Travel teaches lessons that can be applied to ‘real’ life too. Image by Polly Barks.

“Any big plans coming up?”

My co-worker is constantly asking about my travel plans. As an older woman who rarely leaves our small, rural county, she’s endlessly fascinated by my stories and equally disappointed when I have no major plans.

Sorry, lovely co-worker. But thanks to you, I’ve come to realize that even though I’m not taking on any epic adventures in the near future, my travel experiences still explicitly shape my life.

Always assume someone’s listening.

After traveling for an extended period of time, particularly in a non-English-speaking country, it becomes incredibly tempting to let your thoughts spill out unhindered. Particularly after meeting up with a fellow English speaker, a weary traveler can sometimes want nothing more than a bit of commiseration. Bad hotels, bumpy roads, and rude staff are all fair game.

You think, What’s the problem?  No one here understands me. Until they do – as you’re complaining about a local delicacy or something equally damning.

I’ve learned it’s better to be safe than sorry: Even if you believe you’re in the clear, re-think voicing those thoughts out loud. After all, you never know who might be listening.

No matter where you are, assume someone is listening in — act accordingly! Image by Polly Barks.

Always have an over-stuffed wallet.

After getting stuck in a less-than-clean Puerto Rican hospital with no cash and all of our bank cards locked, I learned that less isn’t always more when it comes to money. While the temptation to keep to a strict budget is strong, it’s generally best to stick to one simple rule of thumb: After you’ve packed everything up, take half the items out of your backpack, and double your budget.

Following that simple rule will not only keep your back happy but also help you avoid long hours begging your parents to wire you money over a hospital phone with a spotty connection.

This rule has also held true for ‘real’ life. Will moving to that new apartment cost $1,500 each month? Budget extra. Will it take $10,000 to fund that round-the-world trip? For god’s sake, budget extra!

Think you have enough money? Think again. Image by Polly Barks.

Make plans, but don’t be afraid to break them.

I’ve never been much of a planner, but my first several trips abroad were with strictly scheduled group tours. While even young Polly chafed at the restrictions, I have to admit that there’s a massive degree of comfort in knowing exactly when and where you’ll be throughout the day, particularly when navigating a whole new world.

That being said, my first trip abroad was to New Zealand, and one of my most poignant memories is how we didn’t have time to stop by a massive toilet statue on the side of the road for a photo op. It sounds ridiculous, but in our hustle to get to the next point of interest, we lost sight of anything beyond what was scheduled for us.

The same idea holds for non-travel life. Having a routine in work and your social life is absolutely necessary, but keeping an open mind is also critical. Don’t let a schedule turn into a rut – make time for joining new social clubs or exploring different hobbies. Stay flexible, and let life come your way!

What travel insights have you translated to ‘real’ life?