7 Life Lessons I Learned From Traveling in My 20s

Watching The Office US at Airbus A380 New Economy of Singapore Airlines
Me en route to Singapore!

If you’ve ever thought that traveling in your 20s is just a way of being carefree, doing something risky, or doing it just to show off on social media, let me assure you that it’s much more than that. As someone who has traveled to many places while I was still young, I can say with confidence that these trips were definitely not a waste of time and money.

In this blog post, I invite you to set aside any preconceived notions and open your mind to the profound life lessons that traveling in one’s 20s can offer. It’s not just about ticking off destinations on a bucket list or capturing picture-perfect moments for virtual admiration, or, as this generation calls it, #ForTheGram. No, there’s a deeper essence to these experiences that have the power to shape us, mold us, and leave an indelible imprint on our souls.

Whether you love exploring the world or you haven’t traveled much yet, I encourage you to join me as we go through the seven important lessons that I learned while traveling. These lessons were discovered in far-off places, unfamiliar cultures, and unexpected encounters. They have truly changed my life and helped me grow as a person.

As we explore the transformative power of exploration, you’ll discover that traveling in your 20s goes far beyond the surface-level enchantment we often associate it with. Prepare to be inspired, enlightened, and maybe even nudged to pack your bags and set forth on your own journey of self-discovery.

So buckle up and let’s embark on this expedition together. I promise that by the end of it, you’ll find yourself looking at traveling in your 20s with a newfound appreciation and understanding, leaving behind any doubts or misconceptions that may have clouded your view. Let’s delve into the heart of these life-altering experiences and embrace the magic of exploration in its truest form.

I became kinder to strangers.

Whenever you travel, chances are, 100% of the people around you are strangers (unless you bump into some friends, relatives or acquaintances in another region or foreign land, which surprisingly happened to me a few times). Going to a very unfamiliar place for the first time can trigger some anxiety and the feeling of being alone. What if I get sick? What if I run out of money? What if I got into some kind of trouble? What if I encountered some problems along the way? These are just some of the questions that may add to all your worries when you’re somewhere far away from home.

While I always keep in touch to as many people as possible back home in order to help me in case the need arises (from my parents to friends working in banks to friends from embassies/consulates and immigration office), somewhere along the way I learned to try my best to avoid any possible problems and prepare myself to deal with them on my own. Along with this, I learned to make friends with tour guides, hotel receptionists, restaurant staff, taxi drivers, housekeeping staff, and even random locals. These were the people who will take you off the tourist paths. Ask them “Where’s your favorite place to eat here?” instead of “Where do tourists usually eat here?”. Trust me, it’s worth it.

I complained less about petty things.

Living in Manila could be very painful to some people who have experienced the real everyday stuff that happens here: traffic jams, pollution, crimes, and high cost of living, among others. As someone born and raised in a small town south of Manila, eventually moving to the capital city for college and work is just too much. I developed an attitude of complaining down to the smallest inconvenience I experience everyday. I feel like I always deserved better than this.

When I started traveling, I had the chance to visit some of the poorest towns in the Philippines and I was able to visit countries poorer than the Philippines. Being able to visit these places has made me a person appreciative and grateful over what I have. Yes, Manila could be crazy as hell, but it’s still comfortable enough for me to quit complaining. I have a decent place to stay, I have a job, I have access to clean water, I have food on the table, so I basically have everything I need.

I developed a different kind of discipline.


Some travels, including mine, might look very ideal, joyous, happy, and vibrant on Instagram, but behind all these photos lie a totally underexposed anecdotes. For instance, while fancy hotels and restaurants and private tours sound good for a vacation, I can’t afford it from time to time. I posed a challenge to myself staying in (both beautiful and horrible) hostels, eating in street food stalls and upscale restaurants, and doing DIY tours to save money and experience the real side of traveling at the same time.

Experiencing the uncomfortable side of traveling has led me to share bathrooms and showers with a lot of people, wake up very early to be ahead with everyone else, walk more than 10,000 steps per day, trust my instincts better, have a better relationship with money, and communicate better with people from all walks of life. You can never learn all of these in school.

I was able to shift my mindset to see the beauty in everything.

Like I said, living in a city like Manila could be a horrible pain, but meeting foreigners who adore Manila and had a great time visiting the city meant a lot to me (even though I have a fluctuating love-hate relationship with Manila). I once talked to a British friend who lived in the city for a while, and he said he liked living here, “Could be worse.”.

Having friends who liked visiting my homeland made me realize I’ve been underappreciating a lot of things about the Philippines and Manila. For one, the people are indeed very kind, hospitable, and accommodating. Also, Manila has got a lot of nice hotels and restaurants, things I always look forward to in another land. Lastly, Manila has a growing expat community and it’s good that the people here are becoming more open, culturally-inclusive and more cosmopolitan.

Yeah, my friend was right. Could be worse.

I became a better Professor.

In case you missed it, I am currently an International Relations Professor in Manila. While some people mistake it as a filed highly related to travel/tourism, my field of study is highly social science/politics-oriented and we are actually never required to travel not have an interest in traveling to be able to teach effectively. However, traveling (specifically visiting museums) has allowed me to learn so many things about the different destinations I visited that I will never find on any textbook or lectures I attended in the past.

There is more to the world and all places beyond what we see in the internet, television, books, and other sources of information. A lot of things I taught in class are knowledge that I learned from traveling. To be able to teach something unique and closer to real life, I have to experience things. Traveling does not only satisfy my heart and soul, but also my career in the academe.

I realized that we are indeed just a small speck of dust in the universe.

Sometimes we tend to get anxious about things that are not yet happening. We worry about our jobs, our grades, our future, what people would think of us, how people would judge our decisions in life, and why others seem to have a better and happier life than us. Trust me when I say I could resonate with you and every feeling is valid, but there are ways to manage and mitigate them.

You know those scratch maps which you can scratch off destinations you’ve already been to? Or a plain world map would do. When I scratched all the countries I have already been to on the map, I realized that I have actually stepped into bigger, faraway lands, and that the world is waaaaay bigger than we think. In a world map, try placing a pin or mark with a star your exact location. There is a possibility that the pin is too big or the star you drew is big enough to pinpoint your exact location. Inside a very dense city of more than 100 million people, I am just a small, insignificant portion of this metropolitan area.

As stoic as it sounds, we are all gonna die anyway. Having experienced traveling served as my way of realizing that people come and go, I will never run out of people to meet and connect with, I will never run out of experiences, restaurants to try, and jobs to apply for.

I was able to figure out the things I want in life.

It was all natural to feel especially after we finish college that we are in some sort of “rat race” where we constantly compare our own progress to our peers. Trust me, I was once that kind of person, and I totally beat myself up for failing while others continue to progress and go on with their lives smoothly.

AS I traveled to my 20s both physically and existentially, I was able to realize that (1) even if we are of the same age with some people, we don’t take off at the same point, therefore all our lives are totally incomparable, (2) there were some people who found their passion and happiness in the very first thing (relationship, career, etc.), but it doesn’t mean it’s a failure otherwise, and (3) hearts change, passions change, and preferences change through time because of experiences and exposures.

Traveling made me get to know myself about the things I want, the things I don’t want, my passions, my limitations, and how much I value myself.

So that’s traveling in my 20s. How about you?

At the end of the day, all life lessons are anecdotal. Everything is based on my own experience, but it will never hurt if you also consider traveling to learn the lessons I learned so far.

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