How Traveling the World for Four Years Will Change You

How Traveling the World for Four Years Will Change You

I have been traveling the world for four years.

To some, this sounds like the dream. And to be honest, it kind of it. I go wherever, do whatever, see whatever. My life is not bound by anything except myself, and I feel free to do and go what and where I please.

But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. There are also difficulties associated with living an alternative lifestyle: by doing so, I have taken myself out of accepted society and become a part of a culture and a mindset that many others cannot understand. Four years after embarking on an epic quest traveling the world alone, I have returned to the United States as an immensely different man.

My consciousness has shifted. I have developed a broader understanding of the world and the people within it, especially myself. My understanding of right and wrong has broadened and my grasp on the world around me has grown. I see things differently, and now my life is governed by a set of rules far different from those which govern the lives of others.

Things have changed for me, but not necessarily for better or worse. After four years of traveling the world, these things simply are.

Traveling the world. 4000 Islands, Laos

Exploring the grassy fields of the 4000 Islands in Laos.

A Slowed Down Lifestyle

When traveling for so long, responsibilities tend to dwindle. But they don’t dwindle in a way that merits irresponsibility, there are simply fewer things that need to get done in a day. There are no more errands to run or people to meet. There is nothing but you and the day you are living in. With such little to do, you can take more time for yourself. Things slow down, and life becomes more relaxed. Hang out in a hammock for while, stop and talk to a local on the street, or drink a beer for breakfast.

It’s all good, because life doesn’t have to be stressful.

Traveling the world. Camping in Tasmania.

Camping in Tasmania, overlooking the coastal town of Stanley.

You Develop a Filter for What Really Matters

There are few things in life that we really, truly need as a person. Food, water, shelter (sometimes). Comfort and luxury are nice, but what is their level of importance in the grand scheme of things? With so many other pressing issues in the world, and through first hand experience in dealing with them during travels, you develop a filter for what really makes a difference in the world and in your life. Your nails, new sneakers, and the dent in your bumper do not matter. Showing up late doesn’t matter. What that jerk said to your friend doesn’t matter. These things are trivial.

Syria and the Ukraine matter. Love matters. Experience matters. Joy matters.

Traveling the world. Imperial City, Hue, Vietnam.

Entering the Imperial City in Hue, Vietnam, the cultural capital of the country.

You Learn to Recapture Joy

When traveling, we experience new places with wide open eyes and complete ignorance to local cultures and vistas. Travelers can recapture joy in their life in the same way an infant explores the world with unschooled thought. Everything is new again. The world is open and available, and every day is spent reacclimatizing to places and people. Looking back on four years of traveling the world, these are the moments that, time and time again, have brought me the most joy.

There is no dull day to day life. There is no monotony. Travelers have given up on accepting the status quo and have sought to recapture joy in their lives through new experiences the world over.

Traveling the world. Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang, Laos.

With new friends at the Kuang Si Falls in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Gain a Global Understanding and Perspective

This is perhaps one of the most drastic and positive changes that comes from traveling the world for so long, but it’s also one of the most inhibiting. To struggle with small problems and local issues seems paltry. There are much larger issues that affect millions of people and beings, in hundreds of countries around the world. There is so much more to focus on, and your consciousness shifts to a more global perspective.

I no longer view situations from only my own perspective. I approach them with a global understanding and try to grasp at more substantial implications of how issues affect not only myself and a community, but people everywhere. This allows me to prioritize the things in life which truly matter, but it also means that relating to a large majority of people who do not see things this way is a truly difficult task.

It’s brilliant, but it can be socially limiting.

Traveling the world. Floating Villages, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Looking out over the floating villages of Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Discover Freedom and Independence

When traveling perpetually, with no particular plan, life becomes free. Your day is yours and you can do with it whatever you please. You travel on your own, sleep on your own, hike on your own, and essentially live on your own. Nobody tells you what to do, and your decisions are yours and yours alone. This is incredibly empowering, and you learn to live life on your own terms. It’s an intoxicating lifestyle, and it’s hard to come back from that.

This also breeds an understanding of who you can count on. Sometimes you can rely on others, but more often than not, you learn to rely on yourself.

Traveling the world. Sapa, Vietnam.

Trekking with Ping, in Sapa, northern Vietnam!

You Find Strength in Self

Traveling the world is not easy. It can be stressful, lonely and tiresome, and sometimes, it downright sucks. In traveling for extended periods of time, you are broken down to your innermost core, to a point of hollowness. When things are bad, they get worse, and you are left on your own with nobody else to help you make a positive transition. In keeping going, though, you rebuild yourself from the ground up, and you develop the strength in yourself to keep at it.

In becoming nothing, you learn how to embrace everything.

Traveling the world. Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan, China.

Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge in southwestern China.

You Learn Resourcefulness

Packing light is a skill that doesn’t come easily. It literally took me years to figure out how to downsize. This requires learning how to use what you have, and becoming resourceful enough to make the most of what’s available to you.

Sometimes we get bogged down with material possessions, in a world where there is an object to serve every purpose. At the core of life, though, we don’t need these things. Simply a tree and a blanket can serve as shelter for an evening.

Resourcefulness can come from interacting with other people, too. I have had a wealth of opportunities become available to me simply through networking and talking to strangers.

From nothing, it is, in fact, possible to create something.

Traveling the world. Sunset over Uluru, Australia.

The sun sets on Uluru in the outback of Australia.

Learn How to Take Care of Your Body

Traveling for so long will wear you down. Your body gets tired and your brain will be overwhelmed to the point of mental exhaustion. Whether sleeping on cramped overnight buses in Asia or wrapped in a sleeping bag in the backseat of a car in Tasmania, your body wears out. You must learn how to respond to what your body needs and when it needs it.

There is no such thing as a routine eating or sleeping schedule. In response, you are forced to tune in to the needs of your body and provide it with what it requires, through both preventative and mending measures. The effects of an unhealthy lifestyle are amplified when traveling, and you are forced to discover the best way to maintain a healthy body and mind.

Traveling the world. Sunset on Koh Phangan, Thailand.

The sun sets over Chaloklum Bay, Koh Phangan, Thailand.

The Acceptance of Change

In a world where change is hardly accepted, you are living a life in which change is the only constant. Whether you want things to change or not, they will.

Travelers change friends daily and cities weekly. Relationships change monthly. There is no routine, there is no schedule, there is nothing but what is new. People say hello and goodbye on a whim. It can be hollowing and lonely, but you will learn, though the heartbreak, sorrow and joy that change should be cherished because it can make way for beautiful new possibilities in the future.

After traveling the world for so long, I not only accept change, but I advance it. If things are not changing, life is not improving. We can learn from past experiences, change and grow from them, and move forward in life with newfound knowledge and sagacity.

A life without change breeds no new possibilities.

Traveling the world. Trekking in Northern Thailand.

Jungle trekking in northern Thailand.

Find Your Place in the World

It’s a vast world that we live in, and as important as we think we are, we are not. Traveling is humbling because you realize how small you really are. You learn what your role in life is, and how that life manifests itself within the greater scope of the world. It also provides insight as to how you can position yourself to do greater good on a larger, more meaningful scale.

Popularity and a heavy ego account for nothing when you are hiking in the mountainous rice fields of Vietnam. The life you live gets put on scale and, whether you want to or not, you are forced to measure the weight of it.

Big Buddha, Pai, Thailand

A big Buddha overlooking the small town of Pai in northern Thailand.

You Learn to Live a Compassionate Life

Through experience with so many people around the world, you learn to connect with them and interact with them on a different level. Relationships are less superficial and friendships become more meaningful. Quite frankly, when you travel, they have to be. There is no time for grandiosity or indifference. You learn the importance of what you have around you and the life you lead becomes filled with compassion.

Traveling the world. Waiheke Island, New Zealand.

Clear skies on the tiny island of Waiheke, off the coast of northern New Zealand.

Learn to Place Faith in the Universe

You never end up where you think you will, and nothing ever results in what you expect. Through traveling the world you learn that, oftentimes, the path of your day or week is entirely out of your hands. Somehow, the universe is looking out for you, and you will learn to let go of control and allow your path to unfold on its own.

In all of my experience, I have never ended up where I thought I would, but I found that I always ended up exactly where I was supposed to be.


READ NEXT: 50 Lessons I’ve Learned After 5 Years of Travel


The structure for this article was adapted from a podcast from which I resonated with and took notes on, but which I have since been unable to locate. All text is my own. If you recognize any of the ideas and can place them with the aforementioned podcast, please get in touch so I can give the appropriate credit!


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25 Responses to How Traveling the World for Four Years Will Change You

  1. Kelli April 29, 2014 at 3:22 am #

    I really love this post, especially this line: “In being nothing, you learn how to embrace everything.” Keep on keepin’ on! : )

  2. Alana - Paper Planes April 29, 2014 at 8:27 am #

    Gorgeous photos and insight…so, what’s next? 😉

    • Jeremy Foster May 2, 2014 at 3:13 am #

      Good question! I have some ideas in mind…the journey never ends!

  3. CuriosityTravels April 29, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    Love the first photo from Pai!

    Looks like you’ve learned some priceless lessons after all this travel. I’m met with a crossroads in life now and I think it’s truly time to asses priorities and try and place faith in the universe!

    • Jeremy Foster May 2, 2014 at 3:16 am #

      Ahhh, you recognize that canyon, do ya?

      Indeed, these lessons have been priceless and valuable. As for you, don’t overthink anything and always go with your gut! With the right attitude, everything always works out.

  4. Gerard ~ GQtrippin April 30, 2014 at 4:03 am #

    So much changed for us within 1 year of travel. 4 years would just do us over completely! Congrats on your 4 years…

    • Jeremy Foster May 2, 2014 at 3:17 am #

      Thanks, Gerard! And congrats to you for marrying that beautiful woman!

  5. Michael Hodson April 30, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    Nice post. It’s definitely true that travel is transformative.

    • Jeremy Foster May 2, 2014 at 3:18 am #

      Cheers, Michael. It’s been a journey, indeed! Hope yours has been just as fruitful.

  6. Agness May 15, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

    Great post Jeremy! I can totally agree with you’ve written here. Thanks to my travels I have realized that less is more and people are generally kind and friendly. I also started paying more attention to details and be happy about such things as weather, food or new amazing people I’ve met on the road!

    • Jeremy Foster May 17, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

      Quite right! It’s those little details which so many people take for granted, but while traveling, we really learn to appreciate them. It’s important not to pass them over!

  7. MissAdventure Travel May 17, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    Welcome back, though I know it’s hard. That reverse culture shock thing is real, I learned, though I didn’t believe it before. You speak so many truths here, but I resonated with this line, “It can be hollowing and lonely, but you will learn, though the heartbreak, sorrow and joy that change should be cherished because it can make way for beautiful new possibilities in the future.” It’s so true, and life would be terribly mundane without change. And your last line about ending up where you’re supposed to be. That happened to me in Thailand, and I ended up having the exact experience I’d dreamed up…but it never would have been that way if I had been sent to teach on the beaches in the south like I’d hoped. Sometimes following our hearts and making the most of any situation is what drives a happy ending.

    • Jeremy Foster October 16, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

      I’m so glad that you can relate to my experience. Sometimes life just feels too poignant, doesn’t it?

  8. Roscoe August 5, 2014 at 6:03 am #

    First day of packing up all and leaving it behind, sitting quietly by myself in the beautiful town of Jurien Bay on Australia’s West Coast and searching the web for inspiration I stumble upon yourself, and I have found inspiration, don’t know where I’m going or what I’ll do but enthusiasm and motivation is filling me, I will regularly check in on your site and might hopefully have some inspiring stories of my own to post, thanks Jeremy…..

    • Jeremy Foster August 8, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

      The journey is always better that way. Best of luck to you!

  9. silvia November 6, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    The naked truth about the travelling experience, beautifully written. Really good!

  10. Kat ji March 7, 2015 at 4:18 pm #

    The best on the topic i have ever read. (Not that i’ve actually read a lot on it, but it’s good to read something that articulates ones own ideas so well.)
    At last, after decades of work and so on, now early retirement, i’m going to do it my way. 😉

  11. Belinda May 4, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

    Hi Jeremy,

    I just found your site, and had to say I’ve experienced much of what you describe already. I travel for a number of months each year and this year was to be Latin America, and now I don’t know where, when, or if it will end.

    While everything you wrote resonated, I think the most difficult element of living an ‘alternative life of travel’ is that so many others do not understand the culture and the mindset. Which is exactly why I went searching for people of similar elk, and found you.

    What are you doing and where are you now?

    Thanks for sharing your experiences,
    Belinda

  12. Cacinda Maloney June 30, 2015 at 10:02 pm #

    Four years! wow! You rock! I have been traveling every 6 weeks of my life for over 20 years, but these last three I have increased it a ton, with 17 countries in 2014 and (so far) 12 countries visited in 2015 with many more scheduled out for the year!

  13. Jason Townsend July 2, 2015 at 7:12 pm #

    Holy cow man!

    Jeremy, I can share the first half of all the photos listen in this post! South East Asia is indeed an incredible place to explore and experience adventure of a totally different nature.

    I think those that have experienced travel of 3 months or greater will be able to appreciate all of your ‘Lessons Learned’ in some way. Perhaps the podcast you mention, although I’m not sure if it has been located, is likely applicable to many more of us also.

    Travel is a unique experience that will broaden your sight, mind, and your horizon as you embark on a journey to find success and determine what really matters most to you. That’s a great take away.

    You may have wild dreams of travel, adventure, and the glory of life on the road, but does it really matter? I believe the act of long term travel will encourage you to be open to change, and will surely get inspiration flowing from the people, places, and cultures you meet.

    Some people use travel to determine what really matters most (I know I did during my 12+ months on the road) and for some, it can provide a sense of direction that can lead to personal development, projects, relationships and more, that one can use to define a path forward. That’s the best part of travel. You never know where the craziest ideas and influences may lead you!

    I love what you’ve done with your travel, and the journey you’ve embarked on for this 4 year period. It’s inspiring that, despite the ups and downs, you’ve carved your own path and are living life on your own terms.

    Thanks for the inspiration, and re-affirming what matters to me.

    Cheers,

    Jason Townsend – http://www.kickstartacause.com

  14. Sofia April 13, 2016 at 3:50 pm #

    This is a great post! I am myself in a place where I have come to have a different view of the world than many people around me. I feel you about the global perspective but almost no one agrees with me – that can be difficult sometimes. I agree that something happens as you let go of your normal world and explore something new. When I started travelling I knew I needed to start new habits and I have. The last 3 years I have been travelling 4 months per year but I just want more… I just couldn’t go back to just having 5 weeks vacation again. I have a fear that if I start travelling even more I never want to go back.
    What do you say about that dilemma? have you thought about going back to the average Joe daily routine and just forget about the travel lifestyle?

    • Jeremy Scott Foster April 14, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

      Of course. I think it would be unhealthy to just travel and never think about other options. It’s very important to take a personal inventory. We have to make the best decisions we can at any given time, and often our desires change drastically from year to year.

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