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8 Lessons I learnt while traveling

Last year, my wife and I went on a beautiful trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. We spent over three weeks cruising the Mekong river, visiting the magic temples of Angkor and chilling at the beaches of Southern Cambodia. We were traveling with backpacks but not on a shoestring. We had some stops on our journey planned out, but not all of them.

All the while, I filled my notebook with lots of ideas. One of those were some lessons learnt on this trip. There are big and small ideas, but all worth remembering for me. Fittingly, I completely forgot about the post and the ideas until I flipped through my notebook yesterday. So here we go…

Koh Rong Samlon

Chilling on Koh Rong Samlon

1. We have no problems – be grateful for what you have

We have no problems. Seriously. Bad day at work? It started raining and you had no umbrella? Unpleasant conversation with your boss? Who will remember that in 10 years? Will you?

When you see people with no legs – victims of Agent Orange or the Red Khmer, when you see children begging at the beach instead of going to school, when you see your fabulous tour guide struggling to feed his family on his meagre salary you realize that we truly have no problems. If you are healthy and alive, if your loved ones are healthy and alive, if you have a roof and plenty of food, try to remember that this is all you can ask for.

2. Wifi is everywhere

Okay, not everywhere (such as on the beautiful island of Koh Rong Samlon). But if you want to work from anywhere, now is the time. You can complain about the intrusion of work into our ‘private’ lives, or you can make a lifestyle out of it. I try to choose the latter.

3. The wisdom of the crowds rules

Guide books are lying on their death bed, breathing heavily. The nice thing about it is that you don’t need battery to read them and they can get dirty and worn out. But when you are planning your trip or making changes along the way, nothing beats the wisdom of the crowds. Hotels and restaurants can have all sorts of ways, from luck to bribery, to get into guide books – but it’s hard to fake hundreds of reviews. Sure, “the winner takes it all”, but quality wins in the end, and we as consumers profit the most. So Tripadvisor became my best friend.

4. Plan ahead but be flexible to change

When you plan time off there are three approaches you can take:

  1. Plan everything.
  2. Plan nothing.
  3. Plan some things but be flexible to change course.

I advise you to take the third. It’s okay to have some structure when you arrive in order to feel safe. But you will get smarter along the way. You will meet people and they will tell you stories about things to do and trips to take. And when they do, you should have the freedom to do exactly that. So don’t lock yourself in too strongly but leave some space for surprise, innovation and unexpected experiences.

5. Great ideas come when you are offline

Sitting at the beach or in a long-distance bus, watching life pass by in a foreign country gives your brain a refreshing pause from the mental overload of modern day life. If you need some fresh and unexpected ideas, change your surroundings. It works best if you are not staring at the computer or phone but do new activities and explore new lands.

6. You will yearn to be “productive” at some point

If you are used to being a productive member of society, the urge to be productive will at first be really strong and it will take time for you to start being able to relax. Then, you will feel amazing just doing nothing. And then, the wish to do or create something will come back. It takes varying amounts of time for different people for that to happen. Appreciate the feeling when it comes back – it means that you are ready to create some value in the world.

7. Observe how you feel about getting back to work

When the end of your journey comes closer you will get a certain feeling about getting back to work. It could be either of three things:

  1. You absolutely love to get back to work because you yearn to create and contribute.
  2. You feel neutral about getting back to work. It’s not great but not bad either, and maybe you are looking forward to some aspects, such as seeing your friends and colleagues.
  3. You can’t stand the thought of going back to work.

If you feel the first, count yourself lucky: you are one of the few.

If you feel the second, you are one of many. Think about which aspect of work draws you back in. Is there a way to increase these moments, projects and encounters to make you happier at work?

If you feel the third, rethink your life and work. Life is too short to dread the largest part of your waking hours. Seriously.

8. Things will go on when you are gone

The week before leaving you probably can’t conceive how work could go on without you. What would people do if they need you? How often would they call you? What would happen if there was a crisis?

But then, something miraculous happens. No-one needs you. No-one calls you. No crisis occurs.

We often take ourselves much too important to think that things could go on easily without us – but they do. And if they don’t, it’s time to create some systems back home and take more time off so that things actually will go on smoothly when you’re recharging your batteries.

So what do we really learn here? Traveling is great to learn this kind of stuff in the first place! So where is your next trip going?

Sunny greetings from Berlin,


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