7 Hardcore life lessons Travel teaches Faster.

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Belongs to Author, Toby Israel

I’ve spent two out of the last three years in transit. Three of the last six. In that time, I’ve learned a lot the conventional way—school, work and other training—but I’ve probably learned the fastest by traveling.

Travel is a relentless teacher.

There are no bathroom breaks, no question and answer sessions, and no weeks off for study or review.

We jump in, and there we are. We learn on the fly, or we fall on our face. Or, we fall, and we learn to fly.

Whatever the order of events, we learn, and we learn fast when we get out there. These are a few of the lessons I’ve found travel teaches fastest:

1. Let Go of Expectations.

That time you think you bought an apple pastry at the Finnish supermarket, but when you bite into it the orange mush inside is anything but apple—and it might be tuna fish. The time you order the cheapest thing on the menu at a rural Kenyan restaurant, and of course it turns out to be beef tongue. When you board your train to Rome, and find out you’re heading to Geneva…

Yes, life is full of surprises; never more so than when we don’t speak the local language, or are in too much of a hurry to ask questions. At some point, I realized I’m more surprised when I do get what (or where) I wanted than when I don’t.

Welcome the unexpected.

2. Eat the Food.

I’m not vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, vegan, low-fat or high anything else. While I’ve met many brave souls who stick to their dietary restrictions while on the road, I’ve learned it’s a hell of a lot easier (and maybe healthier) to eat whatever’s available. Not to mention unique culinary-cultural experiences don’t usually follow our rules. I frequently choose to eschew the privilege of choice (the eschewing of which, yes, is a privilege in of itself) in favor of honoring a friend’s hospitality or sampling a street snack I’ve never seen before.

Eat the food. Maybe we regret it the next morning, but in the balance, it’s worth it.

3. Be Flexible.

Would you sleep in a boat? Would you sleep on a coat? Would you sleep on the floor? Would you sleep while they snore? It’s not Dr. Seuss; it’s a night in the life of a traveler. Parks, boats, train hallways, packed dirt, wooden pallet, moldy shack, noisy dorm—if you can name it, I’ve probably slept there.

Flexibility is a skill, not an inbred talent, and one which I’ve cultivated over many years. Be it food, sleeping quarters, hygiene or travel arrangements, I’ve learned—had no choice but to learn—flexibility is king of the travel kingdom.

Travel will teach us to be flexible like a ballet class on steroids.

4. The World is your Toilet.

Lest this be misconstrued, I’m not suggesting you relieve yourself in your friend’s bedroom or the public gardens. Rather more in the vein of number three, we don’t always get to be picky about our WC. London city street at three a.m.? Hey, everything’s closed, and the next bus is an hour away. Edge of a Himalayan field? The alternative is the middle of the village road.

Bottom line: we can’t be prissy about where we piss, and sometimes we have to get creative.

5. Technology Won’t Save You.

Sure, Google Maps is super handy for getting from point A to B in a new city, but it has never helped me get back when my phone dies. I’ve seen enough power blackouts and internet outages to firmly believe we can never rely on technology. It may disappear without warning—or it may not be useful once we drop far enough off the map.

We have to be resourceful—without any resources.

6. People Will.

When you’re outside the service zone, a friendly shepherd will give you directions, and he and his three dogs and two dozen goats will accompany you for the next kilometer of your journey. When you’re stranded on the side of the road, well-meaning strangers will (usually) stop and pick you up.

When emergency strikes, technology won’t save us, but the human beings around us will.

7. No Fear.

When I said yes to a stranger’s invitation to dinner in Nepal, she became a friend, and her family’s hospitality gave me one of my most memorable experiences of the trip. Jumping on another friend’s motorcycle for a two-day ride from Mustang to Pokhara tied it for first. Wherever I go, I try to say yes to every (reasonable) opportunity.

Not everyone will agree with my “yes-woman” policy, but I stand by it. From hitchhiking to midnight swims, and mountain climbs to backstreet wanders, it has led me to a treasure trove of adventures—and no regrets.

In short: leave fear behind, along with the high heels. Where we’re going, we won’t need them.


What did I miss? Please share your travel-taught lessons—I’d love to hear them!


Relephant Read:

Only What I Can Carry. {Photos of a Wanderer}


Author: Toby Israel

Images: Author’s Own


The Elephant Ecosystem

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Toby Israel

Toby Israel Toby Israel is a vagabond and storyteller with a metaphorical closet full of hats. She currently works as a creative facilitator, editor, and writer, and as Content Manager at NuMundo. She is also a full-time lover of movement, food, and words. For the moment, she lives in Costa Rica. (She came for a masters degree in Media, Peace and Conflict Studies from the UN-mandated University for Peace—and stayed for the papaya, sunshine, and conscious community.) Share her journey on her website, and on FacebookInstagram and Twitter!

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Linda Lewis Aug 28, 2016 12:35pm

I like these articles and the fact that the advertisements come at the end rather than interrupting the text of the articles! Bravo!

Cat Simmons Aug 23, 2016 9:45am

<3 ! x

Toby Israel Aug 22, 2016 8:58am

Hey Evie, thanks for your comment! Honestly, I'm probably not the right person to ask, as I have a bit of an unusual perspective on risk and will do things like go on motorcycle trips or solo hitchhiking. That said, there are certain things that will keep us safe(r) no matter what choices we make---and I do always stick to this in my way: >> Trust your intution. >> Always be (and look) alert. >> Avoid carrying around valuables. >> Ask for help when you need it. >> If a situation doesn't feel safe, get out. <3

Toby Israel Aug 22, 2016 8:53am

Thank you, Carmelene! <3 <3

Evie Vlahakis Aug 20, 2016 5:06pm

what are your safety tips? are there times you are out of your comfort zone and worried?

Toby Israel Aug 20, 2016 2:24pm

Hah, Kim, I've been hearing about those for ages now, would be curious to hear some reviews! Open fields are usually way more pleasant than overused outhouses! :D

Betty Eyer Aug 20, 2016 2:23pm

Toby Israel Yes, the trains run on time....unless they don't run at all.

Toby Israel Aug 20, 2016 2:23pm

Betty 100% agree real allergies are another category entirely. Love that story--- just like France to have massive strikes at the worst times! Sounds like your trip turned out that much better for it. :)

Toby Israel Aug 20, 2016 2:21pm

Tanya, yes to all of those!! :D

Carmelene Melanie Siani Aug 20, 2016 2:19pm

Always enjoy and appreciate your writing Toby.... not to mention following your travels!

Kim Carmean Aug 19, 2016 4:46pm

I've had the priviledge to travel and live in several far-flung places over the years. About those bathrooms: While in China traipsing around as a single woman in the mid 80's, our bus stopped alongside a field for us to quickly dine & dash back on. I joined the line to use the one out-house, which consisted of muddy blankets held up to make a 6 X 6 room. When my turn to enter came, the stench of uria overtook me and the maggots inside the shallow pit toilet were also lovely. All those men on the bus (modesty & personal space being unheard of in China) were treated to the sight of a "big nose" 25-year-old hiking into the nearby field to squat. Hey - I knew I'd never see those guys again! I keep planning to buy a She-wee.

Betty Eyer Aug 19, 2016 12:34pm

Eat the food doesn't work for real allergies. But I agree with all the rest. 35 years ago, in the midst of a divorce, I scraped together pennies and went to France. I had planned the whole thing in two hour increments to get the most out of my time. And then there was a massive strike including tour guides, museum workers and public transportation. And I found that I didn't WANT to make Chartres fit into two hours, I wanted to just sit there and look at stained glass until they threw me out. I've enjoyed traveling much more because of those lessons.

Tania Borg Aug 19, 2016 12:08pm

thanks for sharing this, I also find travelling interesting and i do miss travelling :) your comments make sense and i can relate to what was written. A couple of lessons I learnt from travelling, i. do not spend all you have in an instant ii. carry less, you can live with much less iii use less space iv. space and time are relative.