Things I learned from 12 years of traveling

Things I learned from 12 years of traveling


12 years of traveling has taught me many things. Here’s a personal blog post with a summary of some important things I learned from my last years on the road.


12 years ago, I embarked on an epic hitchhiking trip to Alaska with a friend of mine. It was just going to be a summer adventure between high school and university. A quick trip before I’d get back to my studies to get a good degree and eventually land a high paying job.


Well, things didn’t turn out that way. Traveling proved to be so fun (and addictive) that I haven’t stopped traveling since!


In all these years, I’ve done and experienced so much!


I hopped a train in Canada, sailed in the Sea of Cortes, was part of a street performing circus in Mexico and hitchhiked from Ireland to Kyrgyzstan with my girlfriend.


I earned money as a street magician, worked as a board assistant in an orphanage in Guatemala, managed a restaurant in Morocco, ran tours in Central Asia, and taught English online to Chinese students.


how to earn money
Earning some extra cash with street performing in Mexico…


Over the course of my last twelve years on the road, I’ve also learned more than 8 different languages and built an online business with my girlfriend that now gives us a decent income and financial freedom.


I didn’t have the habit of documenting my travels until 4 years ago and never really wrote a travel diary but if I had, you could be sure the life lessons in this article would have been in there.


Here are things I learned from 12 years of non-stop travel.


 You don’t need to be rich to travel


When I first started traveling, I was, by all means, a penniless bohemian. I would juggle and perform magic tricks in the streets of Mexico to provide for my next meal and I was happy sleeping under a canopy of stars.


Traveling wasn’t harder back then but it was completely different. With a lack of solid founds, I relied mostly on hitchhiking to move around the countries I would visit. I had to stop being an introvert and approach people to ask them if it was okay to pitch my tent on their lawn.


traveling without money

I would camp a lot more when I first started to travel…


That’s when I realized that there are kind, generous people all over the world. Sometimes people will go out of their way to help you if they realize you’re a foreigner visiting their country.


A great example of that is an adventure Cynthia and I had in Azerbaijan. A family in the small town of Sheki invited us for a meal when they saw us sitting on a bench in town.


They then brought us to visit the old ruins of a tower in the mountains and showed us around a small village where they had grown up. After that, they asked us to stay at their house for the night. And all of that while they had never met us before!


Watch this video to see how it all happened:

If you’re willing to camp, hitchhike, and eat like the locals, traveling becomes extremely affordable!


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Read: The Ultimate Guide on how to find free accommodation around the world



Get on people’s level – Learn the languages of the places you visit


While traveling, you’ll be picking up on the language of the country you visit. Even without putting effort into it, simply seeing street signs and restaurant menus teaches you a part of the local language.


That being said, it’s always good to push just a bit more and try to learn words that you could practice with the locals.


Being able to say hi, how are you, thanks or goodbye will make people smile and they’ll appreciate you putting the effort in learning their language.


I love learning languages so much that I started writing a few guides to help you do the same, Tips and tricks to learn Moroccan Arabic is one of them.


Studying map - talking with Moroccan people - hitchhiking in Morocco - Journal of Nomads

Speaking the local language will definitely help you get around in any country…


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Read: How to learn a language while traveling



You’ll also discover that you can speak without words


Learning a language is a good way to get closer to people but very often you’ll realize that you don’t necessarily need words to do that.


A simple smile or a gesture of gratitude goes a long way. People will see that you’re appreciative, even if you don’t have the words to say it.


Sometimes you don’t need words…


Staying fit on the road


When I was hitchhiking across Central America, I became really out of shape. Everybody who gave me a ride also invited me for a meal.


It was hard to refuse and I gained so much weight during that period that I had a hard time looking at myself in the mirror. 


Without regular access to a gym, you’d think it would be easy to fall out of shape. However, there are so many different exercises that you can do while on the road.


Start your day with 50 push-ups or go for a run twice a week and you’ll be heading in the right direction.


staying fit on the road

Doing push-ups after a long hike in Kyrgyzstan is the best way to stay fit…


The importance of having a passion project


I spent the first years of my trip around the world without really having a direction. I was wandering aimlessly from country to country and… it felt awesome!


It was one adventure after the other and my days were filled with exciting randomness all the time.


I slept on beaches in Mexico, camped in the jungle in Guatemala, and partied under the full moon in Morocco.


I was content living life day by day and not planning anything. 


Why I fell in love with Morocco - Essaouira 2013 - Journal of Nomads

For many years I was completely satisfied with not planning anything and taking life day by day…


At one point, however, this lifestyle started to feel empty. It wasn’t satisfying anymore.


I felt the need for growth. I felt the need for a path where I could channel my energy and create something greater than me.


I had traveled far and wide but it never gave me a sense of purpose.


I realized how important it is for long-term travelers to have a side project where they focus their creative energies. Without this avenue, traveling quickly loses its charm.


Learning Derija Moroccan Arabic - working on laptop in Morocco - Digital Nomad - Journal of Nomads

Blogging and documenting my journey through videos was the best way to channel all my creative energy…


Whether it’s writing a book, documenting your journey or picking up an instrument along the way, it’s important to keep challenging yourself to grow.


For me growing our blog and online brand helped me find a sense of purpose. It gave me a brand new perspective on life and gave meaning and direction to my travels.


Trust strangers – trust life – trust those who have been there and ignore the propaganda


Traveling is a journey of trust. It’s important to trust that the people you meet on your trip are genuinely good.


J.K. Rowlings once quoted ”If you live so cautiously then you might as well not have lived at all”.


When we hitchhike, Cynthia and I are constantly reminded of this simple fact; the world is full of good people who actually want to help. The world is mostly a safe place.


Niko with one of our drivers - - Hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads

Here I am next to one of our drivers in Kyrgyzstan. We mee the friendliest people in countries that are considered by foreigners as dangerous…


The dangers I came across in the last 12 years of traveling were never because of people wanting to harm me.


The only life-threatening situations I had were because of reckless drivers (think about how reckless people drive in Georgia for example).


It’s funny how people back home always have the ideas that certain places are dangerous although they’ve never even set foot in that part of the world.


One of my friends kept reminding me to be careful in Kyrgyzstan and repeating that it was a dangerous country and that I would be kidnapped.


Locals are proud of their culture and traditions and love to share them with foreigners…


After a whole year living there, I can tell you that it’s quite the opposite. People in Central Asia are super welcoming and treat foreigners like family members.


Kyrgyzstan and the rest of the Central Asian countries are actually much safer than some parts of Europe.


Don’t buy into the doubts and fear of people trying to convince you that the countries you want to visit are dangerous if they have never been there themselves.


Get your info from people who have actually spent time in those destinations.


Hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan, meeting fun Kyrgyz people, Journal of Nomads

While your friends and family might have fears and doubts concerning the places you’ll visit, most of those fears very often come from propaganda. Look at these lovely chaps, how could they be dangerous…


Get out of your comfort zone every day


Traveling will put you out of your comfort zone. Way out.


You’ll be sleeping in different beds every night and waking up at different times every morning. Sometimes you might not even sleep at all or get woken up by the call to prayer at 5 AM.


koutoubia mosque at night - marrakech - morocco

You might be woken up very early in the mornings…


You’ll have to get used to toilets without a seat, without toilet paper and probably even without soap. Sometimes it will be a miracle if you just find a toilet at all.


And forget about finding your favorite food or talking to people on the streets in your own language.


Traveling will put you into situations that you never imagined surviving before. It will bring you to the very edge of your comfort zone.


Not only will you survive, but you will also adapt. That’s the beauty of traveling.


You’ll come on the other side of your trip stronger than ever and ready to take on the biggest challenges!


challenges of traveling

Traveling will bring many challenges but it will also make you stronger…


Want to be a businessman? Learn to negotiate prices in Morocco


There is no doubt that good negotiation skills are very important in life.


Although a lot of business schools around the world might try to teach you the intricacies of persuasion, the best place to learn is in the trenches.


In all my years of traveling, I have never seen merchants that love to haggle as much as the Moroccan salesmen in the open-air markets of Marrakech.


For them, haggling is a sport. They absolutely love it! Some of them even get upset if you don’t try to lower their prices.


If you want to sharpen your haggling skills, you definitely have to spend some time in the little streets of this Moroccan city!


men in the market old city Marrakesh Morocco - journal of nomads

Moroccans love to negotiate and haggle prices. If you want to learn how to negotiate, that’s definitely a place you should visit…


Time is relative in every country you visit


People around the world all have a different concept of time.


If someone sets an appointment at one o’clock with you in Mexico it actually means that you’ll meet up at a certain point in the afternoon but no one knows exactly when.


Whenever Moroccans make plans, they often conclude their agreement with “Inshallah”, which literally means “if God wants” but actually translates as “maybe or let’s see”.

In my experience, it translates as “I’ll be late and it’s okay”.


This attitude can sometimes be frustrating for tourists who are on a tight schedule or when you want to get things done. At the same time, it’s a lesson in learning to let go of the things you can’t control.


Portraits of Morocco - Berber man - Journal of Nomads

In some countries, We’ll see each other at 3 o’clock means that the meeting will happen at one point in the afternoon but no one knows when…


Not every day of your trip will be fun


There will be days where everything will seem to go wrong. You’ll miss the train or lose your wallet, you’ll have noisy roommates and won’t get any sleep or you’ll have to stay inside for a week because you got diarrhea.


Whatever the situation may be, just remember that after the storm comes the sunshine. Things don’t always go to plan but no matter what’s happening, good days are right around the corner.


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Read: What you need to know before you quit your job and travel the world



things I learned from traveling

Even though some days might be hard, good times are right around the corner…


You’ll learn to enjoy transient relationships


Traveling makes you meet people at a crazy fast pace! In one day you can meet people, hear their whole life story, cry together and then say goodbye.


You learn to accept and appreciate the fact that you might have super deep connections with people that you’ll never see again in your whole life.



It’s important to try new things


If you’re visiting a new country, try to live like the locals for a little while. Eat the national dishes they love or buy your meal in the streets from a food stall.


If you’re in Spain and everyone is napping in the afternoon, go for it! Enjoy your ”Siesta”!


If you’re in Greece and you see people playing Backgammon or chess in cafes, join them!


The best way to capture the spirit of the place you’re visiting is by acting the way locals do. Try it for a while, it will give you a whole new perspective on life!


Why we're still in Georgia - Journal of Nomads

If locals drink wine from mountain goats horns, why not do the same…


But it’s also important to have good habits


It’s good to try all kinds of new exciting things when you’re wandering around the world but if you’re a long term traveler, it’s also good to have a solid routine.


A good example is to incorporate a small fitness regimen into your trip.


If you do a hundred push-ups every morning you’ll stay fit and you’ll also have much more energy throughout your day.


The same goes for anything you’d want to learn or study while traveling. If you study just half an hour daily the language of the country you’re in, you’ll learn it in no time.


You could apply this formula to just about anything, from building an online business to becoming an accomplished writer. A little bit every day goes a long way!


7 Reasons why you should learn a foreign language today

When I’m on the road, I always take a small part of my days to study languages…


It’s also important to take care of your body


This is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned on my journey around the world.


You’ll see that, when you travel a lot, you start to feel invincible. You feel like nothing can hurt you. But so many things can go wrong while traveling.


I used to travel with the worst pair of shoes and did some heavy hiking. Needless to say, I damaged my feet and my back quite a lot.


guide to toubkal - guide in the atlas morocco - journal of nomads

Hiking for years with a bad pair of shoes is a bad idea. It’s worth investing in good equipment so your body doesn’t take the toll…


If you’re going to carry a heavy backpack, get one that won’t hurt your back and get a pair of shoes that won’t break your feet.


If you’re a long-term traveler and you don’t plan on going home for a few years, make sure you still visit a dentist regularly and get good travel health insurance.


Invest in your health, take care of your body, and you’ll be able to travel non-stop.


Appreciate getting lost and build a bulletproof sense of direction


When I arrive in a new city, I love wandering around it until I get lost.


After years of doing this, getting lost became increasingly harder. Trying to get lost and then finding your way back is a fantastic method to improve your sense of direction.


If at the end of the day, you really can’t find your way back, you can always hop in a taxi. There are so many things to see and experience that are not in the guide books.


Go off plan and get lost!


market of Marrakesh Morocco - journal of nomads

Get lost in the small streets of Marrakech and you’ll develop a bullet-proof sense of directions…


We’re all human beings and we all want the same things


Traveling makes you realize that when wars happen, they affect everyone. They affect the friendly waiter you meet at the café, the uncle and his nephew on their way to school, the kids playing with kites in the field and the families you see in the square.


On the surface it may seem like the cultures that you visit are quite different. But as you travel you start realizing that deep down, we all want the same things.


We all want to be safe and feel loved. Wherever you go, everyone has passions, dreams, and goals.


The people that you will meet on your trip will bring you the greatest life lessons.


Go meet them, develop a love for their culture, their languages, their songs, and their lifestyle. You’ll realize that we’re all one and we all want the same things.


Making friends in Morocco while speaking the local language of Morocco - Journal of Nomads

The more you travel, the more you realize that we all want the same things; love, security, reaching our goals, and living our passions…


Learn to live with less


One of the great lessons that come from years of traveling is the realization that you really don’t need many possessions in life to be happy.


The philosophy Cynthia and I adopted is; does it fit in our backpacks? No? Then we don’t need it.


I have a few pairs of pants, a couple of T-shirts and a sweater, an e-reader to read good books and a laptop to write this travel blog.


I don’t have a need for a big house or a big fancy car. Traveling on a small budget made me appreciate the beauty and simplicity of having all my belongings fit in a bag.


I also don’t need to worry about where I’m going to stash all of my gear while I travel.


How much money should a good travel backpack cost - Journal of Nomads

Traveling will teach you the art of living with less. It will teach you the value of minimalism…


Do you want to stay healthy while traveling? Learn to cook


It’s really fun to try different street food while traveling but taking regular time to cook for yourself will keep you healthier in the long run.


I love to cook with the different spices and ingredients that I encounter in every country I visit. People who cook more often, rather than get take-out, have an overall healthier diet.


If you take the habit of cooking regularly with different ingredients while traveling, not only will you be healthier, you’ll also gain invaluable skills and become an accomplished chef.


Cooking is not only healthier, but it’s also a lot more affordable in the long run.




Go on a digital detox from time to time


I love to stay in hostels while traveling. Years ago, the ambiance in hostels was much more lively. People would share travel stories, organize pub crawls together and fall in love.


Nowadays, hostels are very quiet. Almost all the travelers you meet are riveted to their phone screens or their laptops. I’m guilty of doing this myself as I write a lot and document my journey.


It’s good to take time away from our digital devices every now and then.


I really love spending my summers leading tours in Kyrgyzstan as it gives me a whole month far away from my laptop. I think everyone should go on a digital detox once in a while.


It’s important to spend large chunks of time away from your cell phone or your laptop and reconnect with nature…


Becoming location independent was a game-changer


I’ve had tons of different jobs since I started traveling. I’ve been teaching English in a primary school in Mexico, I was a landscaper in Ireland and a restaurant manager in Morocco.


I would save some money, travel for a while, and stop to work whenever I was broke.


A big game-changer for me was discovering online English Teaching. Teaching English online meant I wasn’t tied down to a physical location anymore.


I could teach for the same company from Tbilisi or Batumi in Georgia or from Tangier in Morocco.


Finding a job that can make you location independent has huge benefits. You can work from anywhere in the world and if you want to regularly move from country to country, it’s not a problem.


The Ultimate Guide to Online Teaching



Recording and documenting your process is super important!


Finding a job online that made me location independent was a very important lesson and it changed my way of traveling and my life.


But what really took things to a whole new level was figuring out how to create a passive residual income online.


Being able to monetize this blog and creating a passive income took the game to a whole new level!


I wouldn’t be able to do this if I hadn’t first taken the habit of documenting my travels and the life lessons traveling has brought me.


Another key point to remember is that the only reason Cynthia and I are able to live from our travel blog is that we write tons of very informative articles that provide a lot of value to our readers.


We live in an era where no matter what your passion is, you can find a way to live from it!


This is one of the things I learned while traveling and while being exposed to tons of different mindsets and ideas about work, money, and income.


Traveling has made me cross paths with tons of people with different ideas about work, money, and income. By being exposed to these ideas, I realized I could earn an income from my passion: traveling…


Traveling will change your life


Traveling changed my life in more ways than I could possibly have imagined before I first left my home years ago.


It put me face to face with myself, with my fears and insecurities and with the unknown. Traveling has shaped and polished me the same way that streams and rivers polish rough stones.


Traveling is a school and probably the best one.


There is so much to learn from being outside of your comfort zone in a faraway country. You’ll explore the world but you’ll also explore yourself and have plenty of opportunities to try new things and evolve.


Start traveling now. You’ll never regret it.



Things I learned from 12 years of traveling




9 thoughts on “Things I learned from 12 years of traveling”

  1. Hi,
    I love to read this blog. This is the way to live but you need to be brave to really do it against staying at home to care for your property and bank accounts or looking after your stamp collection which you once thought would make you rich. If you happen to visit the Scandinavian countries you are welcome to visit us. But Hurry because we are an old couple and we have always been traveling and still do. Give me your mail address so I can send you a mail next time. Have a nice spring with lots of interesting meetings getting new friends. Love from your friend Gunilla

    1. Hi Gunilla. You’re absolutely right. It can often be a big decision to leave everything behind for a life of travel but we can learn so much from discovering new cultures. We will definitely visit the Scandinavian countries one day. They all look so gorgeous. The quickest and easiest way to reach us is to send us an email at journalofnomads(at)gmail(dot)com

      We’ll answer you as soon as we can!

  2. Very good article, Niko! You have an admirable way of looking at the world and the people in it! Keep going! I’m glad you were able to meet up with Leo Skala again and help him along with his journey to blogging more. My best to you and Cynthia! Leo’s dad, Tom Kunkel

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words Tom! I love traveling and broadening my horizons. It was great to meet up with Leo again after all these years. Soon we’ll be spending time all three of us together on the coast of Morocco 🙂

  3. Wholeheartedly agree with this post. Please continue to inspire us with your travels and really hope to meet you and Cynthia in the future!

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