks for sharing.

    Wishing you happy and safe travels,

    • @Josie – I’m totally with you and was sad that I didn’t do any diving this year. Diving also does it for me, especially sharks. Wish you the best for 2014 filled with lots of whales and reefs.

  4. Whilst travelling we can see things from other perspectives and learn much more than simply watching documentaries or reading books. Don’t get me wrong, that is still interesting to do, but travelling and experience it all by yourself makes a difference! Happy New Year!

  5. Travel will INDEED kick your butt when you least expect it… Reading about your adventures reminded me of my many attempts of kayaking in open water (because, you know, I had already done it in Sweden before), skiing down a red piste (and falling face down about 50 times in one day)… But aren’t these the funniest memories to keep, anyways? πŸ™‚
    Happy 2014!

  6. I feel like “there’s no such thing as a boring monkey” is almost a metaphor referring to some deep and meaningful life lesson. But on the other hand, well…monkeys are fun to watch. That’s probably what they say about us, though.

    • @SnaryNomad – I think you’re right, sometimes we need to slow down and take daily life for what it is. I think monkeys are fun to watch, but after spending a month doing research on howler monkeys in Belize where they slept for 92% of the time, I’d say some are more interesting than others. Would love to know what they think about us.

  7. Hi Laurel, You have truly travelled a lot and learned a lot. And thank you for sharing the ups and downs so that we can learn something from your experiences as well. All the best for 2014.

  8. Lovely post, very candid. Travel definately kicked my butt too at times during 2013. I also loved the lesson of being still and learning by doing nothing. Good travel and life lesson.

  9. Laurel, you had so many amazing adventures in 2013 – I loved reading about the lessons that you learned during those adventures! My favourite is the photo of the elephants and the accompanying lesson that you learn the most when doing nothing. I think that’s something we all need a reminder of from time to time when we travel. All the best for 2014!!

  10. Hello Laurel,

    Thank you for sharing your lessons. #6 reminds me of my morning excercise I didn’t do for a couple of weeks right now. And I too find my excuse in traveling.
    From now I will start again because I also know how good I feel when I do.

    At the same time a lot of memories cross my mind reading your blog.

  11. Really like the post! I know travel can teach you a lot! I agree you bump into some interesting people on the road, learn through observation and just absorb so much naturally.

  12. Inspiring post. I agree that those gorillas are brilliant. I saw them myself a year ago and it amazing what 1hour can do. Great list though and hopefully 2014 will be just as good.

    • Glad you got a chance to see them Ross, they really are amazing. So far 2014 has been good, but in a different, less travel focused way, but that’s still OK.

  13. Hi Laurel – I found your site while looking for information on the Maulbronn Monastery, which my husband and I visited today. I’ve been enjoying reading your blog!

  14. there’s nothing better than being a Mischung. We’re a spanish-dutch couple, and when we tell people we meet in germany, they make the ?-face πŸ™‚ we also enjoy meeting people and making new friends on our trips. I think one day we’ll travel aroud the world staying at people we met πŸ™‚

  15. Laurel,

    I came across your blog thanks to Susan over at Travel Junkette. I’m happy to find someone that loves the mountains and the monkeys as much as I do. If you ever get a chance to venture to Ecuador, I would recommend a few days or a week working at Paseo Los Monos (a monkey refuge outside Banos, Ecuador). There is definitely never a boring moment with the monkeys!

    And as far as Mischung goes, you might appreciate my blog titled Be Multinational. It falls under the same sentiment as Mischung, encouraging people to live, work, and travel for extended periods of time, ultimately becoming multinational citizens.

    Anyhow, I’m inspired by your experience with the Gorillas in Rwanda and look forward to reading more.


    • Hi Jeff, Thanks so much for the recommendation, would love to visit a monkey reserve. I was in Ecuador about 5 years ago, don’t know how I missed this! Will definitely check out your blog, thanks for stopping by.


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