10 Important things that travel has taught me

1.) Time Management: I´ve learned how to guess what time is by looking at the sun; I figured out flights don´t wait for you if you´re late, and they´re expensive to re-book; and seeing Rome in 3 days is impossible, so save sleep for some other time

2.) Math Skills: different numeric systems and currency values have made me good at calculating exchange rates off the top of my head, as well as translating Celsius to Fahrenheit, kilos to pounds, cm´s to inches, km´s to miles, and using a 24 hour clock instead of this am/pm business.

3.) Lower your hygiene standards – shower less, drink dirty water, eat street food, and poop in poopy holes in the ground. Your immunity just gets stronger, and you´ll realize you’re less susceptible to contagious diseases or an upset stomach.

4.) When your pee smells bad, you’re dehydrated. Drink more dirty water.

5.) Have incredible patience and tolerance for things that, in any other situation, would be crazy and cause for incredible alarm.

6.) Pack less stuff. The more luggage you have, the more your material world starts to weigh down on you, figuratively and literally. You start to realize you have too much, need much less, and that your back freaking hurts.

7.) Leave your guide book at home; you´ll just end up going, eating and staying at the exact same places as every other backpacker does. And, by the time its published, its outdated anyway.

8.) If you´re really brave, leave your map at home too. You´ll realize how strong and reliable your sense of direction has become. Besides, its more fun getting lost in strange places than in a place where you´re supposed to know where you are or where you´re going.

9.) Don´t get stuck behind your camera lens. Its much more impressive to stare at the Pyramids of Giza with your own two eyes than through a viewfinder or 2 inch LCD screen.

10.) You´ll always run out of time and money before you´re ready to go back home, so embrace homesickness as a good sign that you´ve managed to stay traveling long enough not to run out of either, and keep on going til you do!

LOLA: look, observe, learn, act.

September 11th came and went without any major catastrophes, although I didn’t even realize what day it was until I started writing this blog. I’ve often wondered why it’s worth spending any energy worrying about tomorrow when you’ve got today, and if you’ve got today and it’s going just fine, stay in the present and keep on keepin’ on. Of course this philosophy is good in theory, but it’s hard not to worry about the future and I often find myself stressing out about tomorrow, next week, next month, next year…

I like to think Im good and avoiding long-term planning, since Im certainly terrible at commitment and thrive for spontaneity. When I was doing a Semester at Sea, an undergrad exchange program that sails around the world, the motto was LOLA: look, observe, learn, act. The students, almost all Americans, were persuaded to try and travel with new eyes, focusing on the there and now, absorbing as much detail and life out of the present situation as possible. It was an interesting experiment, forcing our planning-oriented selves to exercise reckless abandonment, not worrying about our next move until we understood the present.

When traveling, I often get lost in time and place. I wake up after a long bus ride and try to remember where I am. Once I get a grip on that, I don’t bother to remember where I’ve come from or where Im going next, and I almost never think about what day of the week it is. Trying to remember what month it is is usually harder than remembering what year it is, but I often start dating blog entries with 200_ and realize its already 2011. People have asked my age, and I stutter “ugh, 23,” until a few moments later I disrupt the new topic of conversation with “no, I’m 24!”

What is time anyway? I think its just a way for people to synchronize with other people, for places to synchronize with the rest of the world, and keep a framework to which we can make plans for the future. Yet somehow, plans change but time keeps ticking, and it seems to speed up the older you get, the longer you live.

I was supposed to be moving to Montpellier, France in a couple weeks, but matters of the heart changed and now, one lonely French-American is living my dream life without me. I wanted to paint, play music, eat baguettes and cheese and chocolate, drink wine and ride a bicycle in a flowy dress, while never getting fat and only speaking french… but that will have to wait til later.

Have you ever looked at your own eyelashes? In that moment of being half awake, or when avoiding the bright rays of sun? I daydream a lot, sometimes consciously, and other times, in that surreal moment between being asleep and waking up when you’re not sure if your dreaming or living. Then it’s a bit awkward trying to separate your dreams from reality, especially the ones you’re never really sure if you dreamt them or lived them.

Im sitting in the sun now, sweating, squinching my eyes from the sunshine, checking out my eyelashes. Its almost 20 degrees in Reykjavik and I can see myself getting browner. I heard the wing flap of a raven flying high overhead, since its so completely still and silent here that the sound of me typing sounds like noise pollution.

Now I know what day it is, where I am and what I’m doing tomorrow, but I can’t wait to be alone on the road again, with my 35L backpack, lost in time and wondering where I am everytime I wake up in a new, unfamiliar place.