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21 Things I Wish I Had Known About Travel When I Was 25

by Lola Méndez Jul 6, 2017

I LEFT THE United States and started traveling full-time when I was 25. Here’s what I wish had known about traveling when I resigned, left my East Village apartment, and booked a one-way ticket to Spain.

1. Leaving your reliable career to travel is a huge risk.

But it will be a wonderfully rewarding decision. You will have adventures that will fulfil you more than a desk job ever could. When I was a child, I fantasized about being Brooke Burke and having my own show like Wild On! Social media has made it possible for non-supermodels like me to share experiences while traveling without a TV crew.

2. Solo travel is the greatest gift you’ll ever give yourself.

Solo travel does not mean constant solitude unless you want it to. There is bliss in knowing that you do not have to adhere to anyone else’s preferences when heading out for the day. Embrace this independence and do exactly what you want and you’ll create memorable travel experiences.

3. Don’t travel for the perfect Instagram.

But don’t feel ashamed for over posting your pictures either. Travel to discover, to learn, to witness, and to grow. Rather than staging the perfect shot and editing the filter just right, focus on capturing the unique moments and sharing them in a way only you can.

4. Not all overseas volunteering is voluntourism.

If the opportunity arises to work with a UN certified NGO, pursue it. If you have highly developed skills that make you capable of helping to expand a charity’s development, this is not voluntourism. You are not taking away a potential job from a local worker. Don’t be too harsh on other travelers that you meet who are on a voluntourism trip — they’re usually coming from a good place.

5. Yes, you need insurance.

There’s no way around that one. When you are traveling, you are susceptible to disease and injuries. You will hear horror stories of travelers who’ve been ill with malaria, staph infections, parasites, without insurance for their medical treatments. Get fully covered and rest assured that if the unfortunate does occur, you’ll be able to get the medical help you need. You might want to also insure your valuables.

6. Solo travel is liberating.

You’ll be grateful each and every day for the travel experiences you’ve had and you’ll be proud of yourself for making them happen. You may have to defend your decision to travel the world solo in your mid-20’s instead of pursuing a stable career, relationship, starting a family, and buying your first home. Every day you wake up and do exactly what you want to do. You are free. Your life is your business.

7. Pay attention to safety warnings, but only from legitimate sources.

People will be shocked to hear about some of the destinations you visit. They’ll think places like the Balkans and Morocco are incredibly dangerous, when in fact, you might run into more trouble in European capital cities than in little-known villages anywhere in the world. Register with The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to give your parents peace of mind, and increase their chances of locating you in an emergency. Ignore those ridiculous stories that list the most dangerous countries in the world, especially the ones meant to scare solo female travelers. Use your network to speak with travelers who have actually visited the nation in question to seek advice.

8. Teaching English really is the easiest way to get a secure job overseas.

In Spain, there is a government-organized program that pays handsomely and does not require TEFL certification. Other European countries have similar programs and Asia is a hot spot for travelers looking for stable gigs teaching English. If you do get certified you’ll have many opportunities to teach at private and public institutions around the globe.

9. Hostels are cheap, awesome, and usually locally-managed.

If you’re looking for a party hostel, you’ll find it easily. If you’re on the latter end of your twenties, you may feel like you’re too old to stay in hostels, but you’re not. There are many modern boutique hostels that accommodate digital nomads and have a creative atmosphere, strong Wi-Fi, and like-minded guests. Seek out an accommodation that is locally owned in order to have an authentic experience with genuine advice from locals about where to eat, what to see, and what to do.

10. Street food is the way to go.

But make sure to pack some activated charcoal pills for the times when what you ate has negative effects.

11. Observe, reflect and respect.

There will be things that you’ll witness that you will not understand. Ask questions. Don’t be judgmental about things that are outside of your own cultural norms. Just because something seems unfortunate, dire, or distributing to you does not mean that another person from the other side of the world will view it in the same way. Do not impose your opinions where they are not justified. Instead, be honored that you get to witness so many cultures around the globe, gather the good, and remember the bad as you create your own cultural views.

12. Ethical travel is attainable and affordable.

I discovered while looking for ethical travel experiences in Thailand and later joined the recruiting team to work with charities around the globe. This experience cemented my commitment to making sustainable travel decisions. Why take a cooking class with a company, when you could learn cultural cuisine from local women — and add to their income? There are hundreds of walking tours that benefit local communities. These experiences will enhance and alter your identity as a traveler. You’ll be more conscious of the effects of your tourism dollars.

13. Ignore people who mock you for being well researched.

Some travelers like to show up to a place on any given date at any given time without a single plan. They haven’t booked a place to stay that night and don’t even know what there is to do in the place culturally, gastronomically, or for fun. Planning ahead does not make you less of a traveler, and more of a tourist. It makes you more organized and stress-free, by knowing in advance where you are staying and what things are most important for you to do, see, and eat in your destination.

14. But you’ve also got to learn to let go of control.

There are so many factors that are simply out of your control while you travel. Buses won’t show up, trains will be delayed, and in the middle of the night you’ll show up at your hostel in Mumbai to be turned away because it is a male-only dormitory, even though you booked in advance and indicated that you were female. In these moments, you’ll have to exercise patience. But with each unfortunate experience, you’ll develop a stronger resilience for any mishap.

15. Don’t wait for someone to travel with you.

You’ve been told that you should be saving romantic trips to Italy, France or Greece for your honeymoon. Don’t do that. Don’t wait for anyone to go on your dream trip, or you’ll end up never going anywhere.

16. Private transportation is a trap.

In most developing countries, private transportation can cost up to three times more than the amount public. There are no guarantees that going the private route is better. I’ve taken a private bus that got in a terrible accident in the Indian Himalayan mountains and I’ve hired private drivers who fell asleep at the wheel on the highway. In general, government-regulated public transit is cheaper and safer. I feel more comfortable on buses than trains, as there are fewer people loitering so you’re less likely to robbed, harassed, or assaulted.

17. Be careful who you trust.

Never ignore your instinct. If you have a bad feeling about something, leave immediately. Wait until you’ve been given a good reason before you trust someone on the road.

18. Being sober doesn’t suck.

Not only will you save money by not drinking, you’ll be much safer. Traveling has risks. By staying sober you will avoid dangerous situations at night and use your evenings to focus on freelance work, reading, and catching up with friends and family around the globe. Try the local wine or spirits, but in moderation.

19. Working and traveling is completely normal.

There are many digital nomads out there. You can join a community of like-minded traveling professionals through numerous remote freelancer Facebook groups and co-working spaces. It will be hard to transition from a steady paycheck to the gig industry of freelance clients and hustling for writing gigs. You will find work to be more rewarding than ever. Doing what you love makes it easier to skip a day at the beach to be behind your computer when you know you can spend the next day exploring.

20. Yes, you really do need to pack light.

I worked in the fashion industry and it took me over a year of traveling to stop carrying around high heels, heavy jewelry, dozens of nail polishes, and anything else that wasn’t multi-purpose. These things just don’t belong in your backpack. Stay true to your sense of style by carrying a minimalist wardrobe that is enhanced with locally-sourced accessories and traditional clothing.

21. You can find love while traveling and if you don’t it’s no big deal.

Some people will be deeply concerned about your love life as a single 25-year-old without a partner or child. Typically, this concern comes from a reflective place of cultural norms, but sometimes it comes from rude people who tell you your good years are running out and you should be getting worried about finding a spouse. Ignore all of them, and keep following your dreams.

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