Lessons I Learnt From 3 Months On The Road
To travel is to discover a great many surprising facts about yourself.
Hans Christian Andersen once said, “To travel is to live”. I would like to suggest that to travel is also to discover a great many surprising facts about yourself that you perhaps didn’t expect.
I don’t mean the kind you’d use as an Instagram caption (“Stumbled across a food cart in the middle of a desolate village and had the best banh mi of my life!”). I mean things you’d be a little embarrassed to report back to your mother during a Skype call (“I ran out of toothpaste a week ago!”)
I recently spent three months on the road – travelling the United States, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. With a pretty even split of preparedness (my jam) and making it up as we go (my boyfriend’s), we set off on a grand adventure.
Some things we discovered quickly. A good travel SIM card is essential. You definitely need travel insurance because you might fall off your bike in San Francisco, frantically Uber to an emergency room and spend the next week in a sling.
Other things took a little longer to realise. You will get museum fatigue. You’ll regret not taking more photos toward the end of your travels (so force yourself to). The things you’ve been dreaming about doing for years will be as memorable as the ones you stumble upon accidentally.
At the end of it all, I came away with a hard-learned set of rules I’ll now live by when travelling.
Plan for early starts
I am not a morning person (early, to me, is 9am). But I did discover some wonderful upsides to getting up early: the best light for taking the prettiest photos is at sunrise (it’s called “golden hour” for a reason), you’ll have hiking trails all to yourself, taxis cost less because there’s no traffic, and you’ll get to where you want to go without wasting the day.
For what it’s worth, coffee helps.
Forget about what you’re wearing
When you look back at your travel photos in 25 years, are you going to notice that you only packed one pair of jeans? Absolutely not. You’ll probably be like, “Can you believe overalls used to be cool?”
Despite what you think, you can live out of a carry-on bag – and you should, at least for a little while. It means more freedom and less time at the baggage carousel.
Lean in to changing standards
At home, do you walk 10 minutes past a handful of “OK” coffee places near your house to get to the “good” one? When you’re travelling, you take what you can get. Sometimes, it’s from a roadside diner and tastes like coffee-scented drain water; other times, you take a wrong turn and stumble into a religious espresso experience.
I should be embarrassed to admit (but am not) that the same can be said for personal hygiene. Socks are worn days in a row and days between hair washes and leg shaving stretch on and on. But who cares? You’re too busy having the time of your life to worry about smooth legs.
Find a coin laundry when you can, but don’t let it dictate your trip.
Go on the hike (even if you don’t feel like it)
Dive bars, pop-up shops and hip restaurants are all a joy to discover, but nothing quite compares to the great outdoors (and this means extra coming from me, who can happily go days without leaving the house).
Natural wonders like Big Sur, Zion National Park and all those Greek islands dotting the Mediterranean are the kinds of places where you only get a real sense of their beauty if you see them in person. No photo can ever quite capture the magic.
Tune into the vibes
If you get a good feeling from a place, stay longer. Likewise, if you arrive in a town that you had high hopes for only to discover it’s not all that great – change your plans.
You’ll regret wasting precious time in less-than-average places unless it’s a quick overnighter on the way to somewhere great (which, unfortunately, is often a necessary evil).
Make the most of motels
I know I’m not alone in being a bit of an accommodation snob. As it turns out, motels aren’t the worst! They’re budget-friendly and no-frills, but they have a shower and a bed and, at a certain point, that’s really all you care about.
Most motels in America also provide free coffee and breakfast snacks, and even cookies and milk on winter evenings. When a motel is dishing out free waffles with maple syrup at 7am, you will feel very blessed indeed (shout out to Vista Inn and Suites in Memphis).
Plan ahead before hitting the road, especially if you’ve got a long day of driving ahead. Phone reception will be patchy, so download your favourite playlists and podcasts so you can listen to them offline and keep your energy up.
Also, stock up on snacks. Cool Ranch Doritos and Reese’s Pieces are delicious and readily available, but the responsible thing would be to include fruit, nuts, bread and spread in your shopping basket. (At places like Whole Foods in the US, you can pick up a free set of plastic cutlery and napkins at the front).
Buy more bottled water than you think you need, too. Even if you’re not fussy, you’ll discover that some places recommend not drinking from the tap.
(Lead image: Erik Odiin)