“I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.”
– Lillian Smith, American writer
This is Part 3 of a 5-part piece called Thoughts on Coming Home.
After a long journey like mine, it’s common to wonder: What did you learn? How did you change? What impacted you the most? This post attempts to answer those questions. I could probably go on forever, but these were the first things that came to mind.
These are the things that traveling taught me, about the universe, about the world, and about myself.
1. How to quickly make friends anywhere. Smile, be humble, learn a couple words in the native language, and genuinely care about the person, their life, and their culture. You’ll walk into a bar knowing no one and walk out with a handful of friends. This is just as applicable at home as it is on the road.
2. A simple ‘Thank You’ goes a long way. It’s amazing how people become instantly more friendly and helpful the moment you show that you care enough to mutter out a simple ‘Thank You’ in their native tongue. Learning how to say ‘Thank You’ was my first order of business every time I entered a new country.
3. If you do learn how to say ‘Thank You’ in the native tongue, you’ll instantly set yourself apart from 90% of tourists/travelers that have come before you. In Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Iceland, Serbia, and most other places off the typical tourist track (and even those on the tourist track), people literally laughed at me when I would say ‘Thank You’ in their native language. They didn’t laugh because I sounded like an idiot (ok, maybe just a little). They laughed because they were floored that I knew (and cared enough to know) how to say it. I cannot believe more foreigners don’t put forth the smidgen of effort it takes to learn such a simple phrase. Next time you travel, please take this simple step.
Here’s Thank You in all the countries I visited on this trip, with my personal phonetic pronunciation (although I won’t guarantee I’m pronouncing it 100% accurately, it still did the job):
Iceland: Takk (tahk)
Lithuania: Ačiū (AH-choo)
Sweden: Tack (tack)
Finland: Kiitos (KEE-tose)
Estonia: Aitäh (EYE-tah)
Latvia: Paldies (pahl-DEE-yes)
Denmark: Tak (tack)
Germany: Danke (DONK-eh)
Poland: Dziękuję (DJEN-koo-yeh)
Czech Republic: Děkuji (DJE-koo-yih)
Croatia: Hvala (HVAHLA)
Serbia: Hvala (HVAHLA)
France: Merci (mehr-SEE)
Spain: Gracias (GRAH-thee-ahs. Or in southern Spain they drop the ‘s’ so it’s more like GRAH-thee-ah)
4. When faced with a boatload of options, it matters less WHAT you choose; it’s just imperative that you CHOOSE. With an open map, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with choice. Upon leaving Munich, my next stop was somewhere in the Balkans. I literally stared at a map for two days trying to make a decision. Don’t get paralysis from analysis, in travel and in life. Just pick something and get on your merry way. You can always change course later.
5. I still have a terrible sense of direction… Wandering for 6+ months did not improve my sense of direction at all.
6. …But I’m able to overcompensate for it by intensely studying landmarks and surroundings. Luckily, I rarely got lost as long as I paid attention to my surroundings and kept a map on me at all times.
7. I’m naturally social, but introverted. The term ‘introvert’ gets a bad wrap. I base my definition off Susan Cain’s in Quiet: I get overstimulated when I’m around too many new people and places; I get energy and recharge by spending time alone; I prefer deep conversations with one or two people rather than small talk among large groups; I express myself better in writing than in speech (unless I write down what I’m going to say first). This was evident several times on my trip when I found myself overwhelmed with the novelty of new places and people. I would need to take a break from hostels, book a room for myself, and spend four to ten days in solitude to recharge my batteries.
8. There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. I experienced both. I enjoy being alone. I don’t enjoy being lonely. But experiencing loneliness taught me so much about my true nature, exposed my deepest demons, and reminded me to be thankful for my loving family and friends.
9. There’s great power in solitude. I learned how rare it is to be completely alone. I don’t mean alone in your room for an afternoon. I’m talking completely separated from anyone you know for a long period of time. Most people have never experienced this. I didn’t realize it until I was alone myself and countless people admitted to me they’ve never actually been alone before. When in solitude, I achieved moments of extreme clarity and connection. I strongly encourage every person to introduce moments of solitude throughout their life.
10. Americans can come off as insincerely friendly. At least in the Baltic and Nordic countries we do. Americans tend to smile a lot and ask “How are you?” It’s just our nature to greet people this way.
11. The American greeting “How are you?” is vastly misunderstood. One girl challenged me: “Why do you ask me how I am when you don’t really care to know the answer?” In the US we ask “How are you?” as a type of greeting. And our response “Fine” or “Well” is somewhat of a formality. This is confusing to many Europeans I met. When they ask the question, they sincerely mean it. And the response is just as honest. “How are you?” to a Lithuanian stranger may prompt an honest ten-minute spiel about how shitty his day is going.
12. Foreign languages and accents are a HUGE turn on. At least with most European languages, a girl with an accent is automatically a few notches more attractive just because she has an accent. Don’t shoot the messenger — I’m just speaking the truth. My favorites are Spanish (sexy), Italian (romantic and musical), Icelandic (elfishly cute), UK English (sophisticated and reminds me of Victoria Beckham aka Posh Spice) and Serbian (confident and sassy).
13. Australians are everywhere. Australia must be empty, because Australians are walkabouting around every other God damn country on Earth.
14. Nikola Tesla and Novak Djokovic are Serbian. And Serbs are quick to let you know.
15. Žydrūnas Ilgauskas and Rūta Meilutytė are Lithuanian. And Lithuanians are quick to let you know.
16. Pope John Paul II, Chopin, and Nicolaus Copernicus are Polish. And Poles are quick to let you know.
17. Hans Christian Andersen and Niels Bohr are Danish. And Danes are quick to let you know.
18. Alfred Nobel (Nobel Prize), ABBA, and Ace of Base are Swedish. And Swedes are quick to let you know. Well, not so much with Ace of Base. I had to dig hard to find that one out.
19. I’m a terrible sports fan. I didn’t pay attention to American sports while I was gone. And guess what? They still went on without me, winning and/or losing. The only difference was that I was indifferent to the winning and the losing — it had no influence on my mood. I do love the way sports can unite and inspire people. But it was liberating to not let something I’m spectating and have no control over, control my emotions. I probably just lost some friends by saying that.
20. I don’t care about politics. I finally admitted to myself how much I loathe politics. But instead of hating politics and politicians, I’m learning to just accept that they exist, and not let it affect me. Some people love politics, and that’s fine. I’m just not one of them.
21. I guess I just don’t like being a spectator. The thing about sports and politics that bug me is that they’re spectator sports. I can’t do anything to influence them on a macro level. I prefer to be a doer and put my mental and emotional energy toward something I can control. Seth Godin’s post today touches on this very subject: Watching is not doing (confronting the spectator problem).
22. Accept the things I cannot change. My aversion to being a spectator is best summarized by a saying accredited to St. Francis: “Grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” If I miss a bus, take a wrong turn, or approach a stranger poorly, I can’t do anything to change that. There’s no sense in getting angry or beating myself up over it. But I can take stock in my mistake and learn from it.
23. There is no excuse for being bored. For over six months, I had no responsibilities or specific ‘things to do.’ But never once was I bored. How could I be? With thousands of books to be read, people to meet, places to see, and things to learn, there’s no excuse for being bored. If you’re bored, you’re not curious enough.
24. Americans don’t travel enough. Many times I was told I was the first American people had ever met. This blew my mind. Let’s go out and explore the world, America! Ok, perhaps more Americans are traveling than I give credit. If so, maybe we just need more travelers out there, and less tourists.
25. I love being an American ambassador. Being the first American many people interacted with, I took this as an opportunity (and duty) to leave a good impression. I hope I did ya’ll proud.
26. Every single person needs to travel outside their own country. I think it’s a bullshit excuse when someone says they don’t travel because “some people just don’t like to travel.” The real reason is probably because we’re scared or uncomfortable in the unknown. I realize that everyone is in different life and financial situations, and those can be reasons for postponing travel. But I do believe we each have a duty to humanity to get our ass out and about and experience some perspective. Television and the internet are nothing like the real thing. We need to experience this firsthand. I’m convinced the world would be a much friendlier and understanding place.
27. There’s a difference between a tourist and a traveler. Travelers are my favorite.
“The traveler was active, he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him.” - Daniel Boorstin
"The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see." - G.K. Chesterton
28. It’s the best and easiest time in the history of the world to be a traveler. With couchsurfing.org, Airbnb.com, hundreds of new hostels popping up on hostelworld.com, and social networks like Facebook and Twitter, the internet has enabled the world to connect. To borrow a phrase from I-forget-who, let’s “use the internet to get off the internet.”
29. The United States is one of the most accepting countries in the world. Individually, most European countries are homogeneous by nature. The United States is incredibly diverse by nature. It’s in our history. Yes, we still have our problems and of course, not every person is accepting. But as a whole, we’re one of the most accepting and beautifully diverse places in the world.
30. Life is more complicated and cluttered than it needs to be. For six months, all of my possessions fit into one large backpack and one small daypack. This is liberating. But it’s also scary — with no possessions to hide behind, you’re forced to confront your stripped-down self. The good news is that once you become more honest with your true self, you’re liberated even more.
31. In terms of happiness, experiences have a higher ROI (return on investment) than objects. When you buy a new gadget, object, or thing, you experience dissipating feelings of happiness — the happiest moment is likely the moment you purchase that thing and bring it home. The joy you experience starts to decrease from that moment onward. As far as happiness goes, it has a negative ROI. Experiences, however, are like a happiness investment with a positive ROI. Not only do you experience happiness in the moment, but you also experience happiness when you look back and reminisce about the experience. Sometimes even bad experiences have a positive ROI as well.
32. The happiest moments are also the simplest. My happiest moments while traveling were all quite simple. They’re moments that most of us have access to as a living, breathing human being. A walk under a warm sun. A run at sunset in a new city. Marveling at a natural wonder. The anticipation of a new adventure. Laughing with old friends. Getting to know new ones. Deeply connecting with a stranger. Spending the night next to a beautiful woman. Showing someone love. Receiving someone’s love. Giving freely. Listening to someone’s story. Sharing my own. I can vividly remember examples of each of these moments, and all of them have one thing in common: Freedom. I was experiencing these moments with complete and total freedom.
Click here or on the picture above to download a High-Res poster. Feel free to share or print.
33. Running is the best way to explore a new place. I ran in almost every city I visited. These were among my favorite and most vivid memories. Plus, all you need is a pair of running shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt.
34. The worst case scenario isn’t so bad. I sometimes refer to the past six months as Practicing Poverty. I proved to myself that I could live off only the bare necessities. If I lost everything and was forced to confront the worst case scenario of having nothing, I know I can do it. I did it. In fact, it may have been the happiest time of my life.
35. I can write. I’m not necessarily a good writer, but I know I can at least put words together on a page and tell a story. Spending the past ten years studying engineering and working in IT & management consulting, creative writing and storytelling was like a foreign language to me. I seriously questioned my ability. By writing weekly on GiveLiveExplore, I proved to myself that I can do it. Now it’s time to hone in on the craft and learn to become a good (and hopefully one day, a great) writer.
36. I love to write. One day I looked at writing and said “holy crap, I think I love you.” Writing has been like that really good friend you look at one day in some odd, romantic light, and suddenly realize you love that person more than a friend. I’ve learned I’m much better at communicating my thoughts and understanding my viewpoints when I sit down to write. Opening up to the world through my writing has allowed me to connect with people in a way I never would have predicted. I’ll dive into this revelation in my next post.
37. I’m inherently creative (and so are you). Even if this only proves evident in the ability to create other human beings, I believe we each have an innate drive to create. If you don’t feel it, it’s probably just asleep, buried beneath perceived important roles and responsibilities that school and jobs tell us are important. I think we forget that we’re naturally creative beings. We’re happiest when we’re creating and growing something we care about. We’re born to create. Especially create things that are bigger than ourselves.
38. Selfishness is the root of most problems. Sometimes we need to forget our ego and remember how connected we all are. I think we’d be happier and more understanding.
39. I have a new definition of hospitality. Lithuanian chefs invited me into their restaurant kitchens. English friends let me crash in their spare bedroom. Estonians took me to hidden vantage points of their city. Serbians treated me to a four-day slava celebration in their hometown. Icelanders cooked me dinner and insisted on driving me outside the city to see the Northern Lights. Everywhere I went, people consistently went out of their way to make me feel at home. Not only this, but they literally carved out time in their day for me, a complete stranger. It caused me to reflect — do I treat visitors this way? I’m not so sure. Southern Hospitality and the Midwest Mentality are great, but they pale in comparison to the genuine hospitality I was shown.
40. People with the least are the most giving. The average income in Serbia is less than $10,000/year, yet I had to BEG to pay for anything when with my Serbian friends.
41. Little acts of giving go a long way. With no set agenda, I was able to spend my time as I pleased. I spent some time giving myself to others — lending a listening and caring ear; showing love and respect as a fellow human being; giving unprovoked gifts. These moments made me feel most alive.
42. Momentary happiness is found by appreciating and enjoying the present moment. I was happiest when I was appreciating everything around me.
43. Long-term fulfillment is found through creation. Appreciating the present moment brings momentary happiness, but in order to sustain that feeling, I needed to be working toward something that extended beyond myself.
44. Personal transformation and growth is found by confronting fears. Addressing fears allows you to break through invisible and inhibiting prisons and level-up as a human being. I found this to be true as I filmed Being Bold in Zadar, Croatia.
45. The two most productive types of thought when the mind is idle are: 1) Thoughts of gratitude; 2) Thoughts of how you want the future to unfold (AKA dreaming). Most other thoughts are counterproductive or not as beneficial.
46. Travel is a love story and destinations are like lovers. No matter how far and wide we search, there’s probably no Shangri-La. There’s no place that’s perfect in every way. Just like there’s no person that’s 100% a perfect fit. But if you look at travel (and love) as a journey, you’ll never be disappointed, regardless where you end up.
47. Everyone just wants to feel loved. Show love and you’ll receive it back.
48. There’s a great difference between making a discovery and understanding it. I made many discoveries on this journey, but I only understand a handful of them. It may take days, weeks, or years before we fully understand why certain things happen to us. But I find comfort knowing that things eventually make sense in the end.
49. I learned what real intuition feels like. It feels like a combination of 1) knowing something as fact, 2) feeling compelled with all your being, and 3) falling in love.
50. Henry David Thoreau speaks the truth.
"I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws will be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings."
What has traveling taught you? Join the conversation below.
This is Part 3 of a 5-part piece called Thoughts on Coming Home.
Part 1. Was That Life? Very Well, Once More!: Initial thoughts on coming home after a 6+ month wander.
Part 2. Reverse Culture Shock: First impressions on being back in these United States.
Part 3. These Things Traveling Taught: The most important lessons I learned on the road.
Part 4. Art, Creation, and Getting Naked: How writing and creating art changed my life.
Part 5. The Journey Continues: What’s next for me? And for this website, blog, and email newsletter?