It was a long day navigating the Road to Hana with my family. Torrential, never-ending rain was our constant companion as we drove. “Thank goodness,” I declared, “that we don’t have to drive back tonight!” I had wisely booked a room in Hana. However, it wasn’t one of the well-known resorts in town; I’d opted for a smaller, “charming” property that didn’t have much of an online presence but did boast a private beach and plenty of space to spread out in “individually decorated rooms.”
I was pretty impressed with my planning skills and couldn’t wait to humble brag about my discovery when I got home. However, when we arrived, we discovered piles of garbage on the beach and bugs crawling up the not-so-charming walls.
This is just one example of a travel experience that taught me a few life lessons. Here are my takeaways.
1. It’s Best To Be Flexible
The first life lesson I’ve learned while traveling during the last three decades of my adult life: Be flexible, and know when to pivot to save a plan. There were two courses to follow in Hana: Stay put and put my pride first, or admit I made a mistake (gulp) and make a new plan. I did the latter, heading to the fancy resort where an incredibly kind front-desk clerk found us a room at an affordable price and even handed us fresh banana bread to make up for our soggy misadventures, saving our vacation in one easy gesture.
Flexibility, and the ability to change course when things don’t go your way, is one important lesson I’ve learned while looping the globe. A little pride is a small price to pay to salvage a vacation, or — back in the real world — save a business deal when things start to go south. Bonus lesson: If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
2. Step Away From The Device
On a trip to Norway to see the Northern Lights, I spent a full evening under the glowing aurora borealis trying to work my new fancy digital camera. I never stopped to look up, let alone absorb the atmosphere of being far above the Arctic Circle under a pollution-free sky on a star-filled night. “Worst of all” — I thought at the time — “my pictures aren’t even clear enough to show to people!” Oh, the irony. Luckily, a few nights later, on the back of a snowmobile with my eyelashes coated in a layer of ice and my fingers so numb I had left my expensive camera back in the car, I witnessed a magical sky of shifting lights and glowing helixes in almost complete silence. With no clicking of my camera to interrupt my mystical viewing, I was able to fully absorb the moment. I relish sharing my story with friends and learned one of my most important travel and life lessons: Pay attention to where you are in the moment, look up, savor the sights, and put down the camera and your phone.
3. Listen To Your Intuition
A room that’s too far away from the main lobby, down a long dark corridor when I’m traveling by myself? If a warning bell sounds in my head, I’m going to say “No thank you,” which may sound easy, but took me a long time to master. The same now goes for unlit streets at night, taxis that look but don’t feel safe, and subway stations that have an odd look. If something doesn’t seem right, anywhere at any time, I trust my well-honed instincts and remove myself from the situation, always listening to my intuition as my best guide.
4. Try Something New
I often joke that I’ll do things when I’m traveling that I’d never do in real life. As I get older, I realize that while a vacation filled with beaches, books, and cocktails is lovely and relaxing, what I remember is the new experiences. For example, this past summer I visited Puerto Rico for the sixth time, but it was made completely new thanks to an e-bike tour around the streets of Old San Juan. Revving my bike up the steep hills was both liberating and exciting and let me see things up steep streets I’d miss on my regular cruiser.
5. Focus On The Journey
To travel in the modern age of flying is to deal with delays. Some of my worst have involved weather stoppages with my then-young son in tow, three planes that took off and had to return to the airport because of mechanical trouble, and so many tarmac waits and airport sojourns that I don’t have enough digits to count them all. Instead of getting stressed, like I once did, I now focus on the journey at hand.
Every moment I’m on the road is a chance for discovery. I search out the best local eats in the airport, which led to an especially memorable meal in Munich, where the airport has its own brewery; talk to fellow passengers, which led to meeting an Athens resident on my way to Greece who revealed the best transportation app to use when I arrived (Beat for Apple and Android, in case you’re wondering); and even enjoy free time to shop and read books, which can be a great way to start an adventure.
6. Be Prepared
As a frequent traveler, I carry a bag Mary Poppins would be proud of; I can handle most situations from a well-packed travel toiletries case, with everything from aspirin to Cipro, bug repellent wipes to antihistamine at my disposal. I also take a picture of my passport with my phone and make sure to travel with local currency so I can hit the road and hail a cab if I need to get going when I land. The ability to rely on myself to get where I need to go and take care of myself when I get there is an empowering life lesson.
Want to read more from seasoned travelers? Here’s what it’s really like to travel solo in an RV, plus what traveling with her in-laws has taught one globetrotter about life.