Home » 10 things I’ve learned from travelling to 75 countries

10 things I’ve learned from travelling to 75 countries

written by Chris Mitchell January 12, 2018
Istanbul mosque

I’ve always been fond of Aldous Huxley’s quote that “to travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”

As human beings, we’re awfully fond of forming opinions from the comfort of our couches, and making grand arguments about places we’ve never been, supported only by the warm glow of our laptops. Yet once you venture out into the world, the learning you can do is astonishing, so long as you’ve also packed an open mind in your preferred luggage.

I’ve been fortunate to see a fair portion of this world (75 countries, and counting), and the memories I have are my fuel in this life. I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things along the way, and I’d love to share them with you.

10. Travel doesn’t have to be expensive

Street seller in Delhi, India

Street seller in Delhi, India

We’ve built up this notion in our heads that a trip is sure to capsize your bank account, but that simply isn’t the case. For me, I just started inputting travel into the forefront of my budget, as opposed to something I might do if I happen to have extra cash.

Early on I decided that I had my whole life to make money, but only a limited time on this planet to make memories abroad, and that was that. Honestly, I’ve been following travel trends for a while, and a trip has never been more affordable. Having money and being able to travel are far from synonymous.

READ MORE: HOW TO TRAVEL THE WORLD, EVEN WITH A 9-5

9. Every country’s cuisine is worth exploring

Romanian food wedding

Diving into Romanian cuisine at a local wedding in rural Romania

On Friday night you may only go out for Italian or Greek, but that doesn’t mean that Georgian food won’t change your life. I’m not using that example by chance either; Georgian cuisine is some of my favourite on the planet (and yes, there’s a trip just for it).

I’ve tested this theory 75 times, and I’ve yet to find a nation where my mouth doesn’t water for at least a handful of things I tried there. Also, trying out different foods while travelling isn’t just about taste, it’s an adventure into what makes that country unique. Small bonus: you may actually bring some of the techniques home to spice up your own cooking!

CHECK OUT INTREPID’S RANGE OF DELICIOUS FOOD TRIPS!

8. You cannot understand your own nation unless you leave it

Banff national park Canada

Intrepid travellers in Canada’s Banff National Park

I didn’t know what it meant to be a Canadian until I left Canada. Abroad, I learned how the rest of the world perceived my home country, and I balanced that with my own feelings to get to the heart of just who I was, and where I came from. There are so many different views on education, healthcare, transportation and everything in between, and being exposed to all this helps you get a sense of where your home country fits into the fold.

On a personal level, I remember cheering on Canada in the Olympics back in a small tavern in Oslo, Norway in 2010. My face was painted red and white, and I was watching hockey in the middle of the night – it was in that moment that I truly understood I was Canadian.

7. Learning a little bit of the language makes a big difference!

If there is one thing that I’ve learned that has been proven time and time again, it’s this. Firstly, learning a bit of the language gives you an insight into the respective history and culture. Moreover, knowing some of the language has a tendency to ensure that shopkeepers and the like don’t charge you quite as much. Truthfully, at this point I think of it as my respectful duty, and that effort has always paid off in spades.

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6. Go places you don’t know much about

Mostar Bosnia bridge

Stari Most bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Whether we like to admit it or not, world history focuses primarily on the “great powers,” and as such, we don’t necessarily get a deep understanding of enough nations around the world. From a travel sense, this offers an incredible opportunity. I often think of the world as a blank map, and visiting a nation as the chance to imbue that blank section with colour.

Without preconceived notions of how a place might look or be like, you get to travel there and understand what it was and is like, directly from the people. I distinctly recall catching a flight to Sarajevo last spring for this very reason. I left Bosnia and Herzegovina with a deep understanding of the struggle of the people in recent history, but also with an appreciation for their resilience. I understood something I never could have had I left that part of the map eternally blank.

5. Don’t overthink the planning

Italy Burano

Burano, Italy where you can wander for hours

Be prepared for a trip, but there’s no need to be the person who buys the entire shelf of guidebooks on India. In my humble opinion, there is such a thing as knowing too much. I always aim to use guidebooks or travel blogs to give me context and confidence, but leave myself room to “be in awe.” What I mean is, there’s something profound about learning something new from a guide or individual with a personal story when the place you’re learning about is right in front of you.

I remember one time in particular where I ended up staying at a monastery in Tibet. I had a basic idea of the spiritual beliefs of these particular monks, but actually seeing their beliefs in action with my own eyes and watching their rituals was life-changing for me. I probably could have seen something similar on YouTube before I went or read about it extensively, but how much less profound would that experience have been for me?

READ MORE: A BEAUTIFUL TALE OF GETTING OFF THE BEATEN PATH IN INDIA

4. Capture moments, but don’t forget to live them as well

Istanbul mosque

Reflecting at Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul

We live in an age where we only get credit for that which we can show, yet when it comes to travel what really matters is what we experience. There is a certain irony in my mentioning this as a travel writer, photographer, blogger and social media aficionado, but I’d like to think I also balance this in my travel escapades.

The truth is, if you don’t peer past your camera and connect with the sunset or landscape on a personal level, then that photo won’t ever mean much to you anyway. Document memories, but put your phone or camera down sometimes – it’s the minutiae of the country that’s worth observing, so you want ensure you don’t miss it.

3. The people you’ll meet will change your life

Kenya Maasai people

Intrepid travellers meeting the Maasai people in Kenya

Clichés aside, I mean this with the utmost sincerity. From 2014 – 2017, I lived in Istanbul, and the local barber in my area became a symbol for me of the kindness and welcoming nature of the Turkish people. I went there once a month and we spoke in Turkish, with him politely encouraging me and commenting on my improvement. I owe him a lot more than the sum of the bills of my haircuts.

This is only one example of literally thousands. I’m getting married this summer, and it’ll certainly include some wonderful friends made along the way.

READ MORE: 3 THINGS THAT TRAVEL HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT LOVE

2. Disorientation can be beautiful

Japan shrine walk

Walking through the Ise Jingu Shrine in Japan

In a lot of ways, days can be mapped out and prescriptive, which is why it’s so important to occasionally, actively move away from routine. Travel, to me, is the quintessential way to get out of your comfort zone, take a step back, and even do a little reflection and evaluation of the pattern you were in prior to departure.

It was Freya Stark who said, “to awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure.”

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1. Travel makes the world a more interesting place

Morocco Atlas Mountains

Intrepid traveller with a Berber woman in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains

It used to be that the Olympics were a wonderful chance for me to cheer on Canada. Now, I’m cheering on 75 nations in some way because I have a personal association with them. I’m keen to support restaurants that have opened up down the street from me in Toronto, run by hard-working immigrants from a nation I’ve visited. The news evokes a deep empathy from me now, where I might have glanced right on by in the past.

You see, travel isn’t just the experiences we have when we leave our homeland, it’s the experiences we bring back with us which change us in ways we could have never imagined.

Ready to explore that big, beautiful world of ours? Check out Intrepid Travel’s range of top destinations and trips.

(Image credits from top to bottom: Chris Mitchell, Intrepid Travel, Chris Mitchell, Intrepid Travel x3, Chris Mitchell, Intrepid Travel, Chris Mitchell, Intrepid Travel.)

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32 comments

taj mahal train tours September 13, 2020 - 10:49 am

What a fabulous post and article you review! You shared an amazing rundown and I adored your blog. The delightful photo you imparted to us. Much thanks to you for such a great amount for sharing an extreme encounter. I couldn’t imagine anything better than to see all the spots.

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Kate Wilson July 12, 2019 - 6:29 pm

I absolutely love what you wrote. It is so true. I am 68 and have now travelled to 83 countries.

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Kathy February 1, 2019 - 7:50 am

Everything you said is so true…but I would like to add, please do some research on the place you are travelling to. The locals really appreciate it when you know something about their country. They will perk up and talk to you a lot more and it won’t be the usual tourist drivel. 🙂

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Richard January 30, 2019 - 6:21 am

I’ve been to over 100 countries and I would add one comment: To travel far, carry less.

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Sandra L Mitchell October 20, 2018 - 3:16 am

Terrific article, Chris! I’m 77, now in Caligiari, Italy (Sardinia), a return visit to this beautiful, fascinating island. Next stop, Pula, Croatia which is chock full of magnificent Roman ruins. Since age 60, I’ve managed to travel internationally once or twice a year and have visited 25 countries so far. I especially liked your reference to cost trends. On a fixed income, I manage these journeys (none less than a month) by finding low-budget lodgings and airfares, plus prioritizing travel over stuff like a new car, jewelry, etc. Any discretionary income goes to travel. A small hostal (not hostel), or family run hotel will cost about 1/3 of a chain or large hotel. And, you’ll be far more in touch with the folks in the country you’re visiting. Fortunate to be in excellent health, I travel sola, and have become a sort of travel proselytizer for women of a certain age fearful of venturing out alone. I can promise if you’re friendly and outgoing, you’ll never feel lonely, AND you get to decide exactly when and where you want to go! Smartphones and tablets now make it easy to stay in touch with kids, grandkids and friends as well. Get on the internet and start planning your next adventure!

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Lil November 12, 2018 - 4:51 am

Hi sandra. What is a hostal?

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Anonymous December 21, 2018 - 10:10 pm

Well, aren’t you my new hero! I’m 73, living in Montreal the past two years but planning on heading to Spain this coming summer. On retirement 8 years ago I walked the Camino with my son and fell in love with both Spain and Portugal! We then did Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador together for the next six years but Europe is calling me back….and you are the incentive Ineeded…thanks for posting!

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Anonymous October 4, 2018 - 3:01 am

Thank you for sharing, completely agree…I’m 60+ and counting!

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Anonymous December 26, 2018 - 9:42 am

Like a youth hostel

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Ana August 6, 2018 - 5:00 am

I love this article. So much to learned and experienced out there.

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Teresita S Sylvester July 29, 2018 - 5:36 am

“People you’ll meet will change your life”!! No sentiment truer than this about travel!! I’ve met so many wonderful, kind people in Sicily this summer of 2018, I decided its time to quit work, and go back and live in Sicily, come October!! I will revisit those friends I’ve met and am very excited to meet new ones. Very different to just “travel”, settling down in one place, albeit briefly, will give us the true perspective of what it’s like to challenge our selves and to be grateful for all the people who will come to our life. Very nice photos yes I’ve been to all these places and then some, and had the opportunity to live in some of them. Hope to meet you on the path someday!!!

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One way taxi from Agra July 25, 2018 - 3:57 pm

What a fabolus post and article you write up! You shared awesome list and i loved your blog. Beautiful photograph you shared with us. Thank you so much for sharing a ultimate experience. I would love to see all the places.

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Ara July 25, 2018 - 6:12 am

Thanks for your experience ! I was in 35 country ( I’m repited many too) bud each one have something to learn . The world are beautiful ❤️

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Joe July 25, 2018 - 4:14 am

Very nice article. I try to do all this things when traveling, also I do get lost (very often, not intentionally ), but helps to know the places better and interact with people (locals) . Don’t get a taxi or uber try metro or bus it is fun.

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Alfredo M. Blanco July 24, 2018 - 5:56 am

Agree with your points. I also traveled to
many countries. I will ad one important
one: do not try to change de countries
you visit. The fun is that each of them
developed their own culture. Learn
to enjoy theirs!

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Savi July 17, 2018 - 9:50 pm

I really enjoyed your article, it was also so well written. It definitely a good read that would get people off the couch to travel or try the new ethnic restaurant. My husband and I have travelled to over 110 countries and yes the people we met on the way, whether locals or other travellers that make a huge difference to our visit to these countries. This last winter we travelled for nine weeks in Mexico, it was such a great surprise having read all the daily news of crime etc. This fall we are going to Senegal and Morocco via Porto . Senegal will be new to us so very excited about this. I don’t blog but kept notebooks, printed photos , I keep the chip from my cameras as well and lots of printed materials of city maps etc in our album which are now disappearing.
Happy and safe travels

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Adventure Girl July 16, 2018 - 9:50 am

I’ve been to many countries as well… but I find just “traveling” in a country is not enough for me. To know a country, as I want to do (its people, its places, its culture), there is a difference in living there and intermingling with the “Natives” and traveling through and seeing the sights. I’ve lived in 4 countries. It has been truly amazing almost to the point of finding my own country boring—almost! Thank you!

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Kevin. Aka noodengr July 13, 2018 - 5:07 am

Thanks for the great read. Not quite as experienced traveler here country count is 4 less. Your points are well written. I would add this thought about interacting with locals. World round if you treat people nice they treat you nice no matter your nationality. We listen too much to those who would have us think that everyone hates people that are different from themselves.

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Josh June 9, 2018 - 9:50 pm

Great post, the shot with Süleymaniye in the background is what caught my eye actually!

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Christopher Mitchell June 30, 2018 - 1:59 pm

Happy to hear it, thanks a lot for the kind words!

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Suzanne Smith April 9, 2018 - 12:00 am

I love that all the countries I have visired (about 60) the inhabitants all love their country and proud to show it off. That is precious!!

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Linda April 8, 2018 - 3:15 am

I’ve learned through my travels to appreciate and cherish other cultures and that as cultures may differ there is so much more that unites us as human beings…

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Karen April 8, 2018 - 3:00 am

Loved the article….I, also, have a huge passion for travel…and I agree, it is so important to travel with an open mind, open heart and open soul…one can learn so much….

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Mike’sRoadTrip February 7, 2018 - 7:41 am

Great article. I particularly enjoyed the opening paragraph…nicely crafted set of words. Well done.

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Christopher Mitchell February 16, 2018 - 12:04 pm

Much obliged, my friend. Writing means the world to me, largely because of the ability I have to connect with others.

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Patricia Cathers January 20, 2018 - 5:44 pm

I remember my very first trip abroad, by myself, waking up the next morning in Rome was an incredible experience… Scary and exciting at the same time

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Anonymous January 20, 2018 - 2:39 pm

I sooo agree with your perspective. Africa awakened me!

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Jennifer Kitty January 19, 2018 - 5:57 pm

Currently camped out in Houston airport on an 8 hour layover and I stumbled over this lovely article. In the morning I head to Belize, which will be my 76th country! Thank you for being a kindred spirit and adventure on!

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Lynne Nieman January 15, 2018 - 9:28 am

Fabulous post and so well-said. While I haven’t been to that many countries — about 10 — all of these lessons hold true. And as a travel planner (aka travel agent), blogger and photographer #3, 4 and 5 are my favs! I’ll be sharing this on my FB this week!! Thanks Chris.

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Christopher Mitchell January 16, 2018 - 2:13 am

I’m so happy it resonated with you, Lynne. Thanks a million for the kind words. If you tag my FB page in the post, I’ll be sure to comment and like it as well. Thanks again!

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May Macalino January 13, 2018 - 10:12 am

Yeah, travelling will make you love your country more! And it doesn’t have to be expensive…

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rick be January 12, 2018 - 4:27 pm

I remember awakening on a Greek beach,some little island & watching the sun rise between 2 hills-what thrills. The fig tree & grapes sustained us until we got to the ferry.

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