7 things I learned from 7 years of traveling the world

When I started traveling back in 2015, an entire new world opened up in front of me. I used to be this shy, horse obsessed girl that refused to speak to anyone and constantly felt out of place. As soon as I did my first trips, especially my solo trips, I learnt new things every single day. In this blog post I’ll be telling you all about the things I learnt from my years of traveling around the world.

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Make a plan, but don’t plan excessively

In the beginning, I made this mistake quite often. I had only just turned 18 years old and was traveling all through southern Africa by myself, so I wanted a plan that would make me feel safe. I didn’t want to end up in a situation where I would get lost or not have any transport arranged. The other thing was that I never wanted to feel like I missed out on anything. Every day of my adventure would be planned out, filled with sightseeing activities, hikes, transport and accommodation. To be fair, I’m still a planner, but not for my travels anymore. At the end of the day, planning every day out made me feel extremely stressed and anxious, especially if I ran out of time and wouldn’t be able to do one of the activities. Now, if I travel to Africa, I just book a flight and figure the rest out later as I’ve been so many times and have so many friends in most countries that I’ll be able to make a plan on the spot, and I feel safe. When I travel to a new country, for example in South America or in Asia (Europe I’m not too worried about), I’ll make a plan, but not an excessive one. I’ll make a small list of three or four things I definitely want to do or see while I’m in the country, and make a plan for transport and the first few nights of accommodation. Doing this will make you feel safe and at ease, and even though it might stress you out a bit before leaving, as soon as you have spent the first night in this new country, the stress will simply melt away.  

Travel teaches you to not be extremely shy anymore

I cannot stress enough how extremely shy I was before I started traveling. Part of the problem was that I had no intention or desire to speak to anyone that wasn’t my friend, so I barely ever tried. When I did try, I always felt embarrassed and completely misunderstood. To be fair, I still am very introverted and always will be, but I’m far from shy. When this topic comes up with people I’ve met recently, they are always quite surprised to hear that I used to be very shy. That’s because it’s changed so rapidly while traveling. When you’re out exploring the world solo, and especially the horse world, you have to be able to stand up for yourself and speak to lots and lots of strangers. Whether you’re a guide on horseback, or working at a hostel bar, you’ll encounter a lot of different people. The great thing is that these people all have a similar mindset and interests as you. They are all traveling just like you, and want to explore nature and have adventures. Slowly but surely, you’ll start to notice that it’s actually great to speak to these people and share stories with them, and that talking to strangers won’t kill you. 

Forbidden city in Beijing China
Exploring Beijing, thankfully I had my dear friend with me to do the translating, but there was no room for shyness!

Create a home base

That, and a routine, as boring as that may sound, you’ll be able to keep going for much longer. I never took my own advice though and had no routine whatsoever, which left me exhausted and bitter about travel. Long term travel is lonely, you’ll meet a lot of people, but they (or you) always move onto the next place quickly. In one way, this is great as you get to pick and choose who you spend time with, and if you don’t particularly enjoy someone’s company, it’s only a matter of time before you never have to see them again. We all need some kind of friendship and routine in our lives though, especially when traveling all by yourself, you need someone to talk to. Of course, you can call and chat to your friends at home, but they might not be all that interested in talking about all these adventures you’re having while they sit at home and go to work every day. If you are able to create a homebase to travel from, you’ll be able to keep traveling without getting exhausted for way longer! This can be a place somewhere on the planet from which you take short trips to other countries, or a place within a country that you make your home for a few months while exploring. Especially if you’re also working online, this is crucial, as you won’t be able to work full time while also hopping from one hostel to the next every 48 hours. A perfect home base could be a place where you get to volunteer a few hours a week in exchange for accommodation. This way, you keep your costs low and it is also the best way to learn about the culture, and if you’re lucky with where you’re staying, the food! It might be great to every now and then get out of your comfort zone and head out into the unknown for a few months with only a backpack and a tent, I loved it every time. However, if you really want to make this a lifestyle, you’ll need some sort of home base and routine.

Horse riding in the Drakensberg, South Africa
For a long time, Khotso was my home base in South Africa, and I met incredible people here!

The slower you travel, the cheaper it will be

After high school, I took a gap year to travel, and felt like I was in a huge rush. I wanted to see everything as soon as possible and felt like a year was not nearly enough. Obviously I now have all the time in the world, so I don’t rush as often anymore. However, sometimes I still accidentally rush my travels. Because I was traveling so fast, it was extremely expensive. I felt like there was no time for me to take a bus, as it meant I would be missing out on one extra day in the next country, so I went by plane. I didn’t want to wait for flights or accommodation in a specific place to decrease in prices, so I would fly in the middle of summer vacations or at other expensive times. As soon as you slow down your travels and stop rushing around the globe, besides having a way better time, you’ll also save a lot of money. I didn’t quite realise how much until I actually tried it. It can mean the difference between spending 200 euros per month and 2000 euros per month. Slow travel allows you the time to volunteer in exchange for accommodation, wait for prices to go down on flights, and take buses and trains instead of planes. 

You’re going to have to make choices, you can’t visit or see everything

To travel slowly, you’re going to have to make choices. Not everything is worth it, honestly, and don’t take it too seriously when people say that you absolutely have to go someplace. You need to be able to make up your own mind, and bucket list. People are affected by so many different things, and so many factors add up to a fantastic trip, so their bucket list item might not even make it onto your kind-of-fun list. In the beginning I found it so incredibly difficult to make these choices, but over the years I’ve gotten quite decent at it. The factor that usually plays a big part in the choice is horses, or opportunities for horse riding or spending time with horses. However, for you it can also be the opportunity to see a specific festival or cultural celebration you’ve always wanted to see, or to meet up with friends you haven’t seen in forever. It doesn’t matter what your choice is based on, as long as you try not to see every single thing on the planet. You don't necessarily need to avoid touristic places or organised tours, especially when you’re short on time and need to make choices. Tours and touristic places are popular for a reason, and if you only have one day in a specific city and you’d like to see it stress-free, just get on that hop-on hop-off bus. It barely costs a thing and is simply just the most efficient way to explore a new city.

Arabian horse at sunset in the Netherlands
Being able to spend time with amazing horses makes the choice quite easy for me!

Trust your gut

We all have instincts, and we can definitely trust them. When I started traveling I was always worried about making wrong judgments. I thought that it was impossible to read whether someone has good or bad intentions, and thought it was something I had to learn. The thing is, you don’t actually have to learn it, as you already have that instinct. You just need to trust it a bit more. People usually have good intentions, but if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. My instinct has never once been wrong on a trip, and neither will yours be.

The people you meet during your travels make the difference

I’m extremely introverted, and enjoy my own company more than anyone else’s most days, and I even think that spending time with amazing people makes a trip so much better. It’s similar to having a fantastic job and terrible colleagues, or having a horrible job but incredible colleagues. The trip will only be as good as the people you get to spend time with, and while I love my solo trips, I also love the meet-ups we do. Getting to share these incredible experiences and explore new places together makes all the difference. 

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