What travelling to 30 countries has taught me.

Today is my 30th birthday.

I’ve been on planet Earth for 30 years. During that time I’ve managed to visit (what I previously thought was a pretty impressive) 30 countries. But according to the Been app – which I update every time I enter a new country – those 30 countries represent just a meagre 14% of the world. So, if we go by my current rate of 30 countries in 30 years, it means I wouldn’t have even done a third of the world by the time I turn 90 (if I am lucky enough to live that long – which probably isn’t likely given the near misses I’ve experienced in the last three decades).

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Travelling is not about the numbers though. It sounds wanky but I genuinely believe it’s about the journey, the discovery, the experience and the knowledge.

With that in mind I thought now was the perfect opportunity to reflect on what I’ve learnt (about myself and life) while gallivanting around the globe, particularly since upping my travelling game over the last couple of years. Because often you don’t even realise that you’re learning something new until after it’s happened. So here are five things travelling has taught me…

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1. I’ve learnt that things don’t always go to plan.

“This wasn’t in my plans for the day” my 11-year-old self whinged, after slipping over in a stream on a Boxing Day walk with my family (who proceeded to pull me out of the frozen water while laughing their heads off at both the clumsiness of slipping and the melodramatic exclamation). I was wet, cold and embarrassed, and falling over wasn’t in my “plans”. But was it the end of the world? Did slipping over ruin everything for all of eternity? Back then, aged 11, yeah, it felt like it. But I got over it, eventually.

And so as I’ve grown up, whenever my life seems to be going a little off-piste, that childhood memory pops into my head, making me chuckle and reminding me that it’s ok if things don’t pan out the way you planned.

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Did I plan to fall in love and move to Yorkshire last summer? Nope. Did I plan to have to rapidly return to Reading after things went horribly wrong? Of course not.

Over the last 30 years I’ve had big travel plans (and plans for life in general), but I’ve learnt that for my own happiness and sanity, it’s imperative to be flexible. Sometimes you just have to scrap your plans and go with the flow. Sometimes you have to book that impromptu trip to Cyprus or take that plunge into the unknown Mexican cenote (or frozen stream).

That’s not to say planning isn’t useful. Making plans can be very handy; making a bucket list of places you want to tick off and setting yourself goals can make travelling fun. Just be prepared to accept that at the end of the day, sometimes shit happens and things don’t work out.

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2. I’ve learnt that you can’t make everyone happy all of the time.

Though I’m sure some will dispute this, I am only human. So obviously I care about the opinions of others. I don’t want to hurt peoples feelings or upset anyone through my choices or decisions. Though I’ve learnt that this isn’t always possible…

On my recent trip to Berlin, I decided to book an Airbnb for the first time. Though I’d been registered on the site since 2014, I’d never plucked up the courage to stay in another person’s home. But with funds dwindling as I tried to complete my “30 before 30” challenge, it seemed like the most economic option. So I contacted the host a few days before travelling to Germany, and booked this beauty of a room:

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On my first day exploring the city, after “checking in” to my Airbnb, I met up with two amazing girls from the Girls Love Travel group on Facebook: Jessika from Canada and Michele from the US. With a mutual love of coffee, food and of course travel, we spent a day together roaming the streets of Berlin, swapping stories and learning about each other.

Unfortunately our time together as a trio was cut short, as my first day in Germany was Jessika’s last. But my new found Canadian friend and I have promised to meet up again soon (if anyone wants to book me flights to Toronto as a belated birthday present, I wouldn’t say no).

Michele and I had a few more days together in the city however, so drew up a mini Berlin bucket list, ticking off the likes of Tempelhof airfield, the DDR museum, the Berlin Zoo and the Topographie of Terrors. Despite only knowing each other for just 72 hours, we got on well. Like me, Michele works in marketing and writes a travel blog. Also like me, she’s had a bit of a rough time lately, so is taking some time out to embark on what she openly describes as a “midlife crisis tour“.

Between sightseeing and tourist attractions, taking photos and drinking coffee, Michele and I had deep conversations about the curve balls that life has thrown us. After four months on the road she felt that her trip hadn’t really been what she’d expected (see my point above about things not going to plan), and it seemed to me that instead of getting the answers she needs, she’s been left with more questions.

Unexpectedly, during one of our conversations on my last night in Berlin, Michele started to have a mini anxiety attack in the middle of Potsdamer Platz. I could see she was upset and anxious, but having never been in a situation like this before, I was confused and unsure of how I could help. We wandered the streets aimlessly, but I felt like I needed to keep Michele walking and talking to calm her down. As it began to get dark though, I was very conscious of the time: I had told my Airbnb host that I would be back to her apartment to collect my bag at 9pm.

Bearing in mind that Michele and I had only known each other for a total of three days, I was faced with two choices: 1) to be a good friend and stay with her, calm her down and make sure she was ok (thus not collecting my stuff from the Airbnb on time), or 2) to be a good Airbnb guest and hurry off to collect my stuff (thus leaving Michele alone in the centre of Berlin on a busy Saturday night, where anything could have happened)…

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At the risk of upsetting the Airbnb host, I went with the latter option. I wouldn’t feel happy just leaving Michele alone like that, and didn’t want to part ways with her until I knew that she was happy (or at least happier) and safe.

Unfortunately, as expected, my choice not to pick up my belongings from the apartment at 9pm resulted in some angry messages from the disgruntled Airbnb host. I tried to explain the situation, but she wasn’t happy, which showed in her two-worded online feedback of me as a guest. While the feedback wasn’t negative, it didn’t mention anything about me being a clean, quiet or polite guest, which would obviously look better to prospective Airbnb hosts if I were applying to stay in their homes.

Receiving negative feedback was something that I worried about as I travelled to Budapest. In fact, I worried about it so much that it deflated my feelings of accomplishing my “30 before 30” goal, when I finally reached Hungary the following morning. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t make everyone happy, so chose the route that would make me happiest.

Looking back now, the whole experience has taught me that being a people pleaser could in turn make yourself unhappy, as you could make decisions or choices you’re not comfortable with. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be kind or considerate. And of course, I’m not saying that you should be selfish – but it’s important to find a happy medium.

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3. I’ve learnt who my true friends are.

Unlike many women I know, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never really been a girly girl, and as such have never really had a big group of girlfriends. That is I’ve never had a group of girls that are all friends with each other, having sleepovers and “girls nights out” and the such.

Instead I have a small pool of very close individual friends, both male and female, spread all over the UK (and further afield). Many of these friends have never met each other but – through my tales – know enough about one another to not be strangers should they ever meet. These are friends I’ve met in social situations, through work and through friends of friends.

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Before I left for Yorkshire last year, I was worried that my friendships with these people would wane. Would out of sight mean out of mind? And, more importantly, would out of mind mean I would be forgotten completely?

One of my favourite travel bloggers, Nomadic Matt, wrote an article about Travel and the Art of Losing Friends. He openly states: “Going away didn’t lose me friends; it had shown me who my true friends were.” After everything that’s happened in my life over the last 12 months, I wholeheartedly agree with him. Although I didn’t “travel” per se, I was away from my friends for an extended period.

But despite having not spoken every day (admittedly due to my bouts of radio silence) or seeing each other for months, my true friends were there to support me when I needed them. And they have welcomed me back down south when everything went tits up, helping me get back to some sort of normality. For that I will be eternally grateful – I know that these people are special and will be in my life for a long, long time.

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4. I’ve learnt how to make new friends while travelling.

As well as realising who my true friends from home are, travelling (especially when solo) has helped me develop many unexpected friendships, too. Many of these are people who are in different age groups, speak different languages and come from completely different backgrounds. Would we be friends if we’d met in normal circumstances in the UK, at say work or in the pub? Probably not, because our paths would probably never have crossed.

I’ve made friendships with people from all over the world, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. As well as Jessika and Michele mentioned above, there’s Manchester Eddy, who I met in Colombia then travelled to Istanbul with:

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There are Ian and (the very beautiful) Lisa, an Irish couple living in Vancouver who Emma and I met at Tulum beach. They kindly lent us their snorkels so we could swim with the turtles:

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There is Ahmed, my unplanned driver and tour guide in Amman; he was a complete stranger who helped me realise that I really am able to “always carry on”, despite what life throws at me:

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Then there are Fab and Thais, the Brazilian babes who I bonded with on a crappy boat trip in Cartagena (“plastic, everything is just so plastic“):

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There’s Leia, the crazy Australian chick who had me and my buddy Emma in fits of giggles while exploring Chichen Itza:

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There’s Zak, who whizzed me around Marrakesh on the back of a motorbike, giving me a whirlwind tour of the city:

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And there’s Nate and Gaith, my Petra heroes who saved me from a creepy Jordanian guy who wouldn’t stop hassling:

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With 30 countries now under my belt, I could go on and on…

It’s important to remember that although I might not see these friends in daily life, I know I will always be welcome in their homes around the world, and vice versa. And no matter whether our time spent together was a few hours or a few days, I know we’ve always got our shared memories.

5. I’ve learnt that I am privileged to be able to travel.

There are so many people – bloggers, Instagrammers, YouTubers – who proclaim that “everybody can travel”, and that it’s just the small matter of chasing your dreams, saving money and quitting your job. Wake up and smell the coffee guys: the number of people who are genuinely able to do this probably accounts for less than 0.0000001% of the world’s entire population (maybe even fewer). And I’m sure there are millions who can’t even see your social media posts, on account of them not evening having fresh water, let alone electricity, a phone and a Facebook account to follow you on.

Through my travels I’ve met people in Tunisia who dream of leaving their country, yet can’t afford a passport. I’ve met seriously clever people in Gambia who just want to study abroad, but can’t afford it. And, most recently, I’ve met a Syrian girl who travelled to Jordan, though not because she wanted to, not because she wanted to “broaden her horizons” – because she had to, for hers and her children’s safety.

These examples may seem extreme, but they have certainly opened my eyes and made me realise how lucky I am to own a passport, now full of stamps of all the places I’ve been lucky enough to visit. It really is a privilege for anybody to travel, and that’s a lesson we should all learn.

I’m not saying that if you are travelling or doing something else amazing, that you shouldn’t be proud of what you’ve achieved. All I am saying is that we shouldn’t forget that it really isn’t possible for everyone.

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*****

These are five things I’ve learnt from travelling. I could probably extend this list to include a whole bunch of other things I’ve realised over the last 30 years, but these were the things that popped in my mind immediately as I was writing this (long – well done you if you’ve made it to the end) post. So I think that’s an indication that these the most important lessons I’ve been taught.

Obviously everyone’s travelling experiences are different, so therefore what you learn when travelling will be personal to you. And while I do strongly believe that travelling teaches you a lot about life and about yourself, I by no means now know the “secret to life” because of my travels. I know that if I hadn’t been bitten by the travel bug and had spent my time (and a lot of money) pursuing something else, I would’ve still learnt so many lessons, albeit different ones. And, I know that there are so many things still to learn, so I can’t wait to see what life will bring me over the next 30 years.

97 thoughts on “What travelling to 30 countries has taught me.

  1. I absolutely loved reading your post. I’ve always wanted to go travelling but the opportunity due to work and circumstances has not allowed me to thus far. You’re totally right that its not just as easy as working hard, saving and quitting your job xxx

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  2. Happy Birthday. I would have to say that 30 countries is very impressive, I am in my 40’s and have visited less than 10. You are very right that it is not as easy as saving a bit of money, especially when you have kids in tow but hopefully we will keep travelling and exploring for years to come

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    1. Thanks Kara! As I said, it’s not all about the numbers, it’s a bit the experiences – you could have travelled to just 4 countries, but if you’ve had some amazing experiences in those 4 countries, what does it matter 🙂 x

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  3. 1) Happy birthday! 2) Wow, 30 countries, that’s crazy. I’ve been to 11 and I was feeling accomplished getting into the double digits lol. I agree with everything you’ve said completely though! Happy traveling 🙂

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    1. Thanks Jen – I think 11 is still something to be proud of, as most UK adults have only visited about 6 in their whole life time! But it’s not all about the numbers anyway, is it 😉 x

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  4. Beautifully put and its not wanky at all, I do believe that travelling is not about the numbers but the journeys and experiences you have created. Crazy to think that 30 countries is only 14% of the world! x

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    1. I know, it really surprised me that even though I’ve been to 30 countries, it’s not even a 5th of the planet! There’s still so much to see and do 🙂 I hope you’ll continue to follow my journey too Ana, I really appreciate your support x

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        1. Totally agree – I love going to places that not many of my friends haven’t been to (like Colombia and Jordan!), and places that are less “touristy” as you say. Still trying to work out what my next travel challenge will be… xx

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  5. I love this article!! Such a great reminder that you really just have to go with the flow when traveling and some things will unexpectedly happen and things you thought would be cool won’t. And 30 countries is still impressive!

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    1. Ahhh thank you Shelia! Yep, one thing I’ve definitely learnt is that sometimes you just have to go with it – you may be disappointed by something or something may not live up to hype, but hey, that’s life 😉 x

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  6. You have learnt so much by immersing yourself in new experiences and challenging yourself: well done! I am terrified of flying but would love to see other countries to learn more about the wonderful world we live in and the amazing people who live there

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    1. Travelling isn’t for everyone Chelsea – but if you feel like you’re missing out a bit, why don’t you try and organise a trip with them. If they’re anything like me, they’d be only to happy to take a friend with them on their travels x

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    1. Hehe I don’t know about dirty thirty – unless that dirt involves muddy puddles and camping out in the UK “summer” weather, as that’s what my next trip will be 😛 but thank you so much for your lovely comment x

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  7. You are privledged to be able to travel so much for sure. Traveling is such a beautiful thing. And I really liked what you said about being flexibile. You cannot be rigid in your plans or you will never be happy.

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  8. Wonderful!! … Can absolutely relate to you, such a true post. Life is a journey not a destination and these things you learned through your travels are very wise things. Meeting new people, managing things, learning from experiences…travel is not just about site seeing. And belated Happy birthday girl… Your so rights its ok if things do not go as planned, sometimes you have to just do things and be flexible and you certainly cannot please everybody all the time and its ok(:

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    1. You’re so right Ania – travelling solo teaches you so much about yourself, your boundaries, your patience levels and what you are and aren’t comfortable with 🙂 I think it also teaches you to be savvy and self-aware x

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    1. Yes, I think these are all lessons that others will learn, though not necessarily through traveling – they’re what I learnt about life and myself when I was travelling though 🙂 x

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  9. Hi girl,

    First of all – happy birthday!

    I’ve never been girly either.. + I have a twin sister, so automatically you don’t look for new friends a lot xD. So, sleepovers and ladies night – a thing I did when I was 10 but since then, ehh nope.. My best friends are all boys except our travel buddy with my twin who’s a girl. 🙂 We are the travel trio and it’s always great with them..

    Kisses,

    Anna

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  10. This is such a nice post. I think it’s great to know that things don’t always go to plan but that you can plan to do lots. I try to cram in as much as I can around bank holidays etc in order to maximize my travelling potential x

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  11. I love reading your posts!!
    I haven’t forgotten you haven’t visited me yet. When I finally manage to get you over one day, I’ll skip the beach and I’ll show you around some more intriguing places xx

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    1. Ahhh thanks so much Lubka – I definitely want to come over and visit you and little baby Balgarka at some point, explore some of Bulgaria 🙂 I’ve started my new job now though, so travel plans are a little bit on hold for the time being… But don’t worry, I will definitely come soon! xx

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  12. What an awesome thing to have visited 30 countries by the time you’re 30(!) I can relate to your comments about finding a balance when trying to please everyone. For the longest time I worried about making everyone happy. Now, I simply ask myself in every situation (just like you did), what would be the best decision for me right now? x

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    1. After much trial and error, I think that’s the best way to be Alison – otherwise you may end making choices you regret or end up making yourself unhappy by trying to please everyone else 😦 it sounds selfish, but sometimes you’ve just gotta put yourself first! x

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  13. I enjoyed reading your post, regardless of what the app says, it is truly amazing that you have visited so many different places! Life can teach you many things, it’s a learning process, as we get older we can see things more clear, like who are your real friends ;-). Thanks for sharing!

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    1. You have hit the nail on the head here – life is all about trial and error, learning things along the way. Unfortunately last year I made a few errors in the sense that I gave up everything to move north to live with my partner… This didn’t work out, so I came back down south – but that enabled me to find out who my real friends are, and gave me time to complete my 30 before 30 🙂 so every cloud…! x

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  14. First of all, Happiest bday to you. May God bless you more. I haven’t been to any other country aside from my own. I would love to travel someday with my daughter and my husband. How I wish I can also achieve what you have done so far on traveling

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  15. 30 countries👍👍👍….I’ve only visited two countries and v learnt to make friends with them even through we don’t speak same language😉😉😉.

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  16. I can have an idea on how much fun you have in your trip from your pictures! Traveling to 30 countries in 30 years is really a great idea (if you have enough funds). Your decision to save money while traveling to Germany was amazing, you got new friends, what can be better than this!

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  17. I agree that not everybody has the freedom to travel, so to speak. There are a lot of people, for example, who have to continue living in war-torn places because they can’t afford to leave.

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  18. Happy (belated) birthday. 30 countries in 30 years is definitely impressive! I always wished I’d travelled but my life circumstances just didn’t pan out that way, I spend as much time (and money) as I can manage each year now though exploring somewhere new…whether that’s in new countries or in the U.K.

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  19. i liked your story – i definitely felt the same in 2017 and have been to 5 places already and its july, and yes your right its not easy and i am lucky to be able to plan save and then go when others can only dream of that stage – but good for you for sharing and keeping it realllllllll

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  20. Happy 30th birthday! You are so blessed to be able to accomplish such a feat of visiting 30 countries! I would love to do the same, but my restrictions are finances and family responsibilities. Heck, I would even be content traveling to the next state! anyway, thanks for sharing photos of your travels and friends you’ve made along the way.

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  21. happy birthday. no doubt the lesson you have learnt and shared with others are appreciable, especially about the people happiness. i think its a bit dificult to make friend in a new culture and society and travelling, but its goo you have learnt

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    1. I didn’t find it difficult to make new friends at all, regardless of race, religious beliefs or upbringings. I have made friends with some very special people all around the world, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

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  22. 30 and 30 countries. You are living my dream life. I am sure you have the difficulties of life too but it’s a great feat. Here’s a cheer to a 70+ more and the rest of 76% of the earth for you and a 98% of them for me. 🙂

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  23. Travel is a great teacher and you have learned your lessons well. I do hope Michele is doing okay. It must not be fun to deal with such issues on a trip.

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  24. I agree with everything you write here, traveling really teaches so much more than you ever thought possible. You learn so much more about yourself, about others around you the way the world is, how different cultures have so many different ways of looking at life than what we do. Love this post 😀

    Liked by 2 people

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