Travel Wisdom: 4 Years & 16 Countries Later…

What’s the difference between a tourist and a traveler? Tourists are only on vacation while a true traveler is in it for the learning and the experience. And after four years and 16 countries, I’ve learned a few things. Beyond just basic knowledge, this is travel wisdom.

  What have you learned while traveling? share your advice below

When on a road trip it is important to remember that roads are not required. Abandoning them often starts the real adventure.   Just be sure to have a trusty GPS with you. My Nuvi has racked up nearly 150,000 miles and counting.

Living life the unexpected way is always better than living a predictable life.   Don’t be so focused on plans, itineraries, and schedules, just go with the flow. Trust me, that’s when the real adventures start to happen. I once left for a weekend trip that turned into a six-month 32-state cross-country USA road trip

The Future Bus
From my six-month hippie road trip. Our group of ragtag derelicts numbered an even dozen by the time the Future Bus pulled in to Nashville.

Sometimes you must get lost to find yourself, even if its just in a parking lot.   Throw out the map! Just don’t throw out your common sense. Try traveling off the beaten path — or better yet, try The HoliDaze OffBeat Travel Guides 😉

If you ever come across something that you are uncertain about doing (or eating), drink a few beers first and then go for it.   Don’t be a victim of your own ignorance and/or fear, just go for it! Not only will it make a great story but look at it this way: whether it goes good or bad, given enough time everything becomes funny in hindsight.

Foreign travel makes a far greater impact on a person’s character, beliefs, and knowledge than it does their wallet.   The benefits of travel far outweigh any risks or costs, simple as that. While I understand that some nations make it much harder than others for their citizens to travel abroad, this is primarily directed at my American and European friends who have never left their home country. Not using your passports is like having the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory and never visiting.

Passport stamps are like to catch them all!
Travel Wisdom: Passport stamps are like Pokémon…gotta catch ’em all!

Always floss before trying to smile your way out of something.   This is particularly helpful when trying to sweet-talk TSA employees and customs officials.

Spend money on experiences, not possessions. You’ll find that you lead a much richer and more enjoyable life.   Then the only thing you have to fear is Alzheimer’s. Which is, coincidentally, my single greatest fear. That and being locked up abroad…again.

Imaginary friends don’t cost a dime — but they are 3x more likely to get you into trouble and 5x less likely to help get you out.   Solo travel is something that everyone needs to try at some point in their life. Love it or hate, you’ll undoubtedly learn a lot about yourself.

When you notice all of the locals staring while you are eating, it’s probably best to spit out whatever is in your mouth.   I do believe this one is rather self-explanatory.

Like Food?       Derek Eats That!

More Travel Wisdom:

Injured in a foreign country? Do not refer to paramedics as the “hostesses of hospitals” if you value proper medical treatment.   If you’re like me you may eventually learn some things the hard way. What is important is to learn from them.

Derek's travel injury #89
Travel wisdom is gained with each new injury (this happened to be incident #89)

Living an adventurous life may hurt sometimes — especially on the wallet 😉 — but a life of monotony will surely kill you.   Get out there and add a little adventure in your life.

I traveled. Eventually I stopped. Only then did I realize how wild animals must feel when they get thrown in a zoo.   Travel is addicting. Once you start you may pause but you’ll never be able to stop. However as a wise man once said, “travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.” Keep it up!

Infinity pools provide infinite amounts of water-related fun.   And they always have a great view too.

Travel wisdom: infinity pools provide an infinite amount of fun
Four Seasons, Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica

I am not saying that budget travel is not fun, just that traveling without a set budget is more fun.   Don’t stress too much over your wallet. Besides, there are plenty of ways to travel for free (such as working on a cruise ship or yacht) and you can always seek employment abroad (TESOL is a great example but bars and restaurants are also an easy source of employment). For more information check out this article from The Traveling Fool: How To Live And Work Abroad

If a black cat crosses the sky in a plane, I do believe it’s safe to consider that hemisphere gone forever.   Don’t travel with pets, it is simply not worth the burden. (Sorry all you animal lovers.)

Don’t give money to beggars, give food. If they are not desperate enough to accept free food they are not *that* desperate.   While this is especially true when traveling third world countries, I practice it everywhere. I’m also bad about eating leftovers so that kind of kills two birds with one stone.

Beggars always crowd the taxis
Beggars always crowd the taxis

Go forth, wander and explore. But do so always with an open mind.   Throw your preconceived notions out the window and learn something new! Anyone can recite something they see on the news or in a documentary but it is something else to be able to say firsthand, “Sure, this and that may be true but as far as that, well it turns out…”

In Central America and the Caribbean when someone refers to “that white girl” they are not talking about your girlfriend.   Know what you are getting yourself into. My buddy got us all arrested in Mexico once by being stupid and trust me, that was not fun. Made jail in the USA seem like a stay at the Hyatt. (Also soon to be featured in an upcoming post on Ladventurers’s Travel Nightmares)

Asia has both the fastest and slowest internet speeds in the world…it just depends on the country.   However never forget that you don’t always have to be writing or posting photos or tweeting every single day. Just enjoy the experience and make the most of your time abroad, then write about it later.

Almost every restaurant in non English-speaking countries that includes English on the menu will ultimately leave you disappointed.   While there may be a few exceptions to this rule, often it is fun to try new things. Not knowing what you are ordering is a great way of doing that. I say this because I have no allergies — if you do then you might want to learn how to mention that in the local language.

Travel wisdom includes eating where the locals eat -- in this case that happened to be Bakumatsusakabayannahare in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo
Notice the menu — all in Japanese and no photos. I had no clue what I was ordering but it was GREAT! Restaurant name is: Bakumatsusakabayannahare (good luck pronouncing that lol)

Backpacking on a budget? Food that is one day expired is still food, and free at that!   Check with the local grocery store. It all tastes the same…although I can see how some people may be turned off by this. However personally I would only go with things that are still safely wrapped in their original packaging.

It is wiser to fall in love at first sight with a city or region than a person — no chance of being stalked later.   Again, some things you only learn the hard way.

The world is always so much more peaceful when seen from above, such as out of an airplane window.   Wouldn’t you agree?

The view from an airplane window is quite nice. Nothing beats air travel.
The view from an airplane window is always gorgeous. Nothing beats air travel.

What wisdom have you learned from the road?

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel."   Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

6 thoughts on “Travel Wisdom: 4 Years & 16 Countries Later…”

  1. Great tips! I really agree about your first point about getting off of the main roads, and I learned last time that I was in France poking about the off the beaten path tracks just how handy a GPS would have been. It is definitely on the wish list, and I can see how it would really make one more confident to really go exploring!

    • Purchasing a GPS a couple years ago has definitely impacted how I travel. It’s a blast to just select Food > [Pick Favorite Cuisine] > Go! and see what pops up first. Plus it’s great for tracking miles covered, overall speeds/stats, even gas/money spent. So far I’ve accrued just over 150k miles on it and logged a top speed of 224 miles an hour hehehe 🙂 But just a few hours ago I decided that here in five weeks when I head to TBEX in Toronto, well that is going to be the start of another RTW adventure — only this one a 2-3 year slow travelin’ trip! So hopefully I will be adding to my wisdom soon 😉

      Speaking of TBEX, any plans to attend this year?


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