8 Things I’ve Learned While Travelling That I Didn’t Learn in School

Blog, Life Lessons

School is important. We learn how to read and write, we learn how do math and develop social skills that carry us through life. We make friends, study biology, and try to figure out what we want to do with our lives afterwards. 

School is obviously important, but what about travel? “Not as important as going to school every day, writing those essays on Shakespeare and getting 100% on those standardized tests!” Bullshit. Travel is just as important as school, and I wholeheartedly believe that every single person should step out of their comfort zone and travel. And no, not to that all-inclusive in Mexico.

You will learn something. It may surprise you, it may not, but below are eight things that I’ve learned in my short couple of years travelling that I hadn’t learned in school previously.

1. I’ve learned that I don’t need to do what everyone else is doing.

The idea of conformity and to live the white-picket fence life is drilled into us from pre-school.

From school uniforms (which I absolutely detest, but thankfully were never used in my schools), to making sure we had “the tools we need” to go to college and university directly after high-school.

I’m just going to take a moment to explain that we weren’t taught how scholarships worked, nor how to apply for them, we had an online course that rushed us through the university and college picking process without much detail in what we should be looking for in these schools we’re applying for.

And, just for the sake of ranting, at 17/18 years of age these kids graduating high school are apparently not responsible enough to legally drink a beer, but they’re expected to know what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives. Come on.

In my city, as well in many others in Canada, there isn’t much talk of a real GAP year, other thank to make enough money to pay for our (ridiculously expensive) universities. When I came to Australia, I learned that here it’s almost pushed up the kids to take a year off and travel the world, to see more than their own country and try to gain an understanding in the world we live in.

Luckily, my parents were not pushy when it came to me going to college or getting a real job, so I could look around at my other options in life. Travel? Photography? A blog? Sure!

2. I’ve learned how to trust myself

Am I going the right way? Is this the right price? Should I haggle more? Should I stay or should I go? Does this situation feel a little strange to me? 

I’ve asked myself these questions dozens of times whilst travelling, because when you’re travelling solo you only have yourself to ask. I’ve learned how to rely on my gut instinct, and even though I’ve made a couple of mistakes I’ve learned even more because of it. I pick a direction to go in, and I now trust myself enough not to over-think it (too much).

In school we have teachers, parents, prefessors, guidance counsellors to ask questions to, and are generally encouraged to ask if you don’t understand, but we’re rarely taught how to figure out a situation on our own, based solely off of our own knowledge and skill. This is a section of our educational system that sorely lacks, and should definitely be improved upon in the future.

3. I’ve learned a second language

Sometimes I wish I had been born in Belgium, Germany, Brasil or Austria. 

Canada had two national languages but, like most of the population, I speak only one. In a world of hundreds and hundreds of languages, most Canadians can speak only one: English.

In Belgium I had learned Dutch, both in a classroom setting and with host parents. Not quite to fluency but I could hold up a decent conversation, understand what everyone was talking about and watch TV without much difficulty. This happened in the space of a year, being completely immersed in the culture. Back home in Canada, people were impressed. In Belgium, not so much. Belgians learn English, French and German in school from the age of eight, and some take other languages in University afterwards.

In a world where communication is the key to life, I’m constantly surprised that the education system hasn’t taken a greater stand in making students become fluent in at least a second language, like, say, French? It opens so many doors, both and understanding a new culture wise and job wise.

4. I’ve learned how to read a map

Yes, we have GPS. Yes, we have SAT NAVs. Yes, we have iPhones. But how’s that going to help you in the middle of the woods or on a dirt road, with no cell reception, data, and God-forbid no plug ins to charge all of your devices. That’s where go-old-reliable paper maps come in. 

As I’ve come to learn, people have no idea how to read them!

This is something I was taught when I was young by my parents, on the endless road trips across Canada and back. We were taught to read signs, measure distances, read a map, and learn when to stop to ask for directions.

I recently took a road trip across Tasmania with a really good German friend, and though I knew this was her first road trip, I didn’t know she had no idea how to read a map. I mean, this is common knowledge every child is taught right? Nope. We got lost a couple times, and Australia is world renown for their lack of cell signal, so I quickly taught her and she quickly learned. At some points I think she stared at the map more than road ahead, but she was navigator and quickly learned how to perform the role well.

5. I’ve learned about money

I can split this several different ways, but lets keep it to an easy three. 

1. I learned how to properly budget, simply so that I could travel for a longer period of time before coming home. I learned how much I need to survive each day, and looked for the cheapest ways of sleeping, eating and doing activities. I learned how to haggle, how to shop around, but I also learned how to spot good deal and even learned when to splurge on myself. No, not on that expensive dinner. Yes, on that week learning how to surf (even if I’m eating noodles for the next month.)

2. I learned how to save money whilst working before taking off on an expensive trip. I had to go to the bank to learn about TFSA’s, credit cards and their uses, and good savings accounts. I figured out how much money I would need for my trip, and figured out what to cut out to save for it. Priorities.

3. I learned the value of money, and how it changes across the world. Something in Canada could be $10, and in Ghana it’s maybe the equivalent of $2. Same as a bar of chocolate in Canada could be $0.80, while in Australia it’s more than $2. I learned that money comes and goes, sometimes rather quickly, but it makes life rather exciting (especially when on the road) and I’ve learned how to stop, take a breath, relax, and know that it’s only money. I can just go make more.

Just a quick tidbit, I’ve added up all of the travel costs I’ve done, and I learned I’ve used up enough money travelling the world to put a down payment on a small house. But even if I think about it, I don’t think I would change a thing. That money would probably have been spent on food, concerts, clothes and electronics anyways.

6. I’ve learned more about history than I ever have in history class.

Sorry Laychuk, as much as I loved your class, by the time exam time came around almost every bit of knowledge I learned in that class slipped right through my fingers. Until I went travelling that is, and saw everything with my own eyes.

I re-learned about the slave trade in Ghana and the heartache and devastation it induced while visiting a slave fortress. I learned about the murder genocide of aboriginals in Australia and the Lost Generation, something that’s not really even touched upon in history class. I saw the trenches in Belgium, went to Flanders Fields, and Yper. The Spanish Inquisition. The issues between Northern and Southern Ireland. Palace of Versailles and the French revolution.

It’s a lot easier to learn about something when you’re physically seeing it with your own eyes and speaking with people who had gone through it or had family stories passed down to them, rather than when you’re reading about it in your school textbooks, that’s for sure.

7. I’ve learned about culture (i.e. Food, Architecture and Art)

I have been to SO MANY museums over the past couple of years. Picasso, Gaudi, Van Gogh, various art galleries in Canada, Australia, Belgium, Spain and France. I can now point out neo-gothic and modern architecture, and see the differences between the dozens of cathedrals I’ve been in and point them out. These are things that I’ve picked up over time, after reading tons of pamphlets and spending far to many hours wandering through museums.

We never learned about any of this beautiful artwork in school, and it’s actually quite a shame.

And in all honesty the same can be said for food. Home Ec is generally a required class (or at least seems the easiest) and yes we learn kitchen safety, and maybe learn how to make a handful of recipes, but we learn nothing about spices, about other countries dishes, extending and expanding our palates to the world of cuisine!

8. I’ve learned respect and understanding

Respect is a word thrown around in most schools. It’s painted on the wall, written in all of the first day hand outs, preached upon during an assembly. So is rascism, homophobia, and sexism.

Even though respect is nailed into our brains from day one, people are still ignorant to other peoples differences. Any kind of judgement made on a certain person based on certain features of their own individuality is not respect. Being tolerant and being respectful are not the same thing, although it sometimes seems as though people think it is – the best way to respect a human being is to understand them.

Respect and understanding  are two very different things – you can respect a culture but not understand it, the same can be said of culture and any personal choices a person makes for themselves. Stepping away from your country and own beliefs, and the more times spent with these people, the better understanding you get of why they are the way they are, why they chose a certain religion, why a culture as certain traditions. Your horizon broadens as you learn this, and you realize that there really is no right or wrong way in life, just ways.

So that’s just a basic list, and if I tried harder I could probably come up with another eight. And eight more after that. And eight more after that.

You get my drift.

But what about you? What’s something you’ve learned while travelling that you hadn’t learned in school? Or the other way around, what’s something in, say, university that you would never learn travelling? Let me know in the comments below!


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