12 Life-changing lessons learnt from travel

1. Things are not always what they seem

Do we see things how they are, or how we want to see them? Or rather, told and conditioned to see them?

I once had a homeless man come up to me and I instantly judged that he was dangerous.

But as soon as we started speaking I knew he wasn’t. He just had bad luck that left him on the streets.

He gave me the most wise life advice I’ve received, which was to trust myself. To trust my own heart and intuition.

Obviously, it hadn’t worked for him! But there is wisdom in his advice.

We shouldn’t be too trusting of strangers. But we also shouldn’t judge and shun them either.

As you concern yourself with judging the good or bad of others, you create an opening in your heart for maliciousness to enter. 

Only by seeking to be tolerant and understanding of one another can we evolve.

Because many things are not black and white:

The person who has an amazing life with everything they want feels empty inside;

The people with the most wisdom are often the least successful ones;

The country we perceive as dangerous has many of the kindest people;

The person who appears overly confident or superior is, in many cases, putting on a facade to hide their feelings of inferiority;

The person who is a real genius is unknown to most people;

The person who is the most kind doesn’t get any recognition for it;

The person who has the most love to give doesn’t have anyone to love;

The person who appears the most rude or cold or angry is just going through inner hell;

The person who has some of the most interesting things to say, stays quiet.

2. We don’t know what we don’t know

Growing up in a small community or city without experiencing anything else can make us live in a bubble. 

We can be 100% certain of how the world works and not realise we are a big fish in a little pond. Almost feeling like we know it all. As I was when I first experienced travelling. 

But the more you experience, the more you realise how much you don’t know. The more you realise how there are many ‘unknown unknowns’ that you don’t even realise you don’t know!

It’s too easy to dismiss someone or something because it doesn’t align with our beliefs and how we think the world is.

But maybe it’s our beliefs and worldview that need to be questioned.

Everyone sees the world through a different paradigm. There is more to most things than meets the eye.

It’s hard to do (I am still working on it!), but cultivating a non judgemental and open-minded approach to everything in life is essential to avoid falling into the trap of being insular and close minded without even realising it.

3. Life is about growth, not ‘success’

We often avoid trying because we are not sure of being ‘successful’. If we don’t achieve the desired end result, it’s considered a failure.

If we don’t climb to the top of that mountain, its perceived as a pointless endeavour.

But the end goal isn’t the point. 

The point is did you grow? Did you become more self aware or aware of the world around you? Did you learn something new? Did you have fun? Did you experience something so profound that it will stay with you forever?

In my opinion, not achieving your desired end goal is success if you experience growth. 

4. Growth doesn’t require huge feats

Having a short but slightly difficult conversation with someone can help you grow more than backpacking for 6 months. 

We don’t have to travel to experience the world and grow as a human being.

It’s not always the grand big adventure and adrenaline fueled activities we need to do to grow and get out of our comfort zone.

It’s new experiences slightly out of our comfort zone that help us grow.

Often, these are right on your doorstep or in front of you.

Slowly working on a new skill or new habit over the course of a year might not seem like much. Yet, it can have a profound impact on us.

5. We need some risk in life

The brain is hardwired for safety and comfort. Constant societal messages reinforcing ‘staying safe’ as the ultimate value above everything else, programmes this mentality into our minds. 

A bird in a cage is safe, but is it really living?

That bird might feel safe and content for a while, but it will become depressed and go insane if it gets too comfortable or is confined for too long.

It has wings and is designed to fly. Life is short.

The same is for humans, we have arms and legs and are designed to move. 

We have an incredibly powerful brain that is designed to create and to grow and to interact with the world. Not stay inside to stay safe.

Obviously the context of the risk is everything. But as already said it doesn’t have to be a huge feat. 

For many of us, there comes a point where not taking a small risk or getting out of your comfort zone, becomes more painful, on an emotional, spiritual or physical level, than the risk itself.

Why do we see so many mental health issues and life crises now?

Not taking any risks to live how we are designed to live is going against our nature.

That’s the root cause of many of our issues; living a life against our true nature.

We don’t have to climb Everest, but taking a few more risks that we deem acceptable for ourselves will give us that feeling of being alive. 

Surely that is the ultimate goal of human existence, to add more life to our days and years rather than merely exist in a state of fear?

6. Good to have a plan, but follow instinct and accept that s**t happens

In academia and professional work I was told that failing to plan is planning to fail. This has an element of truth to it, especially in the context of delivering a corporate presentation. 

But when travelling, s**t happens. 

After spending hours learning Spanish before my trip, I thought I had done my homework. I planned my exact route and accommodation. But when I arrived in South America I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. This made me miss the only bus of the day and sleeping at the bus station with nowhere else to go! 

Following a plan to the tee also does not allow for instinctive and unexpected deviations off the beaten track. 

These are often the most incredible experiences. 

You might meet a local who recommends somewhere different to your plan. Tip: always listen to the locals advice! They know better than any travel book. 

It’s good to have a plan, but accept that s**t happens and keeping a sense of wanderlust makes life more exciting.

7. Western society is a scam

Many people in poverty are more content than most western ‘civilised’ and ‘affluent’ people.

They live true to their nature. They live simply but live to live, not exist to strive for something outside of themselves. 

Western civilisation is a scam in the sense where we are mostly chasing things we don’t need – more money, more possessions etc. 

This is contributing to us being more depressed than ever before. 

Once our basic needs are met, it is more important to be fulfilled with love and meaning on a soul level. To be creative and add to the world.

A homeless man with the love of a dog as a companion was more content, genuine and wise then most corporate managers and colleagues I’ve known who would be considered ‘successful’ in western society.

8. Our expectation determines our result

Often, the best and most talked about places were so hyped up in my mind, that when I visited them I was let down. 

The expectation of an amazing experience (created in my mind) meant that if I didn’t have a mind blowing experience it was a disappointment.

Conversely, experiences not so hyped up were sometimes the best and most profound experiences!

I think it is the same with many things, most of our disappointments come from totally out of whack expectations.

For example, we start exercising and expect to look like a front page model within a month. This is only going to lead to anxiety and disappointment. 

But if we start exercising with the expectation that we will move a bit better with less pain after a month, this will likely lead to good feelings!

9. We are an amazing creation capable of self healing without drugs

In Bolivia, while crossing the Altiplano into Chile, I had the most severe food poisoning.

The first night, every 20 minutes or so I had to go to the toilet. The problem was the toilet was a shed outside the bunker we were staying in. As I couldn’t keep any water down, I became so dehydrated I ran out of energy and passed out in the freezing cold.

I could not hold water down for a further 3 days. There weren’t any places to stop for supplies! We were in a vast barren plateau. 

When we finally got to Chile, I could sleep in a proper bed. Just a couple night’s rest and freshly grown fruit was enough to make me feel so much better. No medications needed. 

Obviously, there are more serious problems where medication is necessary.

But we are so quick to turn to the pill and drug to heal ourselves, when the human body is the best healer there is for most things. We just need to give it the natural signals it needs like rest and good nutrition.

10. Gratitude

It’s not comfort that’s bad for us, but our lack of gratitude and appreciation of how lucky we are to have the luxury of comfort. 

To have good hygiene, warm homes, clothes and food on the table is unbelievably lucky. I’m glad just to have a roof over my head! 

When camping in Torres Del Paine in Chile the winds reached 120k/ph. I couldn’t stand up because of the danger of being blown over. Hence, the route was closed and I was stranded. 

How much sleep do you think I got in a tent that constantly feels like it’s about to be blown away?

So now just having my own bed is amazing. 

But we do not appreciate it because many of us have never experienced a lack of these comforts.

We are always focused on what we don’t have.

This is reinforced by subliminal messages from education, media and advertising telling us that unless you do x you are not good enough. You need to be more! 

It focuses our attention on what we don’t have, without fully appreciating what we do have.

11. Understanding isolation and self-awareness

Some of the mountain and wilderness landscapes of the world are miles and miles away from civilisation. 

The energy you feel from experiencing that can be deeply lonely. The silence and the magnitude of nature can be unnerving at times. 

But it can also be unbelievably calming and healing. Almost spiritual in a sense where we feel we are returning to our natural state with nature. There are no screens or distractions so we get a chance to connect with ourselves.

It is very different from the insidious form of isolation we are used to in civilisation. Where paradoxically, people are everywhere and super connected by technology, yet in all of human history we have never been more disconnected and isolated from each other.

That type of isolation is a different type of loneliness, where feelings of anxiety and hopelessness creep up on us.

But both require being alone with yourself. Therefore, the relationship we have with ourselves and our own inner voice is so important. 

12. Your fears aren’t going to go away

We can’t escape our own minds.

Travel is great for new experiences and growth.

But your fears aren’t going to go away. The only way to make them go away is to run towards them.

I remember I often had a dream (or nightmare) of climbing up a high mountain and then falling off as a child. I always woke up when I fell off. I then created a belief that I must be scared of heights.

So I started climbing mountains. Climbing mountains hasn’t overcome that fear. I’ve just realised the fear is mostly in my head and running towards it makes me more comfortable around it.

It’s not about overcoming fear, but feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

If we don’t, those fears consume us from the inside out.

I would be interested to know your opinion on this insight. Please leave a comment below or feel free to email me at chris@evolveyourhealthpersonaltraining.com.

Write a comment