I’m a very firm believer that travel is the best self-help or self-discovery tool out there. Especially traveling alone as it allows you to make all your own decisions and truly figure out what steps to take in many different ways. This is a short list of important things a year of travel in South America taught me. I wanted to share some of the things that profoundly affected me and have stayed with me from the moment the lesson was learned, in hopes that it might help or inspire you to reach your goals or make changes to get on track with where you want to be.
1. Comparison is Poison
When I started my trip in Brazil, I was planning on having a full-blown blog and instagram within a few months, with thousands of followers and getting paid to travel. It seemed so glamorous and like it couldn’t possibly be that hard. But what I really found was that I was following “inspirational” travel accounts that were only trying to sell me something or were going to these amazing places, just to get the perfect photo to post. But they definitely looked like they enjoyed it and had their lives together. I started to doubt myself and if I would ever amount to anything in any area of life. I then started looking at the people I was meeting from all over the world staying in hostels – I could instantly find something about them that was “better” than me.
I say it’s poison, because the effects of a single thought comparing yourself in a negative way to another person, last so much longer than the fleeting moment in which you made the comparison. It seeps into everything you do because it attacks your self worth and confidence, even as you sleep. Once I realized that it wasn’t only bad for me but it was a deadly habit, I decided to treat everything I saw in others that I wish I had or wish I were, as something to be proud of them for. Exchanging negativity for gratitude renders comparison useless. The best person you could ever be is 100 percent yourself, so get over it already and keep being you! There is only one of you in the world after all.
2. Emotional Energy is a Valuable Resource
You can’t spend it on just anyone and you definitely have a limited amount. I’ve been on the border of Introvert and Extrovert for a long time now, leaning towards being people centered most of the time but definitely needing my recharging moments. Learning that my feelings (which I used to hate) are precious and are actually my own possessions that I can give to people, situations, and myself was glass shattering for me in the best way.
It allowed me to see that we each operate in our own worlds every day, and who and what you let into yours can change the entire environment of your world for better or worse. You can still be an open, accepting and warm person without being taken advantage of or wasting time on things and people you didn’t know you invited into your life.
3. Life is not a straight line
It doesn’t have to be lived a certain way or in a certain progression of events. We all need stability to survive, but what that looks like may be different in every culture. In mine, its going to school, getting a big girl job, getting married, a mortgage, nice cars, a dog or two, then a child or two, and living out the system until your kids are gone and you can retire and finally start the life you’ve always wanted to have.
I’m not knocking this way of life, I just know I don’t fit into that progression of events very well. I learned that there is a balance between seizing the day or living like there is no tomorrow (which is actually true, we aren’t guaranteed each day), and being so committed, grounded and predictable that every day is the same and doesn’t take you anywhere other than where you’ve already been. That balance exists in the many different shapes the two extremes can form together, rarely ever a straight and easy line.
4. How to ignore messes that aren’t mine to clean up
When you’re a doer, it can sometimes be very hard when you see a solution to someone else’s problem to not take action. I worked in a hostel for a total of 5 months and got to know how things ran pretty well. However, even though there were other volunteer workers, I still found myself working off the clock on a consistent basis. A guest who had become my friend pulled me aside and told me I was working too much, and not in a “screw work lets party” kind of tone either. He said I had a servant’s heart but if I saw myself as a servant at all times, other people would too and I would become very weighed down and disrespected if I continued always being on the clock.
Disrespected for doing more work?? But thought came to me that it can be like quitting a job where you thought you were irreplaceable. You realize that magically, you weren’t. The job continues to get done by your replacement and co-workers like you never left. Your presence might be missed, but you definitely have stopped cleaning up messes because they aren’t yours anymore, right? You can apply that to so many other things in life – leave that mess alone! You’ll be more respected for saying no than for being a doormat. His sincere advice has stuck with me ever since.
5. How to be a better friend from afar
Traveling alone taught me that, as long as you are willing and open to meeting new people, you are never actually alone. I met some of the most inspiring, hilarious, intelligent, fun people I’ve ever met just by connecting with other travelers wherever I would go. Some of whom I’m still very close friends with today.
My unique situation of traveling in South America for almost a year, then moving across the country when I got “home” to the US, showed me who my real friends were and what kind of friend I really was. A good friend is hard to come by and the ones you have are definitely worth investing your time and energy into, even across time zones and life stages.
Stumbling upon those glass-shattering moments in life has become a new passion of mine. Although growth can be tough, it’s key to surviving the adventures of life!