The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” ― St. Augustine
Seven months ago, I mentioned to my parents that I wanted to go to Europe after graduating, but it was mainly just wishful thinking.
They didn’t have the money to pay for it and neither did I. I really wanted to do it, but I didn’t think there was any way it would actually work it.
Until something happened…
I was in San Francisco for the New Year visiting family. It was New Year’s Eve, and we were at my aunt and uncle’s house for dinner. During dinner, I mentioned to my uncle that I was thinking about going to Europe after graduating, but that I wasn’t sure if it was going to work out.
He asked me why not, and I told him that I didn’t think I could afford it. He gave me a blank stare, and then said, “Dude, we’ll help you out. You should go. You have to go. Now is the perfect time to go!”
I hadn’t even thought about asking family for funds as an option, and with my graduation coming up, it seemed like a pretty reasonable request in lieu of any other graduation gifts.
A week later when I was back home, I stumbled across Warren Buffet’s “2 List” time management strategy and decided to figure out what was on my two lists (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this article). When I finished the exercise, “Euro trip after graduation” landed on List A.
Lo and behold, six months later I was sitting in LAX with my friend Lonnie, waiting to board a flight to London to begin a three-week backpacking trip across Europe. We bought flight tickets from LA to London, from London to Barcelona, and from Budapest back to LA. And that was it.
We had some idea of places we wanted to go to, but we decided we would play it by ear. Our only requirement was that we made it to Budapest before June 17th.
In the end, we visited a total of eight countries—England, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Sweden (we had a one night layover in Stockholm on our way back to LA).
It was without a doubt one of the best experiences of my life.
And while travel can be a fun, leisurely experience, it can also be an extremely powerful learning experience. The way I see it, the money I spent on this trip was an investment in knowledge–in learning more about the world and about my self.
Today, I want to share with you a few life lessons I’ve learned from traveling that I probably never would have learned otherwise:
1. Don’t let the bad things ruin the good things.
This is the biggest lesson I learned from backpacking across Europe. Overall, it was an amazingly positive experience, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
When you accept, and expect, that these “bad” things are going to happen, you won’t be surprised or get upset when they do. Instead, you’ll make the most of the situation and move on. Sure, it’ll still suck in the moment, but at least it won’t catch you by surprise. You still might stumble a little bit initially, but then you’ll get back on your feet and keep moving.
Your attitude determines whether life is an ordeal or an adventure.” – Tweet This
Don’t let one bad thing that happens to you put a damper on the rest of your life. Learn to accept and embrace the things that are out of your control. Instead of wasting your energy whining and complaining, channel that energy into finding the most productive way you can respond to the situation and then just keep moving forward.
2. Don’t be afraid to look like a fool if you’re having fun.
When I used to be very self-conscious, I was always afraid of doing or saying anything stupid, so I’d stand in the corner and do nothing.
One of the first nights when we were in Barcelona, we went to a club next to our hostel (literally right next door to our hostel) and I danced like I’ve never danced before. I didn’t care if I looked stupid. I had nothing to lose. I was on the other side of the world and I wasn’t trying to impress anyone.
And you know what happened? I had the time of my life. Funny part is, girls noticed that I was having a good time and they wanted to dance with me.
I’ve realized that people are attracted to people who know how to have fun. At the end of the day, no matter where you are, everyone just wants to have a good time. Stop trying to impress people all the time, and just enjoy yourself. This is applicable to everyone, everywhere. You don’t have to be on the other side of the world to have fun.
3. Give people a chance. Most people are good.
Obviously, there are bad people in the world. But most people are good, kind, friendly people. Everywhere we went, we made new friends. When we were in London, I remember Lonnie saying that he hadn’t had so many people buy him drinks since his birthday.
When we’re kids, we’re taught all about “stranger danger,” and I think that tends to stick with us as we grow older. We make snap judgments and assume the worst about people instead of getting a chance to know them first.
Before I left for this trip, I sent an email out to all of my newsletter subscribers telling them that I was going to be traveling throughout Europe with my friend Lonnie, and I asked if anyone who lived in Europe wanted to meet up. I was hesitant at first to make this proposition, partly because I was afraid that no one would respond, but also partly because I was afraid who might respond. I decided to ignore these illogical fears and make the proposition. I figured I had nothing to lose.
To my surprise, I got multiple responses from subscribers who lived all over Europe. Lonnie and I ended up making a pit stop in Aachen, Germany to meet up with Erika Willis—a student at the RWTH University (the best mechanical engineering university in all of Germany) and one of my subscribers.
I was a little nervous about agreeing to meet Erika, but I’m very glad I did. She was a truly amazing host and we had a great time in Aachen. We went to the three country border (between Holland, Germany, and Belgium), checked out the Imperial Cathedral, met some of her friends, ate some great food, and even made some origami. Oh, and we talked about how every day for the last month she’s been waking up at 5:15 AM, taking a cold shower, and writing a blog post. Basically, she’s killing it. Thanks again for everything, Erika!
4. The best things aren’t always the most expensive things.
Some of my favorite memories from this trip were the least expensive, or sometimes even free, things… A hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Barcelona that served delicious, yet super cheap Spanish Tapas (and sparkling red wine); a free public screening of the UEFA Championship Game; $1 beers during happy hour at our hostel; a hike to one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen; crashing on an inflatable bed on the floor of Erika’s apartment…
Don’t always automatically associate price tag with value. I’d choose cheap Spanish tapas and good company over fancy cruises and expensive restaurants any day.
5. It’s okay to splurge, sometimes.
I know this directly contradicts my point before, but there’s a time and a place for everything. Obviously, if you’re on a budget like I was, you have to be frugal with your money when you’re traveling. But if you feel like you’re always pinching every penny everywhere you go, you’re not going to enjoy your trip. And the same is true for your life—you’re not going to enjoy it if every decision you make is dictated by money.
This is what motivates me to become wealthy one day—not the ability to buy lots of flashy accessories—but the ability to enjoy my life more on my terms, not on the terms of what’s in my wallet. As Ramit Sethi preaches, the answer to living the life you want to live shouldn’t always be to spend less, but to figure out how to earn more (and the way you do that is by being a top performer).
But even if you are on a budget like I was, you can still afford to splurge every now and then if you’re careful about how you spend your money the majority of the time. There’s no point in spending money for the sake of spending money, but if you’re having a great time socializing with people and an extra drink will genuinely add to the experience, I say go for it.
6. You can’t do everything, but don’t let that prevent you from doing something.
Everywhere we went in Europe, there were a million places we “had” to see. Every person we asked told us something different. At the beginning of the trip, my strategy was to ask people what was the one thing I had to see in a certain place. Sometimes this was effective, but sometimes I still ended up with too many different answers from different people. I’ve realized that, more often than not, too many options leads to analysis paralysis. You waste a bunch of time making a decision, or you end up not making a decision at all.
It’s exactly what happens when you go to a restaurant and they have a 15-page menu. It’s overwhelming because there’s just way too much to choose from.
On our trip, we were pretty good about not wasting too much time deciding what to do next because we knew that we only had three weeks and we had to make every day count. But, in our day-to-day lives, we don’t always have that sense of urgency. I think sometimes we feel like we’re going to live forever, and because we have so many opportunities available to us in this day and age, we end up wasting a bunch of time doing nothing. It’s the reason why so many of us never even get started on ideas that we’ve had for years (like how it took me two years to finally start this blog)—because there are too many options and we don’t know where to start.
While there might be one way to start that’s better than another way, starting anywhere is better than starting nowhere. Just make a decision and then go from there.” – Tweet This
It doesn’t matter if you don’t make the “right” decision. You can always remediate the consequences of your decisions after the fact. But by making a decision and starting today, you’ll be that much further than someone who puts it off for tomorrow.
7. Plans are good, but so is flexibility.
I’m not going to lie. Going into this trip, I was a little concerned about not having a solid itinerary. It was our plan from the beginning to forgo planning, and I was fully on board. But in the final days leading up to the trip, I started to get a little bit scared.
I remember reading an article from a travel blog, called Twenty-Something Travel, the week before we left that summarized my feelings perfectly. As the author was preparing for a round-the-world trip, she explained her intense feelings of mixed emotions:
“I know that I will be terrified when I leave for my Round-The-World trip in September. Logically I know it will be amazing, but there are still a million undercurrents of fear in my ocean of excitement. I will go though, and I will force myself to meet people and to encounter situations that I will have no idea how to handle. I will throw myself out of plans and sleep in dingy hostels and meet random strangers. And I’ll come out on the other side better for it.”
I’m the kind of person who normally likes to plan everything down to the T, so this was definitely stretching my comfort zone. And that’s exactly why I wanted to do it this way. It probably would have been a lot easier, and maybe even a little bit cheaper, to have planned every where we were going to go and every where we were going to stay from the very beginning. But it also would’ve been a lot less exciting.
When we were out there, we took it one day at a time. We were focused on the present. This was probably as close as I’ve ever gotten to truly living in the moment. Of course we had to figure out where we were staying each night, but we never looked more than a couple days ahead. It was great.
I still think planning is extremely important when it comes to achieving your goals and living a fulfilling life. But, the thing is, plans don’t usually go as planned.
If you’re the kind of person to always become super invested in your plans, you’re going to end up having a lot of disappointments in your life. This trip was an exercise for me to practice being more flexible, for dealing with new experiences and new challenges and rolling with the punches.
8. If there’s a will, there’s always a way. You just have to find it.
I lucked out because, in addition to the graduation money that I got from family (thank you, family!!!), I also ended up having some left over funds from my financial aid. But even if I didn’t have any left over financial aid, and even if I hadn’t received any graduation money, I know that I still would’ve gotten the funds, one way or another. I know this because I wrote it down on my list, and I told myself that I was going to make it happen—no matter what the cost was going to be.
Everyone wants to go to cool places and do cool things and meet cool people. But we usually just talk about the things we want to do, instead of actually doing them. Be different.
If you want to do something, be the kind of person that actually makes it happen. Have some courage.
Find a way.
I want to be that person for you, like my uncle was for me, who tells you that now is the perfect time to do it.
I learned a lot of other things too (like that authentic Czech food makes me want to vomit and that you should avoid taking cabs in Rome), but these were the biggest takeaways for me. Whether you’ve had the opportunity to travel or not, I hope you can relate to some of them.
On a lighter note, here’s a short, fun video I put together (filmed on my friend’s GoPro) that captures some of the highlights from our trip!
Quick shout out to some cool products and services that made this trip a truly amazing and unforgettable experience:
• Airbnb (use this link to get $25 travel credit)
When we weren’t staying in hostels, we stayed in Airbnb’s. I love everything about this service—it’s easy to use and a great business model (similar to Uber’s). We stayed in a total of three Airbnb’s and had a great experience every time.
• GoPro (affiliate link)
Lonnie bought a GoPro HERO4 Silver specifically for this trip. Without it, this video wouldn’t exist.
• Ultimate Ears Portable Bluetooth Speaker (not an affiliate link)
I bought the UE Mini Boom speaker for this trip because it was ranked as the best portable bluetooth speaker on The Wirecutter. The Mini Boom has been discontinued now and replaced by the UE Roll, but you can still buy it on Amazon here (affiliate link). Sound quality is amazing for its size. I also love its simple design and super long battery life (10 hours!). Perfect for any adventure or just relaxing to some tunes on the beach.
• Tortuga Backpacks (not an affiliate link)
Lonnie purchased a Tortuga Travel Backpack for this trip and he loved it. I just used an old backpack I had from work, and although I managed to fit everything I needed into it, it was a very tight squeeze and I had a much more difficult time than Lonnie did with his Tortuga backpack. I wished I had bought one too (and I plan on buying one before my next trip). Lonnie’s Tortuga backpack also came with a free eBook on how to pack light when traveling, which he shared with me and was actually super helpful when I was trying to figure out what to pack.