108 Little, Yet Important, Things I’ve Learned After 1,000 Days Traveling Around The World

Update 2017: I’ve now been on the road for over 2,000 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.

Buddhist Beads

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 acknowledgement 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.

    Puerto Rico beer
    Playing with my Medalla (Puerto Rican 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 walking.
  9. Appreciate architecture, both old and new; it is a good way to learn about the culture.
  10. Always keep in touch with family, especially your mom.

    With my mom in Puerto Rico
    With my mom (the best one!) during one of my visits to Puerto Rico.
  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.

    Southeast Asia travel Thailand
    Cockroach, anyone?
  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.

    Bagan Sunset
    One of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen, in Bagan, Myanmar.
  18. Earplugs. Will save you from a few unpleasant nights.
  19. The iPhone is the most useful 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!
  23. Couchsurf as much as you can. It is a great way to enjoy the city with locals. See this post where I share my tips on Couchsurfing.
  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 rather 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 to get 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. Travel 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.

    Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
    The view from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
  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 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!

    in Tozeur, Tunisia
    In Tozeur, Tunisia. This has been one of the most surprising countries I’ve visited to date.
  37. Be always mindful about your personal possessions, especially in countries like Vietnam and Egypt where pickpocketing is almost a pastime.
  38. You won’t find all the answers in 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 like 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).

    money from the world
    These are my souvenirs. I collect money from every country I visit.
  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.

    Bungee jumping victoria falls
    Bungee jumping… one of my new adventurous experiences on this trip.
  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. 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 originally scheduled), 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.

    in the hospital in Italy
    At the hospital in Milan after the worst food poisoning case I’ve had on the road. Seriously, not my best moment (nor my best picture).
  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 if you skip a shower or two when you’re in remote places, but generally, good hygiene must be kept at all times. Traveling is not a synonym of bad hygiene. (There’s 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!

    Trash in India
    Trash in Varanasi, India.  This is normal there.
  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 about 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.

    Mongolian dress
    I made myself look like a fool once in Mongolia. It was for a party, by the way.
  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 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 met two Puerto Rican friends in Thailand. We need to change this, people! Update: Now one in Madagascar too!
  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 be 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!

    Monkey in Bali
    With the cutest monkey in Bali.
  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.

    Towing the Thunderyaks car
    Stuck in the sand during the Mongol Rally.
  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).
  87. You can travel the world for less than your average monthly expenses at home.
  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 parents 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.

    Monks in Chiang Mai, Thailand
    Monk procession in Chiang Mai, Thailand
  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 because you’ve followed the law, you won’t get in trouble. When crooked police want a bribe, they will do anything possible to make you look guilty. (Hi, Ukraine!)  This doesn’t happen often, though.
  101. Making friends on the road is easier than you think, and they’ll help you appreciate more your friends back home.

    Best Friend
    With my best friend, Milanie, swapping stories as we picnicked in Central Park.
  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 truly 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 2,000 more!)

Norbert Wall of China

108 little, yet important, things I've learned after 1,000 days traveling around the world.


First image by monkeytime form Flickr Creative Commons.

 

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37 thoughts on “108 Little, Yet Important, Things I’ve Learned After 1,000 Days Traveling Around The World”

  1. Loved all 108 reasons, but damn my poor Egypt jajaja!!!

    Congrats on your 1000 days on the road. That is such an awesome achievement. I’m so happy we were able to meet up in 3 countries so far. Hope our paths cross again. Maybe South America somewhere!!!

    Cheers to 1000 more days~

    1. Thanks, Jaime!

      Hahaha, yes your poor Egypt. I love it in many ways, but damn, I go there one of the smoothest pickpocketing in my life!

      I’m hoping country #4 will be in South America!

      Cheers to 1,000 more days and to you getting back on the road! 😀

  2. 1000 days! I met you just after your 1 year, and I think you said…. ah, I think maybe another 6 months or so! Congrats and keep it up! I haven’t done much travelling, but I did move across the world – one dream fulfilled! A dream is only a dream if you don’t put it in action! And when you act, you’ll realize the only regret you can possibly have is the fact that you didn’t act earlier! Enjoy the next 1000 days, one moment at a time 🙂

    1. Thanks, Reena! Yes! We met around my first year of travel. 🙂 LOL… I know, that was the plan… just a few more months…
      I remember when we chatted about you moving to Europe… that is one amazing goal and dream!
      I agree with you, a dream is only a dream if you don’t put it in action.

  3. Candice @ The Let's Go Ladies

    1000 days is a real accomplishment! I don’t know if I have it in me to travel for that long. I loved point #3 – taking a day or two to relax is just as much fun as rushing around seeing the sights. And #70 is so true – I’ve been helped by more strangers than I can count. Great list.

    1. Thanks, Candice! It is a real accomplishment for sure, and I never thought I would reach it. On #70, strangers have helped me so many times and made my day in many wonderful ways. Love it!

  4. A desire is only a desire if you don’t put it in action! And when you act, you’ll recognize the only repent you can probably have is the point that you didn’t act earlier! Appreciate the next 1000 times, once at one time

  5. I love lists like this. I agree with the beer thing. I always try and find brew pub or something like that to get my whistle wet and save some money but anytime I drink I finally get to see the sunrise in whatever city I am in (#17). Also before I started blogging I use to keep these little journals of all my travels that were time stamped. I love going back to them to read my play by plays on my travels. Come to to think of it I think I should go back and keep writing these.

  6. This is such a sweet list! After 6 months of regular travel and living abroad, I quickly realized that a life on the road is not for me, but I absolutely love following the travels of people who do. Completely agree with the points about Americans – the rest of the world is pretty awesome and if more of us traveled, we wouldn’t be so scared by places we don’t know.

    1. Thanks, Ashley! Yes, not everyone loves to be a constant nomad, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like to travel and explore the world. Short trips are just as valid as long trips. It’s all about what you do with your time and experience.

  7. I love your post !!!! Saw it on the hostelworld facebook page. It represents so much what I’ve learn during my travels ! Especialy the one about camels hahaha (elephants are the best :P)

    I would also add to everybody out there, don’t be scared to quit your job. I studied business, I had well paid office jobs, I’m now 29 and I’ve quit my job to go travel. I did it also at 23 😛 When I look for a job, during the interview I always say… If I had quit my jobs for another one, you would say that it’s a nice carreer move, but when I quit my job to take time for mysleft, to discover the word and be a better humain, then you see it as someone who is not commited and not reliable ? …. It’s working all the time 😛 Even as an argument to people who don’t understand why I quit jobs 😛 Don’t be scared !!!!!

    I would like to add something to your list, maybe it’s there I haven’t seen it. But the most important things i’ve learn is that deep inside, all humains are the same. We all need friends, love, safety and a smile will get you far !

    Also, your journey is your own. Don’t compare yourselft to others… Yes some people have seen more countries than me during THEIR euro trip… but my journey was my choice and I loved it. Yes in Australia my friend had a job and not me and I was super jealous… but then I when traveling solo for the first time and I ended up having a amazing journey ! Some people will be more lucky than you, sometimes your road will be rough… but don’t get frustrated, you also learn more on a rough sea 😉

    And always have a pen and paper with you, if body languages is not working, drawings help you hahahaha

    1. Andree-Anne, thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your tips and experiences. (and sorry for my late reply.)
      I completely agree with you about not being afraid to quit. Yes, jobs are important to make a living, but your life (as a whole entity) shouldn’t be dependent on one job you might not be enjoying.

      Agree that in the end all humans are the same deep inside and also about not comparing your trip to other people’s trips. It is your own and you craft you trip and experiences according to what you desire. Creating YOUR OWN experiences will take you much farther in the “happiness road” than mimicking other experiences.

      Cheers!
      Norbert

  8. You, sir, are living my dream. I am working on being that knowledgeable and brave. I hope that it will happen before I get too old or physically unable to travel. I LUV reading your posts! They entertain me and give me inspiration….thanks!

  9. Hi,
    I want to travel the World, But if I ‘continued travel’ and i don’t have a job, How i get the money to travel to another destination ??

    1. Shadi, there are many ways in which you can earn money while traveling long term. Many backpackers work at hostels in exchange of a place to stay while other work teaching English or many other jobs. Many also make a living through blogs or online businesses. It’s all about how you feel comfortable in doing while you’re traveling, but even more importantly, how you manage your spending. If you know how to manage spending on the road, you can travel farther and to more places.

  10. funny and useful, did you come to Sudan? i think i see 2 Sudanese pounds in your money collection photo 🙂

  11. Great article and really nice pictures! I’m planning to go travelling for 6 months around the world, I will start in October. It’s very inspiring and useful to read these kind of things from a travel-pro. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  12. priti jariwala

    1000 days sounds really nice!I like those advices because I will try my best to take caution on those.Thanks for sharing!. You, sir, are living my dream. I am working on being that knowledgeable and brave. I hope that it will happen before I get too old or physically unable to travel. I LUV reading your posts! They entertain me and give me inspiration….thanks!

  13. With regards to #18 (earplugs), I go a safety supply store before taking off on an overseas trip and load up on earplugs. Not only are they obviously handy, you can make friends in the dorms when some of your fellow travelers are suffering in silence due to a snorer!

  14. This is really an amazing trip and excellent to see these unique styles of travelling guide. Congratulations Norbert

  15. Great list and a great site. Spanky happy to see there’s another Puerto Rican blogger out there.

    I agree with everything on your list. One thing to add; not everything is better in America (and that includes Canada). North Americans have a certain prejudices; “health care won’t be a good overseas, I have to take care of everything before I go”, “comforts will be basic in Thailand”, etc, etc. When you travel, especially when you’re on the road for a long period of time and have to start dealing with the mundane: going to a doctor, a dentist, dealing with bureaucracy, making your way around with local transport, getting a local phone/sim card you realize that ‘hey, this is easier/better/cheaper than back home’. It’s all part of the education.

    Great job with the list!
    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. Completely agree with you, Frank! Actually, now that you mention that, I think Thailand has one of the best medical services in the world, and so does the Dominican Republic and several countries in Europe. People in the US think everything is better there, but it’s only because they don’t take time to educate themselves to see what is really outside. If they did, they’d realize that the US does lack in a lot of things.

      By the way… glad to see the other half of bbqboy is of Puerto Rican descent!! 😀

  16. What an excellent list! You’ve left no stone unturned. Especially agree with number 8 – footwear is so important. Last thing you want is a problem with your feet and to not be able to walk round and explore. And 50, having the right travel insurance is imperative. People often overlook this but if you need medical treatment in a foreign country your insurance is imperative.

  17. Hi,
    Just want to let you know that you are an inspiration. I was sitting at my office desk
    and wondering is it wrong to go after your dreams? is it selfish?
    I want to travel the world like a hippy but I thought that its very unpractical and selfish of me to just go off like that away from my family.
    you know how indian culture is ! so much pressure to get married and have a family and blah blah..
    But now I think I should do want I want to, its not wrong. infact its wrong to ignore my dreams and to follow the footsteps.
    Thanks. Keep writing. Stay Blessed. If ever you come to India, you know you can call me.

  18. The one thing we regret is not journaling in the early days of traveling. A number of places we dined at were incredible but now we can’t remember a single name. Wish google maps was around back then so we could star everything to help us remember!

    1. That has happened to me too with a few places I didn’t “record” and now I can’t remember the name of the place. Sometimes I do my best to search the place with Google Earth and it helps! Well, if I can remember the exact location.

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