Lessons Learned From Traveling to 12 Countries in 4 Months

Katelyn Krulek
Advertising & Promotion Major
HU Applied Sciences in Utrecht, Netherlands, Fall 2017

Let me just start out by saying that I had no initial intention of traveling to numerous countries before my departure to a study abroad semester in the Netherlands. I knew I would see some of the sights, but definitely not 12 different countries. One thing led to another and I found myself booking destination after destination, with the assumption that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to travel abroad again after graduating from college. During this time, I traveled to an average of three countries over a four month period where I slowly learned the ins-and-outs of backpacking on a budget. Reflecting back on it, I realize now how much it taught me, including valuable lessons that I can apply to almost any area of life.

Just a quick disclaimer: I am in no way saying that you need to become a backpacker during your time abroad, but am transferring my knowledge to you so you can take the bits and pieces that you find most helpful. If I had the opportunity to do it again, I probably wouldn’t cram so many destinations in a short period of time, as you lose the authentic “feel” for a place when you only visit for a brief period of time rather than soaking it all in.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve accumulated that I’ve decided to share with you:

Think minimally

There’s a lot more weight to the word “backpacking” than most people think… literally. Backpacking means carrying all of your belongings for the duration of your travels strapped on your back. It’s not the most comfortable feeling after so many hours, so you learn to do without a lot of things in order to minimize this weight. That means going days or weeks with just a couple pairs of clothing. For me, I did without a lot of things: makeup, a hair dryer, and all the extra stuff (a.k.a. literal baggage) that, let’s face it, takes up space and ultimately time from your adventuring.

In the sense of “everyday life,” I realized that I could live without a lot of that “baggage,” not only on my travels but in real life too. You learn to prioritize what’s important and I mean this in many different ways. So instead of lugging all your “belongings” just to feel a sense of (false) security, you shed the extra layers and learn to do without. Instead of splurging all of your money in one place (like a fancy restaurant while traveling or on a shopping spree at home), you learn to be creative and strategic with your choices. So doing your research, spending a little less at one place so you can spend at multiple places. Stretch the dollar, learn to do without all the “extras,” and enjoy what’s in front of you — changes that don’t make you drastically change, but challenge you to see things in a different light.

Be present

There are so many beautiful details in life that are often missed because we spend so much time on our phone or we let life turn into a gray blur because we pass the same scenery every day. When you travel, you learn to reignite the excitement of observing through the experience of new sights and sounds. Pay attention to the rays of sunlight pouring over the buildings in front of you. Listen to the locals pass you by, buzzing in conversation in a language you don’t recognize. Notice how the doors, windows and sidewalk are all completely different from what you’re so familiar to. These details exist both away and at home, if only we are willing to pay attention to them. Of course, balance is everything, so enjoy the moment and then snap a photo, because you’re going to want to remember this!

Become adaptable

Both a foreign place and the act of traveling itself requires adaptability. There are often numerous things going on around you — things that you’re brain isn’t accustomed to processing and therefore it seems a bit overwhelming as you don’t process them as quickly as you’re used to. No one said travel was comfortable (unless you’re sitting first class or on a beach in Bali) but isn’t that the point? When we push ourselves, even just a little bit, into areas that make us uncomfortable (that “out of your comfort zone” thing people talk about), we create new ways to acclimate in unfamiliar situations. Being adaptable means making the most of what you’re given (even a five hour flight delay…) and learning to smile when it feels like the hardest thing to do. And this isn’t a process specific to one place in time, but instead one that stays with us. Adaptability is a trait in itself and can be used for a lot of situations in life, whether that be at a new job or camping in the wilderness.

Find patience

It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that you need to check everything off your bucket list all in one go, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time, money and planning to travel to some far off land that you may never again return to. But this can also ruin an adventurous spirit and an entire trip if you’re not careful. Balance is always key and one of the best tricks is to remember that there is only 24 hours in a day. I learned quickly that it’s better to take your time and truly enjoy the bits and pieces of a destination rather than scramble to see them all (12 countries in four months people, you can take my word). So learn to find a healthy balance between accomplishing a lot and enjoying those special moments with a little patience.

The gist:

  • Pack light. You’ll thank me later.
  • Watch and learn (remember these moments).
  • Take your time and truly enjoy a destination.
  • Have fun! It’s what you’re there for.
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