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
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!
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 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.