The last four years of my life – since I first studied abroad in Prague -- have felt like a dream. I've been fortunate enough to visit 75 countries and I've turned travel blogging into my full-time job.
I'm currently writing this as I lie on the beach on Sumba Island, Indonesia, listening to the sound of the waves crashing the shore.
Over the years, I've had some incredible experiences. I spent three months backpacking through India, slept with village families in Myanmar, hot air ballooned around Turkey and attended crazy parties in Seoul.
But with all the positive experiences travel has given me, I've had an equal amount of negative ones – such as getting into a deadly bus crash in India, having food poisoning seven times, being robbed by a gypsy in Armenia and scammed by a taxi driver in Bulgaria.
Through all the ups and down of travel, I have grown and matured in more ways than I ever imagined. Experiencing new cultures has taught me to be appreciative. It's taught me how to get along with almost anyone and, most importantly, I've learned a lot about myself.
Here are seven of the most important things I've learned from traveling to 75 countries:
1. 99 percent of people are good people.
If you only remember one thing from this article, remember this -- 99 percent of all people I've met around the world are kind, friendly and hospitable. They go out of their ways to welcome me into their country. They help me when I am lost. They genuinely want to get to know me and want me to experience their culture. It's amazing.
2. It's good to make mistakes!
The best way to learn is to make mistakes, and trust me, I've made a lot of them over the last few years. Fail once, fail twice and then figure out how to succeed the third time.
Some of my biggest “failure moments” were: -Booking an $800 flight through Russia and being denied entrance at the check-in counter because I didn't have a transit visa (for my layover). -Missing my boat in the Philippines and hiring a private kayak to take me on a three-hour journey to where I needed to go (we almost died in the current). -Losing my passport in Bosnia and having to hitchhike across the country to retrieve it at a bus station.
As a result of every mistake, I have learned to be more careful and avoid these problems in the future.
3. Always respect other cultures and religions.
Remember when you are traveling abroad, you are a visitor in someone else's country. Therefore, you must respect the people's customs, values and religions. If you are required to protect your head in a temple, then protect your head. If you are required to take off your shoes when entering a household, then take them off. If you need to bow when meeting someone, then bow.
Don't even think twice about it, and don't argue. Paying respect to someone else's culture is an essential part of traveling.
4. Learning new languages is extremely valuable.
Being able to communicate with locals is one of the most rewarding feelings, even if it's only through a few words. It's like seeing the world through a completely new lens.
I'm not saying you have to be fluent in a language to visit a country, but just learning five or 10 common words will go a long way. Trust me.
5. Talk to everyone.
The best way to make friends is by striking up conversations with random people. Approach people on the street and ask them for directions (even if you know where you're going). Meet strangers in bars, at your hostel or in coffee shops. All it takes is a smile and a simple “hello” to make a new friend.
There are never enough people you can meet in this world.
6. Don't be too cheap.
I have seen too many people who will do anything to save an extra dollar on a hotel room. Sure, you are traveling on a budget (everyone is), but it's not always a bad thing to spend an extra few dollars on a fun experience or a better meal.
Some of the best experiences will cost money, and they are always worth it.
7. Life is about making memories – so create them!
Take a million pictures, film lots of videos and do as many activities as possible. Go skydiving, climb fences and overcome your fears.
Your memories are the most important things you will have to cherish when you're older. I can't wait to look back and re-live all of my fun memories around the world -- whenever my journey comes to an end.