Updated: Jan 25
The low lull of a plane skating through lights lining the illumed runway below—in a city of two and a half million, it’s the only sound saturating the night. It feels like the city has stopped—as though I’m meant to notice this plane as the clock ticks half past midnight. Medellin is unusually still, and so am I.
I’m ruminating on the women stepping off that plane to begin their own journeys—their plans or lack thereof, their whys, their anticipations, their angsts. I’m ruminating on the woman I was when I hopped aboard that EVA Airways flight to Bangkok at this exact moment one year ago today. It’s been 12 inexplicable months of riding horses across jungled beaches and camels through deserts, hiking the heights of the Himalayas and diving the depths of the Caribbean, falling in love and falling out of it, sleeping on overnight buses and missing trains, building bonds and saying goodbyes, eating scorpions and fending off bed bugs, swimming in waterfalls and bathing in bucket showers, hitch hiking across uninhabited islands and getting kidnapped on pirate ships, meditating in the mountains and floating over fairy chimneys.
And it’s been a lot of this—late-night existential chats with myself on what all of that means for me. The reticence of this otherwise irrepressibly rollicking Colombian city, right now, begets a similar romanticism within me. For the last year, I’ve been scampering through life—and 23 countries—to find myself here, in the mountains of Medellin, at a loss for words.
From the verdant balcony of my Airbnb, the valley mirrors the star-swathed sky. The pulsating city lights, too, twinkle in the warm air; from the 22nd floor, they’re dancing with the salsa that, though I can’t hear, I’m certain is emanating from the cars I see flecking the horizon and from those kaleidoscopic rooftops beneath me.
I’ve spent the night rereading my journals, crying, of course. Reminiscing with myself. Laughing because of myself. Cringing at myself. I’ve answered the same three questions every single night since I’ve started this journey—albeit sometimes a few too many glasses of wine deep and, oftentimes, merely wracked by the physical and mental exhaustion of travel. But, nonetheless, I’ve answered these so I can sit here, right now, and reflect on my personal growth—as well as to inspire myself to spend each day of this journey challenging myself and relishing in the process:
What is something I tried today that put me outside of my comfort zone?
Who is someone I met today who helped me to think differently or critically about something, and what was that something?
What made me genuinely smile or laugh today?
With my journals in mind, here are 100 raw and revelatory lessons from my year traveling the world as a woman all by myself.
100 Life Lessons from Traveling
Being utterly alone is equal parts intimidating (in the murder capital of the world) and cathartic (on remote beaches).
Transient relationships are valuable relationships, too. You learn something from everyone you meet, even if they’re just another tuk tuk driver playing tour guide.
Trust your heart; it’s your best compass.
Your possessions own you. If you travel the world with a Turkish lamp, you will be inconvenienced.
Failure is one surefire way to win.
The secret to self-sufficient happiness is self-acceptance, even when you’ve been without a shower living in a dusty jungle for weeks on end.
It’s indeed possible to find yourself lost in the right direction.
Never say never. You will eat bugs, and they might even taste like jerky.
Whatever you’re feeling, whenever and however you’re feeling it, your feelings are valid.
In moments of panic, like say, when a baby elephant headbutts you into a river, you’re tougher than you think you are.
You choose who you are.
Loneliness is a mindset. You could find yourself celebrating your birthday with strangers in a country of which you’d never before heard if you’re open to it.
Always come prepared. You never know when you might need your portable Wi-Fi to phone home that you’re being held hostage on a Vietnamese pirate ship.
Planning is often more anxiety-inducing than not planning.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Nobody has it all figured out.
Your body needs sleep. Particularly after 17-hour long-haul buses across India.
Falling in love is risky business, but it’s always worth it.
We’re all just people trying.
Accepting and embracing vulnerability is the only way to love and be loved.
To appreciate the highs, you must acknowledge and value the lows. You might not end up at the Taj Mahal with nearly no tourists at dawn if you weren’t up anyway throwing up in a squat toilet with Delhi Belly.
Prioritizing your health, like when the vaccine you got in a hole-in-the-wall doctor’s office hits you like a punch to the arm, should always come first.
Stop complaining; start doing. If you’re feeling lethargic from consuming copious amounts of Mediterranean cheese plates, don’t give up the cheese but maybe go be more active.
There’s no such thing as too much jewelry if it all has meaning.
Learning discipline is a key to success, even when you’re working from an opposite time zone in a party hostel on some Thai island surrounded by bikini-clad fire dancers twirling to electronic music.
You can do anything with the right attitude.
Morning affirmations are reminders that your successes are thanks to your hard work, not your luck.
Slowing down is self-care.
Don’t drink the water.
We can all communicate in ways that don’t divide us by native tongue.
Deferring your happiness to the future is a terrible idea.
Thank yourself more.
Thirty-second hugs are the only hugs you should ever have.
Putting yourself outside of your comfort zone makes life, ironically, far more comfortable.
Being fearless doesn’t mean living devoid of fear. It just means putting the regulator in your mouth and swimming downward, even though you’re petrified of the open ocean, claustrophobic in unnatural breathing environments and have an irrational fear of fish.
Realize that it’s sometimes better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. Like when you find your way into private rooftop infinity pools.
It’s not the destination, but the journey. Even if that means hitchhiking by motorbike and from the back of pickup trucks across uninhabited islands.
This, too, shall pass.
Nothing is ever as bad as it is in your head.
Money isn’t everything.
For some of us, shopping is an unabated addiction, and there are worse addictions to have.
Bed bugs aren’t forever, even if the lingering post-traumatic stress of them are.
If you put one foot in front of the other—and focus on mind over matter—you can hike the Himalayas. And, if you can hike the Himalayas, you can do quite literally anything.
Smile at strangers—they won’t be strangers anymore.
Take the long way ’round.
Ask deeper questions.
Do what you want, when you want, where you want. But be mindful of others, always.
Never go to sleep with regrets.
Take the salsa class, no matter how many glasses of wine you need to prep for it.
You’ll never please everyone, so start with pleasing yourself.
Good things do happen after two in the morning, like street hot dogs doused in pineapple sauce and mayonnaise and crushed chips—Perro Caliente Colombianos.
Most people are good.
Be early to be on time, even though much of the world (i.e. Latin America) operates on seven-hours-behind-schedule-is-right-on-time timing.
Let loose from time to time—if you spend an entire day sunbathing in the sand instead of doing your work, life will go on.
Loss comes in so many forms—you can get lost; be lost; lose someone, something or yourself. All loss is a lesson.
A banana smoothie a day is all the medicine you need.
Saying goodbye never actually gets easier, but I think that means you’re still human.
Putting the phone away can do wonders for your social life.
Use more SPF.
Digital detoxing is critical for your sanity.
Appreciate what you have, where you are—particularly if you’ve got hot running water.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, like missed flights that could cost you hundreds. Money is small stuff.
You’ll never get the luxury villa if you don’t ask for the luxury villa.
Patience is a virtue.
Things seldom go as planned, and that’s what makes life exciting.
Be honest with your likes and dislikes, comforts and discomforts. And, without judgment, don’t do what you don’t want to do. You’ve nothing to prove to anyone.
Opening up more, even to strangers, helps you discover depths of yourself you may not even realize until you verbalize.
Give everyone a chance.
The sources of most of your frustrations are your apprehensions for the future and regrets about the past.
Friendships need nurturing and relationships require effort.
Hold yourself accountable for your actions or lack thereof.
Just because something doesn’t necessarily feel good doesn’t mean that it isn’t good for you—like yoga when you’re incredibly inflexible.
Some of the hardest challenges in life culminate in the most satisfying rewards, like trekking up steep volcanoes to camp beside lava spewing into the night sky.
Life’s too short to not spend your mornings chasing waterfalls.
Rushing things never ends well.
Splurging a little extra for sanity purposes—like on a private waterfront floating home in the 4,000 Islands after a jaunt with bed bug-infested hostels—is worth your dollars.
Say what you mean, and mean what you say—always.
Sometimes the best stories come out of the worst-case scenarios, like that time you pulled blood-sucking leeches out of your hair for days after getting hit by a mudslide-inducing hail storm in the middle of the Himalayan mountains.
You can’t live without female friends and their feminine energy.
When life crams you into a train car broken down beside a sewage plant, rest assured that at least there are salted peanuts for purchase.
Pick and choose your battles.
Live in the present.
If ever things don’t seem to be going your way, like, say, your flight catches fire mid-air, stay calm. Your fate is inevitable.
You may never feel ready; you only have to start.
Even those of us with far fewer than others have found happiness. Your attitude manifests your own reality.
Our differences are what make the world spin.
Battle wounds are like passport stamps. Those learning-to-surf scars will always remind you of that Costa Rican beach town.
Do what you can with what you have where you are. Sometimes all you have is some chicken-flavored potato chips.
Being your own boss means motivating yourself.
Kindness goes a long way.
You’re never as “stuck” as you think you are. Your life is made up of your own choices.
Anything is possible.
If you can see it, you can achieve it.
Don’t take anything for granted—like a mosquito net in the middle of a farm in the middle of a jungle in the middle of an island in the middle of a lake.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
You’re not always right. In fact, you seldom are—we all live our own truths.
Never doubt your own sanity.
What you put out into the universe, you receive.