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Lessons Learned from Traveling

I grew up in a family that firmly believed in the mantra “work hard, play hard”. Travel was our reward for enduring the daily 9-5 routine. It brought balance to our lives. The importance of exploring the world was instilled in me from an early age and it helped shape my lifestyle, values and work ethic today.

I went to university right after high school as was expected of me, but I made arrangements with my professors to accommodate months of travel in between semesters. I took exams early, loaded up on my courses and practically lived at school for three months in order to enjoy the following three months abroad. I made travel part of my educational experience.

Things you don’t learn from a textbook

Lesson #1 - Adaptability

Ometepe ShoresTraveling can be unpredictable, uncontrollable and oftentimes uncomfortable. Sometimes there is no solution, but you learn to adapt your action AND reactions to the situation.

After years of travel experience and against all good judgement, I did drink the water. After a day of wandering through a canopy home to hundreds of howler monkeys to reach the shores of Ometepe island in Nicaragua, I fell victim to the allure of tainted ice cubes in lemonade.

Ometepe CrossingIt didn’t hit me until I was on a rickety standing room only boat back to the mainland the next day. I knew I wouldn’t make it to my next destination in Costa Rica, so I cancelled all plans and quickly asked around for the most comfortable place to spend the next few days recovering. It just happened to be back on the island. I found a boat with seats (and a restroom) and eventually returned to where it all started. The hardest part was learning to be ok with change and what feels like failure or disappointment of missing out on plans. Adapting your mind to accept and make the best of a bad situation is a powerful tool that can translate to business and family life. 




Lesson #2 - Don’t Drink Bad Water

I admit, I could have learned that from a textbook.

Lesson #3 - Resourcefulness

One of the best ways to train yourself to think outside the box is to travel. You learn to live with what you can carry and you rely on your gut instinct. You also learn that you are your best resource.

I found myself wanting to travel, but had no money to do it. I looked around my apartment in Halifax, Nova Scotia and took pictures of the things I could live without. I ended up listing everything except my photographs and laptop. That still wasn’t enough to fund my dream––so I researched volunteer opportunities to supplement my room and board in exchange for my time.

Every little bit of resourcefulness counts. Take for example packing only versatile and necessary items. Instead of bringing luggage and paying baggage fees, I was able to bring a carry on and powdered laundry detergent. When we are at home, we grow accustomed to the little luxuries like our beauty products or technology, but you quickly realize when traveling that experience can be more valuable than possession.

I learned to sleep on overnight airplanes and busses which saved the cost of hotel, and I learned to open up to locals to ask for directions and recommendations instead of draining my data plan. There is always an alternative––you just have to stop and consider.

Lesson #4 - Awareness

Shanghai TeaWe grow complacent when we stop challenging ourselves. What better way to challenge our minds and bodies than with travel.

I had the most interesting interview experience in Hawaii. I spent an hour with a potential new client, and just before ending the inquisition, he asked me to draw the letter E on my forehead. I took a split second to ponder––does he mean capital 'E' or lowercase 'e'? But I went with my gut. Capital E and I traced it on my forehead as I stood facing him.

He hired me on the spot based on drawing the E in the direction that made it a proper E for him, and a backwards E for myself. He said that was the kind of awareness he needed to bring to his marketing.

Awareness is learned over time, and I can confidently say that my travels––backpacking and luxury travel––have both helped me developed a strong sense of micro and macro awareness. It is a life skill that can save your life, or can lead you to the most amazing hidden tea shop in Shanghai. Coupled with instinct and adaptability, you can MacGyver yourself out of any situation––or better yet, avoid getting into it in the first place.



Two Memorable Encounters

In a train station in Bolivia, I met two documentary filmmakers who took a semester’s worth of tuition to answer the question––do you learn more in a semester of school or a semester of travel abroad. I believe you learn different lessons in school than you do exploring the world.

In a hostel lobby in Baños, Ecuador I met a single mother who took her two young kids out of grade school to travel South America by bus and hostel for one year. She made arrangements with the school principal––who was 100% for the idea––for her kids to spend the year learning about the world and would resume school the following year.

She said her kids grew closer as friends and developed a love for reading, different foods and language. My sister and I grew up traveling together too. Our lives have taken different paths as adults, but family vacations will always bring us back together, no matter how old we get or far away we live.

That leaves me with Lesson #5 - The Value of Family

They join you in your travels or they’re the ones to listen to your stories upon your return. Family help you find your way back home.


Photo Credits: Mari Suyama

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