Travelling is not only the most effective way to discover our beautiful planet for yourself, it teaches you important lessons about life. Here are the lessons that mean most to me.
1. Take things one step at a time
When I first decided I would visit every country in the world, it initially seemed an impossible task, especially as there were quite a few “tricky” nations on the list.
First I made a list of continents. Then I made a list of countries on each continent which that I hadn’t visited yet. I undertook to decide at the start of each year, how many countries I wanted to visit in the year ahead. By breaking my goal into smaller pieces, I made it more manageable. I’ve already come a long way – only 14 more to go!
A task may at times seem impossible, but if you cut it up into manageable pieces, even the most ambitious aims become achievable.
2. Stand up for yourself
Anything can happen to you on a journey. You arrive in a strange place where ten people immediately start to pull at you and try to take you with them. Or the bus you’re on stops and everyone around you walks off. Or perhaps you see bad weather ahead when you’re miles away from human habitation. Stay calm and alert, hold your ground, defend yourself, and don’t let yourself be talked into anything you don’t want to do, do not agree with, or that makes you feel uncomfortable.
3. There is always a solution
Even when you find yourself in a situation in which all signs seem to say ‘stop’, there is always a way out. Stay calm, survey the situation and the options, consult others if you can, be patient, keep believing in a positive outcome and crack on. The more experience you have, the more you will be able to do this. Take a critical look at your decisions afterwards and learn from them! Every situation is new. It’s easy to know what to do after the fact, but also highly instructive.
4. Exude friendliness
It sounds simple, but you achieve so much more in life through being amiable. You usually receive friendliness in return and people are prepared to do their best for you. You can always get angry if you need to, but it should never be your basic attitude. If someone gets cross at with you, you can often get them to come round by being friendly.
5. Dare to dream and think big
People often say to me, “You can’t get into that country, can you?”, or “You must be really rich to be able to do all that?” In fact, it’s largely a question of good preparation, seeking out the best information and staying focused. When I wanted to visit the Central African Republic, one of the more inaccessible nations on earth, my eye fell on a corner of the country that was relatively peaceful and where nature was virtually untouched. Almost everyone goes there in chartered aircraft, but I chose to enter from Cameroon. It was a journey with all kinds of obstacles, but when I came eye to eye with forest elephants and lowland gorillas, I enjoyed it all the more.
6. Keep an open mind
I learned to be open to the world and not to base my judgements on stereotypes. My passion for travel stems from a fascination for the lives of my fellow human beings living in other cultures and environments. You should always be aware of pigeon-holing someone. Prejudice limits enormously your scope for interaction with others and can shut you off from the unexpected surprises that so often arise in encounters with strangers.
Generalisations are easy (and human!), but rarely ever accurate. Just as there is no such thing as “the” Dutch person, there is also no such thing as “the” Japanese or “the” Mexican person.
7. People are basically good
It’s wise to be cautious and not to blindly trust everyone you meet, but by far the majority of people you meet have good intentions and will help you. After a nerve-racking adventure on my first solo journey, I found myself in a precarious situation which that could easily have ended badly. It took me a while after this to feel be able to trust people again – once bitten, twice shy. But on along the way I learned to trust my instincts. For each person who wants to trick you there are dozens more who receive you with open arms and who are so incredibly hospitable.
8. Become good friends with yourself
A lot of people are afraid to travel alone, but it is the best way to meet new people and make friends. On the way you also get to know yourself better, which makes you more confident – in everyday life too. On a journey there are always moments when things don’t work out, when you have to improvise, when you are left to your own devices. If you survive these moments well, your self-confidence gets an enormous boost.