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15 life lessons from 15 years of travel

February 14, 2013 | Advice, Travel | 124 Comments
Dave, Koh Rong

 Early February, 1998.

Janet Jackson had just hit number one on the Billboard charts, Bill Gates had just received a pie in the face in Brussels and I had just walked through the departure gates at Christchurch Airport.  With a deep breath I clutched my passport, said goodbye to my homeland and boarded a plane to the other side of the world.

I figured I’d be in London for a year or so, take a look around Europe, then return to New Zealand and settle down.  That’s what everyone else did, after all.

Life, though, had other plans.

Last week I celebrated 15 years of travel.  For the last decade and a half I’ve been addicted to life on the road.  Dreaming about it, talking about it, saving for it or simply doing it, it has come to define who I am.

Back then, barely in my twenties and armed with a degree and a guidebook, I thought I knew everything.  I didn’t.  I still don’t have all the answers – indeed, I never will – but I have picked up a few things along the way.

Here, then, are fifteen life lessons from my last fifteen years of travel.  I’m hoping for many more of both.

———-

Embrace change

The older we get, the more stuck in our ways we become.  We become too afraid to try something new, afraid to rock the boat, afraid of failure.  We choose to stick with more of the same, burying the exhilaration of the unknown beneath the warm security blanket of what we are already doing.

Cast that blanket aside.  I have quit a job to travel half a dozen times and never regretted it.  I’ve moved countries on a whim, followed my passions where they may lead, taken risks in business, life and love.  Every time I’ve been afraid.  Every time I’ve backed away from the abyss, once, twice, often more.

In the end, though, I’ve thrown myself over the edge and embraced the change.  In those moments, I feel more alive than any other.  Change is often necessary and always exciting.  Don’t be too afraid to make it.

Falling Dave

 

Find out for yourself

Our media – and the society it serves – does a great job of spreading fear.  Those who look different to us, don’t practice the same religion or speak a different language are viewed with suspicion.  We are taught to be afraid of the ‘other’, to walk in lockstep down a road that ends in xenophobia, anger and war.

It’s easy to hate the bogeyman.  It’s much harder to hate the person that bogeyman represents when they’re standing beside you offering a cup of tea.  It was only when I travelled, and came to rely on the very people that I had been taught to fear, that I realised how wrong – and dangerous – those ingrained attitudes really were.

Ignore the papers and magazines.  Ignore the breathless reporters on the cable news show.  Ignore the old guy down the street.  Go and find out for yourself.

 

One size does not fit all

People love to generalise from their own experiences.  I’m doing it right now.  For many this means that since they live their lives a certain way, you should too.  Because they and everyone they know has a house in the suburbs, an SUV and an investment portfolio, so should you.  If you don’t – and worse, if you don’t even want it – there’s something wrong with you.

For a long time, I believed that.  I bought a house, filled it with stuff, renovated and eventually sold it.  I invested in shares and rental properties.  I bought an expensive car.  The problem was that, in the back of my mind, I didn’t actually want any of it.

I no longer have a house.  I’m selling my cheap little car.  I own a backpack and two small boxes of memories.  My investments are in cash and experiences.  This works perfectly for me.

It won’t work for everyone, of course, and that’s fine.  We are all different, and achieve happiness in different ways.  One size does not fit all.  Remember that when choosing your future.

Dave, House

 

People are fundamentally good

When I left New Zealand I was afraid.  Many things frightened me, most of all other people.  The world was scary, right?  There was theft, rape and murder at every turn, according to the news reports, so I’d have to keep my wits about me.  Don’t talk to strangers, keep my cash and documents in a money belt, always lock my bags, avoid bad neighbourhoods, all the rest.

It was a horrible way to travel.  Basic security is one thing, paranoia about it is something else.  Slowly, eventually, I let my guard down.  I talked to people I’d just met, and accepted their invitations.  I threw out my sweat-stained money belt.  I visited the so-called bad neighbourhoods, and let my gut tell me whether I should stay there.

In 15 years, I’ve never been attacked or robbed.  Instead I have been given directions – or a ride – when I’m lost, food when I’m hungry, drinks when I’m thirsty.  I’ve embarked on glorious adventures with people I’d only known for a day or two, and when we finally said goodbye, hugged them close as friends.

Is everyone like that?  No, of course not – but most are.  With few exceptions the people I’ve met on my travels have been fundamentally good.  All I needed to do was let them show me.

 

We all want the same things in life

It really doesn’t matter where we come from, what we look like or what we do for a living, there are a few basic things in life that we’re all searching for.

We all want somewhere warm and  dry to sleep at night, and to not be hungry or thirsty when we’re doing so.  We all want a decent education, for our kids if not ourselves, and the ability to improve our lot in life.  Good health is important, as is medical care when we need it.  Finding love along the way wouldn’t go astray either, with family, friends and partners that care about us.

From a sheepherder in Tanzania to a banker in New York City, people’s fundamental desires all look the same when you boil them down.  At the end of the day, our similarities far outweigh our differences.

Dave and Lauren lantern

 

Entitlement is ugly

I vividly remember the first time I visited a non-English speaking country.  Arriving in Paris on a cold winter’s day, I couldn’t read the signs.  People shrugged if I spoke to them, whether in English or abysmal French.  I was staying outside the city centre and struggled to catch the train, find the hotel, buy groceries at the supermarket or do anything much at all.  And I was angry about it.

How dare people treat me like that!  Why weren’t people helping me?  What was wrong with this city?

I didn’t return for ten years, convinced it was a horrible place.  When I finally did, however, something strange happened.  People were friendly.  Life was easy.  I joked with the waiters, laughed as I messed up my coffee order, bought a whole new wardrobe for the Moulin Rouge without a hitch.  Surely Paris hadn’t changed that much?

Of course, what had changed wasn’t Paris at all.  It was me.  My arrogance, so strong in the past, had diminished, and I realised that this place, like every other, owed me nothing.

It was nobody else’s fault that I couldn’t speak French or understand how things work.  The world didn’t revolve around me, and that was my problem to deal with.  Once I lost my ugly sense of entitlement, the world became a much better place to be in.  It was a valuable lesson.

 

Open your heart

As adults, we’re taught to hide our feelings.  We act professionally at work, keeping our thoughts to ourselves.  We get hurt in relationships, losing our trust of others.  In New Zealand in particular, men are supposed to be strong, taciturn and emotionally stunted.  Over time our horizons narrow, and we close our eyes and our hearts to new experiences.

Screw that.  The more I travel, the more excited I become.  I have regained the child-like sense of wonder that so easily disappears when you “act like an adult”.  I laugh when I’m happy and cry when I’m sad.  I sing in the shower and dance in the rain.  I stand in front of a waterfall and stare, open-mouthed and silent, at just how incredibly damn beautiful it is.

Open your heart.  Life becomes much more beautiful when you do.

Bridal Veil Falls, near Raglan

 

Stop planning

For at least six months before I left home, I planned.  Some days, that’s all I did.  I had guidebooks, brochures and print-outs.  There were colour-coded sticky notes, multiple notebooks, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets … and that’s just the stuff I can remember.

It got totally out of hand – and of course, once I actually started travelling, it all went out the window anyway.  I didn’t get to half the places on my list, went to many more that I’d never considered, and quickly realised how unnecessary all that planning had been.

As life has continued I’ve found myself making plans less and less, travel or otherwise.  I never end up sticking to them anyway, and they stop me having those wonderful random experiences that turn up if I just let them.

Plan less.  Live more.

 

Smile

For some reason, I used to walk around with a permanent frown. Maybe it was low self esteem, maybe it was a general lack of happiness in my life, maybe it was something else entirely. I don’t really know why I did it, but I do know that it had very predictable results.

After travelling for a while, I noticed that I’d adopted a different approach. Smiling. Because I often didn’t have the benefit of a common language, I had to resort to body language and a cheerful expression on my face. Suddenly I was making new friends and acquaintances. People would approach me for a chat where they never had before, or be happy to do me a favour without even asking.

It seems like such a simple thing, but learning to smile at strangers has been one of the most rewarding changes that travel has made in my life. While I wouldn’t recommend it in every situation – solo females may want to think twice about smiling at men they don’t know in some parts of the world, for instance – in general it’s an easy route to new friendships and experiences.

Give it a go.

Dave and Koala

 

Don’t sweat the small stuff

As a young adult,  I was seriously uptight.  When things weren’t going my way I’d view it as a personal insult.  How dare the bus not turn up, the movie tickets go up in price or my hamburger be cold.  I’d fume, shout and rage about the smallest things.  It wasn’t pretty.

These days, things go wrong all the time.  Missed flights, broken ferries, no accommodation, a tsunami – all of those things have happened in the last few months, and many more beside.  These have potential to be real problems, but my reaction now is quite different.  A raised pulse, a couple of deep breaths, and then just dealing with it.  This didn’t happen overnight – it took many bad travel days to achieve a degree of ambivalence about it all.

The good thing with learning how to deal with the bigger stuff is that it taught me to not care at all about the small stuff.  More and more of life’s annoyances seem to fall into that category.

 

You can learn something from everyone (especially the kids)

I used to think that education was something that happened in classrooms and lecture theatres. Once I got my degree, I thought, I could get rid of the books and be done with the whole learning thing.

Well, I sold the books alright, but it turned out that I didn’t stop learning once I walked through the university gates for the last time. If anything, that’s when I started.

I learned the value of hard work from a street vendor in Thailand, and hospitality from a mother in Malawi. A moto-taxi rider in Vietnam taught me to trust strangers, while a teenager in Cambodia showed me the importance of hope. A lesson in humility came from an old man playing saxophone in Central Park, and by her own sacrifice, a young woman from Melbourne convinced me to become a part of something bigger than myself.

And kids, everywhere, are the best educators of all. Every day they teach me how to wonder, and they teach me how to dream. Unlike my school days, I never want those lessons to end.

Kids in Cambodia

 

Age is a number, not a limitation

It’s a funny thing, age.  Some people view the passing of the years as a limitation, while others see it as merely an idle curiosity. I’ve met 30 year olds who swear they’re too old to stay in hostels, and 70 year olds climbing into the bunk underneath me.  I’ve met 40 year olds who tell me it’s far too late to change careers, and 60 year olds heading back to university.

If I’ve learned one thing in the last 15 years, it is that you are never too old to try something new.  All that you need is for the pain of the status quo to be greater than the pain of change.  Of all the reasons or excuses that you might find not to do something, your age isn’t one of them.

After all, you’ll never, ever be as young as you are right now.

 

You’ll never have it figured out, and that’s ok

I had it all figured out. After university I would travel for a year or two then return home. By 25 I’d have my first house, and my second by 30. I’d be married by then as well, probably with a kid, and be earning at least six figures. That was just how it was going to be.

I didn’t go home after a year, or even two. I didn’t own a house by 25, nor two five years later. I’ve never had a child, I wasn’t married by 30, and any chance of a six figure job at that point had disappeared in a flurry of passport stamps.

I’m now 37 years old and living out of a backpack. I work harder, for less money, than I have in any office job, and I do it from every part of the globe. I met my girlfriend on the road, and together we have a truly wonderful life – one that I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams 15 years ago. And, I’m pretty sure, this is just the beginning.

The only thing I now know is that I definitely don’t have it all figured out. I never will. The great thing is that I really don’t need to.

Working beside the pool, Turkey

 

Opinions are like bellybuttons

Seeking advice from others is human nature.  So, it appears, is giving advice to others – whether they are looking for it or not.  Over the last fifteen years I’ve received more opinions about how to live my life than I ever thought possible.

Travel more.  Settle down.  Get married.  Stay single.  Have kids.  Don’t breed.  Buy a house.  Rent an apartment.  Invest in shares, or bonds, or cash, or property, or nothing at all.

I used to try to follow everybody’s advice as best I could, until I realised it was a recipe for disaster.  Opinions are like bellybuttons – everybody has one – and now, although I’ll happily listen to the views of others, I am far more selective about whose advice I take.  At the end of the day there’s only one person that knows me perfectly and always has my best interests at heart.

That person is me.

 

Don’t wait

I nearly didn’t go travelling when I did – a good job came up as I was about to leave, and I almost put things off.  What’s another year or two, I thought?  The same thing happened when I was leaving London, and again I almost cancelled my plans.

For a long time, too, I was afraid of travelling solo.  It took months to work up the courage to finally book the ticket, and I was desperately trying to find a reason not to go until the last minute.

Almost every time I’ve made a big decision in life, actually, there have been plenty of good reasons not to do whatever I’m contemplating.  Not to cancel it, perhaps, but to just postpone it for a while.

Don’t do that.  We can always find an excuse not to do something that scares us, and fear will make any reason seem like a great one.  Don’t wait until you have more money, don’t wait until you have someone to do it with, don’t wait until your friends think it’s a great idea, don’t wait until the timing is perfect.  It never will be – so just go ahead and do it anyway.

Don’t wait.

The Friday Photo #148 – Rays of light, Lake Waikaremoana
The Friday Photo #149 – Which way from here?
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124 Comments

  1. Reply

    Christine

    February 14, 2013

    Love love love. That is all.

  2. Reply

    Kieu ~ GQ trippin

    February 14, 2013

    Opinions are like bellybuttons.. LOL. Really enjoyed this post, Dave. Your addiction is my kind of addiction. Congrats on the big 15!

  3. Reply

    Susan

    February 15, 2013

    Love from Romania

  4. Reply

    Talon

    February 15, 2013

    Nice post!

  5. Reply

    Clint

    February 15, 2013

    Awesome on every level, Dave. 15 years of traveling is amazing and I bet it flew by.

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      Thanks Clint! In some ways it has, and in some ways it seems like all I've ever known...

  6. Reply

    Craig and Linda

    February 15, 2013

    We can't imagine you without your child-like sense of wonder; or adult-like ability to put back beers :)

    (P.S. Your diggdigg widget is broken. Try commenting out some of the ""rawurlencode($url);" lines around the facebook widget in /digg-digg/includes/class-dd.php. Or something like that.)

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      Hah! I'll take that as compliment.

      PS: I couldn't quickly fix the widget, and my internet is generally terrible at the moment, so I've just disabled it for now.

  7. Reply

    Alouise

    February 15, 2013

    I haven't done nearly as much traveling as you have, but this post really resonates with me. Happy travelversary. Hope your next 15+ years of travel are filled with happiness, good health, good friends, and new discoveries.

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      Thanks! And I'm really hoping for the same thing. :)

  8. Reply

    Jennifer Crites

    February 15, 2013

    From your heart to mine, this is perfect.

  9. Reply

    Lisa Imogen Eldridge

    February 15, 2013

    Wow, what an inspiring post. I too am 37 and I've never felt happier than when I'm on the road. I tried the whole buying a house, settling down and getting married life and it just wasn't for me, so now I'm looking ahead at my next trip. It took me a while to realise that this is the life I want to lead. Others kept telling me that I just had to 'get it out my system' and then look for a proper job. It was tough going against convention but only you know what makes yourself tick and now everyone's accepted that's just the way I am. Thanks for making me realise I am normal :-)

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      Heh, you're totally normal in my book! I too have been told, more times than I remember, that I just needed to get it out of my system. The reality is that this *is* my system. Convention might suggest otherwise but for me at least, convention is wrong.

  10. Reply

    Suitcase Stories - Nicole

    February 15, 2013

    I LOVE this post! We hope we are as fortunate as you to travel for as long as you have. We have been full time traveling for only 12 months now but have no plans to stop. Even in 12 months we have changed considerably - All for the better! Thats what travel does to a person.

    Congrats on 15 years of travel and hopefully many more!

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      Best of luck in being able to keep following your dream and travelling for as long as you want to!

  11. Reply

    Toni

    February 15, 2013

    A great milestone and some fantastic lessons learnt along the way Dave. Even in my short travels I've learnt some incredible lessons and as you say, we'll never figure it all out, which means those lessons will just keep coming and I look forward to learning each and every one of them :)

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      Absolutely! The day we stop learning is the day we start dying, I reckon...

  12. Reply

    Kate - CanuckiwiKate

    February 15, 2013

    I love "opinions are like belly buttons" everyone has one, but theirs isn't necessarily useful to you! What a great 15 years Dave! Congrats on finding your happiness, what am achievement :)

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      That's a great second part for that saying - "theirs isn't necessarily useful to you." Hah!

  13. Reply

    Frank

    February 15, 2013

    This truly is an inspiring post Dave. As someone who has traveled out of the US for the last 11 years always on short trips, it's taken until I have a good career, a house and lots of stuff to I realize I've spent so much time getting somewhere I didn't intend on being. A friend of mine calls that situation "golden handcuffs".

    It's good to see people my/our age group looking past common expectations and living the life that feels right, makes it seem within reach.

    September can't come soon enough for me, and I'll be on the road. Hope to see you out there!

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      That's exactly what it is - golden handcuffs. We're conditioned to believe that having a "good job" and more and nicer stuff gives us a better life. For some, perhaps - but it's absolutely at the cost of freedom and flexibility.

      Bring on September hey? ;-)

  14. Reply

    George

    February 15, 2013

    Great advice though obviously I shouldnt listen to your opinion :p

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      Hehe ... obviously!

  15. Reply

    flipnomad

    February 15, 2013

    enjoyed reading this post Dave and I learned a lot from what you've shared as well... wishing you more years of fun and adventures on the road...

  16. Reply

    Bernie

    February 15, 2013

    Agree with it all, expecially about opening your heart. That's when you really *see* and the best things happen.

    Wishing you many more adventures...

  17. Reply

    Sab

    February 15, 2013

    Very nice Post. Pure inspiration! Keep it up!

  18. Reply

    Yvette & Phil

    February 15, 2013

    Love it. Spot on. It's a pity we only meet people like you when we are away traveling ... We're currently home, (Sydney), saving, off again soon, but never inspired by those who stay put here. We *always* meet people who seem like you (& us) when we're away. All the more reason to continue "getting it out of our system" forever! All the very best to you xx

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      I felt *exactly* the same way when back working and living an apparently-normal life, just craving the kind of people that I met every day on the road.

      For a long time I tried to find those people back in the 'real world', until I finally figured out that the best place to meet the kind of people you meet on the road is ... on the road, so that's where I needed to be spending my time.

  19. Reply

    Jen Ryder

    February 15, 2013

    This was so beautifully written and inspiring, thank you for writing it! Congrats on 15 glorious years, and cheers to the years to come!

  20. Reply

    DebbZie

    February 15, 2013

    What a great post !!! I really love it and definitely will share it :)

  21. Reply

    Sarah

    February 15, 2013

    I have said it before and i will say it again ... You Dave are absolutely incredible !!! One day .. We will be reading your book :)

  22. Reply

    Jeff

    February 16, 2013

    Good lessons. I especially like the thoughts about entitlement.

  23. Reply

    Tom Bartel

    February 16, 2013

    Relentless optimism is the best side effect of traveling. Love this. Congrats, Dave.

  24. Reply

    Laura

    February 16, 2013

    LOVE this. I'm 23 and I will soon be starting on my travel journey. I thought I knew what I wanted to do as well, get my forensic psych degree which I will have in May, but I planned to join the FBI or have my own practice and be in school forever. Something hit me when I realized I don't want the "typical" life we are supposed to have, the job, kids, house etc. I do not want to live the same life everyone else is. Some may want that as you say, which is fine but I know thats not the life for me. As much as I love my studies, my gut is telling me to get a worldly education. I have no idea where I'll wind up or how long I'll be traveling but I know I won't ever regret it.

    This post really hit home so thanks for writing it. I hope to be able to have life changing experiences like you had, during my travels.

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      With an attitude like this, you're definitely going to end up travelling ... and as you say, I'd be very surprised if you ever regretted it.

      Good luck, and get out there! :)

  25. Reply

    Absolutely amazing list, mate. Best part was regarding the sense of entitlement. Once people get over themselves, they find there is a great big world out there full of people just like you and me, ready and waiting to embrace each other. But only once that sense of arrogant entitlement is left behind :)

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 18, 2013

      Very much so! It's tough to realise that actually, you're the problem ... but once you do, things only get better from there!

  26. Reply

    Glyn

    February 16, 2013

    Summed it all up brilliantly. I'll share this with my travel minded friends. 5

  27. Reply

    Lisa k.

    February 16, 2013

    So eloquently put and so many good points....thank you.

  28. Reply

    Stephanie

    February 17, 2013

    Such an inspiring, well written article Dave. I leave for my big trip to Asia and Oceania in one week and this article has given me a lot to think about.
    The point you make about making up your own mind is especially true. It's crazy how many people have been giving me advice about the countries that I'm going to (mostly by people who have never travelled!). More people have said 'be careful' than 'have fun'! I can't wait to make up my own mind about the world. I hope that my travels will make me half as wise as you!

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      Thanks Stephanie! Yeah, the advice thing is tough ... I'm sure people mean well, but unless they're an expert in what they're advising on, what they're advising probably isn't overly useful. Even then, it's still important to make up your own mind and do what works for *you*.

  29. Reply

    Linda Mary smith

    February 17, 2013

    Great advice. Enjoy the planet :)

  30. Reply

    Deborah

    February 17, 2013

    Dave - I have never met you, but it is quite amazing how my experiences and opinions mirror yours. I am a single 53 female and have traveled the world extenstively on my own (45 countries and counting). I have said my version of your 15 life lessons to friends and family more times than I can count. Most of my friends and family think I am nuts to travel as I do. In response to comments I always tell people (1) people are basically good; (2) we all want the same things in life; (3) what are you going to learn sitting on a couch in the country in which you were born; and (4) when you die will you be able to say you experienced the world. Rock on Dave and enjoy the the 7 continents!

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      Thanks Deborah! Great to meet another like-minded soul. :)

  31. Reply

    Geoff @ WanderTooth

    February 17, 2013

    Great post, Dave! Really inspiring, hope we cross paths one day somewhere on this big marble!

  32. Reply

    andrea

    February 17, 2013

    wow! amazing post. loved every sense of it! Happy Travelsary.. and keep it coming! You inspire me.

  33. Reply

    Nancy Man

    February 17, 2013

    Love this post. So inspirational.

    I haven't traveled as much as you have, but I've traveled a bit, and I've (slowly) been learning a lot of the same lessons: be open, be kind, stop planning so much, don't bother with advice that wasn't meant for you (e.g. "buy a house by age 30!" "have kids by age 32!").

    Travel can really shift a lot of paradigms in your life, if you let it.

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 17, 2013

      "Travel can really shift a lot of paradigms in your life, if you let it."

      I couldn't agree more.

  34. Reply

    Lisa

    February 17, 2013

    Hi Dave - as others before me have said- Great post! I particularly enjoyed the bit about entitlement which reflect some of my 'my worst travel moment' experiences. I wanted to be quick to be mad with everything around me when it was in fact, me having a bad day and a bad attitude problem.

  35. Reply

    Heather

    February 17, 2013

    Hi, Dave,
    Just read your blog for the first time. What a great post! I live in Milwaukee, and wanted to let you know that one of my most favorite places on earth, that I have visited, is Christchurch. I loved that town and New Zealand overall.
    I do think traveling solo is a bit more dicey for a female. I've done it locally in the US. I'd be interested in hearing comments from your readers who have traveled internationally, solo, what their experiences have been.
    Thanks!
    ~Heather

  36. Reply

    Brandon Elijah Scott

    February 17, 2013

    Great post and blog mate!

  37. Reply

    Rahul

    February 18, 2013

    Dave,

    For someone who has started travelling after spending almost his entire life (25 years of it) in a small town, I believe in the power of travel to change perceptions of what adds meaning to life, as much as is evident from your lessons.

    Truly treasure this article and cheers to more travelling.

  38. Reply

    Amanda

    February 18, 2013

    Yes yes YES to all of the above. Brilliant post, my friend. And congrats on 15 travel-filled years!

  39. Reply

    Craig Makepeace

    February 18, 2013

    Great lessons Dave. Yes, the simplest one is to smile, and it's free :-)

    And you're right, age is just a number, it's an attitude. I'm pushing 40 this year, but I don't feel like it, and certainly don't act it, lol.

  40. Reply

    A Mithal

    February 18, 2013

    Spot on! Small words of great advice.

  41. Reply

    ravi

    February 18, 2013

    personal question, but valid one in light of your advice, i think.
    it takes money to travel - if you're travelling all the time, how do you (or how does one) make the money to support it?

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 18, 2013

      Ravi - yup, it's a personal question, but a valid one and one that I get a lot, so I'm happy to answer it.

      For most of the last fifteen years I juggled my career with regular multi-month travels. During that time I saved as much money as possible, avoiding unnecessary costs as much as I could, not buying things I didn’t need, avoiding debt where I could and paying it off as quickly as possible if I couldn't avoid or defer it. When I decided that I wanted to make travel a fulltime career, I worked almost as many unpaid hours on my site as I did in my paid jobs over the course of a couple of years until it started to earn some money.

      Even with all of the travel I had done, I still had a reasonable amount in my savings account when I decided to bite the bullet – which gave me a decent buffer while building up my business income. I now earn enough from advertising, paid writing for other sites and a few other things, to pay for my travels in the cheaper parts of the world at least. I work more hours for less money than I ever have before, but it hardly feels like ‘a job’ most of the time.

  42. Reply

    Naomi

    February 19, 2013

    wow! totally, couldn't agree more.

    As for whoever mentioned it being dicey for women, it isn't. The same personal precautions women take in their own countries should be taken abroad.

    I think more women travel solo than men.

    It's easy to travel with others you meet along the way if you're feeling lonely.

    Women travellers have access to the life of other women in segregated societies in a way that men never will. And we often get to sit in the coffee shop with the men as well.

  43. Reply

    Lourdes

    February 20, 2013

    Thank you for sharing your amazing experience and inspiring many of us.
    I am planning going backpacking on my own for a few months to south Asia what is a bit scary and it has been really helpful. In a society where as you say choosing a different way to live our lifes is not very acceptable knowing people like you make us realise that it is not just possible but wonderful.

    All the best,

    Lourdes

  44. Reply

    emil

    February 22, 2013

    now i know.i'm not alone.

  45. Reply

    creative normad

    February 22, 2013

    AMAZING! super inspirational as always! theres much more wonderfulnes I could say about that article but I will sop by saying AMAZING! REALLY ENJOYED THE READ! Never stop travelling or writing! :)

  46. Reply

    Kim Comeau

    February 22, 2013

    Thanks for sharing! I have been overseas since 1994, with my intentions of being away for one year. Like you, life is a wonderful adventure and one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. Like my travels, many of my choices are off the beaten path. I wouldn't change this life for anything.

    Live life to the fullest and have no regrets!

  47. Reply

    Nicole

    February 22, 2013

    Great post! It was very easy to read. =)

  48. Reply

    Carla

    February 23, 2013

    Very cool. I feel you and I have heard a lot of the same comments from people in our lives. Your observations are great; simple and true. Happy travels (I'm on 16 yrs away).

  49. Reply

    Amu Ehrich

    February 23, 2013

    woohooo! - Dave, thank you so much for giving words to also my thoughts and conviction!! think, I'd never find such a perfect way to express experiences and lessons, I was able to make on my ways...now more than 5 years...surely different - but similar... :)
    keep up that delight for life!!...and roll on!!
    best regards from Medellín/Colombia
    -amu

  50. Reply

    Chris Herndon

    February 23, 2013

    Thanks for sharing your thoughtful insight. Inspiring.

  51. Reply

    Karl

    February 24, 2013

    Thanks Dave, what an article! ....double score for the "smile" part, so true.. happy journey mate, cheers!

  52. Reply

    Drew Meyers

    February 24, 2013

    I like the belly buttons quote too. Like you, I'm pretty selective about whose opinions I listen to these days.

  53. Reply

    Andy

    February 24, 2013

    Fantastic! I've been travelling for 14 years now and have learned so many of your lessons myself. Its really nice to see them written down so eloquently and honestly as a reminder.

  54. Reply

    Rob Bachman

    February 24, 2013

    Thanks so much for sharing. Seeing other people who have the courage to do what I have considered, but put-off, is inspiring.

  55. Reply

    Huda

    February 25, 2013

    What a beautiful message and I concur very much with many of the points you made. In the words of Moslih Eddin Saadi, "A traveler without observation is a bird without wings."

  56. Reply

    Tyson

    February 25, 2013

    That's some sound advice!! I started raising kids at 19 now my youngest is 19. I'm 37 and have all the freedom in the world and have been scared to use it for many of the reasons listed here! This was inspiring! I almost through a bag in the car and took off, I probably should've!

  57. Reply

    Marita

    February 25, 2013

    Wow Dave, you've inspired me! At 37 and some major changes in life i really want to travel again. Recently went on a short trip to vietnam by myself, but now wanting to travel more... starting with more of se asia. bit scared of being a solo female backpacker, but think I just need to do it, and reading these posts have given me more inspiration... just hope i get there!!! :) Great site... many nights of reading for me :) ! Thanks!

  58. Reply

    Michael

    March 1, 2013

    15 years!!! Wow, that's awesome and congrats of doing what you love instead of thinking about it for decades and never doing it!

  59. Reply

    Karrine

    March 2, 2013

    Great blog! I have been traveling for 3 months around South America and cancelled my flight home. I wasn´t sure if I should go home or continue traveling but this blog has changed my mind to just stay :) if you have any suggestions about finding work, earning money and traveling can you let me know thank you!!

  60. Reply

    Eric D White

    March 3, 2013

    Not much to say to this other than very insightful and complete list. Only been traveling a short amount of time but can already relate to all of these.

  61. Reply

    Jill

    March 3, 2013

    Dave, this is great! I'm 37 too, and just had my first year on the road, with my hubby and 5 kids. And I too dont have it all figured out. But I'm having a lot of fun! All the best for the next 15 yrs on the road.

  62. Reply

    SandlakeInn

    March 4, 2013

    What a fabulous post! Your 15 life lessons are so right on. What a wise man you have become. Not everyone is suited for the 'traditional' life and I would bet that most would choose something different if they weren't so afraid. Travel opens your eyes and creates a respect for others that are different from you. I don't travel full time, and I would have a much bigger bank account if travel were not a passion, but I have learned in life that money doesn't make you happy, I'm at my happiest when exploring and learning new things about people and places.

    Bravo!

  63. Reply

    Suzy

    March 4, 2013

    Congratulations of 15 years of travel! I really like your point about age. I just met a woman in her 60s whose husband just died. She says she's off to explore China for awhile. She is clearly not letting age or circumstance limit her.

  64. Reply

    Beverly

    March 5, 2013

    Yet another well-written, inspiring post Dave! I love reading your blog and have shared it with my daughter who is about to set out on her own life and travel adventure. Cheers to the valuable lessons learned in 15 years of travel!

  65. Reply

    tpjackso

    March 5, 2013

    This is amazing. There is not one word in this entire article I found to be untrue, and absolutely mirrors my experiences with travel and life as well. Thanks for sharing.

  66. Reply

    Kristi

    March 6, 2013

    This was a great post. I would almost add that to One size does not fit all
    and Everyone Has An Opinion...

    One size doesn't fit all for all travel trips. I hear people say awful things about a country when they had something happen to them for the one day in one town of that whole country they were there. My friend was actually told not to eat at pubs in London because the food was not good and she was told that it was so dangerous in London with the pickpocketing. I read a guy post about he hated traveling to America (he was British). I bet he didn't visit all 50 states and probably only went to a couple of towns. America is a huge place and every state is so different. This girl told me she would never go to Australia, because her friend said that Aussies were awful to her as a South American female. I was like...what...that's going to say you hate this country because of that? This applies to opinions, too. Everyone has them, but they don't always apply, especially if they haven't been there in over 10 years. Things change.

  67. Reply

    Reg of The Spain Scoop

    March 6, 2013

    15 years is a long time on the road. Great tips and insights!

  68. Reply

    Kate

    March 6, 2013

    Congrats on being selected in Suzy Stumbles this week!

  69. Reply

    Vickie Griggs

    March 6, 2013

    At last. A fellow full-time travel addict. My husband and I are celebrating 17 years on the road this month. No house, no car, no worries. At home wherever we are. Unlike you we waited until our children left the nest to discover the wonders of life on the road. We love every minute of it and plan to travel until our health says otherwise. Enjoy it while you are young. After all we only regret the things we didn't do in life. To promote full time travel we founded the National Association of Full-Time Travelers (NAFTT) at www.fulltimetravelers.org and its sister site, Comphoppers to help full-time travelers stretch their travel dollars. I would love to feature your article on the NAFTT site with your byline and a link to your site.

  70. Reply

    SaraM

    March 6, 2013

    Wow...thank you for that. Im 25, just recently quit my "life" to travel for 5 weeks and it was the most incredible thing I have ever done. Since being back, I crave it...yern for it...pine for it every day. But mostly, I pine for that feeling of newness, of being challenged and changed every single day. Of appreciating every time that the sun rises and sets, because our days are so special and exciting... the way we did as children. Even at 25, I am terrified to make any small change...terrified everything will crumble and Ill be to blame. Scared, so I sit here stuck. But your post has grounded me, so thank you.

  71. Reply

    Claire | Traveling Light

    March 6, 2013

    Most of the lessons here struck a chord with me. And there are just so many "quotable quotes."

    "My investments are in cash and experiences. This works perfectly for me." --> I love this! I prefer investing in experiences too.

    "After all, you’ll never, ever be as young as you are right now." --> A variation of what I keep telling myself whenever I feel regret at starting travel at a later age. I want to make the most of my time now instead of regretting the past.

    "You’ll never have it figured out, and that’s ok." --> I know this, but sometimes I need to be reminded. Thanks!

  72. Reply

    Debbie Beardsley

    March 7, 2013

    Very thought provoking post! I do wish I, we could all just do what makes us happy instead of worrying about what we look like to others. My other wish, the media would stop selling fear so children could be children, adults could be adults and we could all live our lives to the fullest!

  73. Reply

    Holy shizlicks, Dave Dean, you have gone viral. Just remember: I knew you before you were famous. :) Lots of incredible insight here, but that is no surprise.

  74. Reply

    vacation home trade

    March 8, 2013

    Love this story. Such a great inspiration. The line about the 30 year olds feeling too old is spot on. I even hear 22 year olds saying they are too old for _______. It's crazy that people force those limitations on themselves.

  75. Reply

    Ash Clark

    March 8, 2013

    Epic post man, some inspiring stuff here for people to find for themselves through travel!

  76. Reply

    Ramya

    March 9, 2013

    Awesome stuff Dave. Well done for following your heart. An inspiration to youngsters. Lots of love from Singapore!

  77. Reply

    Ruth Niemi

    March 10, 2013

    Fabulous article.
    From 'someone who never wants to settle down in one place'

  78. Reply

    shikha agarwal

    March 11, 2013

    shikha aggarwal

    dude u rock...trust me i was going through something... n now i m sure i wont wait.. would try n go ahead..love every bit if it ...
    i hate reading but your this article didnt let my eyes blink for once... awesome just wow experiences u had in life..
    touch wood...keep sharing
    tc

  79. Reply

    Paola Bassanese Energya

    March 11, 2013

    Very inspiring, I'm grateful to my friend Ashley (who actually embraced a similar lifestyle to yours) for sharing your article.
    And now I've passed this on to my friends & followers.

    Once again, thank you.

    Paola

  80. Reply

    Badai

    March 13, 2013

    Surely I've learned a lot by reading this. Thanks very much for sharing, Dave!

    Salam dari Indonesia

    Badai

  81. Reply

    X

    March 13, 2013

    This is a very inspiring post and great lessons to learn. After all, we only live once. :) Thank you very much for your sharing. I hope you won't mind as I am making a Vietnamese translation so I can share with my friends. (You can find it here: http://www.facebook.com/notes/xuan-nguyen/v%C3%AC-cu%E1%BB%99c-%C4%91%E1%BB%9Di-l%C3%A0-nh%E1%BB%AFng-chuy%E1%BA%BFn-%C4%91i-ph%E1%BA%A7n-1/10151504490599441)

    With lots of love and respect!

    • Reply

      Dave

      March 14, 2013

      That's so sweet of you ... thank you so much!! :-D

      • Reply

        X

        March 17, 2013

        You're welcome. It's too good not to share ;)

  82. Reply

    Tina

    March 15, 2013

    What an incredibly rich 15 years for you! That is fantastic!!
    I'm 37 now as well, I keep being told that I should start making "sensible" decisions ... I've tried those and they were stifling like a musty old potato cupboard! I haven't travelled nearly as much as you, yet I've moved around all my life and four and a half years in the same place has been the most I've been able to stretch to. And every time before a big decision I have dozens of reasons to potentially postpone what I'm about to do - it's reassuring to hear you say the same! And right now I'm sitting where you started, in NZ looking to explore this place and get to know these people for a bit :)
    I take my hat off to you ...
    Namasté
    Tina

  83. Reply

    Mike barrow

    March 25, 2013

    Wonderful and inspiring. Thank you for this. I have been married, have 4 kids, a mortgage, real job and all the trappings of a Western "need more" philosophy.
    However, I take 2 months off per year and travel, mostly in Australia, often backpacking or bush walking where I find serenity. It's all about balance in one's life.
    I do like your piece about media. We live in a cynical world which sells fear and run be rich white assholes. Learn to be thankful for what you have, not what you haven't got. Gratitude and humility. Thanks again, mike

  84. Reply

    Callan

    March 29, 2013

    Well said. I agree with everything you said. It's comforting to hear this. I enjoy your posts very much. Thank you

  85. Reply

    Chirag Shah

    July 2, 2013

    Great Article...Thoroughly enjoyed it...

  86. Reply

    P.J.Andros

    August 10, 2013

    The meaning of life is life itself.

    I thought the narrative was posturing and pointless, an advertisement, and a gratuitous one, for self-obsession.

    • Reply

      Dave

      August 10, 2013

      Thanks, I've been working on it.

  87. Reply

    Lisa X

    August 20, 2013

    You're a great writer! Very inspiring.

  88. Reply

    Jayme

    November 5, 2013

    One of the most right-on articles about travel-learned wisdom I've read. Heartfelt, concise, straight to the point. Thank you, fellow traveler.

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 5, 2013

      Thanks so much! :)

  89. Reply

    Amy

    January 30, 2014

    Found your site via r/travel on reddit. :) great find and loved this post. You've found a way to stop drinking that corporate kool-aid!!! I'm definitely subscribing.!!

  90. Reply

    Daphne

    February 1, 2014

    Reading this as I'm in the Congo I agree with it all,
    Yes it's scary to take the first step but like eating an elephant it all starts with the first bite.

    Congrats to you and keep moving

  91. Reply

    Anna

    February 15, 2014

    Love this!!!!! 100x more excited for Germany and Denmark now. Just wondering, how did you manage to afford so much travel? And make so much time for it? Thanks :)

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 19, 2014

      Hi Anna,

      Thanks for stopping by! I actually answered your question about money etc in a previous comment --check out http://whatsdavedoing.com/15-life-lessons-15-years-travel/#comment-12749 for the details! :)

  92. Reply

    Daniela

    May 25, 2014

    I love this, Dave! I can relate to everything.
    I'm only 19 and had my life "figured out" since I was 16. I'd move to NYC to study photography. And I did. I never really had any economical issues until my dad told me that he had lost his job halfway through the semester and I had to leave the city and my university. I was heart-broken at the time but after a lot of hard work, someone agreed to fund a short course in London. I worked two jobs to fund everything else and I left to live three months in a wonderful city! I couldn't afford a place so I couch surfed the entire time which was wonderful because I got to see what London was really like and I met so many amazing wonderful people! I also managed to travel around Europe on weekends.
    Now I'm back and I'm freelancing and I will move to the USA with a friend (because, as you probably know by now, you can't save much with a minimum wage job) to work and save up and hopefully travel the world next year! I'm so excited.

    • Reply

      Dave

      May 25, 2014

      Loved hearing your story, Daniela! Really does go to show that (a) life has a way of working out even when things don't go at all according to plan, and (b) motivation, hard work and not making excuses can help overcome a lot of obstacles. Good luck!

  93. Reply

    Carina

    July 18, 2014

    Thank you for such positive and inspiring words! Epic post, Dave!

  94. Reply

    Lesh @ NOMADasaurus

    July 28, 2014

    Great post Dave. Thank you so much for sharing. I found your post on Pinterest and so glad I did. I really enjoyed reading this. I related to a lot of what you said. :)

  95. Reply

    Aaron Schubert

    August 7, 2014

    Great post. Much appreciated!

  96. Reply

    Jim

    September 2, 2014

    Love those ideas, especially how a smile can go a long ways and also that you are never to old to try something new. Very thought provoking ideas. Thanks Dave!!

  97. Reply

    Alejandro

    September 23, 2014

    Love it! Keep enjoying the world as much as you can

  98. Reply

    Zan

    November 7, 2014

    Hey Dave, I'm new to your blog, thanks to Nomadic Matt.
    I must say this is one of the best, wisdom-filled articles I've read all year.
    I'm now a loyal subscriber...Thank you and keep it going.

    • Reply

      Dave

      November 7, 2014

      Thanks so much, Zan -- hope I live up to expectations! :)


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