At the end of January 2017, I decided to take on an impressive and ambitious travel journey. In three months, I planned to do 16 cities and seven countries. I had backpacked for the greater part of 2016, so this seemed like an easy feat to accomplish. What I hadn’t anticipated were the curve balls that life would throw me, or how I had changed as a person in the past year, but travel changes you.

My travel plans were:

  • Des Moines, Iowa
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Washington D.C.
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  • Jaipur, India
  • Pushkar, India
  • Ranthambore, India
  • Agra, India
  • Delhi, India
  • Bangkok, Thailand

I had no return ticket and no plans after setting foot in Thailand. I began my journey excited and enthusiastic. But this time my journeys turned out a little differently than I expected- here are just a few of the things I learned in three short months:

Cherish the Friendships You Make

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

I am fortunate to have friends from all over the world and from all walks of life. People that I’ve meet on the road, from random encounters, or literally just bumped into at a bus stop. One thing I really treasure, is when you make an instant connection with someone. While I was in Barcelona, doing a Global Gals Meetup at Cloud Coworking, I met a woman named Lisa.

Lisa is an entrepreneur and a digital nomad (DN), like myself, and after just a few short minutes of dialogue I knew that we would be true friends. It was refreshing to meet a fellow DN that was going through the same struggles as I was.

We talked about how it’s hard to work and travel and maintain your focus. Lisa and I connected over the fact that we both met so many people, but these quick friendships are hard to maintain. After only hanging out a few times, Lisa and I made a pact. We decided that we would be each other’s accountability partners – whether it was travel or work related.

Every Sunday, Lisa and I send each other our goals for the week. We Skype each other when we’re feeling homesick on the road, experiencing culture shock, or just need a friend to talk to. You never know who you’re going to connect with while you’re traveling and it’s important to find ways to keep in contact when you do.

Park Guell

Embrace the Random Adventures

One of my favorite cities to visit was Dubai. I was flabbergasted by the beautiful skyscrapers, the number of expats from all over the world, and how everything was “in your face fancy.” Each building is trying to outdo the competition in size and architecture and every hotel and restaurant is trying to be the most glamorous on the block.

While I was in Dubai I met a girl from Mexico -Arantxa at our Global Gals Meet Up in Dubai. We talked about the number of tourist attractions in the city (you can even go skiing inside a mall) and both decided we needed to go on a desert safari.

We booked a trip that evening with a tour company called Happy Adventures and were picked up the next day by a private driver. Neither of us realized what kind of trip we were about to embark on, but it was an adventure. We started off dune bashing in the Arabian Desert. Dune bashing is when you drive
along the sand dunes at impressive speeds -I like to compare it to riding a rollercoaster in a car. Our driver was a professional and had us squealing with surprise at every turn!

After dune bashing, we rode camels, horses, and ATVs before watching the sun set in the distance. Most would think this would be the end of experience, but no, there was more. We had traditional Arabian food with belly dancers and fire eaters to entertain us as we ate.

Before I went to Dubai, I had no idea what a desert safari was, but I value the spur of the moment adventure that I had with my new friend Arantxa.

Fall Head Over Heels into the Culture

After Dubai, I went to India to cross a few items off my bucket list. The Taj Mahal has been on my list for quite some time and so has celebrating Holi Festival. Holi Festival, or the Festival of Color, is a Hindu celebration of spring and good conquering evil. You celebrate by rubbing colored powder on people’s cheeks, while saying, “Happy Holi.”

The celebrations start the night before between 6:30
and 6:40pm exactly, when a giant bonfire is lit on the streets. People will collect twigs, branches, and make cow dung rings to make the fire burn bright. The next morning, I went downstairs for breakfast and was met with color being thrown! After only five minutes, I was completely covered.

I am really grateful that I went on a cultural tour of India, because I was able to see and experience much more than just the tourist sites. I even donated clothes and food to children in the slums of Jaipur. I was able to completely immerse myself in the culture, while staying safe and protected a fact that helped my parents sleep soundly at night!

Listen to Your Body

I hadn’t made it to Madrid, before I was starting to feel the effects of over exertion from traveling at a breakneck pace. I had a pinched nerve in my back from sleeping on couches and carrying my backpack from place to place. I felt exhausted, but I was still determined. In my mind, I had planned this journey and I was going to stick it out to the end.

In hindsight, I wish I had listened to my body. It was trying to tell me to slow down and enjoy what I was experiencing, but my mind overpowered those warnings and I continued onwards. I still met life changing people, had an amazing experience, crossed things off my bucket list, and conquered new countries, but I wonder if I had slowed down would my adventure have been richer?

It’s a lesson I learned for next time. I’m not the same backpacker that I used to be. I’m now a woman that wants to grow her business and create a life for myself. It’s not just about ticking off another country on the list. Now I know for next time the importance of creating a balance between travel and life.

Remember the Roots that Give You Wings

While I was in India, I heard the news that mytravel changes you grandmother was about to pass away. I was struck with not only the down-swing of culture shock, but immense grief that I was in a land very far from my home and not with my family. One of Brenda’s favorite quotes is, “Two of the greatest gifts are roots and wings.”

I strongly identify with this because I am able to travel and spread my wings thanks to my family that is supporting me back home -my roots. When I heard about my grandmother, I knew it was time to go home. In this time of grief, I needed my family and they needed me. Thailand will still be there when I’m ready to go in the future.

Now that I’m back at home in Iowa, I think of my recent travels to such distant lands. I cherish the people that I met on the road and the conquered adventures. I don’t necessarily regret moving too quickly, because I know more about my personal limits, how far I should push them, and I recognize the things I want to do differently next time. But I also realize how travel changes you for the better.


Written by: Global Gal on the Go, Colleen Kinsey