10 things I learned in my 1 year of travel

Travel is probably the best teacher I’ve ever had. It taught me something every step of the way. Here are some of the most valuable things that I’ve decided to compile and share:

1. Humans are actually pretty nice (for the most part)

If I got a dollar for the amount of times I’d hear gasps or the common “omg how aren’t you scared??!” when people find out that I travel alone or that I’d been living and travelling abroad on my own, I could probably run away and travel for another year (haha I wish).

For some reason, we’ve been conditioned to fear the unknown and that includes fearing people we don’t know. We all grew up learning not to talk to strangers (kids–you still shouldn’t btw) but I’ve come to realize that sometimes, talking to strangers leads to some pretty cool experiences…

I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone A LOT when I travel, and especially more so when I travel alone.

This lovely lady pretty much adopted me as her own daughter in India — (yes, she’s brushing and oiling my hair)

I’ve had to ask strangers for help when I was lost, talk to curious parents about travelling alone as a girl, or even just socialize with new people because things got lonely after a while. I’ve even learned to be a little aggressive when I need to.

Basically, travelling forced me to talk to random humans, something I’d never really done before.

But I’m glad it did. It also taught me that most humans are kind, compassionate, helpful, and everyone has a story to share. We just have to be willing (and unafraid) to listen.

Of course there are always exceptions and I’ve had my fair share of creepy and scary encounters (that’s where learning to be aggressive becomes useful) . But they don’t compare to the tenfolds of wonderful people I’ve met through travel.

So hey, talk to random strangers sometimes. Turns out, people are pretty cool.

2. Travel makes you brave.

I’ve never been a risk taker or someone who exceeded my comfort levels before I began to travel. But when you’re on the road, you don’t really have a choice. You’re forced to navigate safety, wellness, connections, directions, interactions, and just general human skills.

Travel taught me that I can handle a lot of crazy situations I could never have imagined handling.

A moment of bliss on top of the world (Kerala, India)

Whether it be teetering on cliff edges in rusty himachal buses, getting kicked off my train and abandoned in a random city in the middle of the night, having to navigate directions in a country where I don’t speak the language, hiking on rocky terrains with plastic flip flops, trekking for weeks across cities with a hole in my foot or even just talking to random people; travelling made me realize I can navigate those situations when I need to.

I mean travelling with a hole in my foot was probably not the smartest idea but at least now I know I can do it… right?…

Navigating those situations were kind of freaky in the moment. But I look back and realize just how many near-death experiences I had (mom, if you’re reading this, I’m totally kidding), and actually survived!

My confidence in myself grew and I know I can rely on myself to get myself out of tough spots if I need to. I’ve done it before, and I can definitely do it again.

3. Passport privilege is a very real thing and I’m extremely lucky to have it.

I have been so lucky to be able to visit the places I did and have the experiences I did. I’ve also come to realize that its not the case for everyone. I’ve had people reach out to me to ask about visa processes for other countries where I don’t need to worry about it because of the power of my passport.

As an Afghan girl, this is even more relevant because the amount of Afghan girls who can travel extensively with their passports is not that many. In that sense, I am so extremely grateful for being a Canadian citizen and being able to use my citizenship to explore our beautiful world ❤.

Me featuring my upside down passport because jetlag.

Having the ability to travel to so many beautiful places is awesome, but also, tourism is kind of messing up the world. As a person who wants to travel extensively, I also need to learn and educate myself on responsible travel and tourism.

Oftentimes, a lot of countries’ economies rely heavily on their tourism industry, but it’s also the same tourism that destroys the infrastructure of precious places and exploits the areas in which tourism flourish, both ethically, environmentally, and economically.

One of my favorite travellers, Alex from Lost with Purpose wrote a piece on ways to travel like a decent human being and I think it’s something every human should read. So if you’re a human, check it out! (Sorry robots).

4. The quality of your travels is way more valuable than the number of places you’ve been to.

News flash: life ain’t all about the checklists guys.

I’ve always been someone who aspired to be one of those people who say “oh I’ve been to like 98 countries and still going!” But after taking the time to actually travel, I’ve come to realize that’s not for me.

There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to travel to all the countries in the world but if you’re skimming through countries to fill in the check boxes on your bucket list, are you really even traveling? What kind of memories are you making? What kinds of things are you learning about different cultures, countries, peoples, other awesome stuffs?

Casual dupatta flip in heaven. No big deal.

For instance, while I spent 10 months in India and did my utmost to visit as much of it as I could, I didn’t even see half of it. If you look at India on a map, it’s barely a quarter of Canada! Now imagine trying to explore the entire world. It’s possible, but it’s kinda pointless.

Unless time machines become an actual thing in the future, I personally believe that experiences become more valuable when we really immerse ourselves in the places we visit,  the people we meet and the experiences we have.

While we may not claim to have visited the entire world, we can claim to have really seen and experiences cultures and worlds we otherwise wouldn’t have.

Travelling isn’t a competition, it’s about learning about the world and becoming better humans, gaining compassion and perspective and just leaving the world better than we found it. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s cooler than a checklist with a bunch of random countries.

Just saying.

5. There’s a difference between travelling to vacation and travelling to actually travel.

I’ve always found it bizarre that people flock to resorts and sandy beaches no matter which country they visit. It seems like a waste of a plane ticket if they’re not experiencing something new in a new place, but to each their own.

After a year of being away from home and travelling various places in Asia and Europe, I realized that taking a vacation was one thing, but travel – really travelling- was another thing.

Taking local transportation, eating sketchy street food, sleeping in hostels (also usually sketchy)
and just travelling on a budget in general opened my eyes to the world beyond hotels and resorts. There was a real world out there, and I could explore it!

Have I mentioned I love train rides?

Resorts and fancy hotels all pretty much encompass the same experience, wherever you go. It’s when you let yourself get a little muddy and join the locals where things get interesting.

I had been to other countries before starting this blog, but I didn’t feel like I was a traveller until I lived in India. That’s when a new side of travel was exposed to me, and the side I’ll be choosing anytime I go to a new place.

While travelling might be more demanding and tiring than vacationing at times, I’ll choose local food and routes over hotels and resorts any day. Ya feel me?

6. You can still be a traveller if you travel locally.

The recent covid pandemic (and my general state of broke-ness) prevented me from epic international journeys in far off lands. I was moping for a few weeks until it finally hit me:

Canada ain’t a half bad place to explore either!

Canada’s pretty cool too I guess (literally ❄)

I started to jump at every chance I had to go on day trips, weekend trips or anything that got me out of my daily area.

Initially, it felt awkward to blog and post about my day trip, 3 hours away, but the response was overwhelmingly positive. I kept forgetting that there were also people who didn’t live in Canada and wanted to see this epic country.

I realized you can be a traveller and explore your own country, and still be legit! Also, we don’t ever realize how beautiful our own backyards are until we’re left with no option but to explore our own home. Why wait for a world wide pandemic to start exploring our own countries?

Brb gotta explore Canada for a while.

I’ve now got a bucket list for places I want to visit in Canada, and I’ve grown to appreciate the beauty of the place I live in. Until the pandemic is over (and my wallet is a little more full #brokestudentstruggles) and before I can travel overseas once more, I’ll be chilling in different Tim Horton’s locations across Canada (If you know what an iced-cap is, we’re automatically friends btw).

7. Reverse culture shock: it’s a thing (shocking, I know).

You’ve probably heard the term “culture shock”. Its a term that describes the feeling of unfamiliarity and disorientation you experience for a few days when immersed into an entirely new place (especially when the culture and language differs from what you’re used to).

Well apparently there’s an opposite for that. And sometimes it can be even more intense than the initial culture shock itself.

Reverse culture shock be like…(Dogs in carriages and women in bikinis were super weird to see after coming back home.)

Reverse culture shock is when you leave your regular life for an extended period of time and the ‘shock’ you experience when returning to said normal life.

Personally, I describe it as returning to an old life as a completely new person. And it’s not an easy thing to experience, especially when long term travel is not on the horizon anytime soon. To be honest, it was actually harder coming back to my old life than it was leaving.

That’s because travel changes you. The extent depends on the person and the experiences but it definitely changes you in some way. Returning to a past life with fresh eyes can be a great opportunity to bring changes in your life, but like any transformation, it’s a tough one.

The way we see the world and life in general tends to change and transform after travelling for some time. Returning to a place where the mindsets, customs and norms are what we knew in the past, it can be difficult to navigate with a new mindset.

I never go a day without thinking about travelling, about being in the mountains, or riding trains with the wind in my hair. Life becomes bittersweet with the distant half-promise and hopes for more travels.

8. We take so much for granted and forget to count our blessings

Believe it or not, my favorite thing about coming back home after living in India was the fact that we owned a washing machine and a dryer, and a bathtub. These were not luxuries I had in India and after months of washing my clothes by hand and showering in cold water, I realized how amazing these items are.

Often we become so immersed in our day to day struggles and problems that we forget to be thankful for the things we do have.

Our humble washroom during one of the treksI can’t tell if that’s water or another mystery substance

Travelling gave me perspective on that and made me realize that however bad our situation might be, someone out there probably has it worse, so its better to focus on solutions and be grateful for what already is.

It goes without saying, I also became more grateful for my friends and family. Long term travel can get kinda lonely at times, and being able to return to people who I love and who love me back is one of the biggest blessings.

But also washing machines. Definitely washing machines.

9. Things don’t always go according to plan. That’s not always a bad thing.

I think my favorite travel memories were the spontaneous moments, the ones where all plans fell apart and I just ‘winged it’.

Whether it’s getting stuck in the middle of nowhere after our car broke down, or losing directions to the place I wanted to go and ending up somewhere else, or even just having to try a new food because they didn’t serve what I was used to; all of these examples led to delightful results.

I stumbled upon one of the most famous temples in South India completely by accident! (Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Trivandrum)

Plans are awesome for providing a general structure to things, but when things are planned out to the last detail, any changes create tension and stress.

That’s why travelling with very little planning and mostly just going with the flow tends to be a lot more rewarding and fun. No plans = no schedules = no changes in plans = no worries 🙂

That being said, it’s also very important to plan the basic stuff beforehand. Otherwise you’ll be sleeping in sketchy hostels with creaky beds and no washrooms (true story).

10. Don’t plan everything out, but DO plan some things out.

Budgeting, planning, and preparation are key in any type of travel plan. Spontaneous moments are always wonderful but they tend to get tiresome when that’s all you experience.

The key to enjoying long-term (or even short term) travel is to plan ahead, book tickets and accommodations, decide on at least a general area to travel and pack accordingly. This is even more relevant for budget travellers who want to travel for cheap.

Hostels in India be like: No washroom, barely any space, but at least there’s a bed to sleep on? (Not all hostels are crappy, this one was just a bit much) not a bad deal for $4 though…

I’ve had many instances where athough my experiences were spontaneous and memorable, I wished I had prepared a little better in order to avoid annoying situations I could have otherwise avoided (such as sleeping in said sketchy hostel with no washroom).

Travelling teaches us a lot about ourselves, the world around us and life in general. It truly is a gift to be able to travel.

And that’s about it! I’m so grateful to be able to travel to such wonderful places and to be able to share my experiences.

If you’re still reading this, I applaud you and I thank you for reading my content! Every like, comment, message and share that I get literally makes me so damn happy and convinces me further that it’s not just my mom and my best friend reading my pieces, so seriously, thank you.

A grateful Ghazal looking at you with gratitude 🙏

Feel free to follow my Instagram page if you aren’t already, to get a further glimpse into my experiences, thoughts and life in general.

What has travel taught you? Let me know in the comments below or feel free to message me and let me know!


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