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Education of the Road: 25 Lessons from 25 Countries

Todd Smidt by Todd Smidt

Day by day little seems to change but when you look back everything is different. Crazy what can happen in 365 days.   It’s been one year since I left Omaha, Nebraska to go work on a cruise ship in Australia. It’s been nearly six months since I returned to the United States and four months since I took off to Au Pair and backpack Europe. Since that day in late August of 2013 I have visited 25 countries and learned plenty of lessons from traveling Not bad seeing how the first 23 years of my life I totaled exactly 2 (United States and Jamaica).

I was racking my brain to come up with some way to acknowledge this “milestone.” Obviously after being to so many places and meeting so many people I’ve changed. But in what ways? That’s hard to describe over a blog post, but I can share a few of the lessons I’ve learned from traveling along the way.

No, this isn’t a list of every lesson from traveling I’ve learned in the past year. I did 25 “lessons” to match the number of countries I’d visited (clever I know). Yes I’m counting the one hour train layover in Switzerland- since I have pictures-it counts. Quite a few of these come from my backpacking experience.  There is only so much you can learn on a giant ship sailing around the South Pacific that don’t involve drinking, scuba diving, or how to sneak into resorts. Some of these are obvious. Some only apply to me. And some may just teach you something.

1. Length of a relationship doesn’t matter.
            -What does is the experiences you’ve shared. Stay in touch with as many people as you can. I can’t reiterate that enough. Personal relationships are what make life worth living. I’ve made so many friends in the past year that I couldn’t image living without. You know who you are and know that I think you’re pretty neat.

Related: Travel Resources 


2. If you’re tired enough you can sleep anywhere.
             -I’m roughly 6 feet 4 inches (1.98 meters) if I can sleep on a bus, train, or RyanAir flight the rest of you can sure has hell find a way to make it work.

3. a). People are intrinsically good:
-My biggest and favorite lesson. Regardless of where you are, most people have good hearts. They’ll answer your questions, give you advice, and will walk with you for 25 minutes to the right metro stop at 4 A.M. because they know you’re not from Paris and speak no French. Special thanks to the random skateboard guy (if he ever happens to read this)

        b) and similar:
-Everyone loves something, wants something, and has lost something. We all have something in common if you look hard enough. Most people just want to do the best for themselves and their families. They’re not out to screw you over more wanting to protect what’s theirs.

4. Mexican food doesn’t really exist outside North America (neither do real milkshakes if you’re curious).
             -No, a burrito shop doesn’t count as “Mexican food.” And salsa shouldn’t look like tomato soup First thing I’m eating when I get back to the United States.

5. Camping festivals are the best festivals
             -I’ve been to EDC, Ultra, LAN, and Tomorrowland. All were great in different ways. But Tomorrowland was made special by the camping aspect. It makes it easy to meet people and make friends which adds to the festival. My “Tomorrowland Troop” and camping neighbors were from all over the world and each brought something crazy and random to my festival experience.

(Making friends with my Tomorrowland camping neighbors from all over the world)

6.People watching is the greatest form of free entertainment available.
-When you’re in a different country and don’t truly understand the customs this is the best way to acclimate yourself without looking like a complete fool. Also, you’ll get a few free laughs.

Related: Trip Planning Help

7.Distance changes relationships.
-Not living in the same city/country exposes a relationship. If someone is making an effort to keep in touch treasure it. If a person rarely has wifi -due to backpacking or working in the middle of the ocean- and they drop you a line you better believe your damn important to them and appreciate that.

8. Never. Ever. Turn down free alcohol
              -I feel like this should go without saying but if you’re new friend from Serbia offers you bottle service you don’t say no. That’s rude.

9.You never know where “hey, I’m Todd, where are you from” will lead.
– Firstly, I recommend using your own name. Secondly, if you can’t meet new people  life’s going to be a rough, awkward, lonely, and boring.

(Saying “hey I’m Todd” to Milan (2nd from left) and Jessica (far right) was one of the best choices I ever made)

10. .Being good with people is as close to a super power as we’re ever going to get.
-If you disagree go spend a night with socially awkward people.The word you’ll be looking for is “painful”.

Related: Tips for your next trip abroad 

11. Keep your plans open and only do so much “pre-booked tour” stuff
-One of my favorite places was Belgrade, Serbia. I didn’t see that coming. It wasn’t originally on our list of places to go, but we ended up there and I loved it. When you’re really traveling your “itinerary” should be a guideline not a rule book. And if a travel company set up your entire trip you’re a true tourist and missed a lot of hidden gems

12. Always be the least creepy guy in the room.
In Europe it’s not hard. Trust me.

13. There’s no such thing as a bad beach day or a bad sunset.
Watching a “bad” sunset at the beach is still better than pretty much any other day.

14.If a group is loud, drunk, and out of control they’re probably Australian or American.
-I don’t know why and can’t decide if I’m embarrassed or proud. But those two countries just take drinking and partying to a completely different level.

Related: Travel Fatigue- The Dark side of Paradise

15. It’s important to appreciate everything as its happening.
-Don’t take anything for granted. Thousands of people in the world wish they could “pause” life for a few months and hop from country to country. Keep perspective on those long train rides, hostels with crappy wifi and terrible beds, days you miss your tour, because honestly: life ain’t bad.

16. Your train, plane, or autobus time will never be as productive as you hope it will be.
-This was regularly supposed to be my journal/blog time. You see how well that worked.

17. “Travel guilt/ Tourist Obligation” is a real thing but it’s okay to ignore it.
-I hate the idea of obligation. When you get to a city you feel like there are things you”have” to do. You wouldn’t go to Pisa without seeing the Leaning Tower would you? No. The world is full of cool places to go. But time is scarce. And after weeks of traveling some days you just want to stay at the hostel. It’s okay to not always be doing something. It’s okay to not go out and party. Taking days off is essential to actually surviving and enjoying your trip.


18. Always pregame the club
-Sober. Fun. Club. Three words that just don’t go together. That means “pre-drink” to the Aussies, Canadians, Brits, and Irish reading this.

19. A free place to stay is enough of a reason to visit any city
-Once lodging is covered it just frees up money for tourist stuff…or drinking.

Related: 9 Tips for your next Trip

20. Never judge a city or country based on one person
-Heard the locals were unfriendly? Another backpacker didn’t like Paris because ‘it was too crowded?’ A friend of yours raved about Berlin? Who cares. Each city and country is different for each traveler. Go experience it for yourself .

21. The Adriatic may be the bluest most gorgeous water in the world, but nothing beats a sand beach.
– I don’t do reef shoes or bring a yoga mat to the beach- nor should I have to. But if you’re visiting the Adriatic, due to all the sharp and jagged rocks, you’d be well served to

Traveling with friends is guaranteed to be more expensive than traveling solo but I promise it will be more fun.
-The amount of inside jokes a group has by traveling together never seem to run out. It’s basically 4 years of college in 6 weeks. Things such as: “Z-O-DICK, daddy has horses, sometimes I get angry- so suck a dick, kobe, graping, OJing, and Hemmingwaying” mean nothing to you but remind me of the best backpacking moments with two great friends. You don’t realize it until you’re on your own in Florence making “jokes” to new   people who look at you like you’re crazy.

Special shout-out to the R&D department, stay schemin’ boys.

(Bonus lesson 22b)- If you meet some random guy 3 times in 2 different cities 3 weeks apart and then he finds you at the Main stage of Tomorrowland at night you’re obligated to either be best friends or file a restraining order -I opted for the former.

Safe Travels Chase.

(The Tomorrowland Troop had so much fun together we decided to meet up again in Amsterdam)

23. Things such as: hot sauce. peanut butter, avocados, ice cubes, the McDonalds Dollar Menu, and stores being open past 4 pm are rare and beautiful things. Treat them as such.
              -It was 7 am in Vienna, I was just leaving a club and thought “I could really go for some McDonalds breakfast” Walked up, asked where the breakfast dollar menu was and she asked me what I was talking about. I explained what it was and she looked at me as if I had just told her magic was real. I ended up paying 8 Euros for two sausage biscuits.
Bottom line: Americans are spoiled when it comes to food choices and prices- it’s not surprising but something to keep in mind and appreciate.

Related: What Makes a Bad Traveler?

24. Always watch the taxi meter.
You don’t want to rip your pants right before going to a club in Belgrade and then end up paying 60 Euros for a 10 minute cab ride back and forth because of the “night time” fare.  Yes that happened.  No it didn’t happen to me. And yes I still make fun of him for it.

25. Life moves fast. Take goofy pictures. Try new foods. Meet locals. Meet travelers. Get lost. Take chances. Have no shame. Be completely open to everything the world has to offer. You can’t even grasp where that will lead you or who you’ll meet along the way.

There you have it, 25 lessons from traveling.  Which one was your favorite?  Have there been any lessons you’ve learned why traveling that you think I missed?  Let me know in the comments below.

Stay Gold.

One response to “Education of the Road: 25 Lessons from 25 Countries

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