5 Lessons I Have Learned From My Gap Year

16 countries later, I'm still learning.



I am a 23 year old American traveler and writer. I am in love with the world - traveling has taug...

Feb 18, 2018

In 2013, after nearly failing high school and having little motivation for anything at all, I decided to take a gap year before going to university.

With help from my parents and hours of researching various countries, I set forth on a two-month backpacking trip to India and Nepal.

Maybe, my parents thought, that trip would wake me up. I was 18 years old and had never been anywhere besides America, Canada, and a resort town in Mexico.

Little did I know that trip would change my life. Five years, an International Relations degree with honors, and 16 countries later, I've compiled a list of the greatest things I've learned while traveling.

1. Humans are far more similar than they are different

It's easy to become stressed and confused in a foreign city of millions of people, few of whom speak your language.

My first day of traveling alone was spent in New Delhi hiding from swindlers, people staring at me, and crowds that I had never experienced the breadth of. It took me a day or two of being very stressed, but then I realized that that humans are far more similar than they are different.

We laugh, we cry, we love, for the most part, we want to help one another. While we might have different languages and cultures, humans wake up in the morning for the same reasons; and in a lot of ways we are all in this together. Once you realize this, traveling becomes a lot less stressful and a lot more fulfilling.

2. A smile goes a long way

You might not be able to talk to a Nepali villager, who speaks ten words of English, about the flaws of their political system. But you can smile and you can laugh, and I promise that little experience will brighten both of your days.

One of my greatest experiences traveling was in a packed train cabin in India for fifteen hours. Only one of the six people in my cabin spoke English, but we all laughed, drank whiskey, and ate food together for fifteen hours straight because despite not sharing a language, I knew a smile would be better than looking down and feeling excluded.

3. Have a level head

Things aren’t always going to go to plan. That’s traveling and that’s life. Your bus might be late by two hours, the guy who promised to drive you back from Semuc Champey might not show up, the trains that you planned on booking might be completely full.

You could either make these experiences kill your time abroad or take advantage of your newfound options. My bus was late, so I talked to locals and ate a great meal; my driver didn’t pick me up, so I hitchhiked on a logging truck; the trains were booked, so I took public buses.

The adventure starts when something goes wrong - be open to what’s ahead. Once in a while, you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.

4. Help others

When you see emaciated children begging for food, it’s hard to keep concentrating on your goal of buying the newest television once you return home. The fact is we probably each have enough money in the first world - a dollar is going to do a lot more for somebody in the third world than it is going to do for us.

Helping others is helping yourself, and once you look at it that way it might very well change your life like it did mine.

5. This world is worth exploring

Everywhere I have gone, I have learned something new and saw something new.

There are nearly 200 countries in this world - you only live in 1 of them. Imagine the stories, the culture, the foods in all of those places. Figuring out the world will help you figure out yourself.

I could continue, but the point is that traveling internationally is one of the best first-hand looks at the human condition that is out there.

In the media we hear of war-torn countries, crime, oppression - essentially, divisions. So from our couch and our cubicle, the world might seem pretty scary and thus our couch and cubicle seem like a pretty nice option after all.

Once you get out there in the world though, you’ll find that the world is very much at peace. The exceptions are few and far between, and the result of these experiences and interactions will give you a sense of hope and happiness that we do not always find in one another.

You’ll also find that many villagers in the countries that you were scared of had known these truths all along. Plus, you’ll have a ton of fun along the way.

By the worldpacker Alex Shur.
Follow my adventures at Eyes of the World Travels



I am a 23 year old American traveler and writer. I am in love with the world - traveling has taug...

Feb 18, 2018

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