Five Things I Wish I Knew About Travel When I Was Young and Stupid

As I get older the more appreciative I am of just how big an idiot I was growing up. That’s probably not an uncommon feeling, most of us look back at our lives and cringe at the stupid decisions made and hard lessons learned. That’s just part of life. Still, there are a few things I wish I knew about travel before embarking on my first great international trip.

Young and dumb

1. Not going – The thing I regret most is that it took me so long to travel the world. I was born with a fierce desire to learn as much about other cultures as I could and desperately yearned to see more of the planet. It wasn’t until I was 17 though when I got my first taste of international travel as an exchange student in Paris. A few years passed and after college I backpacked around England and Scotland, but that wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I really started making travel a priority and got out there to experience the best the world has to offer. When I was younger I stupidly thought that it was too expensive to travel and instead of making it a priority in my life, I went down a few wrong paths that ended up just wasting my time and money. Once I realized that my true love is exploring the world though, I’ve never been happier.

2. Take candy from strangers – One of the great things about travel is meeting new people, both local residents and travelers alike. It can be intimidating at first though, especially as stories about pickpockets and ne’er do-wells creep into the back of our overactive brains. If you’re traveling with someone else, it’s very easy to become insular and tune out new people. I realized the error of anti-social tourism gradually, but once I started meeting great people I understood how important social interaction is in the travel experience. People also seem to be very open and frank with me when I travel, they almost always want to learn from me and vice versa. Still other times the experiences weren’t necessarily educational, just a lot of fun. A certain all-night pub crawl in Prague comes to mind… No matter how you decide to travel, make sure to reach out to new people; you’ll learn more from them that at any museum or tourist site.

New York Times Square

3. Can’t do it all – I’m a planner, no doubt. There are few things I enjoy more in life than planning a new trip, exploring the potential new adventures that lie ahead. I used to be really bad, to the extent of creating color-coded binders; not exactly the seat-of-your-pants travel experience most people enjoy. It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to travel without clear direction, trusting in my instincts that we’ll maximize our time and see everything of interest. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t (Amsterdam, How I Mucked it Up) but on the whole it’s made for a more enjoyable, and more relaxed, travel experience. Do I miss some sights? Sure, without a doubt, but slowing down has made me appreciate the travel experience more than I ever have.

New Zealand helicopter tour

4. Don’t be cheap – While I believe it’s smart to save money in certain areas, I am a big proponent of not skimping when it comes to unique experiences. We travel to see and enjoy new places, and sometimes you have to pay a little more to do this. In some cases this may mean hiring a tour guide or joining a day tour to learn more about the destination, in other cases it means the experience itself costs a little more. It doesn’t make any sense to travel far away from home at considerable expense only to skip the activities and experiences that made you want to travel there in the first place. Just make sure you budget for these activities when you’re planning the trip so there aren’t any unexpected surprises.

Eurail europe train travel

5. Travel can be messy – Travel is not a sterile, antiseptic experience. Travel is messy, sometimes difficult and often times really frustrating. I usually highlight the great benefits of travel, of which there are many, but there are pitfalls as well. Don’t be shocked, but things don’t always go as planned. Flights are missed, hotels lose reservations and theft does occur. This doesn’t mean though you should just stay home and be content watching reruns of House Hunters International. But it does mean that you have to be smart when you travel and plan for the worst, although not expecting it. There are a million articles about how to protect yourself while on the road, but a little common sense goes a long way. And should the worst happen, deal with it but don’t let it define you. I’ve been robbed, nearly arrested and accosted more times than I’d like to admit, but I still pack up my suitcase and travel as often as I can. I realize that travel is one of the most ‘real’ life experiences anyone can have, and with that comes the bad and the good.

What are some of your travel life lessons?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

29 thoughts on “Five Things I Wish I Knew About Travel When I Was Young and Stupid”

  1. Well said. I’ve said your first sentence to myself a number of times…nice you had the courage to say it in the first sentence of a blog post.

  2. Great stuff…I’ve learned to appreciate the smaller experiences. Sure taking some big trip abroad is great, but it doesn’t happen that often. So I’ve started to appreciate more the smaller trips which until recently I mostly took for granted…

    1. Absolutely agree. Last year we began exploring places within a days’ drive and were shocked at how much fun we had. Even a weekend away can do a lot to recharge our batteries.

  3. 1) You don’t have to be on the go 24/7. Sit back and watch.
    2) No matter how well you plan, something will go wrong. Roll with it.
    3) Never travel with an ex on a very long road trip. Ever.

  4. Monica | Gap Daemon

    This is brilliant and it’s basically just everything your mum tells you not to do your entire life so it can be tough to go against those wise words but it’s so true; travel while you’re young, don’t over plan, talk to strangers and splash out on important things.

  5. As the veteran of some 25 years’ travel (eek, that makes me sound old!). I’ve just given this list of “rules” to my gap-year niece with whom I’m going to be travelling for the next 5 months:
    1. the most vital thing to take, and keep with you at all times, is your sense of humour
    2. don’t take anything you’d be upset to lose
    3. if you can’t carry all your own luggage yourself, you’ve got too much stuff
    4. it may not be possible to look stunningly beautiful every day, but that’s ok ‘cos no-one cares what you look like
    5. you WILL get homesick, and you WILL get ill, but you WILL get over each and you WILL have a blast!!

    1. Love it, all of them, but especially sense of humor. I should’ve added that, because it’s been a hard lesson to learn. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Love these tips. I can definitely relate to the one. The only thing I’ve ever really regretted is not traveling more, and not traveling sooner.

  7. I definitely agree with these. I wish I had traveled more when I was younger as well. Like you, I am a planner but have learned I need to leave some time for spontaneity and prioritize the things that matter.

    The one I would disagree with you slightly is #4. I think there is some truth to this but you need to know what is worth spending money on and what is not. I think it’s worth spending money on things that you really want to do. It’s also good to realize that some of the best experiences don’t cost any money at all.

  8. So corny, but so true : just do it. I tell people younger than myself “I have never regretted one cent I have ever spent on travel”. Point number one, is what it’s all about. If you never go, you’ll never know. Cheers.

    PS, haha guest “flogging” – there’s some truth in that ;)

  9. lol yeah sorry blogging, we’ll put that one down to an iPhone autocorrect fail. I’ll take a grab with a link to the full article.

  10. Hell to the yes on number 2 — it’s the people I’ve met traveling that have made the experience real. From 5 people I’d been out drinking with cuddled up on the cement in front of the hostel in Luxembourg in winter cause we missed the curfew (till one of us who shall remain unnamed broke in a side window to open the lock)…to the overnight stay on Stomboli in Sicily as lava rocks shot over us. This is what I love about travel.

    Sadly, I AM becoming more insular… This blog has reminded me to get back out of my shell. Great article, Matt!

  11. I first travelled when I was nine years old (as I lived in Malaysia for 3 years) and then I took off again when I was 19 (for six months). I loved it so much. But then, some friends and family convinced me I should concentrate on college for a while, get some security, etc. and I stupidly listened to this advice rather than following my own heart. I didn’t travel again for about seven years and when I went to get a working/holiday visa for Canada I was told I was too old at the ripe old age of 27. Back then the requirement for a visa (for Australians) was under 26 years; I think it’s 30 now.

    Anyhow, I totally agree with your blog and wish I knew (back then) just how important travelling would be for me. I’m now a travel writer and photographer and love all the opportunities I get to travel (even if it’s just a weekend away). Like you, I’m also a big planner & currently dreaming about going hiking in the US National Parks next year.

  12. Great post. I am a planner as well, and I sometimes struggle with just ‘letting go’. During this next year, I will be trying to find a good balance between planning and letting myself make spur of the moment decisions. :)

  13. The biggest lesson is to just do it. So many people say stuff like ‘I wish I could travel like you do’, then spend the next hour talking themselves out of it with lame excuses. If you really want to do it, then make it happen!!

  14. I don’t think 17 is very young to have traveled internationally! I wish I had been that young :) I completely agree with you on every point you made. I especially like that you said you can’t do it all. Slowing down and making each experience the best it can be makes your travel experience a million times better, AND you’re not worried about what you’re “not seeing” because you’re enjoying what you’re doing! I loved this post :) Life is short, so live it while you can!

  15. Travel light. You won’t need half what you thought you would and it can be the difference between keeping your bag near you and having to strap it onto the roof of a bus (tip: you don’t want that).

    Great post :)

  16. I envy you, though I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively I have yet to do a big international trip solo, which is kind of my dream and I have been considering just leaving school for a bit to do it before it’s not an option anymore. I agree so much with number 3, because I am also a planner and have days just turn into disaster because I’ve put too much on our plate

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