Life Lessons: What I Learned in 2015 While Traveling
10 cities, 10 lessons. I spent two months exploring Europe and wanted to share some of my reflections and some of the life lessons I learned. Whether or not you’re traveling, every day is an adventure and every day you learn something new. These lessons are not necessarily earth-shattering. They can be more subtle but are just as important (if not more). Happiest When Exploring doesn’t only suggest we are happiest when exploring physical spaces or new locations. Exploring is about discovering yourself, making sense of or examining your own habits, your worldview, what you consider “normal” and then challenging them and living beyond them. And travel is often the catalyst for that reflection or change.
Without further ado, here are the 10 lessons I learned in my two months of travel.
In Barcelonaaaa (cue George Ezra), I learned to appreciate just being in a foreign city. Because it was my second time in Barcelona, I felt less pressure to do all the sightseeing one is supposed to do when traveling. I had done the bulk of it my first time. This time, I did a lot more experiencing: strolling the cobblestoned streets, sitting and people watching, taking long lunches and attempting much more Catalan than my first visit.
In Seville, I learned that bad weather doesn’t have to equal a bad trip. It was raining from the moment I arrived and as my host explained it, when it rains in Sevilla it pours. Expecting clear blue skies and to be welcomed by the shining sun, I instead experienced a rainy and grey long weekend in Sevilla. Even the parks and gardens had closed down due to the rain. I could have easily let the rain and grey skies ruin my time in Sevilla. Instead, I took my time taking in all the details of the many beautiful and intricate cathedrals and also learned that pearly grey skies make for beautiful photos.
In Lisbon, I learned that falling in love with a city is actually possible. Before visiting Lisbon, I never knew what it meant to truly love a city. Of course, I’ve enjoyed past travel experiences and enjoy my city, Montreal. But in Lisbon I actually fell in love: with the hills, morning runs by the Tagus River, the old ladies who hang out on their balconies (and smile at you so genuinely), the abundance of health conscious businesses, the beautiful street art and even the (dangerously) slippery ground. This is what Carrie Bradshaw must have meant when she realized that New York City was her great love.
In Porto, I learned that Harry Potter is real (well, sort of). Porto is a magical city and is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. As a lifelong fan (I started reading the books when I was 9), visiting Porto was indeed magical. The university students wear black robes like Hogwarts students and the famous bookshop, Livraria Lello in the old city centre will have you remembering the first time you read about the magical bookstore, Flourish and Blotts.
In Paris, I learned to listen to my intuition. Upon arrival at Port Maillot, I entered the subway to get to my airbnb. I didn’t have a ticket yet so I stood in line to purchase one at a machine. I decided to use a machine rather than go to the service counter. I considered myself an experienced traveler by now (or so I thought) and thought I’d be able to figure out the foreign machine on my own (after all, I speak and read French!). When it was my turn, a young lady with a nametag (but no uniform) approached me. She offered to help me with the machine, insisting that I purchase some sort of weekly pass for 60 euros. I knew something was strange but what exactly, I didn’t know. I told her that I wasn’t ready to make that commitment and would only buy a single ticket. This all happened very quickly. All of a sudden, a man in a uniform appeared and shooed her off. In his lovely accent, he told me she was “a bad lady” and was trying to rob me. This was probably the closest I had come to being “robbed” and thankfully, my intuition (or perhaps my common sense) was there to support me and to remind me that it’s okay to stand your ground and spend a little more on a single ticket.
In Amsterdam, I learned that there is no such thing as too much food.
In Copenhagen, I learned that it’s okay to give yourself a day off. I had been traveling for about 30 days, spending more than 8 hours a day – every.single.day – outside rain or shine, walking 10 to 20 (usually more) km a day and working on my blog (and doing work as an online assistant) every evening into the wee hours of the night. Not to mention all of the planes and buses, trains and subways and the lugging around half (more like equal) of my body weight in luggage from city to city. And then one day in Copenhagen, I got so sick I had no choice but to take the day off and stay in. That day I napped, I sipped bubbly water, I read, I relaxed and I healed. I even watched a (mindless) movie. And I learned that it’s okay – no, it’s vital – to give yourself a day off. If you don’t, your body will give you a reason to eventually.
In Budapest I learned that my opinion matters and is just as valuable as the opinion of others. I had been traveling on my own for a while (until Paris) but when I joined up with my sister in Amsterdam, I quickly fell back into the habit of becoming the “little sister” and forgetting that I even had an “Erica” way of doing things, being or experiencing. But in Budapest, I opened up about the way I was being unfair to myself and to others by neglecting my opinions, my insights and my heart. The time on my own allowed me to know that my opinions, my interests and insight matter and that they allowed me some pretty awesome experiences – so how fair would it be for me (or anyone!) to shut that off when with other people?
In Rome, I learned that if you feel good and are happy – don’t question it too much. Just enjoy it. And to laugh, a lot.
South of Italy
While driving across the South of Italy (Puglia & Campania) with my father, I learned that even if I don’t need anyone to carry my heavy luggage or walk with me when night falls (#toughchicksunite!!), it’s nice to take the passenger seat every once in awhile.
Thank you for exploring and learning with me in 2015.
As a thank you, I partnered with GPSmyCity to offer 20 readers one City Walk map of their choice, for free! The City Walk app is a responsive map of the city you download (available for over 500 cities worldwide!). The map enables you to locate yourself and even track your walk – all without Wi-Fi. Included in the map are excellent self-guided walks (with themes like historical, shopping, etc.) OR you can add in your own locations to create unique walks! I already wrote about the app a couple of months ago – you can read that post here for more details about how the app works and why I love and use this app in every city I travel to.
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