When I left Australia in my early twenties for my first independent overseas trip to Central America, I never expected that a decade later I would have visited more than 90 countries and still be completely gripped by the ‘travel bug’. I had been to the UK, Hong Kong and Singapore with my parents as a kid, and traveled through China and Europe with a youth orchestra in my teenage years, but backpacking by myself through unknown territory proved to be completely transformative.
With every trip I pushed my boundaries: trekking solo through the Indian Himalaya, volunteering in the depths of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and exploring well off the beaten tourist path in West Africa. It goes without saying that travel changes you as a person and alters the way you see the world, and I know that I would be a completely different person today without these experiences. Although the list could be endless, here are five of the most life-changing things I’ve learned about myself and the world around me while being on the road.
When you wait seven hours in a dusty depot in Madagascar for a bus to fill up with enough people to depart, or you lie squeezed into an overcrowded Indian train that’s broken down in the middle of nowhere….you learn to be patient. Growing up in Australia, I was used to things happening on time and efficiently, with the saying ‘time is money’ an integral part of the way our system works.
When I first started traveling solo, even half an hour of my time being ‘wasted’ due to transport delays or system failures used to drive me crazy. But getting worked up doesn’t solve anything, and I eventually learned to have patience and just embrace the moment. Some of my most memorable conversations with locals were borne in such situations and many of my favorite images captured when I had time to completely soak up what was around me. I found out that travel is not just about the experiences you plan, but all those little encounters that happen along the way (if you take the time and have the patience to notice them). This has translated to so many aspects of my life, and instead of wanting to make things happen instantaneously, I can allow them to slowly take their course and evolve naturally. I learned that having patience is a life skill….and to always travel with a good book at hand!
‘But don’t you get lonely?’ is one of the most common questions people ask when they hear that you travel solo. I don’t know if I’ve always enjoyed my own company, or if it is something that has evolved over many years traveling independently, but I love the freedom of waking up and going exactly where I want on a whim. Sure, I have made incredible friends while traveling (and meeting people from across the globe is definitely one of the biggest perks of being on the road), but being self-sufficient in terms of your emotional, physical and psychological stability has made me a stronger person and far more level-headed than I was previously.
It has also boosted my confidence a lot! After being a shy girl who could hardly make eye contact with my fellow classmates at school, today I can easily ask complete strangers for directions or start up a conversation with whoever is sitting next to me on that long distance bus ride. Independent travel is not for everyone, but the freedom it rewards you is absolutely priceless and I think everyone should give it a go at least once in their lifetime!
While I’ve traveled to many affluent destinations, including throughout Europe, New Zealand and the United States, it has been my experiences in the ‘Developing World’ that have had the biggest impact on me. Witnessing a more challenging way of life definitely makes you reassess your own priorities and what ‘happiness’ actually means. I’ve grown up in a society that encourages the accumulation of wealth by individuals, and with it the opportunity to buy ‘stuff’ that is somehow meant to make you happy in the long run. Often when i’ve been traveling through developing countries where people live with a strong sense of community and very few belongings (and they’re still happy!), I think that we’ve got it all wrong.
Volunteering is a great shake up when it comes to finding out what is really important in life, working alongside local people and discovering what challenges them and enriches their lives. I think we often focus on how we can help others through volunteering (which is a worthy motivation), but when I think back on my volunteering experiences, I know that the people I worked alongside have unknowingly played a huge role in shaping my life into a more balanced, happier existence.
Every time I turn on the TV there’s images of war and bloodshed across the world, with hate driven by differences in religion and race. I don’t think I ever had racist views on the world, but my lack of encounters with people of different beliefs or color left me susceptible to what I was told by the mainstream media. After meeting people from all walks of life, ethnicities and religion during my travels, I’ve realized that fundamentally we are all the same and the differences we are made to believe are only designed to divide us.
It’s hard to be prejudiced when you have been invited into a stranger’s home, eaten at the same table or chatted over tea. The generosity of people towards me when traveling has been overwhelming, despite my beliefs about the world perhaps being different to their own, and it really is fear of the unknown that drives phobia and hatred. I often think that if the leader of every country had to have backpacked around the world before being eligible for election, the world would be a far more tolerant and peaceful place to live.
5. The world is far more incredible than I ever imagined
I always loved watching David Attenborough documentaries and reading National Geographic Magazines, both of which gave me a glimpse of just how remarkable our world is. But when I started traveling and exploring myself, I realized it is far more incredible than I could have ever imagined. Some of the landscapes i’ve trekked through have left me completely humbled and the tribal people i’ve met have inspired me to view the world through different eyes. No matter how incredible the images are on your TV screen or in glossy magazines, they pale in comparison to experiencing them first hand, with all five of your senses immersed in the moment.
Travel is far from being a cheap ‘hobby’, but the saying: “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer” has definitely rung true in my life. Traversing more than 90 countries has opened my eyes to the mind-blowing diversity, beauty and struggles of our world, while at the same time introducing me to life-long friends who have inspired me to venture further and explore new territory. It’s a never-ending addiction though – there’s always somewhere I haven’t been or a destination I want to return to! But after meeting intrepid travelers throughout my adventures, some just out of school and some well into their retirement years, I know there’s plenty of years left for me as a globetrotter to see what else awaits out there.
About the Author
Pip Strickland has been living the nomadic lifestyle for the last ten years and has traversed to over 90 countries, staying with remote tribal communities, living in the midst of the Amazon jungle, and trekking through landscapes she never believed existed. She now lives between the surf coast of Morocco and the wild island of Tasmania, working as a freelance travel writer and photographer. Her writing has been published in a number of scientific journals, together with travel and photography-focused print and online media. To learn more and visit her portfolio please visit pipstrickland.com.