Reflections from 8 countries in 21 days

I have always believed that travel enriches you gently. When you step out to see the world – meet people, get acquainted with different cultures, taste new cuisines or simply breathe in an unfamiliar city – you learn a lot!

It happens naturally – you don’t have to try too hard. It’s all about losing yourself into the arms of a new environment. You have to first shrug off the ‘safe’ and ‘tried and tested’ syndrome and delve into the unexplored with a free spirit.

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– After safely landing in Lisbon Portela Airport, Portugal 

I will attempt to share my reflections, through insights and experiences, from visiting 8 countries (2 continents) in 21 days – in order.

Here we go!

You learn to communicate, or understand the value of communication (Portugal)

There is nothing like struggling with another language to get you looking at people as they are. I spent 15 minutes making a purchase that would have ordinarily taken less than 3 minutes – only if we spoke the same language.
Speaking only English is incredibly limiting in some countries but you have to find a way to understand one another, otherwise, you risk sleeping hungry.

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– Monique helping me communicate with the Portuguese street vendor 

Learning the basics of the country/countries you plan on visiting can go a long way to making your trip much more pleasurable. Learn to say Hello, Thank you, Excuse me, How much etc.

Communication with locals can open up new opportunities or experiences, or simply help you figure out where the heck you are. Pointing and miming can really only get you so far, after all.

To leave your comfort zone (Spain) 

People don’t enjoy traveling because it means leaving behind what’s comfortable for them, whether it’s their group of friends, weather-conditions, their favorite foods, pets, the list goes on. Most of us had difficulties eating the food (especially breakfast) in Spain. However, while some chose to see it as an opportunity to explore and discover, others would grumble  about it. 

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– Wearing a Real Madrid Jersey at Barcelona’s Camp Nou (Forgive the haters) 

For me, it’s exhilarating to forget what’s familiar for a bit and expand your horizons. Once you do, there is no better feeling than taking on unfamiliar territory and making it familiar. All it takes is pulling the trigger, and you’ll come home with endless stories.

You find the value in getting lost (France)

Really! Get lost in a city then wander around. The great thing is there are taxis all over the place and you can always dive into one when you get tired. A friend and I got left by the hired tour bus on one occasion in Paris but we had to see the Eiffel tower plus other attractions in the city.

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– Figuring out my routes in Paris (I took a metro headed to the opposite direction once) 

It ended up being the day I learnt the most because we got a map of Paris from the hotel reception and found our way to the nearest bus station, connected through the metro (subway) and eventually got around the city quite efficiently throughout the day.

There is so much to see and experience that is not in the guide books. Go off plan and get lost!

Everyone everywhere basically wants the same thing (Andorra)

Vastly different as the world’s cultures are, if you speak to French millionaires, homeless Spaniards, Dutch fishermen and Kenyan computer programmers, in their own languages, you start to see that we are all incredibly alike where it matters.

It felt like the end of the world for me when we arrived in Andorra, a tiny, independent principality situated between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains. However, as we drove up the hilly slopes of the country, I could not help but notice how the kids, youth and adults lifestyle and hustle resembled everyone elses both in kenya and in all other places that I had visited.

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– A view of Andorra from the mountain we climbed. 

Everyone just wants validation, love, security, enjoyment and hopes for a better future. The way they verbalise this and work towards it is where things branch off, but we all have the same basic desires. You can relate to everyone in the world if you look past the superficial things that separate you.

You get challenged and/or inspired (Monaco)

Travel has opened my eyes to both small, ordinary things of life- things that are undervalued, but have great significance and big, luxurious things too – things that are overvalued.

The story of the rich status of the residents of Monaco and how their servants/workers live approximately 20 minutes away (in a different country) – mostly in France challenged my thinking.

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– A view of Monaco – Montecarlo from above (Standing near the Prince palace) 

Now I am more conscious towards waiters, drivers/chauffeurs, florists, vendors and any random person whom I come across. I have a deeper sense of respect for them, because they are the ones who make our lives smooth, even without realising it.

Made me more knowledgeable (Belgium) 

Ever since I have started travelling and mainly started writing about my experiences, I have also been able to improve my world-wide knowledge. I read a lot about all the destinations, different cultures, traditions, cuisines and other things throughout the trip.

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– At the pitstop in Hoogstraeten – Belgium, on our road trip to Amsterdam – Holland 

We only stopped over for lunch in Belgium but it prompted me to take advantage of ‘Google’ and learn a few things about the country.

  • There are over 800 kinds of beers made in Belgium.
  • Belgians consume in average 150 liters of beer per person per year.
  • Belgium produces 220,000 tonnes of chocolate per year.
  • The world’s biggest chocolate selling point is Brussels National Airport.
  • Tax levels in Belgium are among the highest in the world.
  • 97% of Belgian households receive cable TV – the highest percentage in the world.
  • Belgium is one of the few countries worldwide with compulsory voting (and enforced).

Now I find myself more equipped with knowledge, which has eventually made me a wiser person.

 

Broadened my perspective and creativity (Netherlands)

I have come out of my shell where all I knew was my family, my relationships, my businesses, my struggles and my life. Travel has opened new doors for me – I can see different aspects of life.

Amsterdam, the city of canals and bicycles surprised me! It has a continuous network of cycle paths, clearly signposted, well maintained and well lit, with road/cycle path junctions that often give priority to cyclists. This makes cycling itself convenient, pleasant, and safe.

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– Clearly, I was walking on the cycling path. Very wrong! (Notice the bikes and canals too?)
Now I find myself more creative as a person. By creativity, I don’t mean that I have learnt some kind of art. I simply mean that I have become more creative in my day-to-day living. Travel opens our mind so much that we begin to see something interesting in everything – it could be something as simple as how you commute to school/work or how you plan your meals.

You realise that we are all one people (UAE)

It’s easy to question and judge cultures that are different than yours. Traveling or living somewhere completely different gives you a new perspective that’s different from just hearing or reading about it. The act of being somewhere new allows you to fully immerse yourself and appreciate that new place, from the people, the language, the clothing, and everything in between.

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– In my comfortable Middle Eastern attire at the Dubai hotel lobby  

Taking the time to come out of your shell and interact with the local culture is the way to experience and appreciate it fully. Again, this can’t be taught, only experienced.

Bonus! To value ‘little’ things (Dubai)

It’s human nature to grumble about things. But when we travel, we are able to negate such things with ease. The heat in Dubai made me appreciate the fact that I can live year in year out without an air-conditioned house, car, bus, mall – you name it!

I have developed an attitude of gratitude. I am more excited and thankful about my life than I ever was.

Those are just a few of the many life lessons that I’ve learned on the road. I could go on and on but I won’t dare bore you with the rest.

As you may have noticed, travel has changed my life. It will change yours, too. If I could give you one piece of advice it would be to take the leap now, while you still can. Because, as you know, life is short and tomorrow is never promised.

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