15 Lessons I Learned from Traveling Around the World

When I quit my job, sold all my stuff and departed for my RTW trip on Dec. 31, 2010, I rightly expected to have a memorable adventure, but I was adamant that I wasn’t out there trying to find myself in some mushy, gushy Eat, Pray, Love feelings fiesta.

Naturally, that’s kinda what happened.

In spite of my bold assertions, those 24 long months of solo travel were incomparably transformative. While I wasn’t traveling to “find myself” or escape any first world problems, in those 2 years without a home base, I actually did eat, pray and love – a lot. I found a “me” I didn’t know existed under the layers of workaholism and NYC busyness. I tasted everything new that came my way. I grew more confident in myself. I skipped from country to country, sleeping in hostels, hotels, tents, airport floors, friends’ couches and overnight buses. I rarely relied on an itinerary, usually just figuring everything out on the fly and living out of my Eagle Creek rolling backpack. I became more appreciative, resourceful, thoughtful and confident.

I didn’t set out to change, but I did.

Nearly 5 years after departure, another big transition is on the horizon: marriage! As I prepare* for the next step, I’ve been reflecting on everything, everyone and everywhere that’s brought me to this point, so here are some lessons & observations I’ve compiled from the past few years of jaunts & journeys.

*…um, attempt to prepare. How do you even “get ready” for a lifetime?! Oh yeah, more prayer!

1. Continuous travel is so much cheaper than living “real” life. People think I must’ve spent a fortune when I was on the road non-stop for two years, but the truth is, it costs far more to live an average life back home. It’s outrageous what I spend in rent, taxes, electricity, gas, Internet and car insurance versus what I spent while traveling around the world and living out of a suitcase.

Getting to know the Irwin family at the Australia Zoo

Getting to know the Irwin family at the Australia Zoo

2. Wanderlust confuses people. You’re considered a weirdo (at least in the South) if you don’t have 2.5 kids by your mid-twenties. Family gatherings involve a lot of questions like, “When are you going to get a real job and find a good man and have some babies?” I’m not exaggerating. Coloring outside the lines can be perplexing for people who like to follow the rules.

Angie Orth Santorini Astarte Suites

Santorini, Greece – no man, no kids. Do I look unfulfilled?!

3. Life is not a romantic comedy. (No matter how cute the accent!) I used to have a thing for English accents… and Aussie accents… and Irish accents. All of the accents. I don’t think I’m the only American girl in that boat, right? I really thought I’d find THE ONE out there in the big wide world, because Love Actually pretty much promised me that HE would come chasing after me at some foreign airport.

After briefly dating a few blokes, mates and chaps, I got over the foreign rom-com fantasy and found my prince charming in my own front yard. Quite literally. (Which actually is simultaneously romantic & comedic… ok, maybe life is a little bit like a romantic comedy.)

On top of Mt. Sinai with a group of new friends

On top of Mt. Sinai with a group of new friends

4. Meeting new people can be pretty awkward, but we’re all in it together. I have a love/hate relationship with meeting new people, and as it turns out, lots of other folks feel the same way. As a closet introvert, it does take some effort to make new friends and I honestly thought traveling alone would give me so much space and solo time — but I was rarely by myself. Even though the moment before meeting new folks always makes me nervous, I never regret the connections. Everyone says this so it might sound cliché, but I’ve met the most wonderful people on the road.

Thumbs Up Sky Walk New Zealand

Prepping to summit a skyscraper in New Zealand

5. You can’t please everyone. Especially traveling/blogging snobs. There are plenty of folks who would posit that real travelers don’t take jumping photos outside of the Louvre. (Or that real travelers don’t take any jumping photos. Or they only use DSLRs. Or they only use iPhones. Or only travel to obscure countries. Or never visit popular museums. Or never write about travel blogging.) I learned very quickly into my journey that I could either worry about the definitions of travelers vs. tourists and spend time figuring out where my travel decisions/brand fit in… or I could just do whatever I wanted and enjoy my adventure. Guess which option I chose?

Louvre jumping photo

Paris is always a good idea

6. If not for my penchant for storytelling, I’d probably never leave my comfort zone. Why jump off something dangerous or hold a slimy creature if you can’t instantaneously tell everyone back home? I’ve always been a storyteller, since I was a wee little munchkin, so my mind is forever working out how best to share each adventure… even when I’m in the middle of it. (And even if it’s a plane crash.)

No way I'd do the Minjin Swing if not for the fact that I can tell the story afterward

No way I’d do the Minjin Swing if not for the fact that I can tell the story afterward. (Queensland, Australia)

7. Jet lag gets worse. You’d think after years of long-haul flights, eventually I’d get the hang of time zone hopping, but I find that the older I get, the longer it takes me to adjust to time differences. If I fly to Hawaii for a week, you can bet I’m awake at 2 a.m. every single day, and when I come back home to Eastern time, I just can’t get enough sleep!

Tired

West Coast tired.

8. Not everyone is an easy breezy traveler. As I continue to plan all the details of our October destination wedding, I’m reminded on a daily basis that jaunting to the Caribbean is not the norm for everyone. I’m so used to flying hither and thither and not knowing where I’m sleeping and not needing an itinerary that I forget I’m the exception, and most folks need more guidance and reassurance when leaving the country – even if it’s to a relatively easy destination like The Bahamas. I’m learning patience as I answer the same questions over and over. Yes, YOU NEED A PASSPORT.

Hot air ballooning in Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Turkey

9. I share my highlight reel, not b-roll. During my RTW adventure, my social media feed was filled with smiling photos of me checking off my bucket list, but behind the scenes, that first year of perpetual travel was peppered with revolutions, terror attacks, tsunami warnings, earthquakes, gropings, scams, delays, pick-pocketing incidents, injuries, heartbreak (see: Men with Accents above) and illness. Life is a challenge, whether you’re living and working in the “real” world or traveling around the actual world.

It helps to remember that all of us in the travel industry are promoting a lifestyle, but what we post online isn’t always indicative of the complete picture. We all struggle with the same dramas, the only difference is the scenery.

A - Highlight reel

A – Highlight reel, surfing in Bali

B - B-roll

B – B-roll, falling off the board in Bali

10. Travel blogging professionally is harder than it looks. If it were only about experiencing cool stuff & then writing about it, then yes, travel blogging would be the easiest & most fun job in the world. There’s much more to it if you’re doing it professionally, something I’ve learned as Angie Away has grown up over the past 5 years.

While I started out with the simple intention to travel the world and write about it, mostly for fun, ultimately I turned it into a career. It’s unbelievably time consuming work, made ever more challenging if your boss is a workaholic and your boss is you. (Boss’s Day is awkward. Do I buy myself something?) It’s still an awesome job, and it’s head and shoulders above wasting away in a cubicle, but it’s more work than I ever imagined.

…and travel blogging on its own isn’t terribly lucrative. I’ve got another post in the works where I detail how I make money, because it occurs to me that folks who don’t know me personally think I make a living on just travel blogging. And that’s just flat wrong! I have many pots in the fire, from public speaking to freelance travel writing and PR/social media consulting to red carpet hosting. If I were still traveling around the world with no home base, I would be able to eke out a living on the blog income alone, but it’s not my only source of revenue.

Jerash Jordan

Sword fighting lessons in Jordan – a new revenue stream?

11. Travel experience means people mistake me for a travel agent or free vacation planner, or assume I’ve been everywhere. If I haven’t written about a place on Angie Away, chances are I’ve never been. I’ve been to 44 countries to date – that’s roughly 25% of the world’s recognized principalities. Not a huge number, even for a world traveler. That means I don’t have tips for 75% of the places people ask about – yoinks! (Here’s a list of travel questions I just can’t answer.)

Grabby guys in Spain... oh Pamplona.

Grabby guys in Spain… oh Pamplona.

12. Travel can burn you out if you turn it into work. I swore I’d never get tired of traveling, but I was wrong. You can take any passion, turn it into a career with tasks and deadlines and responsibilities, and find yourself in the same position you were when you quit your “real” job. There’s a trick to finding balance, and I’m working on it!

On safari at the Kenya/Tanzania border

On safari at the Kenya/Tanzania border

13. No fancy purse or red-soled pump will ever satisfy me as much as visiting a new place. I wasn’t into “stuff” before I left for my RTW trip, but traveling the world has made me even more sure that I don’t give a hoot about designer duds or keeping up with the Joneses. I love functional clothes and gear and I don’t mind looking cute, but I will always spend the majority of my discretionary income on travel and new experiences. Studies show the happiest people do

Whether I’m going on an adventure excursion from IfOnly or making my own way, travel is in my veins.

Scuba diving in Fiji

Scuba diving in Fiji

14. Gratefulness is a natural byproduct of seeing the world. My experience traveling around the world constantly fills me with gratitude for necessities like food, water and shelter, which so many people don’t have access to. And it also brings me to my knees when I stop to consider all the luxuries I’m blessed with, from fast WiFi and unlimited data plans to a million choices at the supermarket to having a car I can just drive anywhere I want. I could fill pages upon pages with everything I’m grateful for – big and small.

15. Traveling young was the right thing to do. I didn’t want to wait for retirement to see the world. I quit my wonderful job, despite warnings from many who said it wasn’t prudent, because it felt right. What would’ve happened if I failed? I don’t know. It’s not really failure unless you give up, and I don’t give up. 

Ice skating at Hampton Court Palace

Ice skating at Hampton Court Palace

Do any of these observations resonate with you? What would you add to the list?

COME AWAY WITH ME!
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  • June 24, 2015

    Although I am new to this whole traveling the world thing, I did grow up smack dab in the middle of the south. So #2 has always been part of life, but even more so now. Great list, and as for #5 you do you, that why I’ve been a long time reader.
    Joey recently posted..The Scooter Diaries Part 3: Ocean Side Sausage, Eating Snails, and the Lucky LobsterMy Profile

  • June 24, 2015
    Lauren Walls

    I love our Louvre photo! I remember you telling me about your RTW travel plans the first time we met in Paris while I was studying abroad and it was so exciting and inspiring to hear about. The next time we met in Paris was even more fun and you were the same but with a hundred more amazing stories!
    I can relate to others thinking traveling is crazy/glamorous. Many see that I had 2 stints abroad and that I am just so worldy or well off because of it (let’s talk about student loans haha) but there is always so mich more to learn and see! I am supposed to be working and saving (for a wedding, new car, people even talk houses HA), but this is the year I’ve decided not to let those things rule me – Vegas, Bahamas, here I come! I can’t wait to see you there!

  • June 27, 2015

    “You’re considered a weirdo (at least in the South) if you don’t have 2.5 kids by your mid-twenties.”

    YEP. An even bigger weirdo when you’re mid-30s and STILL not considering kids!
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Finding Balance at BonnarooMy Profile

  • June 29, 2015

    Great post with lots to take away from. It sounds like your lessons learned. “Traveling young was the right thing to do.” and “Travel blogging professionally is harder than it looks” – I couldn’t agree with you more!
    Valerie recently posted..24 Things That Are Keeping it Weird in PortlandMy Profile

  • June 29, 2015

    Oh man, I was trying to keep track of which numbers I could relate to most and it was basically EVERY NUMBER. But number 11 has been a really awkward one for me a lot lately. I’m always like, um… hello, person I met once eleven years ago. Apologies but I’ve never actually been to Italy (which you’d know if you’d read my site.) This is awkward.
    Alex recently posted..My Travelversary: Year FourMy Profile

  • June 29, 2015

    What a great, genuine list. I totally understand #2, and I love the jumping photo 🙂
    Laura recently posted..Cool Ridings in the Avenue of the VolcanoesMy Profile

  • June 29, 2015

    We can totally relate to #2. Wanderlust confuses people.

    We had so many people asking us “What are you going to do when you’re done travelling?” “Where are you going to work when you come back?” “What about kids?”

    We just keep telling people that we will figure it out when we get there and that we do not want kids which then they stream off a whole list of questions about not wanting kids. 🙂
    GiselleandCody recently posted..Our summer getaway at LimberlostMy Profile

  • June 30, 2015

    Oh, Angie. I just LOVE this list. It is so honest! So many times, people message me and tell me I look so happy, I’m living a dream, etc. etc., but they are getting the highlight reel, not the B roll.
    Diana Edelman recently posted..Living it Up at Sofitel St. JamesMy Profile

  • June 30, 2015

    Number 14 for sure! Traveling has filled me to the brim with gratitude.
    Miquek recently posted..Bidding Farewell to BangkokMy Profile

  • June 30, 2015

    So spot on! I was going through each one, mentally saying “yes, yes and yes again.” The one that annoys me personally the most is #2. If I have to sit through another family dinner with people asking me when I’m going to settle down and get a “real job”… I might lose my mind. And cheers to #15…never give up! 🙂
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  • July 01, 2015

    Fantastic list!!! And we totally agree that jetlag gets worse with age. hahaha 🙂 We too would give up nice things to be able to experience travel. Can you believe we still don’t have cell phones for this reason? We save a lot of money every month and so far we don’t know what we’re missing since we never got them anyway. We shop at second hand stores and rarely go out to restaurants – unless we’re traveling. 🙂
    Ligeia and Mindy recently posted..Dosa-n-Curry Restaurant in Somerville, MassachusettsMy Profile

  • July 02, 2015

    It’s not even failure to give up, because it’s not really giving up – it’s just taking a turn onto another road with new and different adventures waiting for you. Traevel does change us in ways we could never have imagined.
    Mary Jo Manzanares recently posted..Is a River Cruise Right for You?My Profile

  • July 03, 2015

    What a lovely honest article and travel is a very good, albeit hard thing to do at times
    Paula McInerney recently posted..Where Ancient History meets Modernism Mercer Hotel BarcelonaMy Profile

  • July 03, 2015

    I agree. It’s not a fail to change course when most people don’t even leave the harbor. Great list! And congratulations on what’s to come. 🙂
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru recently posted..Lost Wallet in ParisMy Profile

  • July 05, 2015

    This is so inspiring. I love your advice that “you can’t please everyone.” Traveling should be something that you do for you, not for others, and it should be done in a way that makes you the most happy. Thanks so much for this post, you seem like you’ve had wonderful travel experiences – continue sharing!
    Emme @ Green Global Travel recently posted..7 Important Life Lessons I Learned in the Galapagos IslandsMy Profile

  • July 06, 2015

    I loved reading this! IT i really different from other posts I have seen about lessons learned traveling.

  • July 08, 2015

    Good on ya, Angie! I waited and waited to travel because I truly believed I couldn’t afford it, but it’s harder AFTER you retire because then you’re living on a fixed income! So, don’t wait! See the world while it’s still there! PS I’m posting this to my Frugal Tourist FB page to inspire people.

  • July 24, 2015

    They ALL resonate, but yes particularly to 13 and 8! Travel seems to come so naturally to me I assume it’s easy for everyone, but then people ask me really basic questions like “But how do you find accommodation?”, “How do you move between places?”… and that’s when I realize how wrong I am!
    Camille recently posted..Wanderlust Instagrammy Awards: Bolivia in 30 Amazing PicturesMy Profile

  • August 14, 2015
    Jennifer

    I just read your 15 Lessons Learned and couldn’t agree more. I’m a Southern girl who took the travel job of a lifetime at age 30 and don’t regret one second of it. Your stories totally resonate with me. Keep blogging . . . I’ll keep reading!

    • August 23, 2015
      Destiny

      This has been my favorite article about being a world traveler by far! I read your article on the Cosmo app on snapchat and I love the realistic insight that you shared about traveling having many similarities with the “real world” thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  • October 08, 2015

    It’s not really failure unless you give up, I love it. I can recognize myself in so many of mentions above. Especially I like the one were you talk about its not all smiles, even tough it might seem like it. Althought, my favorite part about the “not all smiles” part. However, a lot of those stories have a tendency to make you smile sooner or later. Even thought it seems horrible at the moment, they often make great stores in the end =)

  • December 03, 2015

    [Walking] is the perfect way of moving if you want to see into the life of things. It is the one way of freedom. If you go to a place on anything but your own feet you are taken there too fast, and miss a thousand delicate joys that were waiting for you by the wayside.

  • February 18, 2016

    How funny! I dated men abroad hoping I would be swept away to a world of exotic romance. Those were the WORST relationships. And I ended up marrying someone who lived 15 minutes away from me! Funny how that works….
    Sebrin recently posted..That Time A Literal Volcano Erupted on Our HoneymoonMy Profile

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