In life we are taught many things; from childhood through to school, college and university. I didn’t go down the university route but instead went out into the world of work after completing my A-Levels. I’ve learnt a great deal since then. To this day though, I still believe that travel has taught me the greatest lessons of all.

When you travel there are no classrooms, no textbooks, no lecturers. We each make our own (often new) decisions on a daily basis and throw ourselves into situations that many (back home) try to avoid. This is something us globetrotters get off on. It’s our adrenaline fix and makes us feel alive.

On my first backpacking adventure, I set off to South East Asia, a land completely out of my comfort zone. I knew I was going to see things I didn’t understand and I knew I’d learn a lot too, but I had no idea just how valuable these lessons would be. These lessons would change my outlook on life and most scarily of all, unveil how unaware and sheltered I had been.

Here’s 6 little lessons travel has taught me.


1. Speak

6 things travelling taught me

I was in Cambodia and knowing mere basics of the Khmer language I felt more like a tourist than ever before. Us Brits aren’t the greatest at having conversations with strangers back home, let alone abroad. We’d much rather, put our heads down, make sure not to make eye contact and simply reply with a fake laugh or smirk if anyone we don’t know so much as says hello.  I don’t know why this is but it’s definitely a very British problem. Brits are also pretty bad at blending in. We stick out like a sore thumb at times and many of our efforts in speaking a different language comprise of us either SPEAKING LOUDER THAN WE NORMALLY WOULD (in English still of course) or speaking……much …… slower….. than…… anyone….has …… ever…… spoken….. in… the…. history…… of……. mankind…….

It was at a night market in Siem Reap that I noticed myself doing this exact thing so I had a bit of a word with myself (not literally, I’d have looked a right nutter).

I didn’t suddenly go and learn a whole foreign language but instead spoke with people as I would back home. I’d try certain words in Khmer and apologise if I got them completely wrong and ended up asking for a hamster sandwich in the bath.

It didn’t matter if a conversation was hard or even impossible, I still tried and I could tell that the locals appreciated it by giving me a smile, sometimes held my hand or bowed….. many laughed and probably took the piss out of me to their mates but that’s fine by me. We still shared a moment together which could have easily been missed.

What travel has taught me: Speak. No matter how little sense you make or how little you say, say something. A hi, hello or thank you go a very long way. Ask a question and you may create a moment of magic.


2. Stop everything and take a moment

what travel taught me

Life can be a bit of a whirlwind sometimes. We can easily get distracted and miss things no matter how big or small. On many occasions during my travels I’ve tried to stop and have a couple of minutes to take in my surroundings, understand the meaning in things (if not on a personal level then to others) and to think about things that are said.

A real way to achieve this is forgetting material things for a few minutes. Put your phone down, stop what you’re doing and focus on nothing other than that moment. I promise you’ll notice something that would otherwise go unnoticed. You may even end up chatting to someone and making a new mate. When we’re not gazing into our phones or iPods, we’re a lot more approachable.

What travel has taught me: Put the god damn thing down for a moment and take in what’s in front of you.

This leads me on nicely to lesson 3…..


3. Put the camera down

what travel taught me

Throughout my travels I have struggled to take a photo that truly captures everything in front of me. I’ve literally spent hours in some places trying to get the dream shot. But still, once I’m home, showing my friends and family, I find myself saying ‘what you can’t see is…..’ or trying to describe the feeling of being there. I don’t care how good a photographer you are, you’ll never be able to replicate the feeling you had in that moment. We all love photos to reminisce over but it feels to me that we spend so long trying to get the perfect photo, seeing everything through the camera lens that we miss the view through our eyes.

I can still see many of my favourite moments from my travels. I haven’t a photo of these but they are in my head and I won’t be able to loose, misplace or forget those kind of snapshots.

What travel has taught me: Take your photo then wait a moment or 2 and really see whats in front of you. It will create a far greater memory.


4. Don’t be scared, say YES!

what travel taught me

Saying yes is much harder than it may seem. As humans I think it’s in our DNA to find ‘no’ a far easier response. Perhaps this is due to a lack of understanding or maybe its the complete opposite and you’re saying no because you have a previous understanding of something?

I was guilty of being a ‘No Man’. In my recent post, Fear and Loathing in Normality, I talk about this kind of thing. For years I held myself back due to saying no. Who knows the amount of opportunities I may have missed but then I began saying yes.

I stopped being a ‘No Man’ and knew if I wanted to be a ‘Nomad’ I’d have to become a ‘Yes Man’.

I first began saying Yes to myself and then I said yes to opportunities.

If I had said no, I wouldn’t have: scuba-dived for the first time, climbed mountains, met new people, tried a different foreign delicacy, had a blessing from a monk in Thailand, gone to Singapore, visited a tiny Fijian village and the school kids, helped at a charity, had the most painful massage known to man in Vietnam and climbed a waterfall.

Yes got me all of those things and yes has meant I’m where I am today with far less regrets than I would have had if I was still a ‘No Man’.

What travel has taught me: Simple. Say YES!


5. Time ….  the bastard keeps ticking

what travel taught me

This lesson I think I learnt once I returned from travelling but I wouldn’t have learnt it if I hadn’t had gone in the first place.

Life is very short and time will keep ticking by. This is something we don’t want to think about on a daily basis as it would be a little depressing but to remind ourselves of it from time to time is important.

I’ve been told by a few people over the years that I’m an old head on young shoulders. That could be meant in a few ways but I see it as a positive. One of my ‘old’ outlooks is in my understanding and appreciation of time.

Once I got home after travelling, I began to notice how little I achieved in a week. I worked, I ate, I drank, I slept. My days were mainly made up of routine things. I didn’t achieve anything, yet the week passed by in a blink. You’ll see what I mean in my recent post, The Biggest Challenge you’ll face when you Travel.

When I was travelling I’d have so many experiences in a day, let alone a week. In just 6 months, I visited 7 countries in 85 ways. In exactly the same amount of time beck home, it was a very different story.

What travel has taught me: On a daily basis, do something out of your routine. Gain a feeling of achievement, no matter how small. Don’t be held back by anything. If you’re putting something off, do it today. Plan ahead and stick to  it. The opportunity may never present itself to you again.


6. Values

6 things travelling taught me

Understanding the value in things is something I believe we’ll keep learning and being surprised by throughout life. My dad has shared with me many things that he finds great value in which he didn’t in his youth. The value of a close family over the value in money for example. You can have all the money in the world (something my family hasn’t had) but it would have never brought the love and happy memories we share today. ‘Money can’t by you happiness’. This is a saying I’d argue. I hear a lot more people from my kind of background saying it than I do the wealthy kind, but I am beginning to see the truth in it.

When I was in Cambodia, I spent some time at a great little charity called New Hope. This is a slum area where families are very poor and have very little. However, the kids at the charities school valued their education and loved going to school. I never valued school. I hated it to be quite honest and couldn’t wait for the day I could leave. Looking back on it now, If I valued it more I would have probably enjoyed it a lot more too.

6 things travelling taught me

I also learnt the value in the little things. Having food in the fridge for example, clean clothes in the wardrobe, ice. These things may sound a little ridiculous but those who have travelled will know exactly what I mean. If you have yet to travel then let me be the first to say, you’ll be shocked with just how much you take for granted.

What travel has taught me: Notice the value in everything. Even if something isn’t necessarily valuable to you, notice how valuable it is to others. You may relate to it in the future and appreciate it all the more when that day comes.

The Lesson

Travelling can teach you so many things but these 6 are the ones that stick with me on a regular basis. I now spend a lot less time gazing into my phone, I take a moment or 2 as time out, take a few less photos but make more memories, say yes! Appreciate time and the value in everyday things.

Don’t get me wrong, schooling is very important but I learnt so much more in life during 6 months of travelling than I did in the classroom…. Here endeth the lesson.

6 things travelling taught me

What has travelling taught you? Have these things been life changing or life enhancing? I’d love to hear them 🙂

  • Doreen Pendgracs

    I really like this post, James. It shows me that you understand the sense of travel, and that is to communicate with others and with nature to gain a deeper understanding of our planet. Keep on doing what you’re doing. 🙂

    • TheGlobeWanderers

      Ah thank you, Doreen.
      Thats very sweet. Don’t you worry. Nobody will stop me travelling 🙂
      Cheers for reading.

  • Abbi from Life in a rucksack ✈

    This is a great article James. I am really with you on the putting the camera down thing. I was watching a rugby world cup match this past weekend, and the couple in front of me, just did not put their phone down, taking selfies at the match, of their beer, videoing during the time the anthems were being played, and I thought to myself – will you remember the match for the feelings it gave you of being there, or just through the memories of a photograph? It is good to take time to stop and reflect.

    I love that you try the language also – I think locals appreciate it that more than ignorant tourists. I found in Cambodia the locals actually wanted to teach you their language. I spent hours in a pool with local kids who wanted to learn more English, so we did an exchange, and they taught me Khmer – so lovely.

    • TheGlobeWanderers

      thank you very much, Abbi 🙂
      Oh that would have annoyed me. I’d just want to shout ‘Watch the sodding game!’ (by the way I’m very jealous you were there!)
      I get really embarrassed now if i hear Brits not even trying to speak the language now.
      Ah, that experience in Cambodia sounds really special! The kids are so amazing there.
      Thank you so much for stopping by, Abbi!

  • Gemma

    So true and very poignant. Even if you can’t speak the language use your body, and I don’t mean slut dropping! That probably won’t go down well.

    • TheGlobeWanderers

      Cheers, Gemma.
      Haha slut dropping wouldn’t be too appropriate perhaps, yeah 🙂
      Thanks for reading

  • Joe Ankenbauer

    Great article and awesome points! I have a problem with setting the camera down, it’s usually glued to my face! Definitely need to work on that.

    • TheGlobeWanderers

      Hey, Joe.
      Its easier said than done right. Especially when in this blogging game.
      Thank you for stopping by 🙂

      • Joe Ankenbauer

        Haha! Exactly! One day, I’m going to plan a vacation with no electronics. That’s really what’s on my bucket list haha!

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  • Kimberly

    Cool article, we must be on the same page because I wrote something similar in the start of the summer. I love that travel has taught me to speak, to say hi, and meet everyone with a smile, I would have never even dreamed of learning a language in school at the speed I learned while traveling. When trying t speak a new language its beautiful how patient the people of the world are….I just love it

    • TheGlobeWanderers

      Ah, there you go, Kimberley. Great minds and all that 😉
      You’re so right. I actually hated language in school…but that could have been down to my horrific teacher. Now its the first thing I think as I touch down in different country.
      We’re currently in Mykonos, Greece and the people here are so patient and lovely. The language is trickier than Spanish or French but they look like the appreciate our warped attempts 🙂
      Thank you so much for checking out the post! I’ll make sure I read yours so we can compare notes.

  • elizabeth

    Great article, it is always good to reflect. A couple of the things I always remind myself when trying to communicate- SMILE (everyone knows what a smile means) and we don’t laugh when they try to speak English we try to understand, they will do the same for you. And often you learn how to say what you are trying to say for the next time!

    • TheGlobeWanderers

      Hi Elizabeth. Thank you!
      Exactly! Gabby said the same to me. A smile is the universal language for being approachable and friendly.
      Thanks for sharing your findings. Couldn’t agree more 🙂

  • Isabela Mariano

    These are really good points, especially #6. Awesome article! Keep on appreciating and enjoying the beauty of the world. 🙂

    • TheGlobeWanderers

      Thank you, Isabela. Cheers for reading and pleased you enjoyed 🙂

  • Miles of Happiness

    Love this post. Our grandparents were right when they said ‘traveling is the best school in the world’! 🙂 These last 4 years traveling have taught me more than years and years school. Your blog is my beautiful discovery of the day :))

    • TheGlobeWanderers

      Ah cheers! Really appreciate that 🙂
      Your grandparents sound like good eggs. Couldn’t agree more.
      Keep going! 4 years sounds pretty epic.
      So pleased you like the blog :))

  • The Common Wanderer

    We love this post. We’ve just passed six months on the road and have reflected on what we’ve learnt! It’s crazy what travel teaches you!