1. Be curious
To continue developing, learning and growing as a human being it’s important to be curious. To be curious about the world around you, how things actually work, curious about the people you meet because by being curious you educate yourself and you keep on learning. A successful Swedish entrepreneur said ‘If you’re not evolving, you’re devolving’, i.e. when your brain stops learning you’re not challenging yourself which means you’ll basically stay the same as before.
You have heard about the comfort zone? The importance of challenging yourself in order to grow and develop as a human being. The more you step out of your comfort the more you grow.
Traveling puts you outside of your everyday life. You’re in a place that is unfamiliar to you and you meet people you don’t know. Everyday you have to figure out how to get to places on your own. Through my travels I have continued to grow as a person, I have been afraid and stressed out, and I have experenced panic attacks, but most important of all, I have educated myself by surviving all these challenges. I have stepped outside of my comfort zone.
2. Choose to be brave
Travelers are brave people. We go to countries and places where we haven’t been to before, where we don’t know anybody, and we don’t understand the language or the culture. We put ourselves in uncomfortable situations every day. After a while, these situations feels normal to us. We are so used to being outside of our comfort zones that everyday life back home bore us because everything is predictable and easy.
What is courage to you?
I believe courage is a choice you make and we all possess courage. When we are in a good place in life, feeling content and strong, it’s easy to be courageous, to do things we want to do. To just go for it and do it. When we’re feeling down or depressed, or when we meet difficult challenges, our brain tells us to run back home, back to safety and back to our comfort zone.
To be brave is not a constant state of mind. We all need to practise our brains to take chances, to do things we don’t know the outcome of, to be uncomfortable and be okay with it.
A brave person can be anybody. A brave person can be a woman or a man, gay, straight, transgender, muslim, jewish, white, short, overweight, or in a wheelchair. It can be you. It should be you. Any day of the week and in any situation. Practice on being brave everyday. When I started traveling solo I was scared, shy and introverted. I had to make myself talk to people, ask for directions, go out and eat at restaurants alone. I decided to fake it. Make up a persona that I wanted to be and I pretended that I was her. I pretended I was her until I became her.
3. Smile and the World will smile back at you
When I’m visiting a new place and I want to get to know people or, when I need help I always smile. I walk up to strangers and I say hello with a smile. It always works. Always. I have never been dismissed or being treated badly when I greet people with a smile.
It’s all in your attitude. What you send out to the world comes back threefold. When I have been in a bad mood the responses haven’t been friendly and it’s my own fault. It’s easy to blame this on other people, the culture, religion and so on. But seriously, I have to owe up to my own behavior and take repsonsibility for it.
I remember when I was on a small island in the Solomon Islands. I was alone, there were very few tourists on the Island, I was walking on a small gravel road in the middle of nowhere when a truck came by. I needed a ride back to town so I jumped up in the back with five other guys. They looked at me and I looked back. Then I shouted ‘hello!’ and smiled. The faces of the five guys lit up and they smiled back. A few minutes later we were talking, laughing, taking selfies and this was the highlight of my trip to the Solomons.
4 Stand your ground and unleash your inner baddass when needed
Traveling can be exhausting. Of course traveling is fun, exciting and liberating most of the times, but there are times when you encounter people who will drain you of energy and patience. People can also be mean, trying to take advantage of you, trick you or lie to you. This is the moment when you not only say enough is enough, you also need to stand your ground and tell them they’ve gone too far.
This has been the most valuable lesson I have learned from traveling the world. Traveling solo as a woman is fantastic until you meet men who doesn’t respect you and treat you like shit. Then it’s time to unleash your inner baddass and give them hell. I say men because it’s always men who will threaten you or treat you badly. Women can be annoying but they will not be threatening or make you feel afraid.
I meet a lot of young girls when I travel. I remember when I traveled in India 2012 I met a lot of young 18 to 21 year-old girls, and since most tourists travel the same route, I met them over and over again. In the beginning they were sweet, polite and quiet, not telling the men to leave them alone but saying ‘no, thanks’ constantly over and over again. A few weeks later when I met them again I heard them shouting and screaming, ‘leave me alone! I said no! Go away!’ and I smiled. I was proud. This is what traveling does to you. Traveling makes you smarter, tougher and better prepared for life’s challenges.
5. Be humble and respectful
When you’re in a country that is not your home you have to try to see things from other perspectives that is, from the view of the locals. You will not agree with everything, in some countries you won’t agree with any of the local traditions, politics, religous beliefs, but you have to be respectful.
Before you travel, it’s good to know yourself, to know who you are and what you stand for. To know what your values are. What you think is right and wrong. When you go abroad and meet the locals, remember your values, but be open to listen to new ways of thinking and doing things, listen when they tell you about their values, and be prepared to meet people with strong mindsets that you’re not used to.
How do you talk to the locals about politics, religion and problems? I play dumb. I pretend I know very little and I ask the locals to explain their society to me. Furthermore, I ask a lot of questions. Not only for my sake, but also for the person I talk to, to make she or he think about why they do things in a certain way or why he or she believes in things that are different from my own beliefs. Sometimes they manage to change my mind and sometimes they realise that some of their traditions or behaviors are strange or old fashioned.
It’s important not to assume anything, even if you’ve read it on the internet or seen it in the news. Most of the times the people living in the country you visit have valid arguments and interesting thoughts about life, religion, gender equality and so on that are very different from your beliefs. This is why I always ask questions instead of assuming anything. Of course I don’t always agree with the local customs, but I always learn something new about how the world works. And people will always respect you if they see that you are open and willing to listen. Take this opportunity to learn and also to teach people you meet about your country. This will benefit the both of you, and hopefully someday things will change. The more we understand each other, the better future lies ahead of us.
6. Make friends – build a network
I’ve met so many interesting people on my travels. People who has touched my life only for a short moment in a remote country many years ago and has stayed with me ever since. I’m keeping in touch with my travel friends on Facebook and Instagram. Whenever somebody asks me for travel tips that I don’t know about I always have a travel friend I can ask.
Be authentic. Skip small talk – talk about the big things in life!
Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Linkedin we stay connected with family, friends and people we meet around the world. Sometimes, we meet for only an hour or so and it’s enough to make a connection that will continue on social media.
To have a network of friends is the best gift I have ever asked for or wanted. I’m not close to everyone on Facebook, but I know that all my Facebook friends are good people. I choose only to be friends with good people and this is the biggest reward you can get from traveling, and from life.
7 Go your own way – do what’s right for you and not for your family
Everytime I hesitate to make a decision, when I feel insecure and I don’t know what I want to do with my life, when I want to change career, travel or not travel, start a business, I always think of the Australian nurse who asked people at a hospice what their biggest regrets in life were. The biggest regret was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Imagine lying on your deathbed and thinking of all the things you wanted to do but never did because you were trying to please your parents, husband, girlfriend or your friends. What a tragedy. But let’s be honest here, most of us have sacrified things, things we wanted to do because somebody close to us asked us not to. And it’s okay, up to a point. It’s okay as long as you’re okay with it. When you feel like you’re not in control of your own decisions this is when it’s not okay.
When I first wanted to travel abroad I was 19. I wanted to go to the US to work as an au-pair. My father said no. He told me about all the bad and horrible things happening in the US and what could happen to me as a young girl, traveling solo to a country none of us had been to before. I understood his concerns, but I knew it was fear and prejudices talking so I told him that I was going anyway. And off I went. My father was angry with me for a while, but as with all things in life, it passed and he got used to me taking off alone to different countries around the world. It was my way of teaching, or making, my father to get out of his own comfort zone. To accept that I was making my own decisions.
8 Surround yourself with the best people
The environment you live in is the most important aspect in your life. Do you surround yourself with people who lift you up? Or, do you mostly lift other people up?
If you feel like you’re being constantly put down by your friends and people that you meet on a daily basis, then it’s time to change your school, university, work place, home, boyfriend or girlfriend. I’ve cleansed my environment many times in life and I will keep doing this until I’m surrounded by people who understand and accept me for who I am. Not by people who will always agrees with me, but those who will support me even though I choose a way of living that’s different from theirs.
Yes, it’s painful and difficult to cut ties with family and friends, many who have been in you life since you were a child, but remember, it’s important to create your own life, and an environment that makes you feel comfortable and at ease.
I have left Sweden many times to travel around the world. It was an easy decision for me because I needed to get away. I needed to be on my own and discover the world on my own. My travels have taken me to remote places in Africa, South America, North America, Oceania and Asia. I don’t include traveling around Europe as it’s almost my backyard. Leaving your country to go to a far away place puts everything that happened to you back home in perspective. You see things for what they are and the people back home from a distance, from another point of view, and it’s easier to understand why things haven’t worked out or why you can’t continue some relationships. Yes, it may hurt like hell, but saying good bye to negative people in your life cleanses your body, mind and soul.
Today, it’s easy to end relationships on social media. It has happened to me and I’ve also done it myself. Removing people from facebook can be such a relief and it’s easier to do when you’re far away from them so you don’t have face them and explain why until you go home, but then you hopefully have come up with a good explanation.
9 Trust your gut
The bus left me at the Namibian border. I had just been in Botswana and wanted to go to Windhoek, the capital in Namibia, and took a local bus to the border. On the map, it looked like a normal border crossing, but when I got off the bus I only saw a small house in the middle of nowhere, in the desert. The bus driver told me to hurry as the border was about to close. I had only 30 minutes to check out from Botswana and get to the immigration house on the Namibian side which was about 100 meters away. The bus left and I waved to the people on the bus who stared at me from the window probably thinking she’ll never make it. The sun was setting and the parking lot in front of the immigration house was empty. I waited and waited and finally a white Mercedes pulled into the parking lot. A white man in his 50s stepped out of the car. I knew I needed a lift to get from the border to any town or city on the Namibian side. And, I knew that he was probably my only chance of getting there, or I would have to sleep outside, or walk to the closest village in the darkness. I watched him as he stepped out of his car and I knew he was a good man.
When traveling you’re faced with situations where you have to make a decision to trust people you’ve never met before. There is nobody around to ask so you have to trust your intuition, your gut. I have never been wrong when I’ve trusted my gut.
The Namibian man took me to his hometown where I got to stay with his family. They treated me to a whole weekend of dinners, excursions, showed me how they lived, traditions and culture. Today, we’re friends on social media, and I’m so thankful for their hospitality and friendship.
You have 5 seconds to make a decision based on your gut before amygdala kicks in. Amygdala is the part of yours brain that controls fear, the reason why we are afraid of things outside our control. When you need to make a quick decision without having all the facts or anybody around to ask, be sure to make the decision quickly, trust your intuition, and stay with it. And most importantly, act on your decision before you change your mind.
10 Make the world a better place
Traveling opens your mind in many ways. Not only to understanding yourself, who you are, but that the world is much smaller and bigger in ways you can’t even imagine. Traveling can take you to a part of the world you’ve only see on social media. If you’re from the West, you’re not used to see extreme poverty and it can be quite a shocking and a humbling experience. However, after a while you get used to seeing children sleeping on the pavement, people on their knees in the street begging for money, women taking money from men in exchange for sexual favors.
Then one day you’re back home in your comfortable house and safe environment. You’re back to normal but you don’t feel normal. Something inside of you has changed and you feel you have to do something about the injustices in this world. This is a good feeling, no, it’s a great feeling. It always feels good to help someone in need.
In order to get what we want we also need to give. This is the universal rule. If you choose to give of your time, volonteering, or give money to an organisation you feel make a change, it’s up to you.
When I’m contemplating whether or not I should get involved in a charity or helping someone in need, the quote from the movie Schindler’s list always pops up in my mind:
“Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire”
I encourage you to go out and make this world a better place. It is possible doing it while traveling. It is possible doing it from home. Most of all, it gives you a meaning knowing that life’s purpose is to help others.
Thank you for reading this post. I hope my tips will help you to live the life you want.
Happy travels my friend!