Lessons from 15 Months of Unconventional Travel

unconventional travel

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

I’ve spent the last year and a bit wandering around the globe and exploring this wondrous thing called life. Through 26 flights, I’ve managed to circle the globe twice, and touch 5 of the 7 continents.

The journey led me to scuba diving for a month straight with whale sharks on an island in Thailand, to hitchhiking may way through an African country, to being paid to make sand castles on the beautiful Australian beaches, and almost having a foot amputated in Asia. It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve learned about the world and myself more than any book, teacher or person could tell me.

I’m not claiming that this has made me a superior human being. Maybe a bit wiser, but I’m just as much human as you are. I still have trouble putting my own insights into practice. I’m sharing what I’ve learned because I have been able to live a multitude of different lifestyles, and observe life in completely diverse ways. I have been able to learn through direct experience – the most powerful way. Each experience, lifestyle, and person I met taught me something. After time, I realized all of these lessons began to overlap in some basic principles, ones that can be applied not only to travel but to life itself.

The timing will never be perfect.

Rarely in life are we blessed with the perfect time to do something.

When I was planning on leaving to travel for a year, it was never the “right time”. There wasn’t a perfect moment when everything was going to be put on hold for my travels. I needed more money, I would lose my job, and I was leaving my girlfriend. Everyone (including myself) had plenty of reasons not to go. I realized that I was never going to be “ready” to drastically change my life, I was always going to have some new commitment or excuse.  So I left at the “wrong time” in life and it turned out to be the best thing that happened to me.

Even when I was on the road, the timing was never right.

People kept telling me…..you cant go trekking here at this time, you wont get a job here because it’s off season, you wont see the whales at this time of year, the weather wont be good at that time. And I was listening to them. I was missing out on so many incredible things because I was waiting for that all alluring perfect time.

Once I got  sick of missing out on things I wanted to do and see, I started to just do them anyway. Yeah, they may not have been the ideal conditions, and maybe there was a better time to do these things. But hey, doing it then was a 1000 times better than not doing it at all.

I realized this can be applied to almost anything in life.  We are always waiting for the right time to start doing  ______.

Whether it’s quitting that awful job, getting in shape, making that personality change, or moving to our dream country.  We always have some reason for it not being the right time and we’ll get around to doing it later.

Well, when later comes, chances are you’ll have another excuse.  There will always be an uncertainty aspect to big changes or something new, but that shouldn’t stop us. Personally, I believe its there to get us excited.

The first step is always the hardest. Like I found out, the change may not be as perfect as we imagined it, but it will be a hell of lot better than if we didn’t do it at all.

Friendships are everything.

I heard this one a lot before I left, but never really believed it that much. It was only when I had no friends (even the ones I did have, only last for a few days at most) that I realized the importance of friends.

Travel can be filled with immensely lonely periods. In countries where the language barrier was strong, there would be times when I would go 3 or 4 days without a conversation. I was seeing and experiencing incredible things but really had no one to share it with or even converse about it to. Sometimes I enjoyed the solitude, I learned a lot about myself in those times. But I didn’t understand how important social interaction was until I was having a simple conversation with a stranger be the highlight of my day.

After a while, I started looking back on my travels, I started to think “Wow, I’ve seen a heck of lot of cool places”. I tried to think back to my favorites, which ones did I enjoy the most? They were always the ones where I had the best friends and really had nothing to do with where I was. The people around you contribute a great deal to your overall happiness.

Even a run-down shack in middle of foreign country, with leaks, a hole in the ground for a toilet, and no hot water can be fun with the right people.

We are a social species. Human interaction is part of what makes us unique. And sharing a moment with others is what truly brings it to life.

I put a much greater value on my friendships now, as I now know how much they affect my life. Companionship is an incredible source of happiness and a vital piece of our lives.

Balance is ALSO everything.

When traveling, you have complete freedom to literally do ANYTHING you want. Seriously. You can relax everyday on the beach, you can be alone everyday in your room, you can decide to stay another week at your hostel, you can eat ice cream for breakfast everyday, if you don’t like this country you just fly to next, and you can drink all the time (it always seemed like the right time to have a beer).

You have no responsibilities and no one around to tell you when you cant do something. This freedom can be quite liberating, but easily can get out of control.

Many people have a tough time balancing the party/drinking/vacation aspect with truly seeing and experiencing each country. I too fell into this trap, after 3 weeks in Thailand, I realized I had done nothing but be hung-over all day and drink buckets (there’s no glasses in Thailand, you drink out of buckets.) at night. Yeah, it was fun for the first 7 nights, but then I was just doing the same thing every night.

There were other weeks where I would buy a new book, find a good little beach and do nothing but be lazy and read for days on end. That too lost its joys.

I indulged in so many aspects life, I took everything to the extreme until it had lost it’s excitement. I thought that I could achieve my dream life with this new freedom, but once I was able to do the things I wanted to do ALL the time  it wasn’t as fulfilling as I imagined. I realized that balance was the key.

I learned that everything should taken in moderation. Too much of anything is never good, and that wide range of experiences is the best.

I believe this can applied to any part of life, junk food, TV, or work, everything should be taken in moderation.

Life doesn’t have to be “normal”.

When we live in the same place for a while, we see everyone around us doing the same things and begin to think that’s the proper way to live. We watch what most people do and think that’s how it has to be.

Go to school, get a job, get promoted, buy a big house, have a family and then retire. When anyone strays from this path they are considered to be not “normal” and frowned upon.

It’s only when I started traveling that I saw that a fulfilling and happy life isn’t always a respectable job, with a big house and lots of money.

I began to meet interesting characters from all over the world and saw first-hand how they had gone “against the grain” and succeeded. I saw and experienced how happy people are doing something completely different than normal jobs.

I guess once I started to meet all these “off the beaten track” individuals I started to understand how easy it really was. How easy it is to become a scuba dive instructor and dive everyday, or to make enough money busking to travel anywhere, or to travel for free by working on a cruise ship, or to start a blog and become location independent.

Yes, a lot of these people will not make as much money as a secure job back home, and probably only own a few things, but that doesn’t matter to them. They get to wake up everyday and do what they want to do in the place they want to be.

There are tons of other ways to live a fulfilling and happy life, but most of us have only seen the  “big house” scenario. The other ones are out there, we just have to go find them .

Go with the flow.

You can make all the plans in the world, but we all know by now that life rarely goes according to plan.

Preparation is important, but only to a certain extent. For me, Flights got cancelled, getting lost will be a daily occurrence, it rained on hiking days, and I left a different towel at every hostel.

It would of been easy to let these things frustrate me and ruin my travels (in the beginning it did), But I learned to just ride the roller coaster of life with it’s ups and downs. As soon as something didn’t go as expected, I learned not to resist it. I dropped what ever expectations I had and didn’t focus on what was supposed to happen, rather what I could make happen now.

I would dance in the rain while hiking, find somewhere new and exciting when I was lost, play hide and seek with kids while sleeping in the airport for 2 days. I knew even if they seemed to be less than ideal situations they would be good stories one day.

Missed your bus today? You can either be frustrated and let it ruin your day, or you can make that the best thing that happened to you today. It could be the reason you get to walk to work a different way, explore a new part of the city, find a new cafe, or even just get some needed fresh air. It comes down to letting go of resistance.

I’m not saying we should all float through life with no expectations. Just that when bad things happen, don’t resist them, accept, laugh or embrace it and try to only focus on the thing you can change – the present.

To wrap it up…..

And now, as every travel junkie loves to do, I’m going to plug my addiction to you, in hopes that you too will become addicted to traveling.

Traveling brings the world to life. You can read about things, watch them on TV, or hear stories from a friend, but nothing comes close to first-hand human experience. You get a whole new perspective on what really matters, and you feel this sense of adventure and excitement that reminds you just how many possibilities you have in life. To anyone who has not traveled, do it. And to those who have, continue to do so.  It will teach you more about yourself and the world around you than you could ever imagine.

If you read this whole thing, I sincerely appreciate your time. I hope the things that have changed my life, can help you change yours. Happy travels!

Photo by Jason Priem

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17 thoughts on “Lessons from 15 Months of Unconventional Travel”

    1. I’m sure Josh will give you a great answer, but I thought I’d add my 2c.

      Travel means embracing newness–new people, new locales, new food, new weather, etc. Newness stimulates dopamine, a neurochemical associated with excitement. Therefore newness is inherently exciting in and of itself. However, everyone has different levels of what they need for the same feelings of excitement. For some people it’s enough to taste a new kind of pie once a week. For someone else to get the same buzz they need to meet strangers while skydiving blindfolded and learning a new language on the way down.

      Above all, the body seeks homeostasis, a state where it knows how to deal with the stuff it goes through on a day to day basis. That means that even the crazy skydiver will eventually get used to that rush and have to try something else. So what you are used to becomes the measure of the things that you’ll do to feel excitement.

      Therefore, if travel isn’t your thing, but you’d like it do be, get into it slowly. Go with familiar people and to a place that’s not too wild. Expand your horizon gradually and sooner or later you’ll be able to go as far as you’d ever dreamed.

      1. mahavir nautiyal

        I appreciate your response and balanced approach. There is a child in us which gets excited at something new, something different from the routine. Travelling entails certain risk as well as we are entirely on our own, this pumps adrenalin in the system.Learning is always better and authentic when we see things for ourselves. Having a good companion helps to cushion the untoward and boredom that may ensue as a result of doing same thing over and over again( which you have called homoestasis).Thanks.

    2. Thanks Alison,

      Mark puts it very well. Traveling to me a is constant flux on new experiences, and that’s what I enjoy most. It’s that “novel/adventure” feeling that gets me excited. These constant new experiences also help us live in the moment more, which is exciting in itself.

      That being said though,Travel is different for everyone, and people enjoy it for different reasons. Some people enjoy it just for trekking, others love the culinary dishes, and others just like a different style of life.

      I think if you’re not enjoying traveling, it may be what you’re doing on your travels or even where your going. Seek out experiences and that you’re passionate about in the first place. Personally, I don’t care much for museums, so I usually pass on going to them. Explore what you find interesting in the world.

    1. Thanks Harry,

      Yes, Traveling with a friend can be incredible, but I’ve also seen a lot of friendships turn sour from traveling together.

      It really takes the friendship to its limits, You see the best, the boring, and the ugly with each other.

      A good travel companion is rare, and to me they’re extremely valued.

  1. Awesome post Josh. Travelling does teach us alot about ourselves. Much of what you talked about in your post is in line with many of the things I learned from Zen practice. It’s amazing that so many people can discover the same wisdom from so many different sources.

    Thanks for sharing

  2. I may not be able to travel all over the world due to lack of funds and a lovely terrier I won’t be able leave for too long, but I’ve been doing some interesting travel here in the states and being able to do different things I never thought of, even really small things like volunteering somewhere with totally new people has been a really enlivening thing for me and it’s dumped me out of the stagnation I was in so long and the slump I was in mood wise. I love being in this limbo for now and going with the flow and seeing what presents itself. I left all my stuff in storage in Denver, CO, stayed in Montana for a couple of months, then moved on to Michigan to stay with mom for a while and am exploring various aspects of this great state and meeting very interesting random people who all have something wonderful to tell me. I think it is truly magical to be able to do any traveling on any scale for a while and a great opportunity to find life again and other aspects of myself in various new situations. I can’t wait for my drive down south and to visit a couple of small towns in West Virginia for some ancestry pursuits. And I totally get what you mean about how a brief conversation with a total stranger can become the high point of your day. And you are very right that having no expectations due to a lack of frame of reference for a place or experience, truly does help you live in the now. I came to Michigan to see if I wanted to move here and now I’m thinking I’m in no hurry to make some big decision and I want to see if I can stretch it out for a while – being homeless and on the go, maybe figuring out how to get paid for my performance art in various places. I figure I’ll know when it’s time to settle, but for now I feel fired up about taking a few chances here and there. After all, I sort of owe this to myself. I went through a hell of a lot over the last so many years and I got so depressed I ended up sitting alone in my apartment a lot – very sick with severe depression, chronic fatigue, and pain from old injuries with a part-time business that put a lot of clutter around me I couldn’t get deal with anymore. And it turns out that being homeless and uncertain is the thing that is healing me – this limbo adventure to find life again. You are right too that there is never the right time. I could have waited to drive the upper peninsula of Michigan and down the east coast of it, but I did it anyway and all the rain and cold gave the trip it’s own special feel and character. Very cool and inspiring article! Just what I needed to read.

    1. Thanks for sharing that Cat,

      It sounds like you’re starting to get the itch for this wonderful thing called traveling. I really enjoy the fact that you’re exploring your own country. A lot of people aren’t interested in seeing their own country and think that traveling is only when you’re half way across the world in a foreign country.

      And you’re right about “wandering”, it does help you find life again.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it and could relate in a lot of ways. Good luck with your limbo adventure to Virgina!

  3. As a single dad I have to travel without leaving the school district I live in for more than a week or two at a time. So I travel through the written word.

  4. Hi Josh, that is a great article and great lessons to share. I agree totally with what you say about friendships and connecting with others. The right people make the experiences better.
    Thank you for your adventurous spirit.

  5. Hi Josh,

    I loved reading your blog! Like you, I also have a passion for traveling the world and have had been privileged to be able to experience many different parts of the world. I can relate to all of the lessons you learned about life through through your travels and I enjoyed the way you articulated it. It really makes me want to get on a plane right now and jet off into foreign land. I was wondering after all of your traveling… what was your favorite places to visit? I will be graduating college in a year and I want to start planning another trip. Thank you for your great post!

    Joy

  6. Really nice Josh! In the past couple of years I have been on many a adventure! From diving, to surfing to paragliding and traveling solo and it has changed me so much!

    I can relate to a lot of your points and know that others have been influenced too! Keep adventuring mate.

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