My wife, Allison, and I just returned from a two week adventure in China (and I’m still getting over the jet lag). When we weren’t flying, driving, floating down a river, or careening along the countryside on a high-speed train, we were busy sightseeing and eating our way throughout the country.
We hiked the Great Wall near Beijing, marveled at the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an, and fawned over the beautiful giant pandas at the Shanghai Zoo. When we got home we took a “nap” that turned into 18 hours of non-stop sleep!
Time for Travel
Let’s step back in time for a moment… From 1998 - 2015, we were working full-time jobs and rarely went on long trips. It was just too difficult for both of us take off enough time from work. While we did make it to Europe once, we mainly settled on 1-week vacations in Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean every other year. Those breaks are nice, but they’re typically not epic or life-changing trips.
Fast forward to 2015 -- We achieved FIRE (Financial Independence / Retiring Early), and could finally take the time to embark on longer trips around the world. In the three years since retiring early, we’ve been back to Europe, explored Central & South America, and traveled all around Asia.
Our biggest trip was a 5-week odyssey last year to Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and Hong Kong. It was one of those trips where you come away with a totally new perspective on life (I even had a bit of a health scare in Thailand with Dengue Fever). I chronicled this adventure on my Experiencify blog: 30 Epiphanies from a 35-Day Epic SE Asia Travel Experience.
So why spend all that time and money to wander the globe and put ourselves in unfamiliar (and potentially dangerous) situations? I could probably list a hundred reasons, but here are my top six reasons to travel as much as you can…
1. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Having a daily routine can be a good thing, but it’s easy to fall into a rut. You get up, eat breakfast, go to work, do work stuff, come home, eat dinner, watch TV, and go to bed. Rinse and repeat over and over.
When you travel, everything changes. Your daily routine gets turned on its head, and you’re forced to try new and unfamiliar activities.
One day you may spend walking around a new city, the next day you’re at the beach, the day after you take a road trip, and the day after that you explore museums. The point is you’re constantly trying new things and expanding your horizons when you travel.
Traveling can be hard and at times even uncomfortable -- like trying to stuff my 6’3” frame into little taxis, rickshaws, and economy airlines. But I actually enjoy these situations -- it’s what helps you grow and improve as a person.
Bonus: You get to take a break from the constant 24/7 news cycle. When we travel, we cut way back on email, social media, news, and politics. It’s extremely refreshing!
2. Learn About Other Cultures
I love seeing how other people live their lives. When we travel, we try to get a little closer with the locals -- either by staying in an Airbnb, walking around in non-touristy areas, eating the local cuisine, or just watching and mingling with people.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” -- Mark Twain
It helps you better understand how the world works by breaking down stereotypes and preconceived notions. I find that most people in the world are good people. They might just live a different lifestyle than what you’re accustomed to. Perhaps they pray to a different God, eat different food, live at a faster or slower pace, or think differently about politics, art, or sports.
No matter what differences we may find with those in other cultures, I believe we have more similarities. We are all just trying to get by in the world, enjoy ourselves, have a little fun, and make the world better for our friends and family.
Bonus: When we travel internationally, we usually also meet travelers from other parts of the US that are outside our “bubble.” I love meeting folks from other parts of the country to try to get a better understanding of their world.
3. Challenge Yourself
When Allison and I travel, we try to stuff as much activity into our trips as possible. We figure we spent the time and effort to go all the way to this destination, so we may as well try to make the most of it. You never know when you’ll be back (if ever)!
You’ll find that you end up walking way more than you ever do at home, which is a good thing. Allison and I typically walk about 2 miles per day at home, but we double or triple that (or more) on our trips.
I’m starting to get some arthritis in my left hip, so walking long distances or climbing stairs can get a bit painful. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me from scaling the equivalent of 45 flights of stairs at the Great Wall! I just popped a few Ibuprofen and used the handrail to keep climbing (and then washed up with plenty of hand sanitizer later -- germs are not your friend on a big trip!).
In addition to the physical challenges, traveling challenges you mentally. You have to plan out how to get to each destination, where to stay, and what to do, all while considering your budget, safety concerns, and ability to adapt to a new environment.
Bonus: I also love the social challenges, like trying to communicate to others who don’t speak English and getting around unfamiliar areas. If you take the time to learn a few key words or phrases in their language, the locals are generally enthusiastic about engaging with you. But of course there are scam artists in all cultures, so you have to be smart and vigilant at the same time!
4. Try New Food
Exploring the local food scene is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a new culture. Allison and I always try to learn about and try the local specialties of any place we visit. It’s amazing how much love and pride goes into making dishes that are unique to a particular region.
While you can get adventurous -- we saw scorpion and camel on our latest trip to China -- it’s usually best to just hunt down the area’s more popular dishes. When we were in Rome, we had some of the most delicious pizza at a little place down a tiny alleyway. In Xi’an we devoured their local dish called Biang Biang noodles (my chopsticks skills that I learned in NYC were seriously challenged with these wide, heavy noodles). And in Singapore, we couldn’t get enough of their popular laksa noodle soup!
Bonus: Check out local food tours. We did a really cool one in Ho Chi Minh City called “Back of the Bike Tours.” You ride around on the back of a motor scooter driven by a young local tour guide, and you get to visit about a dozen different restaurants and street food vendors. (Tip: I’d skip the balut, which sounds fun and exotic, but is really rough to get down.)
5. See & Experience Bucket List Places
There’s a reason people talk about having a “bucket list” of places to go and things to do before they die. It’s because those experiences are amazing and one of a kind!
I always wanted to see the Great Wall of China, but you don’t realize how immense and spectacular it is until you’re physically climbing it. The same goes for the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon, the Panama Canal, the Colosseum in Rome, and on and on.
Allison and I have been fortunate to have gotten to many of these iconic places already, but we still have many more to see. I’d love to see the Northern Lights, Machu Picchu, the Great Pyramids, and the Taj Mahal, just to name a few.
I’ll probably never get to all the bucket list destinations in the world, but it’ll sure be a blast trying!
Bonus: You don’t have to go across the globe to see bucket list places. Right here in the US we have the Grand Canyon, the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, Mt. Rushmore, and so many other amazing natural and man-made marvels.
6. Appreciate What You Have at Home
The final reason might be my favorite. Whenever we’re coming to the end of a big trip, I start to yearn for all the things I miss at home: American football, burgers, pizza, friends and family, and all the beauty that surrounds where we live.
It’s so easy to take your everyday life for granted. But once you step out into a whole other part of the world, you realize just how good we have it at home. Here in the US, we have freedom of speech and expression, easy access to delicious and nutritious food, unlimited Internet and cable TV access, and beautiful natural resources from coast to coast.
I always take the time to appreciate the best of the cultures we visit, but I also can’t help but notice the downsides. Not everyone has access to fresh drinking water, clean air, the ability to vote, or equal rights amongst its citizens. While we’re far from perfect here, we still have more advantages and benefits than most other countries around the world.
Bonus: Make a list of the top 10 things you miss and want to experience when you return from your epic trip. Try to do as many of those as you can in the days after coming home. You’ll likely find you enjoy them twice as much as you normally do! One of our new friends from our China trip raved about eating at In-N-Out when she got home; we went a couple of days later, and yes, a burger and shake after 14 days of Chinese food was pretty damned delicious!
After traveling to a couple dozen different countries on several continents, we’ve picked up a few tips along the way. Here are some things that’ll help you on your next epic adventure:
Ride Sharing apps: I highly recommend using either Uber, Lyft, Grab (SE Asia), Didi (China), or any other local ride sharing apps when getting around in a foreign country. They eliminate the language barrier, currency / payment issues, tipping questions, and most importantly your destination. Price-wise, they’re comparable or even cheaper than a local taxi (and more comfortable). You just have to have a wifi connection to order your ride.
Travel Insurance: We didn’t have travel insurance when we did our 5-week SE Asia tour, and we really wish we had. For our China trip, we got inexpensive insurance from World Nomads. They cover everything from lost luggage to missed flights to healthcare. It’s well worth it for a big trip!
Water bottle & Tupperware: We always make sure to have a reusable water bottle for our trips. Many countries don’t have drinkable water, so we’ll sometimes fill it with juice or tea. The key to keeping your energy up while traveling is making sure you’re always hydrated. And tupperware comes in handy for transporting snacks -- granola, nuts, fruits, etc.
Money belt: One of our best travel buys was a money belt. They’re super cheap and help you keep your valuables safe. There are a lot of pickpockets in cities around the world, so it’s vital to keep your money, passports, etc safe.
Insect repellent: You definitely don’t want to get Dengue Fever or any other mosquito-borne diseases, so bring along some DEET (especially in tropical and sub-tropical regions).
Passport photos: One last tip is to take a photo of your passport and keep it in your phone, just in case you somehow lose your passport.
I hope this gives you the inspiration and confidence to get out there in the world and explore! I promise you’ll value you the experiences and memories more than buying a new iPhone or TV set.
“I really regret taking that big trip!” -- No one ever