Many people see travel as the opposite of work. They see travelers staying up late chatting with new friends, enjoying nature or relaxing on a beach. And well, that’s true! But travel of the long-term variety also entails work of a different kind, including many hours of research, a lot of drudgery and regular high-pressure situations.
I undertook this trip out of a desire to see the world, but six months in I’ve realized how much more it has benefited me through new skills I’ve learned and new values instilled in me.
Here’s how long-term travel can level-up your life.
1. Learn to slow down
When you trot around the globe with a vague schedule, time really slows down. Without the responsibilities of work, social life and relationships, suddenly you have more time than you know what to do with. Every moment becomes one to savor, like enjoying a coffee at the base of a volcano in Costa Rica, waiting out a flash rainstorm in India, savoring a meal in Buenos Aires or taking in the breath-taking views on the west coast of Ireland. During these mindful moments, you’re letting your mind take it all in. You’re not thinking about the acquaintance you promised to meet on the other side of town tonight, the big report you have due on Thursday morning or that call to Time Warner Cable to fix your internet. Without these burdens, you’re free to relax, enjoy your time and truly appreciate the sights around you.
2. Discover your independence
Particularly when traveling solo, but even if you’re in a couple or with friends, you learn hard and fast to be independent while vagabonding. With no bosses, spouses or parents telling you what to do, you are 100% in control of every part of your day, week, month and year. Free of being dependent on others, you learn to make your days happen rather than have them happen to you. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes about graduating from dependence to independence and on to a life of interdependence (you can learn more about that here.) True independence is hard won in the modern world, but it is only when you learn to be your own person that you can truly make an impact in the lives of others through your career, social and family life.
3. Become more adaptable
Sometimes we’re so locked into our plans that we stay stuck on that straight road and never veer left or right. It’s perfectly fine to stick to our grand plan, but we never know what could happen if we dare to go off course. It may be something simple like trying that new Ethiopian restaurant instead of going to your usual pizza place. Or it could be a more significant move like starting your own business instead of climbing the career ladder at a company. Flexibility brings unexpected developments and rewarding opportunities that don’t happen if you stick too closely to the original brief.
4. Learn to negotiate
It’s easy to miss out on this important life skill since almost everything we come across in the Western world has a fixed price. Throughout my travels I’ve haggled discounts on transport, accommodation, souvenirs, food, clothes, and more. It’s an unnerving experience knowing you might have to walk away from an exchange because the other party won’t budge on a price. But more often than not, there’s room for maneuver in that initial price and the seller wants to make that sale no matter what. Picking up the skill of negotiation can add so much value to your life back home. Whether it’s agreeing on a price at the local flea market or closing an important business deal at work, understanding the inner workings of a good negotiation puts you a cut above the rest.
5. Get better at planning
A period of long-term travel doesn’t start by just walking out the door. You have flights to book, itineraries to put together, bags to pack and so much more. So while flexibility matters, you can’t be flexible without having an established plan in the first place. When planning a massive trip, you’re forced to think about all aspects of what you’re going to do, how things can unfold and contingency plans for when things don’t go as expected. This ability becomes ingrained in you and is easily transferable to the next time you’re assigned a big project at work or a big move at home.
6. Solve problems faster
For all your planning, you quickly learn that things will inevitably get messed up while travelling abroad. That bus you were counting on to get you to the border? It’s gonna cost you triple the price you budgeted for. The hotel you somehow paid a deposit to? They’ve been closed since 2006. You’ll be thrown one curveball after another with no choice but to hit it right back. You quickly get used to it, become a problem-solving master and can take those practical skills to your next job where you become the go-to person in your office for putting out fires.
7. Learn to take risks
Risk-taking is good for you. When you remove yourself from regular life and do things daily that are far outside your comfort zone, you’ll realize you’ve played it much too safe in your life so far. I’ve faced fears head-on, like freefalling 148 feet and breathing 18 meters underwater. Taking risks isn’t just about adventuring – it’s a mindset that stays with you. The next time I find myself shying away from talking to a random stranger, I’ll remember all the amazing friends I made here who were once strangers themselves. And if I’m avoiding a big career opportunity out of fear of failure, I can think back to the silver miners I met in Bolivia or the farmers high up in the Andes, and realize that I have it far easier than they ever will.
8. Be more self-sufficient
I used to have everything I could ever need at my fingertips. I had a guaranteed roof over my head every night. I used to be able to swipe my debit card and have a delicious meal delivered whenever I wanted it. Now, I’ll often arrive in a new place without knowing where I’ll be sleeping. Finding food takes time, effort and some detective work to figure out what it is you’ve actually ordered. Even a working bathroom is never a sure thing. Without the daily conveniences we’ve come to take for granted, you learn to fend for yourself and be more resourceful in how you meet your basic needs.
9. Be more curious
There’s never going to be a moment in life when you’ve discovered everything you need to know. As long as you maintain an open level of curiosity about the world, you’ll be exposed to many different people, places, foods, and ways of life much different to what you’re used to. This greater cultural awareness will help you in your life back home by allowing you to better connect and collaborate with coworkers, clients and friends who have immensely different backgrounds to your own. Never stop learning.
10. Pick up a new language
If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the 335 million people who speak English as a native language. Lucky you! While English isn’t the most spoken language in the world, it’s certainly the most dominant in global terms. But learning a new language can make you a better communicator and open up many doors that were otherwise shut. I’ve developed a conversational level of Spanish from spending five months in Central and South America, meaning I can now talk to the 472 million people who speak Spanish as their native language. That’s a skill to be very proud of.
What new skills have you picked up while travelling?
(All photos taken during a trip to Parque Eco-Arqueológico Los Naranjos in Honduras.)