53 Lessons Learned at the School of Life & Travel

Written by Conni Biesalski. Follow me on Twitter.

Screw uni or college or whatever it is you call it where you’re from. Go travel. Go explore. Go live.

The School of Travel and the University of Life should be your number one choice of education.There are no crazy tuition fees or killer application processes. They are open for everyone and you never have to graduate if you don’t want to (I’m sure I’ll never finish).


Why travel?

For fun? To meet people? Because you feel the urge to discover something new? To eat different foods? To have an adventure? To have stories to tell back home? To learn about a new culture? Because it’s cool these days? To expand your mind and horizon?

Whatever it is, travel teaches you something. Even if you visit a state or city for the first time in your own country. Travel enriches you with experiences you couldn’t have in your own backyard, where you are stuck in your daily routine.

A famous travel author, Pico Iyer, once said: “Travel is not really about leaving our homes, but leaving our habits.” By leaving your habits, you are exposed to the new, the unknown. New experiences abound on a daily basis. You learn.


Why do I travel?

One reason I travel is because I am addicted to the unknown and the new. I enjoy jumping into ice cold water. Sometimes it’s a bit scary, but most times it’s truly exciting. I enjoy not knowing what happens tomorrow, not knowing where I’ll be next week.

Travel has taught me a lot. It lets me test my limits, push my comfort levels and test assumptions. It gives me invaluable experiences in the process.


Lessons Learned at Vagabonding School:

Out of all my travels around the world, here are a few things I learned, especially going from India to Australia and back to Germany (2009-2011) – please note: this list is by far not exhaustive.

  1. You don’t need a lot of money and you don’t have to be rich to travel the world. It will make you a richer being though. (How cool is that!)
  2. Screw your Lonely Planet or Rough Guide or Footprint or Loose. It’s a good read to foster your anticipation before you hit the road, but leave it at home. Talk to travellers and locals. It’ll make your trip that tiny bit more exciting.
  3. Don’t go to Thailand. Do go to India once in your life.
  4. Travel accelerates learning.
  5. When you work in a job abroad, and even if it is in paradise – you eventually hit routine. And just like at home, you have good days and bad days in your job. Work is work, no matter where you are. (Unless you are Daniel Baylis)
  6. The more we own, the more enslaved we become. It’s not things that make you happy, but loving relationships and memorable moments.
  7. You don’t need expensive travel gear or the best hiking boots, and you definitely don’t need zip-off pants and a rain jacket period. What you might consider: a light sleeping bag, an inflatable neck-pillow and a travel towel. Three things I swear on. And earplugs.
  8. Talk to the locals as much as you can and make friends with locals wherever you are no matter how long you’re there for.
  9. Flat/house-hunting is not fun anywhere – neither in Indonesia, nor in Thailand nor in Australia or Germany. It never is.
  10. I don’t need 6 years of university to do anything. University of Life and the World is where it’s at.
  11. All I need is diving.
  12. Travel with an open mind and an open heart. Always, every day, every second. (You miss out if you don’t!)
  13. Haggle, but know when to stop. You’re not a local and you will NEVER get local prices. And that’s just fair.
  14. I can go a week wearing the same clothes and underpants, without a shower and doing my business outside behind rocks. It’s all doable.
  15. I can survive 28hour-busrides through the Himalayan mountains. (Barely, but hey.)
  16. Live your life outside as much as possible. (I’m into 24/7)
  17. You seriously, really don’t need lots of crap. (I lived out of a backpack for 2 years and i didn’t miss a thing. I wouldn’t even know what to buy anymore except food, clothes and possibly medication.)
  18. Spend your time with people or a good book, not in front of a computer on Facebook or the telly.
  19. I love laundry days. Laundry day is happy day.
  20. Going through natural disasters is a lot worse in reality than what you see on TV or read in the news.
  21. Tropical diseases are to be avoided. But even when you get them, not to worry. Hospitals are great in most countries. And it’s highly likely you’ll survive. I did.
  22. Don’t go crazy on immunizations. The bare necessities and of course Hep A+B will do. Don’t let your doctor tell you otherwise. He only sees $$$.
  23. Screw Malaria tablets. Take a thermometer with you and a standby ration. Use mosquito repellent.
  24. Screw mosquito nets. Use the fan in your room on full speed pointed at you.
  25. If you can, stay in a place for a minimum of 5 days. Travel slowly. See less, but see it properly.
  26. I’m not a good tourist. I sometimes couldn’t care less about a Taj Mahal or the highest mountain in Southeast Asia… I pass by, wave and don’t regret.
  27. Take less photos. Don’t travel through the less.
  28. Don’t plan ahead too much. Plan tomorrow, and maybe the next day. Then stop. (I don’t like making plans further than tomorrow. Today matters, tomorrow maybe. But anything after that… who cares? And what difference does it make to my life?)
  29. Meet people via couchsurfing.org
  30. Absolute maximum weight of your backpack: 15kg
  31. Get used to squat toilets. After a while you will prefer them to western-style toilets in public places. Much more hygienic.
  32. Germans have a great difficulty with small talk. We are such a suspicious and critical bunch, aren’t we…
  33. In many poorer countries, kids seem to have an awesome life… growing up outside, among each other. But then there are the ones that have to work from a very young age and help support the family, and all our kids know is how to play playstation and demand more presents for Christmas…
  34. I can wear the same shirt or shorts over and over again in a tropical country, but not here back home in Europe.. maybe it’s cause I have my own washing machine and people look so tidy and unsweaty.
  35. Public sweating seems to be a sin in many western countries.
  36. I looove the tropical climate. I love the sweat. I love not having to think about what to wear every morning. Not having to bring a safety jumper/jacket when you go out.
  37. Rainy season is travel season, people. Less people, cheaper prices, perfect. Rainy season doesn’t mean it buckets down 24/7. I never had a rain coat or an umbrella, and never missed it, although I went through several rainy seasons..
  38. Western traffic and modes of transport are pretty boring. Try riding a scooter from Kuta to Ubud, Bali. Or sitting in a tuk-tuk in Delhi, India.
  39. Indian beer is probably the worst beer ever. It doesn’t make a difference if they are called Godfather. They’ve got good Rum though. And dope.
  40. Being able to open the tap, and drink water from it – what a luxury.
  41. Not having to carry around toilet paper 24/7 is also a luxury.
  42. Western food usually sucks abroad and is super expensive, so just stick to the amazing local food!
  43. How awesome is it so live in an area where kangaroos just jump around in big gangs and you can say hi to them on your way home from the bars..
  44. There are lots of stingers (jellyfish), but only a few really bad ones… Getting stung by the nicer ones is nothing to worry about. Do watch out for the crazy jellies, such as the boxjelly and the Irukandji.
  45. I can speak to hundreds of people over a microphone, do a snorkel demonstration and dive briefings – on seasickness tablets.
  46. I can teach hundreds Chinese people who don’t swim and have never been in the water how to scuba dive and not die.
  47. Screw any other festival – who is as crazy as Thai people on Songkran water festival?
  48. India is vegetarian heaven. (I’m not the only one who has never eaten animals before…)
  49. Sunscreen is bloody expensive in the countries where you most need it.
  50. When something tastes funky, there is usually a reason for it.
  51. Whatever you do, wherever you go – stay flexible.
  52. Travel is about the journey as much as it is about the destination.
  53. The purpose of life is to enjoy it.
  54. The School of Travel rocks.


Need some visual travel inspiration?

Check out this great blogpost by one of my favorite bloggers Corbet Barr.


Want to dream about travelling to beautiful places for a minute?

Here is one of my favorite videos about one of my favorite places that I have lived in (working as a dive instructor): (Bali &) The Gili islands, Indonesia (will be back in May!)


Why do YOU travel? What have YOU learned? Please share your experiences in the comments. I’m super curious!!


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18 Responses to 53 Lessons Learned at the School of Life & Travel

  1. Tom Ewer says:

    Awesome post Conni! I have barely traveled holidayed yes – traveled no) so I can’t comment on the vast majority of your lessons but I am definitely a big advocate of #16, regardless of whether or not you’re traveling!

    A life lived indoors quickly becomes miserable. It’s amazing what a bit of fresh air (and exercise) can do for your mental state. :)

    • Conni says:

      Cheers, Tom!
      I guess with number 16, people forget about it when they sit in front of a computer all day in their office and the only fresh air they get is on their way to work. As a dive instructor, my life takes place outside and underwater all day long – so it was really hard to adjust to the lifestyle back here in Germany and especially to my PR job in an office. It’s not healthy, man. We forget what our bodies feel like from sitting on our butts all day (that bit of gym really doesn’t cut it).
      Anyway, I could go on and on about that. Maybe save it for a blogpost haha

  2. Srinivas says:

    That video with the surfer made me really want to get out to Bail. Definitely added to my list. Given that I’m an eternal student of the Skool of Life, I think you hit some great points here. One of the things that’s been on my mind lately is travel centric cultures and why America is not one. In your travels have you ever noticed how extended periods of travel are an integral part of life experience. Aussies have their gap year, Israeli’s travel right after the military and we go straight to college and straight to work right after. I might have to right a post about why getting a job right out of college might be planting the seed for a disastrous career. HEHE.

    • Conni says:

      YES, SRINI! You got it, that’s definitely material for a great blogpost rant!

      You Americans have a very career-oriented education, which I think is partly to blame. But generally, it must be a culture thing. When I went to uni in Ohio for a year – about 40 minutes from the Canadian border- I met waaay too many people, who had never been to Canada. I couldn’t believe it. Can you?

      At least you are making a difference (and a few other countrymen of yours! It’s not all lost!). Costa Rica, right? Whereabouts?

      Bali is highly recommended. Or actually, Lombok more so. Great surfing. Beautiful people. Slow life. Come on over next year, and I’ll take you diving ;)

      • Srinivas says:

        I was in Costa Rica, but Im back in SoCal now. I actually have lived in Canada myself. AS much time as I spend in the water, its’ funny that the idea of diving and being under freaks me out. But that might have to change soon. Bali is definitely on my list.

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    Why suggest not going to Thailand? I must know. You mention how great the Thai new year celebration but say, “don’t go there.” Please tell why you would recommend avoiding this place.

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  7. Alexandra says:

    Hallo Conni,
    hab gerade deinen Blog entdeckt. 2012 sind mein Mann und ich im Sommer von einer einjährigen Radreise zurück gekommen. Auch nach so relativ kurzer Zeit kann ich einiges auf der Liste oben unterschreiben, besonders die Dinge über Hygiene. Mein längstes ohne Dusche und in denselben Klamotten war 6 Tage. Dabei sind wir aber auch noch durch die Anden geradelt auf meist über 4000 m Höhe, also was soll ich sagen…man schwitzt. Auch ich gehe oft lieber hinter den nächsten Busch als die örtlichen Toiletten. Nach unserer Ankunft in Amsterdam haben wir auch in Andacht unser erstes Wasser aus dem Hahn gezapft und uns bemüht das Klopapier IN die Toilette und nicht den Eimer zu tun.
    Im Moment bin ich wieder Lehrerin, warte darauf, dass mein Sohn finanziell unabhängig wird und auf ein weiteres halbjähliches Sabbatical in zwei Jahren (Südamerika ist so groß und schön…)
    Was mich noch interessieren würde, ob du ältere Nomaden getroffen hast. Ich selbst bin 48 Jahre und mache mir schon Gedanken wovon ich leben will, wenn ich körperlich nicht mehr so kann.

    Viele Liebe Grüße aus Bremen, danke für den inspirierenden Blog,


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