A quick spot of Googling told me that it was H. Jackson Brown, Jr. who said “you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did”. I’d never heard of Brown before but I’ve quoted his wise words hundreds of times, and most often when I’m talking about traveling.
You’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.
When you’re traveling, you’re faced with constant choices. And more than in any other situation, you often don’t have a chance to come back and try your second choice, because you’ve traveled on further. It’s inevitable that you’ll have some regrets from your travels. I’ve sure got mine. Here’s hoping you can learn something from my examples and at least have a few less regrets than you might otherwise have from your future travels.
Regret #1: Not Traveling More in My Early 20s, or Studying Abroad
I’m only in my early 30s now, but I think that even that decade has made a difference and students have a lot more opportunities to study abroad now. Somehow I got caught up in finishing university and getting a “good” job and a mortgage and then getting a “better” job so I could pay off the mortgage faster. I’d always wanted to travel, but something stopped me, until I was 25 and some amazing light bulb went off in my head and I dropped everything and left.
Sometimes I wish that I’d also used more of those earlier, totally carefree years to travel more. Now that I’m a bit on the settled down side but still have so many traveling dreams, I wonder just how many more of these I could have already fulfilled if I had traveled more often when I was between 18 and 25.
Lesson #1: If you’re lucky enough to be a decade (or more) younger than me, TRAVEL! If you get the chance to study abroad, take it. Pick the most exotic or weird place you can study at and go. You’ll never regret it.
Regret #2: Not Eating More Local Food in Vietnam
I’m a bit over-cautious when it comes to eating local food — not because of eating unusual stuff (I’ve done my fair share of that), but because I don’t want to get ill. My first trip to a place where you get warned about drinking the water or eating street stall food was in Vietnam, and I think it was the second night there that I shared a train cabin with a Japanese girl who’d just spent a week in hospital on a drip because she’d got so dehydrated after eating some bad street food. So I avoided it and lived on Vietnamese-French bakery food for most of the trip.
My conservative approach to street food has lessened a bit over time, but there’s still quite a few trips I’ve taken where I’ve wished afterwards that I’d tried more of the local cuisine. Local food teaches you not only to appreciate new dishes (which you can later recreate at home to relive your travels through your taste buds) but it also teaches you about the local culture, and the process of asking about it and eating it often puts you in contact with the locals in a much closer way.
Lesson #2: Be sensible and careful about eating local food, but don’t be over-cautious. And not just about food — being over-cautious in general can really ruin a trip. If you’re too worried about stuff, just stay home.
Regret #3: Not Spending the Cash on a Day Trip to Cairo
In a strange blip on my travel radar, I once spent a week at a resort by the Red Sea. I had just started a new job in Germany and was really low on cash, so I took a day trip to Luxor but declined the chance to go to Cairo as well. It wasn’t just the cash — it would’ve been a really long trip, especially because all vehicles with tourists had to go in a very slow-moving convey for security reasons — but I also was trying to keep a bit of money for my move to Germany.
Today, of course, I know I had enough money, and I know that it costs a whole lot more to get to see the Pyramids from where I’m sitting in Western Australia.
Lesson #3: Don’t spend your entire life savings on traveling, but be prepared to spend money on trips which are important to you. And definitely remember that you may never have the chance again.
Regret #4: Not Learning More Slovak While I Had the Chance
Learning a language as an adult is a horrifyingly difficult task. German comes easy to me because I started learning it as an eight-year-old; Japanese and Slovak, both of which I tried to learn after the age of 25, are extraordinarily difficult.
But no matter how difficult these languages are, it’s a whole lot easier to learn them while you’re living in the country where it’s spoken. And while I think I made a decent effort with Japanese while I lived in Osaka, and still remember a reasonable amount, I regret not making more of an effort to keep up with Slovak classes when I lived in Bratislava. Classes were provided for free by my employer, and I certainly wasn’t so rushed off my feet that I didn’t have time to attend them. Of course, it was pretty easy to tell myself that I wouldn’t need Slovak in the future, but now I have a lot of Slovak and Czech students and friends and would love to be able to use their language more, rather than just picking up one out of every twenty words they say.
Lesson #4: Don’t slack off when you get challenged. I think the real reason I quit learning Slovak was I was too lazy to study a bit at home and I started getting lost in class. But life is about challenges and whether it’s a language or another cultural hobby, it’s really worth sticking to.
Regret #5: Not Being Brave Enough to Go Scuba Diving (Anywhere)
I’m not good with adventure travel. I can mentally go beyond my comfort zone with relative ease, but doing something that’s physically challenging has always been a weak point and you’ll definitely never catch me bungee jumping or skydiving. But one physical activity I think I should have tried more often is getting a scuba diving license.
There’s been no shortage of places I could have done it, and I still could here in Perth. This would have given me a whole new perspective on a lot of destinations and instead of just snorkeling in the Red Sea I could have really got to know what’s under the water.
Lesson #5: Be braver than me. Push your physical limits as well as your mental ones — within reason of course. Please don’t take my advice and turn into one of those adrenalin freaks who gets themselves killed while on holiday. See, there you go, I’m getting anxious already.
What Are Your Regrets?
I’m sure that every traveler has some regrets, mostly because traveling involves a lot of choices. But I’m also sure that non-travelers probably have more regrets, if they’re honest with themselves. One thing that I really noticed when I was traveling, and sending regular email updates out to all my friends, was the number of people who’d reply with a message like, “Thanks for your exciting news, I’m living vicariously through you, since I can’t do what you’re doing”. It used to make me mad that they were missing out on so much and didn’t seem to realize they could change things if they wanted — and I wonder now how many of them regret that.
Whether you regret not going on a trip your friend invited you on, or you regret spending too much time in the internet café emailing your significant other and not enough time out getting to know a new place, or anything in between, let me know in the comments. And if you’re finding it hard to decide whether to go traveling or not, just promise me you won’t make a decision you regret one day.