20 Years of Travel: A Travel Lesson I Shall Never Forget

20 Years of Travel: A Travel Lesson I Shall Never Forget

By |2019-12-17T10:50:38-05:00December 16th, 2019|20 Years of Travel, Personal Stuff, Perspectives|32 Comments

Travel lesson 
 - Socotra Island

Twenty years.

On this coming Christmas Day, it will really be 20 years. It was December 25th, 1999 when I boarded a flight from the US to Bangkok and, without knowing it at the time, began my life of travel.

Two crazy decades ago. Two unbelievable decades.

I still have an extremely difficult time believing everything I’ve experienced in every corner of the world over those past 7,300 days. I have a difficult time simply coming to terms with how my life has played out so far. It’s turned into something that I could never have anticipated no matter how wild I might have allowed my imagination to be.

Over the next few months, I’m going to share several blog posts about these 20 years of travel. I’ll open up and talk about as many aspects as I can that have shaped my life and who I am. I’ll also dive deep into each powerful travel lesson learned, the range of destinations I’ve visited, the endless people I’ve encountered and the infinite moments that are responsible for keeping me on the road for so long.

Today, however, I’m going to keep it simple.


An Important Travel Lesson

With only a couple of weeks left in 2019, I thought about what I wanted to share at this time of the year.

What I came up with is a small, but vital, lesson I’ve learned during my travels near and far.

I kindly ask you to stop and listen.

That’s the lesson. To stop and listen.

You see, I get frustrated with the world, just like most people. I get angry when I reflect on the direction things seem to be headed in when it comes to politics, travel and more. I get mighty upset when I read about hatred and nastiness and a lack of basic decency towards our fellow human beings.

Even writing that sentence, the muscles in my upper arm, those very same muscles that I rely on to tell me exactly when something is bothering me, instantly tense up.

It really pisses me off.

But at the end of the day, I know that no matter how upset I am, I still need to stop and listen.


Travel lesson - Dades Valley shoemaker


The Struggle

When it comes to my blog, newsletter and social media, I’ve never been one to tackle ‘the issues’. Behind the scenes I most certainly do follow global politics and I most certainly care about many important issues that we face today. But my life has always been about travel and so, I’ve always focused on my actual travels and my travels only.

Besides, I honestly struggle at times to make sense of the gap between what I’ve learned during those travels and what I often read or hear in this vast, insane online media world that surrounds us every day.

Travel lesson #2: My travels have taught me that listening to others is the single most important thing we can do to solve issues.

Not to hate or scream or call people names or refuse to hear what others say.

The reason I’ve reached this conclusion is clear. We actually don’t have a full understanding of anything most of the time. So how can we claim to have the perfect answers?

The only way to have a more complete understanding of any topic or issue is to talk to other people who think differently than we do.

Stop and listen.

It breaks down barriers, fosters understanding, builds respect and teaches lessons, and ultimately, all of that is very necessary for figuring out the world’s problems.

Of course, I get it. It’s beyond difficult at times to do this. Some things we see and hear sound so horrible to us that we can’t imagine listening to another side. I’m personally appalled by many things I read about today and about particular people who simply refuse to treat others with respect.

And so, I can fall into the trap myself.

At times, I start doing the same thing I don’t like. I start classifying and labeling people, both those I read about and those I meet, all based on my own frustration at their attempts to classify others.

What a terrible cycle to be a part of. It results in me not wanting to meet people at all, sticking with only those who think like I do, becoming more close-minded and bringing other people down as well, all due to my own negative and narrow outlook.

Go figure.

I temporarily forget my own valuable lesson. Stop and listen.

Luckily, I realize my mistake when it does happen and I work on breaking out of that pattern as soon as possible.


Cherry Buttons co-op in Morocco


Nobody is Right and Nobody is Wrong

When I’m thinking clearly, my brain doesn’t have the capacity to comprehend the idea that there is only one way to do something…‘our way‘.

The idea that anyone who doesn’t think or act ‘our way’ is so wrong that we need to tear them apart, is a disturbing one to me.

Such a mindset ends up putting us inside of a bubble.

It’s a bubble filled only with like-minded folk who hold like-minded beliefs and who all follow like-minded media outlets. It’s safe and it helps us avoid facing other perspectives that we are not comfortable with. When that happens though, our willingness to genuinely listen to others and enter into constructive discussions disappears almost instantly.

As I mentioned above, we then tend to use our own like-minded bubble to convince us that ‘our way’ is even more right and ‘their way’ is even more wrong.

Travel lesson #3: If travel has taught me something else, it’s this… Nobody is right. And nobody is wrong.

What we think is obvious, others think is crazy. What others think is ‘right’, we may think of as evil.

Everyone is just a different human being with a different set of life circumstances. There are ALWAYS very real and unignorable reasons why we all think and behave the way we do.

We don’t have to agree. But we do have to acknowledge the above. Only then can we stop and listen, debate with true purpose and create an inclusive framework for improving and protecting our lives, our countries, our communities, our planet and so on.


The Benefits of Such a Travel Lesson

Twenty years of travel…

Over that time, I’ve spoken with Buddhist monks in Cambodia and Taliban fighters in Pakistan, shop owners in Quito and taxi drivers in Nairobi, cafe workers in Playa del Carmen and dancers on cruise ships, rabbis in Cyprus and wine makers in Romania, farmers in New Zealand and musicians in Varanasi, the homeless and wealthy, the educated and uneducated and every kind of person in between.

Yes, try sitting on a patch of grass at 11:00pm in the mountains of Pakistan, talking with a group of young, heavily armed Taliban fighters who start off by saying that they hate Americans and Jews.

What if I told you that by the end of our encounter, we were all laughing as if we had been friends for years? What if I told you that we actually made some kind of attempt to discuss their believes and mine, in a respectful way?

Believe me, that will teach you a few life lessons quite quickly. When I learned exactly where their beliefs come from and when I saw their faces as they tried to understand why I didn’t believe the same things, I’d say that night was worthwhile for everyone involved. It ended in mutual understanding and an absurd amount of hugs and handshakes.

We can fight wars and bomb the hell out of people but to me, stopping and listening is where it’s at. It’s where the solution can be found.


Lesson from 20 Years  of Travel - East Timor market


All the travel experiences I’ve had since 1999 have shaped my life and who I am. I am me because of the infinite perspectives that I’ve encountered, all the fascinating circumstances I’ve learned about, all of the different (and sometimes difficult) views that I’ve been forced to try and understand and all of the genuine human beings who have been willing to share their little corner of the world with me.

Had I been in some kind of small bubble over those past 20 years instead, I have no doubt that I would think quite differently about the world and about myself.

As far as I’m concerned, thank goodness I got on that plane back in 1999.

Travel lesson #4: Here’s the beauty of it all…those twenty years of travel have shown me that we all really need each other.

Trust me on that.

To make progress, everyone needs everyone else, even those we don’t agree with. It’s the only way to take a serious problem, find some common ground and turn it around.

So, with the end of the year and the end of the decade now upon us, let’s see if we can focus on popping the bubbles and melting the walls that divide us. The result will be greater understanding, greater unity and a greater desire to work together to actually get stuff done so that we can all (planet Earth included) live better lives.

That shall be the focus of my 2020. Stop and listen.



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  1. Reine July 31, 2020 at 7:41 am - Reply

    Wonderful post about an important part of travel and life itself. Congratulations on 20 years of never-ending learning and understanding.

  2. Jenny June 8, 2020 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    So very true. I’ve morphed my travel face (you know the stare straight ahead, no expression, no I don’t want to buy one) into a smile and a hand shake (where appropriate) and a very polite no thanks and it has given me so many amazing experiences. I think age and travel experience has taught me that everyone is mostly helpful and because something is annoying to me is no reason to treat anyone with disdain. They might be doing their best “you buy, you buy” but they are just trying to feed their kids. I’m actually looking at a tiny green rock that a lovely gentleman Paul gave me in Mali when he found out I was Australian. His brother who worked here for a time gave it to him from the mine he worked in and Paul thought it was fitting that I take it home again and remember everyone in Mali. It’s the stories and the time – you are 100% correct. Congrats on the 20 years.

  3. Tatiana March 7, 2020 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    hEY DON’T KNOW IF YOU REMEMBER ME i WROTE TO YOU FRUSTRATED WITH oAXACA AND i FOUND MY PLACE!!!! oops did not see the caps on. I am in Guatemala and I love it . Not in Mexico anymore. And could not go back to the most beautiful country naturally, gastronomically and architecturally in the world-Turkey so I am in my second favorite country for the nature and art combined- Guatemala- in a clean region surrounded by Nature. And no annoying conservative old gringos or potheads. . I refuse to travel again until the corona virus is contained. But I am loving living in this pristine place that I refuse to share so it does not become horrible and filthy like Lake Atitlan’s towns full of annoying gringos.Hope you stay safe in your travels, Derek.<3 Nice post. Yeah if only Bernie could win and Listening became actually an important value to Americans sadly that will not happen Grateful to be a European citizen and Native New Yorker.

  4. Paul January 28, 2020 at 11:02 pm - Reply

    Hi Earl

    I loved this post. Such beautiful lessons from what must have been an incredible 20 years. A true inspiration to us travellers just 1 year in to our own journey. We already agree with your mantra to ‘stop and listen’ though.

    Thanks again for the post and inspiration

  5. Joe Olson December 27, 2019 at 11:02 am - Reply

    Wow, you’ve been travelling only a few months less than I’ve been alive…
    On another note, thanks for your wise words! You still write the best travel blog and travel emails out there, so I hope you keep doing this for a while. I need to convert my younger siblings to the travel lifestyle when they graduate. 😉

    • Derek December 27, 2019 at 1:18 pm - Reply

      Hey Joe – Ha, there you go! Crazy when making those comparisons 🙂 And I’ll definitely keep on for as long as I can. I appreciate you reading and if I can in any way with converting your younger siblings, let me know!

  6. Larry December 26, 2019 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Awesome! Travel does change lives…if people stop and listen. Engage the local world! Actually meet and spend time with locals. Someone recently asked me how to keep in touch and stay connected with friends back home when traveling long-term. WHY!? They are not all that interested in anything outside their daily world. And connecting them out there somewhere disconnects you from this moment…here…now…with this experience.

    A quote I’ve used for years in my work that you may appreciate. From Larry King: “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”

    Thanks for the inspiration and for sharing! Very good message!

  7. John McKenzie December 19, 2019 at 8:36 am - Reply

    Congratulations on such a big milestone! And the lesson is ever so poignant. It’s very difficult to put into constant practice. I think travel helps more than anything to keep such a lesson at the forefront of your mind. When we become mired in tedious routines (which of course can happen while traveling too), it’s easy to get frustrated and forget to listen. I know in my heart that I strive to do this every day, although I may not succeed. I would love to be able to improve my own listening skills but to take it a step further and try to bring in the concept of listening and understanding into other conversations and situations when there are disagreements or differences of opinion. Anyway, great post! Looking forward to your next 20 years of travels and insights! 🙂

  8. Linda Freund December 18, 2019 at 6:11 am - Reply

    One is better connected by listening. Hello, are you still there! Wishing you Many Blessings into 2020.

  9. Simon December 18, 2019 at 5:57 am - Reply

    Beautifully expressed. Cheers to your 20 years of learning.

  10. Mack December 18, 2019 at 1:48 am - Reply

    Congrats btw Derek! What books, resources would you suggest on how to listen better?

  11. Mack December 18, 2019 at 1:41 am - Reply

    Many poor or disadvantaged Americans have found the opportunity to deploy to places and cultures as our own method of hitching a ride globally for free. Though, this actually comes at a cost: providing US stability/comfortability abroad, sometimes by taking away others’ freedoms… by nature of our jobs. This is often (and more increasingly today) touted as Americas great zero sum way to travel.

    In your experience, what do you think would be a good way to use the advantages of military/govt travel, but not at such a cost?

  12. Regina Vaughn December 17, 2019 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    Excellent message Derek.


  13. bob purtill December 17, 2019 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    20 years but never been to Moose Jaw, phh

    • Derek December 17, 2019 at 7:30 pm - Reply

      Ha, you’re right. I might as well say I haven’t seen anything until I get to Moose Jaw!

  14. Erica December 17, 2019 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    Such wise advice , and congratulations on 20 years of travel . That’s a huge milestone. If more people thought like this it would indeed be a better world .

  15. Alana from Texas December 17, 2019 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    Very wise words and so true. You have seen so much and experienced so much, for sure. Traveling amongst different cultures and peoples makes one more fluid. But I must ask… in all your fluidity, what to you is your rock, your standard, your untouchable belief or value?

    Also, if nothing is right, and nothing is wrong, then how do you define right and wrong for yourself? I understand your underlying premise there in “nobody is right and nobody is wrong” is that we all come to the table with different beliefs that shape our values, how we think, and who we are, and we should be mindful and accepting of those differences. But it brings so many questions to mind. If right and wrong is fluid and subjective, is there ever a concrete right or wrong? What standard do you abide by?

    Sorry I’m asking such philosophical questions… Your view is so unique, as it’s been shaped by such unique experiences. You’d be so much fun to sit down with and talk with for a while.

    P.S. Thank you again for the Kyrgyzstani shoes. (Pretty sure I’ll never stop thanking you, ha!)

  16. Susanne December 17, 2019 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    Great read and agree 100% even though I have a very hard time with certain people, specially who do not respect animals, our planet and do cruel things to others.
    Ironically we recently had a training at my work and it included pause, take a deep breath and listen.
    Can’t wait to read more. Happy New Year!

  17. Sally Semonite Green December 17, 2019 at 12:54 pm - Reply


  18. Raz December 17, 2019 at 10:44 am - Reply

    Awesome man! Awesome! I believe what you’ve just written is the most important lesson we can lear from Life itself and travel… well, it’s the only way I can inagine learning it. For a 2020 full of travels! Thank you!

  19. James Clark December 17, 2019 at 10:06 am - Reply

    Happy travelversary! Hope we can add a few more crossed-paths countries to the list.

  20. Michelle December 17, 2019 at 10:04 am - Reply

    Really looking forwards to hearing more from you in this vein in 2020. This one was spot on and exactly why I travel – the more I explore and understand others, the better my understanding grows. Learning is impossible without listening.

    Yes, it can be hard and well outside your comfort zone at times but that’s the point, nothing really worthwhile comes easy. Each person we can individually help be a little more open, the better the world becomes, one at a time, step by step. You have a huge influence with this respected blog, especially as more and more bloggers look to simply cash in. I’m glad to see you using it so well – thanks, have a great Christmas & cheers!

  21. Mark December 17, 2019 at 9:39 am - Reply

    Congratulations Derek / aka Earl
    I think I met you six years ago in India? Four years ago in the Philippines and maybe three years ago again in India. Even though I’m older than dirt I have come along way in my understanding of the world, cultures and people in general via my travels and I attribute a huge portion of that to you. I’m a true fan and follower of your blog and in-sites to travel. You are one of a kind, personality and blogger wise. You are the master we are but the students. It’s been a honour to know you.

  22. TravelerJ December 17, 2019 at 9:13 am - Reply

    It’s a real pleasure to read this article, I agree with you on all these points. Listening to others is what we need the most in our world. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this topic, keep on writing! Also, congratulations for having been on the road for so long. You’ve been an inspiration for me and so many others. Meet you again in Vietnam or who knows where in the world. J.

  23. Nomadic Dad December 17, 2019 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Beautiful and such important words as we head to the end of 2019 and look ahead to 2020. Congratulations on having such an open mind and being prepared to have uncomfortable conversations in uncomfortable surroundings to find the shared humanity in all us.

  24. Sharon Powers December 17, 2019 at 8:47 am - Reply

    Following you is a meditation for travel, when the noise starts, come back to what is real and what really matters. So many incredible sites in the world, but in the end it really is all about the people. We do all need each other, and in the end we are more similar than different. I’ve so loved following you these last 13+ years. You are my North Star for travel. I so admire your honesty, integrity, and relatability. Here’s to more listening.

  25. Claus Andersen December 17, 2019 at 8:26 am - Reply

    Totally agree mate. One of the beauties about travel is that you meet people who are so different from yourself. But we can still get along with some common respect. And I have found that common respect just about everywhere on the planet. I’m writing these lines in Malaysia, where i am sitting on a mountaintop in a Chinese restaurant. And people treat me nicely and buy me beer, even if they have known me for less than 2 hours. And this is just one night out of thousands of nights around the planet for me. Keep your posts coming Earl. I love them and so do many others.

    • Derek December 17, 2019 at 8:31 am - Reply

      Hey Claus – I think that’s what travel does. It shows us that what we see and read online is not the reality in terms of how most people treat each other and how open most people are to just connecting with other human beings, regardless of their beliefs. In 20 years of travel I’ve only encountered a handful of people in the destinations I’ve visited who simply refused to listen and discuss because they didn’t agree with me on something. That’s not much.

      Enjoy that beer my friend!

    • Melanie Kruszona December 17, 2019 at 10:49 am - Reply

      Great advice for everyone. Congratulations on 20 years and heres to 20 more!

  26. Jordan December 17, 2019 at 8:23 am - Reply

    I agree with you but there will always be a lot of people who won’t stop and listen no matter how much we tell them to. So “how” do we get more and more to do this? That’s what concerns me. People see so set in their ways, beliefs and cultures and don’t care to stop and listen. We can only spread the message but we ultimately cannot force people to do this. I think that’s why there will always be negativity in the world, in politics, etc..

    • Derek December 17, 2019 at 8:27 am - Reply

      That’s a very good point but I’ve learned that there is always someone else who will also be interested in stopping and listening. Sure, if we go online, it might not appear that way, but again, I think that’s because we’re each in our bubbles and that doesn’t lead to the kind of genuine interaction that is needed. It all starts with one conversation and believe me, if I can have a conversation with members of the Taliban, we should be able to find a way to have a conversation with those in our own countries who think differently. At least that’s the idea. Execution is indeed challenging as you say but I’d like to still believe it’s not impossible!

  27. Neill Kramer December 17, 2019 at 7:09 am - Reply

    Congrats for the 20 years of travel and the awesome lessons learned.

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