Backpacking is definitely a learning experience. You get thrown in to all sorts of situations, you have to problem solve and learn how to cope with life when it all goes wrong. Travel helps you to develop as a person. In this guest post Sam tells us what he believes to be the life lessons learned whilst backpacking the world.
Backpacking around the world is literally full of surprises. Before you’ve done it, you may have some notions about the coming experiences. The truth is that although there will be some validity to those, it’s impossible to imagine the full scope of your experiences. That’s what makes it so exciting. People with wanderlust often have a deeply inquisitive nature, and the unknown is full of promise.
Equally, it’s smart to expect a few challenges along the way, but really those just thicken the plot. Life wouldn’t be so interesting without a few obstacles to navigate, and there’s catharsis to be found by surmounting them. Travel experiences are so appealing because everything is amplified – you can have fun anywhere of course, but the novelty factor associated with travel experiences is seriously addictive. Your senses are fine-tuned while travelling, so you’re in a heightened state of consciousness a lot of the time.
Backpacking around the world will bring a richness to your life that staying home never could. One of the best things about this is the life lessons that you gain along the way. Below are a few of mine, and I think plenty of other travellers will identify:
1. Different Cultures Broaden Your Perspective Immeasurably
We don’t realise how conditioned we are by our culture until we leave it for immersion in another. Sometimes this results in culture shock, but that’s always temporary. It is actually valuable, as it shakes you out of your comfort zone and narrower perceptions of normality.
You see that there are many more ways of doing things, and that some are actually preferable to the methods you’re accustomed to. The way people communicate varies greatly from country to country; traditions may be baffling but fascinating, and habitual routines can be seriously at odds with your own.
Such diverse experiences of life can expand your awareness to an unprecedented degree, which can drastically change your thinking and behaviour over time. Travellers tend to become far more open-minded, patient and accepting of differences within others. This is certainly a valuable tool in life.
2. You’re Capable Of So Much More Than You Realised
At home we can develop a pretty fixed idea of what our skills and abilities are. These then become habit and we may not consciously stretch ourselves. With time, it’s easy to forget that there is so much more to develop. When faced with new opportunities on the road, it’s possible that fears and doubts will come up. Especially when trying your hand at a new job for the first time.
Backpackers are often more open to new experiences and challenges than they might have been back home, so they tend to just go for it. It’s amazing what you can discover about yourself. This might be anything from an ability to nurture orphaned monkeys, to overcoming fear of heights through abseiling; it may be connecting on a deep level with nature in overwhelmingly beautiful tropical environments, or quickly mastering a seemingly complex language.
You might start coming out of your shell on a social level, or navigating confusing terrain alone; maybe you’ll overcome a fear of insects, become a scuba dive instructor, or contribute value to a budding eco-community. You may never see any of these possibilities coming, but it’s safe to say they’re as rewarding as they are abundant.
It’s possible that you’ll also learn the hard way that you’re not invincible… but even that is a blessing. It is educational and can lead to more self-care and awareness. One thing is for sure – you’ll surprise yourself at some point, and you’re going to see that you can do more with your life than you ever dreamed possible. What’s more, the fun you’ll have while doing so is tough to put into words.
3. People Are More Or Less The Same Wherever You Go
Before you’ve explored the world, you may have preconceptions about people from other cultures. The media has a way of instilling ideas that later become subconscious expectations. Although it can be tough to understand people whose language you don’t speak, you’ll still identify with others wherever you go. Obviously people have different personality types, but on a human level, you’ll recognise shared values in most places.
You might meet backpackers from other countries with whom you share a similar sense of humour; you may see people connecting with and caring for animals just as you would with your dog or cat, and children are usually full of life and playful whatever their circumstances. It’s rare that you’ll go somewhere where nobody ever laughs, hugs or looks out for each other. You’ll always find a way to communicate even without shared language, because people everywhere understand expressions and intentions.
However different the local culture is, these things often remain the same. This can invoke a real sense of interconnectedness and appreciation for humanity. It’s enlightening, and cultural barriers seem less of an issue than they once did.
4. Home Is Where The Heart Is
One the most surprising lessons I learned was that home really is where the heart is. For some, it’s where they lay their hat. It might even be both, but after enough time away, you may be so much more aware of what you love about your life back home.
You could start missing certain foods, localities, and customs; you might discover a newfound appreciation for your local nature… and when you get home after backpacking, that warm sense of familiarity can be as enticing as booking the flight out was in the first place.
When you haven’t seen your closest people for a while, you’ll be coming home full of fond memories and anticipation. Creature comforts may never have felt so good, and the ease with which you went about your life is no longer taken for granted. This doesn’t mean you’ll never want to leave again – that’s unlikely – but each time you come back, you’ll embrace a little more about the place from which you came. If you want to really love your home, then leave it from time to time.
Backpacking around the world will surely bring you even more life lessons than these, but these are some of the most profound and resounding lessons I’ve had. The only way to learn your own lessons is to get out there and see for yourself… and don’t doubt that you’re going to love it!
Sam Ross runs the blog The Hammock Hombre – a travel blog focused around the digital nomad lifestyle. Over the past 3 years, he’s travelled to every continent, so writes on a broad range of countries, cities and destinations.