10 Important Life Lessons Long-Term Travel Taught Me

The following post was originally featured on HipLatina and written by Damaly Gonzalez, the Founder of Backpacking the Caribbean.


Some of the greatest lessons are those you don't seek.

Travel, more so long-term travel, teaches concepts and introduces ideas that perhaps weren't clear or our perceptions were clouded by the daily routine of everyday life and therefore, the message couldn't come across. However, when you find yourself in another location and environment, far from home, surrounded by different people, the lessons that were always there to be learned come around and you begin to unravel infinite possibilities.

I went to Europe to learn more about the history I felt I was missing in order to understand the world better. I also wanted to get away from the burned out I felt in New York. While I knew I would learn a lot, I didn't expect this trip to be one of the most defining moments of my adulthood. Here are the 10 lessons I felt set the foundation to my growth:

  1. We are a small piece to the bigger picture. There are 7 billion people this world. Why do we think that we are so important? That our small corner of the world is the whole world. It isn't and we are not the beginning or the end — we are a puzzle piece of something greater. When you travel, you realize this, and it can change everything.
  2. Ideal vs. Reality. When we travel, we may have expectations of the place, the people, and the culture. These expectations can cloud our perception of what we see and hear. But when we approach what is right in front of us with presence and without judgement, life can be celebrated in all its splendor.
  3. Letting go of control. We don't have to control anything. When we do, we digress from following our intuition and replace it with our intellectual logic. But logic comes from the ego's conscious mind trying to control everything. The subconscious knows what to do from a true self standpoint and when you let go and let your intuition lead, wonders will begin to happen.
  4. Learning to let things be. On the similar side of letting go is learning to let things be. When I was walking the family dog for a Workaway position in the foothills of Sierra Nevada, Spain, I met the most joyful and lighthearted street dog who I named Lola. When she saw us walking she would run to us and lay on her back so we can scratch her belly. I felt inclined to help her because I thought it was my obligation to intervene, but when I kept observing her I could see that she was happy. Lola was a wild child living her life in all its glory. Not all lessons come from humans. She taught me a great one — to let things be. And one question I ask myself when I feel like I need to change something is: are interventions always needed?
  5. Traveling without research. Sometimes travelers have goals they want to meet, like how many countries they want to visit in three weeks or things they want to see. This time around I decided to not buy any guidebooks or make a list. Instead, I followed my intuition and I did exactly what I wanted at the moment without any itinerary, just suggestions from other travelers I came across. Letting go of control and letting things be. Magical things happened.
  6. We are natural nomads. Before this trip, I hadn't traveled for an extended period in three years. I was tired in New York and my mind felt foggy most days. It didn't feel natural to stay in one place, following a consistent, stressful routine. For tens of thousands of years, human beings have lived a nomadic, simple life living on little means. They settled in one place and when it was time to move on because the land needed to be restored, they did. When did we become a stationary, stagnant society? We are natural travelers. Read this article for more information.
  7. Living on little means. Living out of a suitcase or backpack for months initiates the excessive emphasis we place on materialistic things. I wore a pair of ripped black jeans, black Reebok sneakers and t-shirt almost every day on my European journey and didn't feel any less beautiful than if I had a closet full of clothes like back home. Learning to share among travelers and living on what you need like the true nomad of thousands of years ago is integral to our freedom of possessions.
  8. Narcissism. Interacting with people from around the world, I discovered that narcissism can be found everywhere. Going away forces the traveler to depart from everything they own, only bringing a selection of belongings and subtly exemplifying your small role in such a big world. The distorted eroticism of what you own and an extreme craving of one's self dissipates allowing you to analyze your ego to understand you are no more valuable than the elderly woman who is begging for money outside a Florence café shop.
  9. Accepting myself in order to accept others. How can we accept our friends, our family, the world, if we don't start by accepting ourselves for exactly who we are. Understand we are all imperfect. When I finally accepted myself, that fateful day looking at the Barcelona traffic from my guesthouse balcony, I haven't wanted to change anything or anyone. I strive to let things be exactly as they are. I release control and let nature take its course.
  10. Non judgement. Perhaps one of the reasons we don't accept ourselves and in turn accept others is because of judgement. While traveling, it is easy to judge other people's culture, beliefs, and physicality. But again, once we stop judging and start accepting ourselves, we can in time learn to stop judging others.