Some of the best parts about travelling solo and volunteering abroad are the life lessons that I learned along the way from the incredible people I’ve met throughout my journey. Everyone’s experiences are so unique and that’s the beauty of travelling, what you take away from it is so personal and can be completely different from another traveller.
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Here are 7 important life lessons I learned through solo travel and volunteering abroad:
1. Everyone wants the same things in life.
No matter which corner of the world you may call home, we’re a lot more similar than we think when it comes down to the basic foundation of what we all want in life. Regardless of the religion we believe in, where we were born, where we live, the language we speak, or our social backgrounds, we all ultimately want the same things in life – to be happy, healthy, safe and be able to provide for our families.
2. There is so much good in the world.
It’s hard these days to maintain a positive mindset and focus on all the good in the world when we hear and see so much negativity around us. But despite what we may have read and heard on the news, I’ve encountered nothing but kindness and generosity from complete strangers throughout my travels. For example, when I was in Lisbon on a surfing excursion, I had a minor accident and had to go to the hospital. I was very fortunate to be with two other very kind and helpful travellers (whom I just recently met) from the same tour group, who took time out of their travel schedules to escort me to the hospital to make sure I was ok (read more: Top 11 Safety Tips From a Female Solo Traveller“).
Generally, the travel community is extremely helpful and supportive, and you’re guaranteed to meet some remarkable people along the way. I’ve had the most authentic conversations and shared some of the most memorable stories with complete strangers. Some of my best travel tips and life lessons were all learned just by speaking with random strangers from all walks of life.
3. You don’t need a lot of “stuff” to be happy, fill your life with purpose instead
It’s hard not to fall into consumerism and feel the need to buy certain luxuries or excess “stuff” when virtually everywhere we turn, there is some sort of advertisement trying to sell us something. We’re all guilty of splurging on something that was out of our budget or purchasing on impulse. But what I learned from travelling solo, is that I can survive with just a small suitcase with the basic necessities. Typically, I tend to over pack, and as someone who loves to dress up on occasion with lots of accessories, I realized that having all of those “extra stuff” eventually became a nuisance and at many points during my travels, I wanted to toss my suitcase right out the window! When you feel fulfilled by feeding your soul and mind with new knowledge and experiences of a new culture in another country; or having the purpose of volunteering abroad to help others, materialistic things become less and less important to you. Filling your life with purpose and losing yourself in the service of others will always “fulfill” you in a way that no amount of material goods ever can.
So does this mean I won’t ever buy, wear, or want nice things? No, this just means that I’ve given it a different value. It’s a want and not a need in order to make myself feel complete. There will always be the latest product or trend out there, but what’s more important to me, is the luxury and value of my time and fulfilling my life’s purpose.
4. Everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle that you know nothing about
One of the many life lessons that I’ve learned about people is that everyone you meet is fighting or struggling with something that you know nothing about. Often times, we judge people and assume that what’s shown to us on the surface is how their lives actually are in real life. We see someone’s online social media posts and assume that everything in their life is perfect, but this is simply not true, everyone goes through ups and downs in life. I’m so grateful for the people I’ve met along the way that opened up their hearts and shared some of their most personal stories with me. Not only did it teach me so much, but it also helped me to realize that everyone is struggling or battling with something in their lives; and we need to show more compassion and empathy towards each other. Part of the process of healing is being able to talk about your issues openly, which is why I feel like travel is one of the best forms of therapy (read more:“8 Reasons You Should Volunteer Abroad and Travel Solo”). Sometimes, opening up to strangers is a lot easier than speaking to someone we know, perhaps for the very reason that they do not know us nor do they know anyone we know back home.
Remember to always be kind to the people you meet, you just never know what someone is going through.
5. Everyone you meet has something to teach you.
I’m a strong believer that everyone crosses your path for a reason and has something valuable to teach you. Through my experiences volunteering abroad, I’ve had the opportunity to room with some amazing ladies from all around the world, from all walks of life and ages ranging from 19 to 65. At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect from sharing a room and living with complete strangers under one roof. And with such vast differences in age and life stages, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find anything in common with my new roommates.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Volunteering abroad brings together a unique group of people who share the same passion for travel and helping others. And this common ground is enough to form genuine friendships between people of all ages that you normally wouldn’t back at home. Because of this opportunity, I was able to learn something from each person I’ve met, both young and old, and it gave me a glimpse into their lives. Rooming with someone nearly 12-15 years younger than me, gave me a chance to look at the world through their eyes, and to listen to their struggles as a young woman feeling pressured to fit into society. On the other end of the spectrum, I had two roommates in their 60’s who had both separated from their husbands, had adult children, and wanted some time away to concentrate on themselves. They taught me to always take time for myself as an independent woman and to never be afraid to chase my dreams.
6. You will feel more empowered and confident in yourself
Travelling solo undoubtedly has made me into more of an empowered and confident woman. When you’re on your own, you learn to trust your instincts and be solely responsible for yourself. You’ll be faced with unexpected situations during your travels and will be forced to rely solely on yourself to make the best decisions. It’s quite liberating and after being able to spend time alone to reflect, you’ll find out a lot about yourself. If you can manage to travel the world on your own with all the unexpected treks that may be thrown at you, you’ll come back home feeling like you can conquer anything.
7. Your goals start to change, they get bigger!
When you’ve seen the world, experienced different cultures and learned different ways to live outside what is considered “the norm,” you begin to have a better understanding of the world. The goals you once had, in essence, become bigger as it really opens up your eyes to the endless possibilities and opportunities that are out there. For myself, being able to experience how other people live on the other side of the world through my volunteer work, has helped me to truly understand my responsibility to others.
Everyone has their own unique paths and goals in life and travelling solo to volunteer abroad is a great way to figure out what you really want. You’ll find that as you lose yourself in the service of others, you’ll find yourself during the process as well.
If you’re not sure if travelling solo and volunteer abroad is for you, read 8 Reasons Why You Should Volunteer Abroad and Travel Solo“.