Traveling teaches us some of life’s most valuable lessons. With each new destination, we are exposed to new cultures, people, and perspectives that challenge our beliefs and broaden our horizons. Whether it’s solo travel or exploring new places with loved ones, traveling opens up our eyes to the world in a fun, interesting, and memorable way.
From adapting to new situations to developing empathy and building self-confidence, the lessons we learn from traveling can profoundly impact our lives. Not only do they make us more well-rounded, but they also equip us with skills to navigate the world in new and exciting ways.
During my 6 years of travel blogging, I’ve learned many valuable life lessons. Sure, I’ve had many euphoric moments, but I’ve also had my fair share of challenges as well. Traveling is not all roses and butterflies; it’s not supposed to be easy. Sometimes you’ll get lost, scammed, and disappointed and that’s a part of the journey. And I will say this: the most difficult situations often lead to the most growth.
Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or just starting out, there’s no denying that traveling is one of the best teachers you’ll ever have. So, pack your bags and get ready to learn some of life’s greatest lessons on your next adventure! Here are my biggest life lessons from traveling to over 50 countries.
1. To value experiences over things
Traveling has taught me to appreciate experiences over things. Whether it’s a meal shared with new friends or a sunset from the top of a mountain, I’ve learned to cherish the moments that bring me joy. Instead of buying material objects that will eventually lose their value, I seek out new experiences that will stay with me for a lifetime.
Experiencing the Northern Lights in Iceland
I remember the first time I saw the Northern Lights in Iceland. I was driving down a bumpy gravel road in the middle of nowhere. It was pitch black outside and there was not a street light, house, or car in sight. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted hazy fog moving in the distance, so I decided to pull over and find out what it was. As I got out of the car, a gust of cold air hit me right in the face, but that didn’t stop me from pursuing this otherworldly spectacle. Sure enough, I looked up and saw one of the most magical light shows in the world – the Aurora Borealis.
This was a mind-blowing experience for me. I vividly remember seeing green, yellow, and red lights dancing in the midnight sky. The colors swayed in such a deliberate yet unexpected way that made the hairs on my back stand up. The breeze was unbearably cold, and yet all I could feel was euphoria and bliss. There’s absolutely no material possession in the world that could make me feel the way I did that night. Not even close.
These types of experiences are what makes life rich and fulfilling, not material things. I would much rather spend my money on unique travel experiences and adventures over physical objects…any day.
2. To be spontaneous
Traveling has a way of bringing out the spontaneous side in all of us. Whether it’s trying new foods, exploring a hidden gem, or saying “yes” to an impromptu adventure, travel encourages us to step outside our comfort zones and embrace the unexpected.
Finding spontaneity out west
Last spring, I spent a few days with my friends in Utah. I was only planning to spend a long weekend there. I ended up going camping with them one night outside of Zion National Park (my first “true” camping experience), and loved the experience so much, that I decided to cancel my return flight and extend the trip. My intuition told me that it wasn’t time to go home just yet; there was something I still needed to explore. So, I trusted my gut and leaned into it.
Next thing I knew, I was picking up a rental car in Las Vegas and setting out for a west coast road trip. I ended up going to Walmart and buying a $40 tent, sleeping bag, and headlamp – as well as a few questionable snacks – before heading further west.
The long road to fulfillment and adventure
That night, I found a desolate campground in Death Valley National Park. I had no internet, no written directions, and no experience pitching tents… but with no other options (other than sleeping in the car), I figured it out. The feeling of accomplishment was unreal!
In just two weeks, I ended up hitting 7 national parks between San Diego and Seattle – meeting friends along the way and going camping in Joshua Tree, the Redwood Forest, and Catalina Island. All of this was last minute and serendipitous – there was no planning whatsoever. And it turned out to be one of the most incredible adventures of my life.
While a road map can be helpful while traveling, it’s important to be willing to deviate from it. Embrace the unknown, try new things, and allow yourself to be swept away by the adventures that come your way. It’s in those serendipitous, unexpected moments when the true magic happens.
3. Traveling helps you become more confident
Let’s face it – traveling isn’t always easy. Stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring new places can be overwhelming. But in the process, it builds confidence and makes you feel capable of tackling anything the world throws your way.
During my first solo backpacking trip in Europe, I remember feeling uneasy about navigating unfamiliar streets and speaking to locals in a foreign language. I got lost quite a bit and made some mistakes. But with each new challenge I faced, my confidence grew. I realized that I was capable of taking care of myself and finding my way in a new place, even when things didn’t go according to plan.
And it’s not just navigating new places that builds confidence. Traveling also teaches you to trust your instincts and be resourceful. Whether you’re haggling with a street vendor in Morocco or finding your way to a remote village in Albania, you’ll quickly learn that you are capable of problem-solving and adapting to new situations.
So, if you’re looking to boost your confidence and gain self-esteem, pack your bags and hit the road. The world is full of challenges and opportunities waiting for you. And with each new adventure, you’ll discover just how badass and confident you truly are!
4. Traveling makes you humble
For me, this is one of the most important travel lessons by far.
Traveling gives you a front-row seat to different cultures, traditions, and lifestyles. It makes you realize that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to life. It also shows you that no country or group of people has an exclusivity of good ideas. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn from people who come from completely different backgrounds with experiences vastly different from your own.
An important travel lesson I learned in Costa Rica
I remember my trip to a rural village in Costa Rica, where I was blown away by the generosity and hospitality of the locals. One day, I was walking along a beach on the Nicoya Peninsula when a man approached me carrying a bunch of palm leaves. He was using them to make and sell these really cool grass hopper creations:
I didn’t have my wallet on me, so I told him I couldn’t buy one. Rather than walking away and going about his business, he stuck around and chatted with me for about 10 minutes. We spoke about his home country of Nicaragua and his new home in Costa Rica, among other things. He seemed really genuine and sincere – speaking highly of the village he was from and his devotion to Dios (God). At the end of that conversation, he took one of the palm leaves and weaved it into this beautiful grass hopper creation. He gave it to me with no expectation that I could pay him back. And with a warm smile, he continued down the beach.
Even though this man lived in poverty, he jumped at the opportunity to share his beautiful creation (and stories) with me. He smiled and laughed with a sincerity that you rarely see these days. This experience taught me that wealth is not defined by material possessions. He may have lacked material riches, but he sure seemed to have spiritual riches. It was a humbling reminder that true happiness comes from the connections we make rather than the stuff we own.
Humility from traveling
In the words of Gustave Flaubert, a French novelist: “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” When that man told me about his life in Nicaragua, I couldn’t help but think about all the other people in the world with their own unique stories. When you step outside of your familiar surroundings and into a new place, you gain a whole different perspective. And from there, you begin to grasp how vast the world truly is.
Read next: My Top 100 Favorite Travel Quotes
5. Gratitude for nature
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from traveling is to never take nature for granted. While I’ve always loved the outdoors, it wasn’t until the pandemic when I got much closer to it.
Before 2020, my main focus as a travel blogger was on historic and cultural sites. While that side of travel is well and good, the global shakeup brought me closer to another important element of traveling: nature. During all the lockdowns and travel restrictions, I began to spend more time hiking in local parks. I’m so glad I did!
Seeing all the natural beauty – including the birds, squirrels, and trees – helped reignite my passion for nature. I wouldn’t be the barefoot, ice bathing hippie you see today if it wasn’t for the COVID pandemic. It definitely helped me kick off my self discovery journey.
Nature has a way of taking my breath away. It grounds me, inspires me, and puts things in perspective. Traveling the world has shown me some of the most beautiful natural wonders on the planet. From the lush green forests of Central America to the majestic mountains of the Alps, traveling always reminds me that we have so much to be grateful for.
Exploring the Swiss Alps
I still vividly remember my first trip hiking in the Swiss Alps. As I stood there – looking out at the Matterhorn, one of Europe’s most iconic peaks – I was in awe with all the natural beauty around me.
During my 2 days in Zermatt, this famous mountain peak was covered by clouds, except for just a few brief moments on my last day. As the clouds began to clear and the Toblerone-inspired mountain gloriously revealed itself, I was overcome with joy and gratitude.
Nature is all around us
And it’s not just the grand landscapes that evoke feelings of gratitude. Traveling also gives you the opportunity to get up close and personal with nature in other ways. Whether it’s hiking to a waterfall, kayaking through a lake, or simply taking a walk through a park, getting outside and into nature reminds us just how much we have to be grateful for.
6. Traveling is all about the people (the places don’t matter all that much)
Early on in my travel journey, I was obsessed with visiting epic places. For me, it was all about finding beautiful and awe-inspiring sights. What I quickly learned, however, is that traveling is all about the people you meet, not the places you visit. The people you meet along the way make the journey more memorable than any sight or attraction ever could.
After I graduated college, I spent part of the summer teaching English in Valencia. I volunteered at a Spanish academy for adults where students ranged from 18 to 80 years old. At the time, my Spanish was pretty good – having studied abroad in Barcelona shortly before then. So, I was able to make friends with locals in a deep and meaningful way – beyond the “como estas” and “me llamo Jon” small talk haha.
Meeting new faces in new places
After my classes at the academy, I would often grab coffee and tapas with the locals. I also went to “intercambios” (cultural exchange events) at local bars, where I got to practice my Spanish while others worked on their English. We spent lots of time chatting about international and current events, and sharing laughs in the process. In my short time there, I even got invited to people’s homes and local festivals. I really felt like a part of the community!
For me, Valencia wasn’t just a place I visited. I wasn’t there to hit all the touristy sights and check things off my bucket list. Valencia truly felt like home – a place where I developed deep and meaningful bonds with locals. When I look back to that summer, I don’t think much about the beaches, the architecture, and the food. It was the people that made Valencia the special place that it was.
From transient encounters to lifelong friends
On my adventures since then, I’ve met people from around the world who have become lifelong friends. In fact, I’ve made friends in every country I’ve visited – many of whom I still keep in touch with today. It’s amazing how a chance encounter can turn into a lifelong bond, and it’s these relationships that have made my travels so special.
So, if you’re thinking of traveling, remember that the destinations are just the icing on the cake. It’s the people you meet along the way that make the journey unforgettable. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. You never know where it’s going to lead you. These are the memories that will last a lifetime!
7. Traveling can make you very uncomfortable
Traveling isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, it can make you feel extremely uncomfortable and even break your heart. But that, too, is a part of the journey.
Tragedy in China
Back in 2019 when I did a Yangtze River Cruise in China, there was one day that turned my world upside down. We stopped at a port to visit an ancient temple. When we arrived on the pier, there were 6 or 7 people lying on the ground in front of us with missing limbs. They were covered in dirt and open wounds, and were begging for money from tourists. It was truly one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen.
When we talked about this with our tour guide (and researched it online), we learned that the beggars weren’t doing this out of their own volition. They were forced into it by criminal gangs, who sell disabled people (particularly children) into slavery and profit off of tourists’ sympathy for them. So, the money collected from tourists wasn’t going to fix their problems; it was going into the hands of the people who were responsible for this modern form of slavery. This is one of the most evil acts imaginable, and it opened my eyes to the harsh realities that many people face around the world.
Travel lesson learned from this experience
Though I was powerless in that moment to save these people, gaining this awareness (and sharing it with others) is an important step towards building a better world. It’s one thing to hear about unfortunate stuff on the news or social media. But when you see and experience such injustices up close, it forces you to confront the realities of the world. It’s only by lifting the veil and seeing things as they actually are, that you can become a more compassionate, understanding, and empathetic human. And from there, you’ll be inspired to take action towards the issues that matter most to you.
8. Traveling enhances your interpersonal skills
Traveling is not only a journey of discovery and adventure, it’s also an opportunity to enhance your interpersonal skills. Whether you’re chatting with locals in a bustling street market, striking up a conversation with fellow travelers on a long bus ride, or simply making small talk with a stranger, traveling is all about connecting with others.
One of the things I love about traveling is that it forces you to step outside your comfort zone and engage with people who are different from you. And that’s where the magic happens. When you’re surrounded by new sights, sounds, and cultures, you’re exposed to a wide range of perspectives and ways of life. This experience can help you become more open-minded and empathetic.
Traveling also gives you the chance to practice your communication skills in a variety of different contexts. Whether you’re trying to navigate a new city, order food in a restaurant, or negotiate the price of a souvenir, you’re constantly putting your interpersonal skills to the test. And with every interaction, you’re growing and developing as a communicator.
Why I love staying in hostels when I travel
For these reasons, I really love staying in hostels. When you opt for a budget-friendly accommodation option like a hostel, you’ll be surrounded by a diverse group of travelers from all over the world, each with their own unique stories and perspectives.
From sharing a room with strangers to hanging out in communal spaces like the kitchen and lounge, hostels provide endless opportunities for social interaction. And let’s not forget about those late-night conversations over a few beers in the hostel bar – those are some of the most memorable and meaningful moments of my travels.
By staying in hostels, you’ll interact with people from all backgrounds. This can help you become more confident and comfortable communicating with others, and you’ll also learn how to be a good roommate, how to resolve conflicts, and how to be respectful of others’ personal space and belongings.
So, if you’re looking to enhance your interpersonal skills and become a more confident, well-rounded, and empathetic person, then traveling is the way to go.
9. Travel teaches us that there are no mistakes
Traveling is a journey filled with surprises, both good and bad. And as someone who has spent a lot of time on the road, I’ve learned one big lesson stands out above the others: there are no mistakes when it comes to travel.
Sure, things don’t always go according to plan. You might get lost, miss your train, or get tricked into a tourist scam. But instead of dwelling on these setbacks, it’s important to embrace them as opportunities to learn and grow. After all, it’s these unexpected twists and turns that often lead to the most memorable and rewarding experiences.
Think about it – those times when you got lost and stumbled upon a hidden gem of a café, or when you missed your train and had to spend an extra day in a charming town that you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. These are the moments that make travel so special, and they wouldn’t have happened if you had not “made a mistake.”
Travel teaches us to dig deep to find meaning in the setbacks
It’s important to point out that sometimes shit hits the fan. And it sucks. That is life, and of course, when you travel you aren’t insulated from that. But there is ALWAYS a lesson and an upside to everything. If you haven’t found it yet, you haven’t looked hard enough or waited long enough for it to be revealed.
So, next time you find yourself in a tricky situation while traveling, remember that there are no mistakes. Embrace the unexpected and see where it takes you. You never know, you might just discover your new favorite place or make a lasting memory that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Travel teaches us so much about life
I hope you enjoyed reading about some of my most important travel lessons. Of course, there are many other lessons I’ve learned while traveling, but these are the ones that stand out to me in this very moment. I’m sure many more will pop up and I won’t be shy to share them!
Traveling is a grand adventure that teaches us invaluable lessons in a fun, captivating and memorable way. From trying new foods and meeting new people, to experiencing different cultures and overcoming language barriers, every journey opens our eyes and broadens our horizons.
Whether it’s learning to navigate a foreign city or simply embracing the present moment, traveling teaches us to be more open-minded, adaptable, and confident. So pack your bags and hit the road, because the best lessons in life are learned through exploration and discovery.
For more traveling lessons, follow my adventures on Instagram. Happy Travels! -Jon