The 5 lessons that travel taught me

On November 18th, 2015

lessons thumbI bolted through the airport, dodging slow moving people dragging rolling suitcases.

My flight left in thirty minutes. Plenty of time to get my boarding pass and navigate airport security in the quiet of an early Friday morning.

The lines to the flight check-in counters were empty. I ducked under each fabric line divider and arrived at the counter, flushed and breathless.

“I’m sorry, miss, but I can’t print your boarding pass.”

“Why not? You have my ID and credit card right there. And I’m here.” I checked my watch again. Twenty-eight minutes until boarding time — still enough time to make it through security.

The check-in agent handed my documents back and smiled slowly. Why was she taking so long? If she just printed my boarding pass, I could be half-way to security by now. “Our policy is for you to arrive at least two hours before take off. That allows plenty of time for check in and check your bags –”

“I have a carry on. Can you please just print my boarding pass?”

Again, the slow smile. “No, miss, it’s company policy. Two hours before flight takeoff. And right now –” she checked her watch “– it’s twenty minutes before. I can’t get your boarding pass. Policy.”

I looked at her compressed lips, arms folded tight over her chest, and I headed off for Frontier’s check-in counter to buy a new ticket. This was just another lesson given to me by travel.

Over the years, travel has taught me many lessons in how to navigate life. Looking back over my decade of travel on my own terms (i.e. not with my family), I’m grateful for how those lessons have shaped my life.

Here are five things I’m thankful for that travel has taught me. 


We ran up to the entrance to the DC metro and stared at the iron gate barricading our way. The metro shut down for the wee hours of the night?

My husband and I traded a shocked glance. The metro was our ride to Baltimore airport to catch our pre-dawn flight to Boston. Around us, DC slumbered quietly. Even the dark streets were deserted.

We trudged back towards our hotel and did the next best thing: we called a cab.

This is what self-reliance feels like: an ability to see and conquer any obstacle in my path and keep chugging.

Problems are mini anthills in the scheme of life. They don’t derail or ruin a trip. I’m grateful for this lesson that travel has taught me.

Now when I encounter a setback in life or on my trips, I can point to my past successes and say, I survived those things and figured out solutions just fine. I can do this, too.

Breaking free of introvertism

Talking in a group of more than three scares me. Approaching new people makes me break out in a cold sweat.

I’m an introvert. Travel frequently head-butts up against my introvertism.

Over the years, my trips have worn down the sharp edges of my introvert tendencies: paralyzing fear to ask someone for directions, ordering dinner in fumbling French, pushing through a packed crowd on a Venice dock to catch my boat to the airport.

From traveling and putting myself in awkward situations when I can’t let my shyness rule my world and ruin my trip, now I can take a deep breath and do what I must, even if my hands are slick with sweat.

While ordering dinner in French is becoming easier, hopefully travel wears down my tendency to avoid marching up to a hotel desk to complain about the hairs in my bathtub. Baby steps.


On my first solo trip, my plans had me disembarking a four-hour long flight, catching a cab to the train station, and making a tight connection to catch that train up the East Coast.

After my train got into Boston, I had to navigate an unknown city to find my friend’s apartment in Back Bay. As someone who struggles with directions in her own city, this segment of the journey was the most daunting.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. Do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

But all those pieces fell together perfectly. At my adventure’s end, I found myself in my friend’s kitchen making homemade pizzas with her friends.

Over the following days, I explored Boston on foot, wandering to its many historic sights and occasionally getting lost. That notion of getting lost and never finding my way home again didn’t scare me.

Thanks to travel, I’m more confident as I wade through each unknown situation and emerge unscathed.

People actually want to help you

“Do you see your husband yet?” The gate agent held the door open with his foot.

“Any moment, I promise. He just had to go to the bathroom real quick. I promise.” I stood next to the gate agent. “Please, he’ll be here any second.”

Once those doors closed, they sure weren’t opening again and we’d miss our flight.

I used all my charms learned from years of waitressing and working in the legal field to convince recalcitrant witnesses to testify in court.

But it wasn’t my charms that made him keep those doors open. It was my friendly demeanor and appeal for his help.

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking everyone is out to get you — that when you ask for help, a person will turn aside and let you get on the wrong train headed the wrong direction to a very unsavory neighborhood where you’ll wander for hours.

Travel has showed me that this isn’t true.

When you make a clear ask of someone and are friendly, they will do as much as they can to help you accomplish that goal.

People want to be helpful. The trick is you have to set the conversation off on the right foot with a friendly tone or smile.

I’ve used this lesson over and over again — both in my travels and in my life at home. It’s amazing how often you can start a conversation to a company or customer service with a question and you get a quick, friendly answer.

Curiosity about your world

I travel for a variety of reasons: wanderlust, a need to break free from routine, and an itching curiosity to see how the rest of the world lives. It’s this latter reason that travel has taught me and I’m most grateful for.

Have you ever sat at an outdoor cafe, sipping espresso, and watching life in your destination city pass by on their private missions? Have you ever wandered through quiet Venetian alleys under the neighbors’ clothes hanging out to dry and wondered at the lives occurring behind closed shutters?

Have you ever watched a German family at dinner and imagined their bedtime routines and if they differed from yours?

Curiosity about the world is the biggest lesson travel has taught me. For that lesson I’m thankful, for it means I’m constantly learning more about this world and the people that inhabit it.

What lessons has travel taught you that you’re grateful for? 

Ready plan a Round The World adventure?

Laura Lopuch is a copywriter, incurable traveler, and blogs at Waiting To Be Read where she helps you find your next great book to read because life’s too short to read crummy books. 

Photo Credit: Milada Vigerova