My first memory of traveling was playing soccer with locals on a beach in Mexico. From this trip, I knew there was so much that traveling could teach me. As I continue to travel, I am constantly learning new things about this world and new things about myself. Here are the nine lessons I have learned from traveling so far.
1. There is more than one way to live your life.
When I was little, I planned my adult life. I would like to graduate, find a good paying job, get married and have one or two children. The typical scenario, right? When I started traveling alone in Central America, I realized something. In every culture there is a focus on the lifestyle. In the United States, life is very much about work. In other countries like Spain, Mexico and Panama, the emphasis is on the social aspect of life. Meeting friends and seeing loved ones is a weekly thing, not something you spend 20 minutes between jobs. Life is about the people you share it with, not what you do.
2. Happiness is not defined by things but by experiences and people.
Yes, things can make us happy. My favorite pair of black boots makes me happy every time I wear them. My phone makes me happy because I can connect to so many people from near and far. However, if I were to strip all material things, what would I have left? I would have memories, experiences and very good friends. Our material possessions can all be taken away, but our memories and experiences will stay with us forever.
3. Traveling may require you to sit with yourself.
In all fairness, traveling solo can be lonely at times. The main reason is that as busy and “productive” members of society, we don’t take the time to be alone. Being alone can be uncomfortable, scary, and even a little intimidating. I remember a day when I found this little beach nestled on top of a hill in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was me, the sand, the water, the breeze and the occasional passer-by. It was incredibly relaxing. But the more I sat there alone, the more I had to pay attention to all my thoughts. My cell phone was out of order, so I couldn’t distract myself with social media. I had to feel every emotion that presented itself. Every thought, every feeling was like the waves I was beside. Powerful, strong and persistent. After every emotional crash, just like the ocean wave, there were moments of serenity. When I travel to places that aren’t filled with the same distractions as my home, I can pay attention to what’s going on inside of me.
4. Laughter is a common language.
“A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. —William Arthur Ward
There are so many times that I slaughtered the mother tongue, pronounced something wrong, or didn’t understand what the other person was trying to communicate to me. Among those awkward engagements, either me or the other person cracked a smile. Finally, that smile would lead to laughter, and we would end up on the same page. Once, while shopping for fruits and vegetables in Panama, I confused the word “ajo” meaning garlic with the word “ojo” meaning eye. I basically asked the seller if he had an eye instead of garlic. After a confused look, I realized my mistake. We both ended up laughing.
5. Learning a second language is important.
Although laughter is a common language, it is important to learn a second language. Learning Spanish and speaking the Spanish I know has allowed me to better understand the culture. I am allowed to ask for help when I need it. When I’m in a country where I don’t know the native language, I at least try to learn a few sentences in the local dialect. I feel more respected and accepted when I can communicate something in a broken language.
6. Despite our difference, there is a human connection.
Whether anyone believes the Quran or the Bible, most of us see the value of human life. We all want the freedom to love and be loved. Happiness and joy are gifts that we all seek. We all want to live our lives in the best possible way.