Lessons Learned from Traveling the World

By Emily

Traveling the world was the best decision Peter and I ever made. It opened our eyes to other cultures, world problems, and the strengths and weaknesses of our own country. I knew I would learn a lot through this experience, but I didn’t expect it to make such a big impact on my worldview. Below I list the most important lessons I learned in my months abroad. Some of it I technically “knew” before I left, but I never truly grasped this information until I saw it with my own eyes. 

  1. The United States and Europe are infinitely wealthier than the vast majority of the world. Shacks are common housing in many developing countries. In many places, people can’t afford even what our poorest American families have. For example, the average Laos citizen lives off $50 per week. I’ve realized that donating a little bit of money really can go a long way in the world.

    The streets of Rishikesh, India.


    We found the grandeur of Spain jarring after spending the months prior in countries like Peru and Mexico.
  2. Be thankful for drinkable tap water- most of the world doesn’t have it.

  3. The more challenges a culture overcomes, the more playful, generous, and alive the local people seem to be. 

    We fell in love with the Cambodians’ awesome sense of humor. They always brightened our day.
  4. People don’t wear seat belts- it’s not even an option in most places. It is not uncommon to find women with infants on motorcycles and no helmets, of course.

  5. Safety standards are minimal or nonexistent in many parts of the world. We saw a man at the top of an electric pole with no safety harness, helmet, or even a shirt on in India! Scaffolding is made of sticks or bamboo found nearby.

  6. In most countries, you will not go bankrupt if you have to see a doctor or go to the emergency room. Most countries have the option between government-funded hospitals or private hospitals.

    Unfortunately, hospitals were a recurring part of our adventures. (Three visits in 9 months.) Luckily they never came close to breaking the bank.
  7. Locals will have so much more respect for you and go out of their way to help you if you just know how to say a few words in their language. “Hello” and “thank you” are the most important words to know. A few good manners goes a long way.

  8. Wild cats and dogs are everywhere on the streets. You often see more than one per block. In many countries, witnessing the treatment of animals broke my heart.

    This puppy and a few siblings roamed the streets of New Delhi among cardboard boxes and trash. I wanted to adopt so many dogs on this trip.
  9. Despite what the media would have you believe, the U.S. offers some of the best education in the world. Our teachers offer some of the most interactive, challenging lessons out there. Peter and I have both studied abroad and we’ve talked to countless people from other countries (including Europe) who have gone to American schools, and that was the general consensus. We need to fix how we pay for higher education, but as far as quality, we are some of the best. Don’t let the international tests fool you. They are skewed because of the way other countries set up their schooling systems, and we’re not getting the full picture. For example, many countries in Europe have a track for students headed to college and another for students who want to do technical work like mechanics or construction. I’m guessing they don’t test every student like we do in the U.S.

  10. The U.S. is a country of convenience and excess. We have 24 hour service and huge stores that sell everything you could possibly need in one place. In most other parts of the world, grocery stores only sell groceries, pharmacies sell things like contact solution and sunscreen along with medicine, and it seems difficult to find anything else. Sometimes it’s even hard just to find a well-equipped, major grocery store. Gas-station-style corner stores or shacks are the most common places to find food in many developing countries, so we were often stuck eating chips and cookies.

    Gasoline sold in glass bottles on the side of the road in Thailand. That made us a bit nervous!
  11. When people don’t care about littering, cities become lined with garbage that can pile up higher than vehicles.  It’s infuriating to see people drop food wrappers on the ground as they eat. We need to take better care of our planet. 

    Garbage piled up in the median of a busy street in Cairo.
  12. I have seen the most amazing architecture on this trip for places of worship. It’s fascinating how the Thai Buddhists build temples with tall stupas and the Muslims build rounded domes with pirouettes. Every religion is so unique.

    The Bahai Lotus Temple in New Delhi.
  13. People are capable of amazing things.

  14. People are capable of the most horrifying atrocities.

  15. The earth with its natural wonders is an absolutely stunning place. How is our planet so beautiful?

    Waterfalls outside Luang Prabang
  16. The U.S. has infinitely faster internet than most of the rest of the world. It was a rare, glorious moment when we could watch Netflix because the internet was fast enough to stream a show. It was often a struggle just to watch a one minute Youtube video.

  17. As my friend Gaurav once said, “There’s pleasure in the struggle.” I grew so much more from the difficult moments than I ever did from the happy ones. Embrace the difficult countries that throw you out of your comfort zone, and watch them change you for the better.

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One thought on “Lessons Learned from Traveling the World

  1. linda haile fauhl

    so well said and instructive. thanks peter and emily
    you seemed so much changed for the better after this world trip.
    If everyone could see the world as u did. it would make us all better people , more compassionate, more humane , grateful and wiser!

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