What Travelling Has Taught Me

by Brenna Holeman

Brenna in India

Agra, India

My ten-year high school reunion is taking place this weekend in Canada; I won’t be attending, as I am currently in Honduras.

Tonight and tomorrow, dozens of my former classmates will assemble to share stories of the past ten years and reminisce about our time in high school; there will be so many wonderful people there, and there are definitely a few I regret not being able to see. Some of them are married, or engaged, and many have long-term partners. All (that I know of) have careers, doctors and lawyers and teachers, with many university degrees between them. I am not being facetious at all when I say that I am very happy for them, and I wish nothing but continued happiness and success for all of my former peers.

But I’m a bit different – I don’t have a set career, I don’t have a master’s degree, I don’t even have a boyfriend, let alone a husband. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, I spent the next six years of my life travelling the world, living in different countries and experiencing whatever I could in new and exotic lands. And in those six years, I’ve learned a lot, I’ve learned so much more than I ever thought I could.

Brenna diving in Indonesia

Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

I’ve learned how to scuba dive, which has fast become one of my favourite things to do. I’ve learned how to identify dozens of types of tropical fish, corals, and creatures; I’ve learned how to control my buoyancy by simply inhaling or exhaling. I’ve learned not to be scared underwater, even when there are sharks, even when it’s at night, even if I am caught in a current.

I’ve learned to face my fears, and to try anything once.

Brenna paragliding in Nepal

Pokhara, Nepal

I’ve learned French, Spanish, Russian, and Japanese, and while I am not completely fluent in any of them, I’ve learned how to communicate in these languages and make myself understood.

I’ve learned how to read maps, and how to not get lost in big cities. I’ve learned it never hurts to ask for directions, even if you think you’re going the right way.

I’ve learned to always smile when approaching someone for the first time, especially if that person is a taxi driver or an immigration officer. I’ve learned to be nice to every single person I encounter, unless I have a damn good reason not to be.

I’ve learned to be patient. Very, very patient.

I’ve learned the history and the geography of dozens of countries; places I hadn’t heard of years ago now seem familiar to me. I’ve learned of other countries’ cultures, their art and food and clothing and music and vernacular and customs and dance and beliefs. I’ve learned of religion and linguistics, anthropology and antiquities, things I didn’t know back in Canada.

I’ve learned that time spent poring over atlases is never time wasted.

Brenna fisheye in China

Beijing, China

I’ve learned that the absolute best way to get to know a place is to talk to people, talk to locals, talk to other travellers, talk to anyone and everyone. They will always teach you something. Every single person you meet knows something you don’t.

I’ve learned how to make conversation with just about anyone, and how to make friends quickly. I’ve learned how to never judge someone by how they look, where they’re from, or how many kilograms their backpack is. I’ve learned that people can be very surprising, and that first impressions can be very misleading.

Brenna in Russia

Listvyanka, Russia

I’ve learned how to tie a sari, how to eat a mangosteen, how to catch a fish, how to fix a toilet, how to convert currency, how to shoot a gun, how to dance at a ceilidh, how to crack a coconut with a machete, how to make tamales, how to kill a cockroach, how to light a fire, how to drive a motorbike, and how to take a shot of tequila without grimacing.

I’ve learned how to budget effectively, and to never be afraid to ask for a deal. I’ve learned how to spot a scam and to trust my gut above anything or anyone else.

Brenna In Japan

Osaka, Japan

I’ve learned how to teach, and how to make the classroom effective and fun for both adults and children. I’ve learned how to work in a publishing house, a bar, an office and a coffeeshop. I’ve learned I love to write. I’ve learned how to make the perfect espresso and one hell of a Bloody Mary.

I’ve learned when it’s pointless to get angry. I’ve learned to relax, to laugh more, to calm down, to appreciate all the little things in life that are so beautiful and great, be they sunsets or fresh fruit or a compliment from a stranger.

Brenna in the Philippines

El Nido, The Philippines

I’ve learned how to have better relationships with my family, with my friends, with my lovers. I’ve learned who it is that will be in my life forever, no matter the distance. I’ve learned that if somebody is toxic, there is no point in keeping that person close. I’ve learned how to enjoy the company of someone even if I may never see them again, and to laugh like we’re old friends, or to kiss like we love.

I’ve learned how to be alone, and to appreciate that aloneness. I’ve learned that sometimes, even in a new and exciting place, there is nothing better than staying in with a movie.

And above all else, I’ve learned to be confident and true to myself. I’ve learned my abilities and strengths, my limitations and weaknesses. I’ve learned what makes me happy and what I should avoid at all costs. I’ve learned to be selfish when I need to be, or to accept defeat. I’ve learned never to settle, and to not be afraid to march to the beat of my own drum. I’ve learned that I want to do this forever, I want to be curious and interested and full of wanderlust for the rest of my life.

Brenna in India Holi

New Delhi, India

I’ve learned to be happier than I ever thought possible. I’ve learned to not take any of it, even the bad days, for granted. I’ve learned to love life.

What has travelling taught you?

You may also like


Katie @ Domestiphobia.net June 16, 2012 - 3:41 am

That grimace when you take a shot of tequila? We call it “bitch face.”

And I’ve never learned how to not make one. Good for you. 😉

(Beautiful post, yet again!)

liveletlive June 16, 2012 - 6:06 am

beautifully written post yet again!!! I know if I were you, I’d want to brag just a little (ok, more of a lot!)about my amazing life!!!

Bailey@Lost&Found June 16, 2012 - 9:11 am

you are my hero. seriously.

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures June 16, 2012 - 12:15 pm

The best eduction one can ever get is on the road of life, looooove this post! Traveling has without a doubt taught me to be a better person.

Audrey | That Backpacker June 16, 2012 - 1:15 pm

Beautifully written! Some of the best lessons are learned outside the classroom and outside the workplace. 🙂

Tricia Stevens June 16, 2012 - 5:50 pm

Beautiful post Brenna! I will read it again and again:) xx

HMS June 17, 2012 - 3:39 am

To truly be happy is the greatest high we can achieve, I loved your post. Travelling made me become the person I always wanted to be, it found me love, happiness, and a need to exlpore for the rest of my life. Inspiring post x x

expatkerri June 17, 2012 - 7:08 am

traveling has taught me that the world is smaller than we think. running into an elementary school friend in paris taught me that. also, traveling has showed me the common elements among human life.. i love seeing how daily life unfolds in different places, and just observing life as it is lived.

i can’t wait to travel again with you brenna!! 2 weeks til nicaragua!!

xo kerri

[Ali] To Be Continued... June 17, 2012 - 3:25 pm

Travelling has taught me how to love myself unconditionally and be at peace with myself. It’s also taught me The Road is almost always where you make the best friends. Awesome post sweetie xx

Che on the road June 17, 2012 - 3:29 pm

Very nice post Brenna! I think what’s important is that you get to do what you really want to do in your life. It is in itself, an achievement. Traveling really does teach us a lot of things and oftentimes we discover strengths we thought we never have. It broadens our horizons and makes us better people.

Ekua June 18, 2012 - 12:48 am

Lovely post. I also missed my high school reunion… I was at an Indian wedding! I could write a whole blog post about what traveling has taught me, but your last point really resonates. For many reasons, travel has made me a happier person regardless of how good or bad things are in my life.

Hännah June 18, 2012 - 1:35 am

I’ve learned that traveling outside my home country is the best way to open my eyes to everything. The value of people, the differences of cultures, the best/strangest/worst/most amazing things about humanity.

What a blog post…thank you for writing this!

Tom June 18, 2012 - 2:03 am

LOVE this, Brenna! So well-written, a great read. I’m looking forward to seeing what RTW travel will teach me next year.

I can manage a Jagerbomb without grimacing, but have yet to master the art of tequila. BTW, we should totally meet up at some point during my RTW next year so that you can teach me how to do it. May take a few tries though 😉

Ellie June 18, 2012 - 2:14 am

A very inspired post, you have a great way of expressing yourself!

I think travelling has taught me that I have so much more to learn… and that anything is possible!

Michelle June 18, 2012 - 2:18 am

This is beautiful and beautifully written. I’m currently preparing for a year of travel (off to Thailand in a few weeks to be an English teacher) and can only hope to learn a thing or two on the way…

This Battered Suitcase June 19, 2012 - 5:45 am

Thank you so very much to all of you for your amazing comments and kind words. I’m so glad that you were able to relate to my post! I am so inspired by all of you and so thankful that you shared your thoughts here. You have all given me words to think about, and to cherish. Again, thank you, and please keep commenting!


The Ls June 19, 2012 - 3:58 pm

Really lovely post, as usual. I totally get where you’re coming from, not having followed the old straight-&-narrow myself… Life lessons (things learned from living)are bigger, brighter, more fulfilling & terrifying & wonderful than anything they teach you at university or school.

You are always such an inspiration, to travel and to take the road less traveled. Thanks for another brilliant post! 🙂

This Battered Suitcase June 21, 2012 - 7:03 pm

Oh, thank you so much, Evelyn. I totally agree with your comment – we encounter such life lessons while on the road!

Kristina June 22, 2012 - 12:13 am

loved this post brenna! you are so right, travel teaches us many things. it taught me to be openminded, respectful and understanding towards different cultures, patient and be interested in everything and everybody around you. traveling and exploring is a big part of my life which I never want to miss again! follow your heart! xx

This Battered Suitcase June 22, 2012 - 4:27 am

Thank you for your comment, Kristina! Isn’t travelling so wonderful? I love learning about new countries and cultures…I think the world would be a better place if everyone thought like you!

Cara-Mia June 26, 2012 - 3:56 pm

Beautiful post! Extremely well-written. You have learned some valuable lessons.

This Battered Suitcase June 27, 2012 - 1:17 am

Thank you, Cara-Mia!!

Anonymous July 5, 2012 - 1:14 am

Really pretentious article. The fact that you have to write all these things in a blog post, so that everyone could see, shows that you didn’t really learn the one and most important thing about life and traveling…

This Battered Suitcase July 5, 2012 - 5:50 pm

OK, thank you for your comment!

amoureuse July 21, 2012 - 6:26 pm

Wow, definitely disagree with “Anonymous”! Fabulous, inspiring and well-written post.

This Battered Suitcase July 23, 2012 - 2:26 am

Amoureuse – Ha ha, thank you! They are always anonymous, aren’t they??

Les July 13, 2013 - 3:24 pm

I love this post. I’ve read this more than thrice. I just keep coming back to it because it’s true and I love how you put it all together. Happy adventures!

This Battered Suitcase July 14, 2013 - 4:47 am

Oh, thank you so much! I’m so happy that you enjoy reading it.

30 Things I've Learned in 30 Years - This Battered Suitcase May 1, 2014 - 3:48 pm

[…] back and reflect on what I’ve learned, however, the things that stick with me most are not how to use a machete or take a shot of tequila without grimacing or find my way through a new city, although those things are pretty cool. The things I’m proudest of learning are those that […]

What Solo Travel Has Taught Me - This Battered Suitcase September 1, 2015 - 2:10 pm

[…] I’ve learned in my lifetime. I’ve also written other posts like this one – what travelling has taught me, and why travelling makes us happy – but nothing specifically on solo […]


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.