Six life lessons learned from a year travelling the globe

Skye Gilkeson

Relaxing and romancing our way through our honeymoon, my husband turned to me a said, “What if we just took a year?”. It was that throwaway line that sparked a trip that saw us visit more than 34 countries, almost 100 cities and sleep in 125 beds. It was a trip that changed my life.

So, in March 2015, we boarded a flight bound for Bali. We made our way through Asia, the Middle East, Europe, America, Canada, Mexico and back through Singapore and Thailand to Australia in just under 12 months.

In the Maldives. Photo: Skye Gilkeson

We went zip lining through the Thai jungle, climbed some of Norway and Italy's most beautiful peaks, hiked a glacier, snowboarded in Canada, cycled through the Dolomite Mountains, ancient Angkor and rice fields in Bali.

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Here are some of the life lessons our vagabonding adventure taught us:

Travel can be tough

Travel is an absolute privilege but no one ever said it was easy. As travel writers, we tend to romanticise the experience, sharing wanderlust-worthy photographs standing atop a mountain or posing in infinity pools holding fresh coconuts. For many, these images reflect exactly what your next vacation should and will look like. But for those who take the road less travelled by leaving home for a longer journey, there will be bumps along the way. Add to that a partner you spend 24-hours a day with and your life on the road can sometimes mirror the scenes of a reality television show. There are the magical moments like sitting at a bar in Cadiz in southern Spain marvelling at the kite surfers. Then there are the pressure cooker moments, like the time we found ourselves in a heated argument with a pair of shysters on a street corner in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Thankfully, as it turns out my husband and I happen to be a great fit as travel partners too. There weren’t any dramatics to speak of other than a few tense times when we were both exhausted and needed to stay in one place for a few days to rest. A chat over a glass of pinot often proved to be the perfect panacea and each story was then added to the list of anecdotes we will share with our grandchildren, one day.

Happy moments. Photo: Skye Gilkeson

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Travel boosts your confidence

Travel strips a person bare. It is challenging, it is tiring, it requires resilience, bravery and at times boldness. Stretching your emotional and physical limits does wonders for your confidence.

When faced with situations that are out of our control, it’s how we react to them that reveals out true character. I lived in Spain many years ago and I still consider it my second home. Andrew, doesn’t speak a second language and hasn’t lived overseas for a long period prior to this trip. But every morning without fail he would sneak out of our apartment in Barcelona to go shopping for breakfast on his own, bursting back in the door, bags filled with fresh bread, queso and jamon. He wanted to go alone so I wasn’t there to help him. He loved the challenge of chatting to the local vendors in Spanish and I love that he has the confidence to go somewhere in a foreign country and deliver a handful of phrases without fear.

Travel forces you to live in the moment

In my everyday life, I struggle with living in the moment. I’m always dreaming about what’s to come. The exception to that rule comes when I am on the road. There’s something about the transience of being on the move that makes me consciously embrace each moment. While staying in Vang Vieng, Laos a thunderstorm caused a blackout through the entire town. There wasn’t any power and even the ATMs closed down. We wandered down the muddy main road trying to think of how we would spend our afternoon when it was pouring with rain and we only had a handful of cash. The answer was obvious; we went to the local pub, spent the last of our kip on a couple of bottles of Beerlao and settled in to exchange stories with new friends and play a few games of pool in the dark. As Robert Brault said, “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realise they were the big things.”

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Travel promotes playfulness

We were swimming in the pool at our hotel in Lombok when I realised I didn’t know whether Andrew could do a somersault in the water. It was a funny thought. Why should it matter? That’s the kind of imperative information we know as children; who does the best cartwheel; who is the fastest runner and; who can do a somersault underwater. So I asked him to do one and giggled uncontrollably as he tossed around in the water.

Indulging the inner child. Photo: Skye Gilkeson

It was in that moment I was reminded of the importance of play. A trip away is the perfect time to practice ‘play’. You are an unknown in the world. The fear of judgment and failure fall away. There is a pure childlike freedom in that and we took full advantage of each opportunity to act like a couple of children from that point on. I fell off a bike in Copenhagen in the middle of a crowd while attempting to do a wheelie, we had water fights while kayaking in Laos, Andrew began practising his handstands everywhere we went and we made each other laugh, a lot.

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Travel broadens your perspective on the world

Mark Twain said it best; “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

Moving moments. Photo: Skye Gilkeson

Visiting countries that have been ravaged by war and meeting people who are battling poverty is surely the most powerful example of the effect that travel has on a person’s attitude to life. The feeling I had when walking the blood-stained corridors of S-21 Prison, now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh Cambodia still weighs on me today. Our guide lost her father and brother during Pol Pot’s genocidal campaign. She teared up while sharing her personal story of having to flee across the border to safety, only to return to find most of the population wiped out. I asked her how she copes with walking the grounds of the former prison, everyday. She told us she does it to honour the memory of her family and to ensure the atrocities are never forgotten. We met two of the survivors from the prison during our visit too. I am still moved to tears when I reflect on that day. Those trivial problems that can consume us at home quickly become almost meaningless when we gain a little perspective.

Travel is a time for reflection

Moments of reflection. Photo: Skye Gilkeson

A few months before flying out I had launched my own online publication, The Fit Traveller. A year of travel was the perfect way for me to test the waters with the website. It was my baby and like most new babies it would require constant attention and upkeep, it would cost me sleepless nights and could take away from the time I had to explore with Andrew. For Andrew, leaving home meant giving up a job he loved, with a company he had worked at for 18 years, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. One thing became very clear for us both on returning home; Andrew couldn’t wait to dive back in to his career and I loved the new direction mine was taking. Travel gives you the space to reflect on your life, from the outside looking in.


About The Fit Traveller

Skye is a journalist and wellness wanderer -- Travelling the globe to discover the best in health, wellness, food and luxury travel.

Website: The Fit Traveller
Twitter: @thefittravellr
Instagram: @thefittraveller