I recently received an e-mail I think deserves some attention. It’s a really good question that deserves a long answer. The person asked me:
“Have you noticed a particular set of skills that come in handy abroad? What should I learn to best prepare myself for living, working, and traveling overseas?”
It’s a great question because travel, especially solo travel, requires a lot of skills. So when I was asked this question, a few traits came to mind, but one more than any other: adaptability. It is the most important trait I think a traveler needs to have. You can suck at reading a map, have dietary restrictions that keep you eating only lettuce, and have the ability of a dog to learn a language. But if you cannot adapt to new situations, you won’t make it.
People are scared to travel sometimes. They might dream of spending their days roaming the world, exploring ancient ruins, and lounging on the beach – but they don’t actually do it.
The world isn’t full of nomads – it is full of worker bees. Why? A lot of the reason why people don’t travel is that they don’t make it a priority. They keep the dream in their heads. But another major reason is that they don’t feel they have the traits to do so. They feel they won’t make it. They fear they’ll get lonely, mugged, bored – the list goes on. But one thing they always feel is that they won’t be able to adjust to their new surroundings.
Without the ability to deal with the unexpected, you’ll fail. But you can learn this trait. You can do it. You don’t need to have this ability before you go. You can learn it on the road. In fact, the longer you are gone, the more you learn to deal with unexpected situations. If there is one constant in travel, it is that eventually, something goes wrong. You break down in Australia, get lost in a jungle, lose your camera, miss a flight, get sick, or stuck somewhere where no one speaks English- something will happen to you. It’s Matt’s Law- the longer you are on the road, the more likely it is that something goes wrong. Falling into the ocean with my camera wasn’t on my list of travel goals. Neither was breaking down in Australia. Likewise about my travel companions taking me a different way than I had expected.
But I got over it. Because I learned to adapt. But it took me a while to become totally comfortable with that.
When I first set off on the road, I was rigid. I stayed in my box. But the more I traveled, the longer I went, the more unexpected things that happened, the more comfortable I got. I found beauty in the happy accidents of travel.
You need to know thyself, though. In my tips for new travelers post, I gave a list of things I’d tell a new traveler. If I had to add another tip, it would be to start at your comfort level. Know yourself. Maybe jumping in head-first isn’t the best idea. Maybe you don’t want to see just how adaptable you are. Well, that shouldn’t stop you from traveling. There are a lot of alternatives that will allow you to dip slowly into the pool of travel. Maybe a tour group is good for you, or maybe you should travel with friends. But whatever it is, you need to get out on the road first! Adaptability is a skill you can learn, and traveling is a great way to learn it.
Many things will happen to you while you travel – some good, some bad, some in between. No matter what, though, if you aren’t open to the experience, you will always be longing for home. You’ll have a miserable time and won’t be able to enjoy the cultures you are in. So if there is one thing I think you need when you travel, it’s the ability to adapt.
The road is constantly changing. You just need to learn to adapt to it!