12 Truths About Travel…and Life

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I’ve been on the road for over 12 years. 12 years!! In this article I’m sharing 12 truths about travel you may not have considered; one that I learned for every year on the road.

In this article, I share 12 truths about travel, one truth learned for each year of my full-time travel career thus far. 12 years of pictures included! #TravelLifestyle #FullTimeTravel #TravelPlanning #BudgetTravel #TravelTips
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This post was originally published in 2018. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

#1: Travel accelerates the natural progression of a relationship (2007).

I started traveling with a boyfriend in a fairly new relationship, and we became an old “married” (and then “divorced”) couple very quickly. (Learn more about how travel accelerates relationships here: Breaking Up While Traveling; for a broader perspective, learn about all my relationships on the road here: My Sordid Attempts at Finding Love on the Road)

2007 Nora Dunn
2007: Exploring Vancouver Island shortly after selling everything and leaving my home town of Toronto Canada

#2: You can save a boatload of money (and get a cool cultural experience) volunteering in trade for free accommodation (2008).

I was lucky to discover various volunteer gigs right off the bat. By my second year on the road (2008) I’d volunteered in trade for free accommodation in four places; a trend that I continued for many years. How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World 

2008 Nora Dunn
2008: Painting murals in trade for free accommodation in Hawaii

#3: The best way to meet locals is to attend special interest group meetings (2009).

As a Rotarian and Toastmaster, attending local meetings around the world plugged me into local communities and activities very quickly. These organizations were instrumental when I survived the Victorian Bushfires in Australia in 2009, giving me a chance to help out in the aftermath. If you don’t have a specific special interest (like rock climbing or hiking or public speaking), then attend a local Couchsurfing meeting.

2009 Nora Dunn
2009: Attending Rotary meetings around the world is a great cultural exchange

#4: Travel too fast, and it all becomes a blur (2010).

In 2010, I traveled so fast to so many places that the longest I stayed anywhere the whole year was 2.5 weeks. On average I changed beds every five days. It damn near killed me.

2010 Nora Dunn The Professional Hobo
2010: Trekking in Scotland, during my fastest year of travel (don’t look at the bags under my eyes)

#5: The cost of full-time travel is way cheaper than it is to live in one place (2011).

By 2011 I was tracking my travel expenses and I was shocked to discover that it was actually cheaper than living in Toronto ever was. (Check out my annual expense and income reports here).

2011 The Professional Hobo Nora Dunn
2011: Chilling out in Sweden

#6: Being sick on the road sucks…..bigtime. It’s even worse when you’re alone (2012).

I’d been sick on the road a few times, but getting dengue fever in the Caribbean on the very day I got dumped was the worst feeling – physically and emotionally. (Read all about it here: Thankful in Grenada)

Nora Dunn The Professional Hobo sailing the caribbean
2012: Sailing in the Caribbean

#7: Travel’s mis-adventures make for the best stories (2013).

2013 was one of the worst years of my life. It started in January with a near-fatal accident, continued with a tumultuous and dramatic relationship, peaked with having my passport and a large amount of cash stolen by a con-man, and capped off with a nasty breakup on New Year’s Eve.

(If you have a strong stomach, here’s a summary of all the crazy stuff that has happened to me on the road – which includes natural disasters, diseases, accidents, and breakups, and much of which will eventually become part of my memoir: Brace Yourself: Travel Isn’t All Roses and Lollipops)

2013: My reverse mohawk a few months after splitting my head open during a near-fatal accident in Grenada

#8: The weight of your luggage is equally proportionate to your level of misery on the road (2014).

Although I’d strategically sloughed off a lot of stuff by this point in my travels, by early 2014, I’d inadvertently traveled for months with carry-on luggage only, and I loved it. I switched everything I owned to carry-on size only. Years later, I switched back to checked luggage; while I had good reason for it, it’s still a pain to lug around: Checked vs Carry On Luggage (and Why Checked is Best)

2014 The Professional Hobo Nora Dunn
2014: Embracing ultralight travel

#9: Travel is as much a state of mind as a way of being (2015).

By 2015 I had declared Peru my “home”, and had taken on a new direction in life, apprenticing with a shaman, and working with plant medicine. I hadn’t lost my travel bug per se; rather, I was exploring my inner world in addition to my outer one. Learning to be an Ayahuasca and San Pedro Shaman

The Professional Hobo in 2015 Peru Pisac Ruins
2015: Creating some roots in the magical Sacred Valley of Peru

#10: Life happens while you’re busy making (travel) plans (2016).

By 2016 I made a lifelong commitment to the shaman I was working with, Peru was my home base (I still traveled a few times per year), and I was getting my permanent residency. But it didn’t work out, and in April, everything was pulled out from under me in one horrendous moment.

Just like my life-changing accident in 2013, dengue fever in 2012, and natural disasters in the years prior….you can’t plan for this stuff. You just have to roll with it.

The Professional Hobo in Cuenca Ecuador 2016
2016: House-sitting in Cuenca Ecuador

#11: “Home” doesn’t have to be “home” forever (2017).

Moving on from Peru involved a very long and difficult healing process, and a certain resistance to being a continued full-time traveler. I realized I was now traveling in search of “home”.

But the other thing I realized is that home doesn’t have to be forever. In the last 10 years I’ve had a few home bases along the way (staying up to two years in each of Australia, Grenada, and Peru), which have been valuable and immersive travel experiences unto themselves. When they ceased to be home, I moved on. And that’s okay too.

The Professional Hobo Nora Dunn in India 2017
2017: Contemplating what “home” means while so very far away from any sense of it in India

#12: Stay healthy! It’s important (2018).

In the latter months of 2017 and early 2018, I struggled bigtime with my health (emotional and physical). Too many years of drinking the water in countries where the water isn’t drinkable, in addition to having suffered from serious burnout made my entire body rebel.

My experiences with panchakarma in India and a 7-day fasting cleanse in Thailand were dramatic endeavours in my attempt to get my health back on track; a process that (I eventually discovered) ultimately required me to just sit somewhere and recharge my batteries. Whether or not you travel, it’s so important to take care of yourself, inside and out. See also: How to Stay Healthy While Traveling: Natural Preventions and Cures

Nora Dunn in Hoi An Vietnam 2018 The Professional Hobo
2018: Recuperating in Hoi An, Vietnam

If I’ve learned anything in this life, it’s that nothing is forever….the sooner we embrace the impermanence of life and everything in it, the more we can appreciate every moment and experience.

THIS….This is the most important truth that 12 years of full-time travel has taught me.

enjoying life in yellow flowers, while learning  various truths about travel

Truths About Travel, From Professional Hobo Readers

I polled my readers on Facebook about the fundamental truths about travel that they learned, and they responded with some juicy stuff! Here it is:

Martha: The people/places you are visiting are not always happy that you are there. But travel gives you the ability to understand, learn, and empathize, and perhaps build their understanding of your world.

Tony: You’re braver and more confident than you think you are. Take that chance you never did at home. Zip line. White water raft. Paraglide. Ask her. Your courage and self esteem will shock you.

Sally-Ann: Your family worries far more about you traveling than you ever worry about it yourself!

Josie: Traveling brings all the world into your own sphere. Having a direct relationship with real people in real situations across the globe brings an understanding which makes ignorance and fear disappear.

Heidi: You become more grateful for your small place in the world when you visit places that are struggling with basic necessities.

What’s one of your greatest truths about travel that you’ve learned on the road?

Here are 12 lessons learned from 12 years of travel - basic truths about travel that I learned, 1 for each year on the road! #fulltimetravel #TheProfessionalHobo #travel #traveltips #longtermtravel #expatlife #travellessons #lifelessons
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23 thoughts on “12 Truths About Travel…and Life”

  1. #4 is huge Nora. Last 3 months we visited New Zealand. During a 10 day stretch on the South Island we did 4 road trips. I had fun but it was also too much, a full blur. After that stretch we returned to much slower travel and savored our experience. Sometimes I fall prey to being a greedy traveler; trying to do too much just to say I did it. Beyond those blur days, I am pretty mindful and simply go slowly, savoring my journey versus guzzling it. Fab post!

    • Thanks, Ryan!
      And good for you for savouring your travels (at least, for the most part). Although I’m generally mindful of going slowly now, every once in a while the pace picks up (out of neglect or necessity!). In those cases, I try to build in some “recovery time” afterwards.
      Enjoy NZ!

  2. 7-11 baby! That’s where it’s at. Actually 1 4 7 & 11, however I just couldn’t resist yelling out “7-11 baby!” lol. Although everything you said is 100% true, I built a career around #7 — and come to think of it, the most infamous of my misadventure is actually documented here on your blog, as I’m sure you recall ?

    → #1 You learn fast. Very fast. Hemingway said it best: “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love”
    → #4 Is a sad but true fact. It is also a crucial part of — as much as I hate to say such a cliche phrase — the difference between tourists and travelers. The only way to truly appreciate a new destination AND to learn as much as possible from the experience is by taking your time. People who brag about visiting “XX countries this year” wasted half of that time in airports, airplanes, immigration queues, embassy visits and visa paperwork.
    ✘✘ One of the worst travel mistakes I made was lining up 5 back-to-back video projects spanning 6 countries over 7 weeks. Totally thought I was being sooooo smart by arranging it that way — every expense from flights to foods to fun covered by clients so all 5 paychecks went straight to the bank — however instead I found myself juggling too much to enjoy the experience.
    → #11 definitely compliments #4, however as you pointed out it takes several additional years of traveling before this realization actually hits home. (No pun intended.) You can still be a traveler even if you have a temporary “home” here or there — it’s not only a great way to learn more about local life but also to get caught up on your own work.

    • Thanks for sharing your own reflections on these important travel lessons, Derek! Indeed, you’ve had QUITE a mis-adventure….which also made for an epic tale!

  3. I love all the photos of you from the years. Oh man, your question has my mind going all over. I think largely I learned don’t take things at face value. Traveling has shown me, even tho I’d like to think well of myself that ‘I really do try’ to think from the perspectives of being in other people’s shoes, our upbringings, our culture, it so greatly influences our belief system. That said I have always seen much more that people are over all kind hearted. Yeah, I will be pondering this more into the night!

    • Hey Tiff,
      Not taking things at face value is a GREAT travel/life lesson!
      A related lesson I learned is that there’s no right or wrong way to do anything (moral issues like murder aside). Every culture has a different way of going about life, and what works for one person might not work for another. This lesson has enabled me to practice a much deeper form of compassion and empathy.

  4. That is a lot of valuable lessons Nora! Many of which you would never have learnt by safely staying at home all those years, hey. Love this post!!

  5. Travel the back roads, if it looks different/ interesting STOP. It might be better than you think. Smile. Try their coffee, tea, wine, food, especially if it takes you on a dirt road to a farm. Don’t make plans too set in stone. And as you said don’t plan too much, the time will fill itself and you will do what interests you the most.

  6. Succinctly, traveling is the best education one can get in life. It teaches you about the world we live in. I’ve learned an incredible amount in my years exploring this planet and I expect to continue in the years to come.

  7. Okay, here it comes…
    after 13 years on the road 😉

    The best is always simple.
    Listen to your voice within.
    If you want to live a happy life, be ready for a change all the time.

    And there is nothing more beautiful on earth than the company of children.


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