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10 Lessons From 10 Years on the Road

Luke Armstrong | May 28, 2024

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Yeah, it's a bit of a stretch to say that I have lived on the road for 10 years. I've certainly had my various degrees of settlement along the way. But in living/traveling across 40 countries over the past 10 years, patterns become painfully obvious when you've made the same mistake for the 100th time.

Here are 10 travel tips garnered from my meandering experience.

1. Socks Make a Big Warm, Dry Difference

Remember that scene in "Forrest Gump" when that one guy says to Forrest to keep his feet dry? Well, the same goes on the road. Wet feet are place where sickness/the devil plays. Wet feet are bad juju. Wet feet is a sure sign things are going awry.

Cold wet feet are the worst. Cold wet feet are enough to cause an otherwise pristine experience to be remembered as a disaster. Men, do not propose to your women until you are sure her feet are secure and dry.

Travelers, if you can manage to keep your feet and passport dry in all circumstances, you should do just fine out there. Oh the places you will go with your warm dry feet kiddo!

2. Monument Food is for Nubes

Monument food is food from the food stall or restaurant that has popped up along a famous monument. There are certainly exceptions. But as a general rule, the monument you went to see will be more memorable than the meal you got there because you were starving and out of trail mix.

No one raves about the fried duck sold in the food court next to the main temple of Angkor Wat. The cemetery food courts near the Egyptian pyramids are as palatable as a Peruvian mystery meal served buffet style for $34 ($34?!) in a restaurant near Machu Picchu. I think you get the drift ... just don't buy food near a huge tourist attraction — you'll regret it.  

3.  Not all Airlines are Created Equal

Some airlines will break laws to break your guitars. Others seem cheaper on Skyscanner, but they charge $100 for you to check in a bag and $10 and four bushels of wheat to print out your boarding pass.

Say you don't have four bushels of wheat with you? That'll be $500! 

"What?!," you exclaim, "That doesn't make sense!"

You raise your voice (something you do when the world feels like a carefully orchestrated plot to destroy your happiness). Uh oh sir. You raised your voice ... Well this is awkward ... Now we have to take you away in handcuffs. "Please!" you beg, because if you're not on that flight your whole life will be ruined. But it's too late. You already raised your voice.

4. Decoy Phone for Muggers Might Work

For all the precautions I have taken and preached to combat muggers, I actually have no first-hand experience getting mugged (yes I'm knocking on a lot of wood as I type this!).

However, there have been many times when I've been in places with reports of crime and had a decoy phone or wallet on me — just in case.

5. Don't Feel Guilty About What You Aren't Doing — Enjoy What You Are Doing

Growing up, we went on family vacations that were charged with the desire to do and see. My dad relaxed into a routine of rushing us from one museum to the next, from lake shore to lake shore, from this mountain to that famously tall tree. Even he — wild man of intrepid discovery that he is — has settled into a slower pace on trips (he now lets the family sleep as he embarks on a 5 a.m. sunrise kayak run).

Living on the road, there is always something to see or do. That can be a problem when you simply want to just be. We are, after all, human beings, not human doings.

One of the best decisions I made was when I skipped out on Machu Picchu. I was having fun just kicking it in Lima with the family I had met on a bus from Chile. Back in those days kids, we said things like, "just kicking it." And we meant it.

6. You Need More Money and Less Stuff

Human beings — or at least me — have a tendency to over pack and under budget.

So you read online that you can live for $10 a day in Vietnam? All we can say for sure is that one guy, one time, managed to do this (or at least he told the whole world he did this). Especially when you live on the road, surviving off the bare minimum leads you to question why you aren't living a more conventional life off the road.

On the other hand: As nice as it is to carry the comforts of a western home to Cuba or Cambodia — having those comforts comes at a cost when you have to carry those things around.

Have a base (a storage unit, a friend's basement, your own house, your parents' attic) and mail things you no longer need there. If you have more than two pairs of shoes, you're either a tap dancer, or you are carrying too much. There are a lot of articles out there about packing light and packing smart. Take the free wisdom floating around, smash it together with your own experience, and become your own packing hero, saving future you from burdens and blisters.

7. Duct Tape

What can I say about that magical silver tape that I haven't already stated emphatically in every article that leaves me room to mention the live-bettering, trip saving, MacGyver-be-proud qualities of duct tape? 

Don't worry about what you will need it for. You simply will. Go get yourself a little roll and put it in your bag. I always carry a little flattened roll that fits seamlessly in my often-over-packed bag.

8. Insure Your Health and Trip

Scary things happen  in this place called life. It'd be crazy not to worry about what could happen when traveling to the unknown. Thankfully, we don't have to worry about what we will do if something undesired occurs.

Peace of mind doesn't require a big chunk of cash — the monthly coverage for my travel insurance plan is the price of a Manhattan meal.

9. Nothing is Impossible

So you missed your bus? You missed your plane or train? Someone says that it's impossible to get to such and such a place at this time? Don 't believe the voices of the doomed! There's always a way! Part of the fun in life is finding that way when it seems impossible.

10. Ferris Bueller Wisdom Plays in Travel/Life Situations

My mentality on how one should live the good life was incubated in teenage years informed by a sociological mess of parental advice, teachers, motivational speakers, Empire Records, Blink 182, and Ferris Bueller. 

"Life moves pretty fast," Ferris Bueller said, "if you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."

This is maybe the most important advice I can give on travel/life. It's a lesson we never stop learning. How can I be more here right now? How can I appreciate fully this present moment? How can I get out of compulsive thoughts of the mind and into my surroundings?

Even the loveliest sunset is lost to an unquiet mind. Falling in love with the world is the same as falling in love with a person. Sometimes we are fully there, sometimes we need to pause and remember to give the world our full attention. Like any process, it needs commitment for it to unfold. Whether I travel less or more in the next ten years, this is a lesson I hope to keep returning to.

About the Author

luke armstrong

Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of "The Nomad's Nomad." He has spent the last decade traveling, writing and designing, and funding philanthropic programs around the world.

Visit Luke's website travelwritesing.com

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