As 2016 comes to a close, I can't help but to reflect over the highs and lows of this year. I started this year in Zambia on an assignment that was supposed to last two months. Well, two months turned into nine and now I am finding it bittersweet to leave the country where I've spent most of the year. While in Zambia, I've also had opportunities to explore much of South Africa, including Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. In between my trips to Zambia and South Africa, I traveled to Colombia, Curacao, Myrtle Beach, and have taken road trips to Finger Lakes, New York and from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
As you can see, I've had quite the year for travel! My limits have been tested in many ways over the course of my journeys. I've laughed, I've cried because I was happy, I've cried because I was sad and experienced many emotions in between. So I thought I'd share with you the biggest lessons I've learned along my greatest year in travel thus far.
1. Be open and openminded.
This will probably always be on my list of travel pet peeves. The whole reason I travel is to gain perspective and learn about cultures other than my own. If I were closed off or not open to the experience, my travels would be a lot different. I wouldn't have met strangers that I now consider friends, I wouldn't have traveled solo and I wouldn't have gone to many places I now love. Don't let the media, friends or family, or your own ideas prohibit you from exploring all life has to offer.
2. Have patience.
In the U.S., we tend to move with a sense of urgency that other places around the world don't have. Travel can try your patience like little else, so it's imperative to remain calm and be patient. And don't be the ugly American who speaks slower and louder when someone doesn't understand. Relax, take a breath and evaluate the situation again.
3. Travel with likeminded people.
I learned this lesson many years ago and have been pretty good about sticking to it. However, as I took trips with new travel partners this year, this really became a lesson I had to remind myself of. Traveling with likeminded people is just simply easier on everyone involved. Don't set yourself up for failure by traveling with people who aren't on your same wavelength.
4. Trust your instincts.
When something doesn't seem right, it's most likely not. If you find yourself in a sticky situation, don't second guess your instincts. I can't stress the importance of this lesson enough.
5. Don't compare destinations to each other.
Before Zambia, the only other African country I had traveled to was Tanzania. I loved Tanzania so I was looking forward to a similar experience. As soon as I arrived in Zambia, I quickly found out that it was not like Tanzania at all. Tanzania's biggest city, Dar es Salaam, is essentially a big business hub in Africa. While it still had its challenges, I considered Dar es Salaam to be a bustling city with restaurants, nightlife and tourism. Zambia's capital, Lusaka, isn't quite as developed as Dar es Salaam, so there aren't as many restaurants, bars or nightclubs. I had to learn to appreciate Zambia in a different way than Tanzania, but the lesson I learned here was to not have preconceived ideas about wherever I'm traveling.
6. Push yourself.
I believe in testing my limits during travel. I swam in Devil's Pool at Victoria Falls and it was a very rewarding experience. Most people in my group chose not to participate because they were scared or thought it would be too difficult. I also paraglided off of Signal Hill in Cape Town and it was nothing short of amazing. I was terrified in both situations, but pushed myself anyway. I will always test my limits because afterwards, I'm always so happy I did.
7. Don't sweat the small stuff.
Along with having patience, I've learned not to worry about things I can not control. This not only applies to travel, but other areas of my life as well.
8. Keep a routine.
Let's just say my waistline is reminding me of this lesson daily. Sigh.
9. Don't be afraid to share your travels with the world.
This lesson might come as a shock to you since I operate this travel blog and share almost all my travels with my readers. However, sometimes I worry that people, especially on my personal social media pages, may think I'm bragging when in reality, this couldn't be further from the truth. I recently had a conversation with someone I grew up with about my travels and she said how she was so proud of me. She told me how she shares all of the places I go with her teenage daughter to show her that she can do anything or go anywhere she wants in life. It was a reminder to me that people can think whatever they want, but people who truly know me, know that I don't have ulterior motives and that my desire is to simply share and inspire.
10. Book it and worry about the details later!
I've been to London, Iceland, Colombia, UAE and a host of other places because I decided to book first and ask questions later. I realize I have the luxury to do this because I have disposable income, but if you do too, let go of your worries and get out into the world!
I hope my lessons learned this year have been eye-opening and help you to be a better traveler during your upcoming adventures. If you have any lessons you've learned through travel, please don't hesitate to share!