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.


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!


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.


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?


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.


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.”


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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