Update 2023: I’ve now been on the road for over 4,000 days, but these 108 tips still apply just the same!
Today (June 27th, 2014) marks my 1,000th day on the road! What a journey and what a huge milestone. It was October 1st, 2011 when I left NYC without a specific deadline to come back home. I thought I would return in less than a year, but that proved to be quite shortsighted.
To commemorate the occasion, I want to share with you 108 small lessons and observations I’ve made or learned these past 1,000 days.
Why 108? I’m not a Buddhist, but I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Asia and learned a lot about Buddhism and other religions.
The Buddhist Mala (or sort of rosary), consists of 108 beads and it is used to recite the sacred mantras (prayers) with the intention to bring greater happiness, joy, loving-kindness, and serenity into the world.
The 108th bead on Buddhist Mala is a pause of silence, gratitude, and acknowledgment. This post is my pause, gratitude, and acknowledgment of how blessed I’ve been for having this remarkable opportunity in my life; one that has definitely changed my life forever.
So, let’s dig in…
1. Your passport is the single most important thing you own when you travel. Guard it with your life.
2. An “out of reach gorgeous destination” is simply a concept we put into our mind due to its distant location. No place is unreachable. With some research and planning, you can go anywhere. Once there, you’ll see how many of them are actually very affordable destinations.
3. There is nothing wrong in wanting to spend a day doing absolutely nothing. Relaxing is part of traveling too.
4. Clichés are there for a reason and there’s a chance you’ll enjoy a few of them.
5. Beer will almost always be the cheapest drinking option on a night out, especially if it is local beer.
6. Rent a car and drive outside the city. The suburbs and surrounding landscapes can be even more fascinating than the city. Just make sure you know how to drive it!
7. When you look for an “authentic” experience, you’re looking for a stereotype or the romantic notion of what the country used to be. Chances are you’re going to be disappointed because culture changes and countries modernize. It’s the 21st century, and everyone likes to live with the comforts available.
8. Never underestimate the power of comfortable shoes and flip-flops. Your feet will appreciate it after a long day of walking.
9. Appreciate architecture, both old and new; it is an excellent way to learn about the culture.
10. Always keep in touch with family, especially your mom.
11. It’s not the end of the world if you miss a “must-see” sight. They are a good incentive to return to the country.
12. Even if you travel solo, you’re never in full control of your trip. External forces will always influence your decisions.
13. Eating deep-fried cockroaches is not that bad… they taste more like the condiments they were fried with.
14. Getting a haircut in a new country is always scary, especially if they don’t understand you.
15. The lighter your backpack is, the better. The longer you travel, the more you realize you use less and less of the stuff you carry. Don’t be afraid to leave them behind.
16. Sunsets, you can never get enough of them. Appreciate them every time you can.
17. Sunrises are just as impressive but harder to catch if you’re lazy.
18. Earplugs. Will save you from a few unpleasant nights.
19. The iPhone is the most helpful tool I have when it comes to travel.
20. Trusting only your GPS when driving is not always a good idea. Old-fashioned maps are often more reliable (especially in less developed countries).
21. Sometimes the best experiences are had when you get lost. Enjoy the moment and keep wandering.
22. Make sure you look at the stars; they are amazing!
24. Respect the culture and customs even if you don’t agree with them. After all, you’re the guest.
25. Slow down or stop traveling for a while when you feel tired. If you don’t, you’ll stop enjoying the sights you visit, and the whole travel experience will become somewhat unpleasant.
26. When a street seller says “one dollar” as their merchandise price, don’t believe them because it is not. It’s just their way of getting your attention to look at their significantly more expensive merchandise.
27. Postcards might be the cheapest souvenirs, but they are the most significant ones when a friend or loved one receives them unexpectedly.
28. Traveling in Africa is extremely frustrating, but one of the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences.
29. Hike a mountain whenever possible. You’ll enjoy the view, the challenge, and the experience.
30. Don’t think you can plan everything to the last detail (especially in Africa). Be flexible… Buses break down, schedules change without notice, or simply, they stop existing. This happens for everything from buses, flights, trains, and so on.
31. Getting mad at something that didn’t go according to plan will not help improve the situation. Have patience and go with the flow.
32. Equally, getting mad at a customer representative at the airport or any other place will get you nowhere. A smile and understanding the situation could get you much farther. Customer representatives love being appreciated for their effort.
33. You don’t need to be rich to travel the world. I’m not.
34. Walk, walk, walk… it’s the best way to explore a city.
35. Paradise does not exist in any specific place; you create it where you want it.
36. Sometimes, it is better to travel with no expectations at all. You’ll be more surprised when you encounter things you were not expecting at all. Hi, Tunisia, I’m looking at you! Thanks!
37. Be always mindful of your personal possessions, especially in countries like Vietnam and Egypt, where pickpocketing is almost a pastime.
38. You won’t find all the answers on Lonely Planet. In fact, you’ll find the best tips outside Lonely Planet. Ask other travelers for their tips. We are all happy to share!
39. And in case you use a Lonely Planet or other popular guide, if a recommended place is no longer the “it” thing as it said in its recommendation (whether it is more expensive, too crowded, etc.), try going to the surrounding locales with similar food or service. Chances are they take the spillovers from the popular one and provide an even better service.
40. Learn your tipping. In some countries, it is expected and almost mandatory for unnecessary reasons (Egypt, I’m looking at you), while in others, it is a big no-no and an insult to tip (that’s you, Japan).
41. The US Dollar is king. In some countries (like Zimbabwe and Cambodia), it is accepted more than their own currency. Always carry a decent amount of US Dollars with you.
42. Always have a small roll of toilet paper handy, especially in countries where their food is so foreign to you.
43. Even if you don’t blog, keep a journal of your trip. You will love to look back and remember all those special moments on the road.
44. Laundry… you need to know how to do it in the basin of your hostel. It will happen at some point.
45. You need to try new things in life, always. Do things that scare you too. Be adventurous and enjoy the moment.
46. The most expensive part of a trip is usually the airfare. Once you get that, the rest can be brought down to a small budget (depending on destination, of course).
47. I Don’t mean to sound distrusting, but in most Islamic countries, when you’re offered tea in a touristy place, it often comes with strings attached – like, “See my merchandise and buy it!”
48. When taking day tours in developing countries, any time they mention they will stop at a “factory” or “museum” that is not the main attraction (or scheduled initially), it is actually a store. The guide wants to take you there so he earns a commission if you buy something. Just skip them.
49. Food poisoning will happen, sooner or later. It’s part of the whole travel experience.
50. Which brings me to… It is very important to have proper travel insurance. You’ll be glad you have it if it comes to the point of using it. I was!
51. It is ok to skip a shower or two when you’re in remote places, but generally, good hygiene must always be maintained. Traveling is not a synonym for bad hygiene. (There are way too many stinky backpackers out there already.)
52. That being said, taking long-term buses without A/C in most of Africa, India, and some Middle Eastern countries will subject you to abominable smells you never thought existed. Think of lots of sweaty bodies inside a hot, enclosed, metal vehicle. Not pretty.
53. Patience is a virtue, and flexibility is key.
54. Be smart and cautious. If some stranger asks you where you’re staying, be vague.
55. You will get lonely and homesick at some point, but loneliness is an attitude, so you can easily snap out of it if you’re proactive.
56. You’re not the only one who feels alone every now and then. Most travelers do.
57. Skinny-dipping is more liberating than embarrassing. Do it at least once.
58. It’s a shame how many people don’t care about their country and litter it without any concern. Don’t do that!! Be proud of your country and keep it clean! It’s not about us seeing a pretty country; it’s simply a matter of decency and caring for the environment!
59. Believe it or not, it’s nice to forget about the internet for a few days (even for a blogger).
60. Mistakes will happen. Don’t feel ashamed of them. Simply, learn from them.
61. Camels might be cute, but they are smelly and uncomfortable to ride.
62. In many countries, you need to master the skill of bargaining to pay a fair price for pretty much everything.
63. The best life lessons cannot be read or heard, they have to be lived and experienced.
64. Some form of “love” is always needed, no matter where you are or how much you travel.
65. You don’t need to wear the local traditional clothes to pretend you’re making an effort to “adapt.” You actually look like a fool most of the time.
66. China’s Chinese food is nowhere close to the Chinese food you eat at home. Prepare yourself to experience some weird and super stinky dishes!
67. Enjoy the journey; that is one of the reasons to travel, not just the destination. It’s all about living life in the present.
68. There’s a reason why stereotypes exist. They are mostly based on truth and experience, so embrace them.
69. Don’t judge countries based on news and the media. They never tell you the whole story, and more often than not, they show the worst side.
70. People are generally good, and they will give you a hand in your moments of need.
71. Americans, the world doesn’t hate us (as we are somehow made to believe). Even the so-called “anti-American” Middle Eastern countries have been generous and welcoming to me.
72. Americans don’t travel as much outside their own country (only 40% have passports), unlike the British, Australian, Israeli, New Zealanders, Germans, Canadians, and others… which you’ll find everywhere!
73. Puerto Ricans travel even less. To this day, I’ve only run into one fellow Puerto Rican on the road (in Senegal, of all places), and I met two Puerto Rican friends in Thailand. We need to change this, people! Update: Now one in Madagascar too! And a handful more throughout the years.
74. The US has a lot to learn from other nations, including third-world countries. America is not “the last coke in the desert” (and nowhere close to being the best nation in the world as it believes it is). If you take a look at it from an outsider’s perspective, you’ll agree with me.
75. Monkeys… hard to trust, but so easy to love!
76. The foreign culture you experience matters and it is no less important than yours. Take time to learn about it. It will help you understand the country and current conditions.
77. Most people desire to see the world, and they crave to know more about it. Even people from the hermit kingdom of North Korea do.
78. Wi-fi can be found pretty much everywhere. The quality, though, varies from “non-existent” to supersonic speed. (Except in North Korea!)
79. Corrupted governments exist everywhere. Some even operate like a glorified mafia.
80. A lot of injustice is done in the name of religion. All religions included.
81. English is the universal language of travel. You’ll find people everywhere speaking it to one degree or another.
82. In countries where English is not well-spoken, body language works just as well.
83. Modernization is not equal to Westernization. Again, cultures change.
84. Everyone should travel; it helps reduce ignorance.
85. You should do a crazy road trip at least once in your life.
86. McDonald’s will probably save your life more than once when you need to use the bathroom, wi-fi, or sleep for a few hours (resting your head on the table). The same goes for Starbucks!
88. Always check your visa requirements for each country as you plan your trip.
89. Travel tattoos are quite tempting. I’m still holding on, though.
90. If things get tough, you can always go back to the comfort of your home or your parent’s home to unload, recharge, and get back on the road.
91. The world is not scary. Again, don’t trust the negative media blindly. Seek for yourself.
92. It’s good to seek out people with different views and beliefs to know their side of the story.
93. Saying “I don’t know” doesn’t mean you’re dumb. No shame in that.
94. Kyrgyzstani are the friendliest people I’ve met in my travels. Even when I was held at gunpoint there.
95. You’ll fall in love on the road (at least once).
96. It’s not hard to hitchhike. Most people are generous and will take you as far as they can.
97. Cooking is not always the cheapest option, especially if you travel solo.
98. Don’t drink tap water in less developed nations (don’t even think about it in India).
99. The world can make you a very humble person.
100. Don’t assume that you won’t get in trouble because you’ve followed the law. When crooked police want a bribe, they will do anything possible to make you look guilty. (Hi, Ukraine!) This doesn’t often happen, though.
101. Making friends on the road is easier than you think, and they’ll help you appreciate more your friends back home.
102. Your friends at home are inspired by your travels. Keep inspiring them.
103. Knowing more than one language is a blessing.
104. It’s always nice to have booked the first night of accommodation in a new country. After you get your bearings, you can go with the flow.
105. Quitting your job to travel might seem like a mistake to everyone (and even to yourself), but it is not if you genuinely believe in it. You won’t regret following your dreams. I don’t. Best decision in my life!
106. The perfect time to do something will never show up in a basket with a bow, you have to make it happen.
107. Deferring your happiness for the future is a terrible idea.
108. I can always do more, see more, and want more. I’ll never get tired of traveling and learning from the world.
Phew, it is a long list, but 108 lessons are not nearly enough to count all the things I’ve truly learned so far.
Here’s to 1,000 days more of travel! (Update: Already accomplished! Here’s to 4,000 more!)
First image by monkeytime form Flickr Creative Commons.
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