24 Countries, 20 Months, 7 Lessons

Travel can be a very educational experience

Before moving to Italy last month, I visited 24 countries in 20 months while working full time as a researcher in Lund, Sweden.

Here are 7 lessons I have learned through my travels:

  1. Plan ahead and travel whenever possible

In my opinion travelling shouldn’t be something to be planned for ‘end of the year’ or ‘summer vacation’. Unless there are kids or other major responsibilities to be taken care of, travelling should in fact be embedded in our lifestyle. It’s the only way we grow and evolve. A lot of people avoid frequent travelling due to the costs associated.

From personal experience I think you just need to be proactive. I have paid 20 Euros for a return flight to Lithuania and stayed at hostel in Latvia for 6 Euros per night.

Book trips 3 to 4 months in advance. Leaving for an adventure to an unknown city on a Friday night and returning on Sunday afternoon/evening is so refreshing. I usually sleep in and spend the rest of the day walking exploring cities. On Mondays I feel a lot more content and look forward to another week of hard work. If you are not fussy about accommodation I suggest staying in hostels. It is the best way to meet more solo travellers and you will end up making tons of friends.

2) Be a smart traveller

Whenever you get the chance to visit a place for work, course or conferences, do some research ahead of time about places nearby which you can easily visit.

For instance, I had to go to Turku, Finland in December 2015 for work. I wrapped up my experiments and left a couple of days early and stopped over in Riga and Tallinn, paying a small price for flights.  If I had visited those places separately I would have paid at least 3 times more.

My passport was stolen in Rome on Day 1. It was a horrifying experience and I have learnt my lesson.

Think about your essentials and travel light!
Think about your essentials and travel light!

3) Travel Light

Travelling constantly taught me to pack as light as possible. There is a lot of junk out there we don’t even need leading to consumerism. We only need a few essentials and travelling makes you realise that our things don’t make us wealthy, but our experiences do.

What I will cherish forever are my trips to Blue Lagoon in Iceland, cruising around Norwegian fjords or a weekend in Finnish Lapland under Aurora Borealis. Here is a short list of essential things I would never go without!

– A good book: for delayed trains, waiting at the airport or while sitting in a cafe when it’s snowing or raining outside (yes I travelled through winter and cafes were my last resort most of the times).

-Music: carry your favourite music. Always! No matter which language I am trying to learn or which country I am exploring, I need my daily dose of Bollywood music so I carry my favourite  playlist with me.

– Power bank: comes in handy. Always!

– Important documents and padlock: when I was a Masters student in London I went to Italy with some friends. It was my first time travelling to mainland Europe. My passport was stolen in Rome on Day 1. It was a horrifying experience and I have learnt my lesson.

So now I keep digital copies of every possible important document (in phone and USB, I also email everything to myself time to time). And I carry a padlock: it’s a must, especially while staying in hostels.

Travelling is like therapy for me. It helps me re-evaluate priorities in life. With every trip I took over the past 20 months, my luggage was lighter and so was my emotional baggage.

Becoming financially independent I appreciated my past experiences a lot more.
Becoming financially independent I appreciated my past experiences a lot more.

What I will cherish forever are my trips to Blue Lagoon in Iceland, cruising around Norwegian fjords or a weekend in Finnish Lapland under Aurora Borealis!money

4) Money Management

I studied in Melbourne and London, and throughout my education I never lived on a budget. My family supported me and there was always enough, it was smooth sailing.

At some point I started feeling entitled to such a lifestyle.

When I started working and became financially independent I appreciated my past experiences a lot more. I started early in terms of money management by buying an apartment. The sense of security and content that came to me every month when I paid a mortgage was priceless. I felt like I started building a foundation for my future self.

Early on I noticed a pattern in my spending. Travelling is like a drug to me. I booked a 50 Euro flight from London to Prague after New Year’s and soon I found myself booking a bus from Prague to Vienna and a train from Vienna to Bratislava.

So my 50 euro trip to Prague was now a 180 Euro trip covering 3 countries! With impulses like these it’s important to make sure a fraction of my income is going somewhere I can’t access immediately but I will benefit from it in the long run.

 

A fjord in Norway. Image credit: Visit Norway
A fjord in Norway. Image credit: Visit Norway

 

5) People are the Same … Everywhere

Something very important I noticed in the past couple of years is that people are essentially the same everywhere. We tend to idealise foreign land, and while there is a lot of differences, there are a lot of similarities than we are aware of.

While I was studying abroad a lot of people from non-Asian background found it really strange how we are supported by our families until we are adults.

I was really young then and listening to such opinions made me feel like I was doing something wrong or I was spoilt. But as I have grown and met people from various countries, it’s really just a matter of culture. I treated my dad with a Euro trip last summer and it made me so happy and content.

Now I understand how content he must have felt while supporting me and my brother all those years. We do things for our family and we shouldn’t let anyone make us feel guilty for the lives we live. I found similarities in this situation when I moved to Italy. It is considered normal for kids to live with parents or be financially supported by family. My upbringing is more acceptable here as compared to some other countries.

When I moved to Australia for education, I was only 18 years old and I had a hard time understanding people. For some locals I met in university, I was pampered and privileged. Then there were others raised abroad with a sense of superiority, and for others, I was an object of envy, someone to compete with.

In the past few years I came across some people who made a few comments.

For instance:

“How were the Norwegian fjords? I have never been to Norway.  I saw your pictures. Oh well, I don’t need to see it now like you. Because I can go whenever maybe in 10 years times, unlike for you it’s just next door for me”.

I would also receive comments like, “We don’t even need to go across continents like you to study because we have a good university right around the corner.”

How could one possibly respond to comments like that?

People share individual experiences, it shouldn’t be a comparison.

Before stereotyping places based on other people’s experiences, we should at least have the curiosity and courage to see it for ourselves.

Anjali on her travels

6) Don’t listen to others, see it for yourself

When I moved to Sweden the first trip I planned was to Paris. Right before my trip I met some people who told me “Be careful it’s not so safe …”

Everyone is entitled to their opinion but what I experienced was completely different.  On the first day, I asked an elderly couple for directions to Notre  Dame, they could not speak English at all, but they took me to a nearby city map next to the metro stop and spent a good 15 minutes trying to make sure I knew where I was going.

I found that really sweet and honestly before stereotyping places based on other people’s experiences, we should at least have the curiosity and courage to see it for ourselves.

The places Anjali visited in 20 months
The places Anjali visited in 20 months

7) And last but not the least: appreciate your parents

We all, at some point in life, take our parents for granted. Studying abroad, travelling, losing my passport and working in Europe made me realise how liberal my parents have been.

I hope to be a good parent someday. Since I have ‘been there done that’ I won’t worry when my kids are on the road by themselves because I managed it all by myself and so will they.

I come from a culture where most girls are taught to have one major aim in life which is to find their Prince Charming. The way I was brought up I was taught to have personal goals and courage to accomplish anything by myself. I can say for a fact that I would want a life partner as a companion to share life experiences with, an equal in every aspect … not just someone who can show me the world.

Because… I can show myself the world.

Written By
More from Anjali Gaur

Reflections on Approaching The Big 3-0: 11 Things I Will Now Do

Turning 30 is a landmark age for many women. Anjali Gaur delves...
Read More

Leave a Reply