16 Lessons I Learned from Traveling Abroad

So…

The first overseas trip I ever took was in the year 2000, when I journeyed to the Brussels, Belgium area with my church orchestra. I remember spending the greater part of that trip in wide-eyed amazement looking at sights that up until then had never seemed real. I loved mingling with the locals and marveling at the rich history and architecture of the region, but I also learned some very important lessons on that  very 1st trip abroad. And even though my travels have carried me from such diverse places as Moscow, Jerusalem, Budapest, Calgary, Munich, London, Barcelona, Stockholm and Rome, these lessons have remained remarkably unchanged since then.

1) Most people in this world are decent and kind.  The more I travel, the more I know that people are pretty much the same everywhere. Most want the same things out of life as we do. To live in peace and safety. To earn a living. To get an education for their kids and to share a laugh with their friends.

{left- in Israel at the Plain of Megiddo}

2) A smile is the same in any language.  A smile, a wave and a friendly attitude can break down any barrier and create friendships when the language cannot be understood.

{right-on the Rialto Bridge in Venice, It}

3) Don’t be afraid to speak to strangers. The overwhelming majority of them are more than willing to help you, not hurt you.

{left- in Salzburg, Austria}

4) Jet lag is a given.  I’ve yet to find the magic combination that would allow me to avoid jet lag. It’s an unfortunate and unavoidable consequence of crossing time zones. Just grin and bear it. Even though it’s a pain in the neck, it’s not a deal breaker!

{right- in Santorini}

5) Create a capsule wardrobe. I know this may seem trivial but just because I’m traveling doesn’t mean I want to sacrifice my sense of style. I have learned to make the most of my wardrobe which consists almost entirely of easy-to-care-for, wrinkle-free pieces that always fit into one suitcase and I know how to turn 3 pairs of pants 3 skirts, 5 shirts and 2 dresses into 30 different outfits.

{left- in St. Petersburg, Russia}

6) Be brave.  Traveling can be tough at times and it’s certainly not for wienies, but don’t let that be a reason not to do things that push your boundaries. And let’s face it, these will be the most interesting stories, the ones you’ll tell again and again when you get back home!

{right- in Marseilles, France}

7) Don’t be cheap. Unless you’re just plain wealthy you’ll need to plan your spending wisely, but here’s the deal… While it’s good to be careful, it’s also important to not miss out on experiencing once-in-a-lifetime things. Who knows when you’ll get another chance to take a helicopter ride over a glacier, or a dog sled ride over the snow in Finland, right? So make a memory!

(left- in Helsinki, Finland}

8) It’s OK to say no. One of the best things I’ve learned while traveling is how to say no, firmly and directly, without feeling or sounding rude. To vendors trying to overcharge me. To the aggressive sellers of “what-nots” who are the plague of famous landmarks everywhere. Or to tour operators trying to sell the biggest tour package possible. This was not a skill that came naturally to me (I’m a classic conflict avoider, thank you very much), so learning to say no without guilt has been very freeing.

{right- in Copenhagen, Denmark}

9) Don’t believe the media. The news sometimes portrays events much differently depending on which country you’re in. Let’s just say that crime and violence is what gets folks looking at the news. (Images of people shopping for groceries or taking their kids to school doesn’t keep American eyeballs glued to their TV screens, now does it?) And it all makes for big profits for the media. If you listen to the news regularly you’ll be afraid to step out of your own front door!

{left- in Moscow, Russia}

10) People don’t hate Americans. I have not yet encountered a single case of anti-Americanism anywhere that I or my husband have traveled. Not one. (And no, I don’t tell people that I’m Canadian) If anything, I’ve found people to be fascinated by Americans. They want to know more about the US. This isn’t to say they always love our government or our policies, but they do not have an issue with Americans as people. Even in places where you might think they would be very anti-American, like the Middle East, or Russia, I was welcomed by friendly people!

{right- in Budapest, Hungary}

11) There’s only a few truly one-of-a-kind places in this world. The world is chock full of pleasing landscapes and I’ve been priviledged to have enjoyed many of them but when you find one of these dramatic, other worldly settings it can be life-changing, opening your eyes up to beauty you couldn’t even dream existed. On my travels, some of these vistas have included, Canada’s Lake Louise, Italy’s Lake Como, Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne, Arizona’s Grand Canyon and of course Budapest Hungary all aglow at Christmas.

{right- in Lake Como, Italy}

12) Travel with people who celebrate you, not those who merely tolerate you! I can’t stress this enough. Choose your travel companions very carefully. The challenges of travel can even test great relationships, but your trip can easily be ruined by someone who doesn’t respect your opinion or your boundaries.

{left- in Halifax, Nova Scotia}

13) Things won’t always go as expected. Even though you won’t always be able to change your circumstances- it will always be within your power to control your response to the situation.

{right- in Monte Carlo, Monaco}

14) Always learn a few words in “the language”. Even if you’re just passing thru a country it’s important to spend a few minutes with your phrasebook.  Arm yourself with the basics: Hello, goodbye, please, thank you, and excuse me. While the shopkeepers in many cities abroad have at least a rudimentary knowledge of English, they really do appreciate travelers who attempt to converse with them in their language.

{left- in Lake Lucerne, Switzerland}

15) Travel is addictive. Going places is NOT a cure for wanting to go places. Quite the contrary, going places only makes you want to go to EVEN MORE places!

{right- In New York, NY}

16) Strike a balance between taking pictures and enjoying the moment. This idea didn’t cross my mind until we were standing on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, I was taking so many pictures that I had forgotten to actually immerse myself in my surroundings. How dumb! While the pictures you take in your travels are certainly something you’ll treasure forever, the feeling of walking on stones that Jesus and the apostles also walked on is something that simply cannot be conveyed in a photograph, so remember to take a moment and  soak it all in!

{left- in London, England}

In some ways, traveling can teach you more than almost anything else, about yourself, about life, and about what you need to be happy. It also highlights just how different your home is from everywhere else, especially when you start having a large sample size to compare it to. For some of us, this means going home with a heightened and enlightened perspective. For others it may mean never ever going back home. For most everyone though, travel will forever change your life and I am SO ready to start traveling again!

So…how about YOU?

Would you care to share what place on this earth has been your favorite place to travel?

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Kat

13 Comments

  1. Katy on June 24, 2021 at 7:20 am

    Oh man, tough question! I’m lucky enough to have been to around 25 countries in 5 continents (and you’re right, I want more!)

    So favourite places would be:

    Jasper, Canada
    Grand Canyon, USA
    Great Ocean Road, Australia
    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
    Sabi Sands, South Africa
    Provence, France
    Tyrol , Austria & Italy
    West coast, Ireland
    West coast, Scotland

    I didn’t really narrow that down 😂

    • Kat on June 24, 2021 at 8:50 am

      It’s HARD to narrow them down, because they’re ALL wonderful in different ways, right? 🙂

  2. Dawn King on June 24, 2021 at 7:58 am

    I have only left the US once when I went to my brother’s wedding it Costa Rica. It was a fabulous time, but I probably will not go again. Hubs and I are definitely homebodies although we love to hear about other’s travels.

    • Kat on June 24, 2021 at 8:51 am

      Ive never been to Costa Rica, but I hear its fabulous! 🙂

  3. Carolina on June 25, 2021 at 7:38 am

    I’ve been off this continent once to Ukraine and then wilderness camping in Canada, otherwise I’ve traveled mainly in USA. Frankly, I desire to see more of the USA [my own country] it is so varied in itself. I’ve been to: Seattle, WA; Mackinac Island in the UP of Michigan; Black Hills of South Dakota; battlefields in the Carolinas; Boston; New York City. Maine/Vermont area is where I would like to go on my next trip.

    • Kat on June 25, 2021 at 6:57 pm

      My grandparents and an Aunt & Uncle lived in Maine and you will love visiting there! Beautiful country… excellent summer climate!

  4. Alma Lou Annab on June 30, 2021 at 1:19 am

    Perhaps I have an advantage over many Americans, though I’m native born Californian, I’ve lived in Amman, Jordan since 1964! So, to get home to the US and back to Jordan, I do travel. Due to Corona I’ve not gone much further than 30k from home.
    But! I love to travel and totally agree with Kat’s lessons learned. The list of memorable places is long, but the most impressive were:
    A 14 day trip to China
    A trip to Italy and focus on Tuscany with Destination Crafts with Jim West
    10 days in Germany visiting Christmas markets from Frankfurt to Berlin to Bonn.
    A Nile Cruise with my late husband
    Romania with my husband to buy horses, with a stopover in Istanbul
    In 2018 a trip to Scotland and the UK with my grandchildren
    And..my last trip abroad to Pennsylvania for my grandson’s wedding at Gettysburg, followed by a road trip with my daughter to Falling Waters, PA; Niagara Falls, Finger Lakes, and the Hudson Valley back to Harrisburg.
    As you say, enjoy the moment, let someone else take the photos. Knowing a few words of a language opens doors! And, you’re not in the US, expect things to be different, that’s why you travel. But, be cautious! Carry a bag by Studio Kat Designs, with so many organized and secure features. I absolutely wore out my Guardian, and before I go again will plan another to go for the ride!

    • Kat on June 30, 2021 at 6:35 am

      Wonderful vistas! These trips sound wonderful! 🙂

    • Kat on June 30, 2021 at 6:35 am

      Wonderful vistas! These trips all sound wonderful! 🙂

  5. Chris in South Jersey on June 30, 2021 at 3:52 am

    Thanks to the military, I had the opportunity to live in foreign countries. If that doesn’t fuel an addiction for travel nothing does. 🙂. I always shook my head at GIs who were afraid to leave the base. My philosophy was “if I wanted to live among a bunch of Americans, I would have stayed in the states”. My husband’s favorite travel story involves me buying a souvenir hoodie in an Amsterdam head-shop. I was so engrossed in making my purchase that I never noticed all the little bags of weed hanging on the wall.

    • Kat on June 30, 2021 at 6:36 am

      Fun story! And I can totally picture that happening in Amsterdam! 😀

  6. Barb Flowers on July 14, 2021 at 10:36 pm

    We traveled to Japan on a koi buying trip. Our traveling companions were a bunch of koi kichi (koi crazy) folks that are truly into the hobby of koi keeping. We had a wonderful time and were very impressed by Japan. The people were wonderful and the koi were fantastic.

    On another note, I would be interested (as many of your readers) in your capsule wardrobe. I think that would be an excellent topic for one of your wonderful Kat Bytes.

    • Kat on July 15, 2021 at 6:29 am

      Sounds like it was a WONDERFUL trip! I’d love to go to Japan! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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