How to become a travel agent

10 Life Lessons From a Consummate World Traveller

First, a game of Two Truths and a Lie…

  • Caught in gunfire on the Mosquito Coast in Nicaragua in the wee hours of the morning
  • Spent a night in a Peruvian jail and was released only because I made the ugly cry
  • Robbed at knifepoint in the back alleys of Bucaramanga, Colombia, by a bunch of teenage thugs

Have you ever played it? My standard submission never changes. If I do say so myself… I consider myself a badass bitch. (Kidding – sorta 😜)

If you guessed the lie was a night in Cuzco, you’d be right. However, it was very close to the truth. I was indeed interrogated by the Policia, whose sense of humour wasn’t as accommodating as I may have liked. And of course, the ugly tears…they came in handy. I’m convinced they were 100% the reason I didn’t spend a night behind bars.

After three years travelling through Asia and Latin America as a solo woman traveller, I came away with three edgy responses to a classic icebreaker, drinking game and…

Some valuable life lessons that I wanted to take a moment and share.

***

I bought my first backpack at 20 years old at the corner of King and Charlotte at a place called  Europebound. I spent the next year travelling the Asia-Pacific region returning home just long enough to reline my pockets and head out again. This time, to do a 2-year stint in Latin America – starting in Guadalajara, Mexico and finishing up in Rio, Brazil.  

And yes, I did both trips on $10 a day. Sure, it was the early 90s but $10 a day was still a stretch. BTW…that included transportation, lodging AND food, with only a few exceptions. But this is not a tale of how to survive on a plate of beans and rice for 50c or how to snag a bed on Khao San Road for under two bucks.

Without question, those three years slapped me into shape. It was the University of Hard Knocks. – best education under the sun. The lessons I learned proved to be game-changers on my career path. So I thought I’d share.

1. Resourcefulness

There were no smartphones. My travels even pre-dated internet cafes. All I had was borrowed tattered copies of the Shoestring editions by Lonely Planet. This left me with no choice but to rely on the wisdom of others. I had to get comfortable with asking questions. There was so much I didn’t know. Think about it. Travellers today rely so heavily on the digital encyclopedia we keep in our back pockets. We have exchange rates, translations, maps…all at our fingertips. But back then. It was largely trial and error. And no, I never travelled with a compass. 

If I wanted to eat. If I wanted to sleep. If I wanted to keep myself from spending a night inside a Peruvian prison… I just had to figure things out. Resourcefulness is now a core skill.

2. Minimalism

When all you have is 65 litres to carry all your gear, you learn to live with less. Marie Kondo had nothing on me. Sure, I never mastered the art of rolling my underwear, but I got good at living within my means. 

In a way, learning how to live on next to nothing taught me to take big risks with my career. I never feared losing my job. When you realize that you can live out of a 65-litre backpack, you become bolder.  Often, people don’t take chances because they are scared of not being able to pay the bills. I knew what the bottom looked like; it wasn’t so bad. That’s been a freeing realization.

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3. Shape-shifting

There is something to be said about navigating the busy streets of Tokyo’s Shibuya crossing amid thousands of people yet feeling alone. I somehow managed to always maintain my anonymity. I learned how to fade into the crowds – to step back, shut up and just listen. To take it all in and then adjust to the situation. 

Some people are paralyzed by change and the unknown. My travels taught me to lean into the curves, accept them and adapt. 

4. To look at problems from all angles

There is never just one answer to any problem but rather multiple. Most of us are in such a rush, that we just accept the first solution and move on. Travel teaches us to weigh the options. Sometimes, the best thing to do is take time to find the other two ways to skin the cat.

5. Networking

I’m an introvert. But even an introvert needs connection. As a solo, woman traveller, I had no choice but to put myself in uncomfortable positions. I had to extend my hand and introduce myself to complete strangers on the daily. And in doing so, I learned the value of building networks and making introductions between the people I’d come across. “Hey Jim, meet Jennifer. She’s heading in the same direction as you are.” 

I fostered a keen sense of curiosity with respect to my fellow travellers. I listened and asked questions. It’s only in that process that one learns how to be of value to others. You can’t meet someone else’s needs if you don’t know what they are. 

I consider my networking skills to be a superpower these days.

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6. Acceptance

We live in a time when society feels like it’s been severed by a jagged-edged machete. Right down the middle with deep-seated beliefs falling to either side. No one seems to have much tolerance for opposing opinions anymore. If you are an anti-vaxxer…you are an ignorant, selfish, renegade. If you’ve rolled up your sleeve, you are an obeisant sheep. 

As I travelled amidst multiple and diverse cultures, I became acutely aware that there wasn’t any room for being anything but open-minded. As a result, I welcome opposing beliefs that challenge mine. I make space for those who disagree with my philosophy and opinions.

I don’t want to live in a world where we are all alike. That’d be a big snooze-fest. I do think though tolerance is something that is lacking in many who don’t travel.

7. A belief in the kindness of strangers

I have come to believe that 98% of the world is comprised of good people. Sure, sometimes good people do bad things and make questionable decisions, but they are still good people.

Throughout my travels, I was repeatedly the benefactor of kindness. Whenever I was hanging off the edge of a cliff, someone would toss me a rope. I’ve never forgotten that benevolence. I’ve been invited to stay in the homes of strangers while I waited for emergency money to arrive. I’ve been driven from city to city just because someone wanted to practise their English.

And now, I do my best to pay it forward.

8. There are no mistakes

“The road to success is through failure” has become such a hokey platitude that I read it on a fortune cookie the other day. So instead, I prefer to say…“No mistakes”. Which incidentally, if you repeat quickly three times, kinda sounds like “Namaste.” Next thing you know, you’ll be burning incense and chanting mantras while sitting cross-legged.

Every time I missed a flight or every time I lost a wallet filled with Ringgits or Pesos or Baht, something better always awaited me around the corner. Everything happens the way it was meant to happen. “No mistakes.” And we can be confident of that because that’s how it happened. As Byron Katie, Time magazine’s spiritual innovator of the 21st century, says, “When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.”

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9. Just because they say it’s chicken, doesn’t mean it’s chicken.

‘Nuf said.

10. Fearlessness

It’s not that I didn’t feel fear. I think there was a part of me that was always friggin’ scared. I remember a moment while waiting to catch a bus in Bolivia. I was watching these Quechua women, dressed in their polleras praying roadside. “Death Road” is arguably one of the most treacherous mountain roads in the world. Many a traveller has fallen victim to its perilous curves.

Of course, I felt fear. I was scared shitless, but I still boarded the bus. This was long before I’d ever been introduced to Susan Jeffers’s work, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” But it’s always been how I’ve lived my life. 

Starting my own business was scary, too. I was shaking in my Birks when I launched Digital Travel Academy amidst a pandemic. But fuck it, I still pulled the ripcord. And I will continue to take big, fat, hairy, scary risks like that for as long as I can, because as Helen Keller quipped, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

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If you are thinking about setting off and starting your own journey in the travel industry, what’s stopping you? There’s never been a better time than now. And I am happy to help get you started. Book a “no strings attached” appointment with me below.

***

So yeah, those were the 10 truths that I learned and have stuck with me through the years. Travel is life altering. It whittles us into becoming better people. But YOU know that because you, too, are a traveller.

Thank you for allowing me an indulgent moment. I don’t know who needed to read this but hopefully, someone did. What was the biggest lesson you learned from your travels? Leave it in the comment section below.

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Diane

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Kirsty
2 months ago

someone once told me on my travels, never be too proud to accept help along the way in whatever form that may come, a free meal, a free ride, a free bed, take it. My backpacking adventures were through Europe and not quite as long or exciting as yours but the common theme I believe is that travelling does give you much more tolerance, a quality the world needs more of!

Dave Kartagener
Dave Kartagener
2 months ago

D – I know you’re a badass, and I’ve heard you can be a bitch 😉 but definitely never realized what a badass bitch you truly are. Great post featuring fun stories but most importantly valuable lessons that should be applied to all facets of life.
Keep up the great work!

Louise
2 months ago

Loved hearing your backpack adventures hon! Very brave of you! I am no backpacker 😅 But I’d still say I’m worldly wise 😉

Mary
2 months ago

Oh My!! My heart loves this post!!! I love road tripping and travelling!!!! I can’t wait to be free and safe again!! And absolutely never trust the chicken!!!

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