5 Life Lessons I Learned Traveling the World
I traveled from France to Vietnam solo and never took a plane. Here's what I learned along the way...
In September 2014, I decided to travel from France to Vietnam without taking a plane at any point during the adventure.
I wanted to see the world at human speed, taking the time to appreciate every wonder of our planet.
I started the trip hitchhiking from my hometown, with only 4,000€ (roughly $4,2000) in my bank account. During this whole journey, I crossed 16 countries, met thousands of people, experienced the Siberian winter and the South-East Asian summer.
I slept in my tent when it was 30 below in Mongolia, spent nights on rooftops in Shanghai’s highest towers, took around 50k pictures, learned a lot about our world...and ultimately, myself.
Here are 5 life lessons this journey taught me.
1. Don’t plan too much
People will tell you that preparation is key when you go on a road trip like that. It is.
But, here's the most important thing they don't tell you: be prepared but don't plan everything.
Personally, I had everything figured out: visas, insurance, vaccines… and of course, the whole trip was scheduled. I’d say that having some kind of planning is necessary for yourself in order to have a goal, a motive.
However, traveling is about discovering the unknown.
Sooner or later, you realize organizing everything isn’t an option. You just have to get out of your comfort zone and experience the world.
I remember being in Mongolia planning everything for my next country, China. At that time, it was freezing in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital and largest city. We struggled to spend more than an hour outside because of the cold. I had given up the idea of exploring the Gobi Desert when I saw the temperatures. I was about to leave for China, when I randomly stumbled upon friends I made earlier on the way.
Together and within a few hours, we were ready to explore one of the biggest and coldest desert on Earth.
As we were driving through sand and snow, I realized that I never regretted taking chances when I was on the road.
Let me tell you, those 10 days in the south of Mongolia are still one of the best memories I have while traveling and it was all because I changed my plans at the very last minute.
My advice: don’t plan too much. Nothing’s going to happen the way you planned it anyways… and that’s the magic!
“When nothing is certain, anything is possible” - A. de Maximy
2. People are friendly
When did people start being afraid of one another?
If you want to travel, better forget those unfounded fears about other people or cultures. Remember you’re the stranger, you’re the one who needs to adapt to others.
Generally speaking, people are nice. Of course, every now and then you may have a bad encounter. Deal with it, it’s rather rare. Focus on the nice people you get to meet while being on the road. From that stranger who helps you find your way on a map to that old farmer who offers you a meal in his house, people are usually open minded and helpful.
As far as I’m concerned, I always try to find the beauty in each one. I’ve rarely been disappointed.
As I was crossing Russia with the Trans-Siberian Railway, I fell asleep leaving all my stuff on the table: wallet, passport, computer and all my photography gear. When I finally woke up the next morning, an old Russian lady was facing me. She was holding a cup of hot tea she had been preparing for me.
All my belongings were stored in my backpack and my wallet was under my pillow. She had that huge smile of satisfaction. We spent the next 50 hours of train trying to talk to each other in English and in Russian.
We kept in touch and are still friends today.
“Every encounter carries a possible change." - J. Salomé
3. You’ll never be alone
People used to call me crazy for going on this journey by myself.
Most of them thought I would be back within a month or so, depressed by the fact that I was alone in the unknown.
“Plus it’s too dangerous!” Do you know how many times have I heard that sentence?
I never quite understood this fear of traveling alone since being a solo traveler is the best way to get to know yourself and others better. You’re more likely to discuss things with your neighbors and ask questions when you're solo. It’s a great way to get to know people and exchange more.
At least that’s what I thought. The fact is, you’re not alone. I’ve always been surrounded by dozens of people every day.
I discovered Mongolia and China with a couple I met in a hostel in Tallinn, Estonia.
That’s what travels are about: you meet people and suddenly you become very close because you live extraordinary experiences with them.
Some stay your friends, others go on hitting the road by themselves. And that’s okay!
“Happiness is only real when shared.” - C. McCandless
4. Stay eager and keep your eyes open
As a photographer, I always tend to be looking for great landscapes, unfamiliar lights, odd scenery and smiling faces.
It keeps me eager, on the move. I saw too many people that went to Thaïland to spend their days watching TV shows at the hostel.
As I said earlier, get out of your comfort zone.
That’s why you traveled in the first place, wasn’t it? Just like in photography where it takes some courage to catch the first lights in the morning, you’d better look for those great landscapes and incredible people on your way.
Stay eager, open those eyes and the world and its people will unfold their mysteries.
“The further you get away from yourself, the more challenging it is. Not to be in your comfort zone is great fun." - B. Cumberbatch
5. Don’t travel to escape from your problems, they’ll catch up with you
Traveling has become more and more popular among young people.
Especially in Europe, where many problems such as unemployment can lead to a growing will to escape from here. However, keep in mind that any problem you may have here will follow you there.
Before hitting the road, make sure that you’re not leaving anything unfinished at home. Escaping from your duties or engagement isn’t the answer. It will catch up with you sooner or later: perhaps on the road, perhaps when you come back.
And yeah, eventually you are going to have to come back 'home', so it's better to be prepared for it.
When I got back from my journey, the French police were looking for me. It turns out, they had been searching a whole year.
It wasn’t a big deal but still, I had a small fine since 2014 that was increasing every month. I guess I could say that was the price I had to pay for being away for so long.
“The best way to escape from your problem is to solve it." - R. Anthony
Read more about my journeys on my website: www.nateleroy.com