6 Lessons I Learned From Traveling To 12 Countries In 12 Months

I've heard many people say that travel is the greatest teacher, and I couldn't agree more. Over the past year, I've had the privilege of traveling around the world. From Latin America to Eastern Europe, I've visited places I dreamed of visiting as a little girl. Before I embarked on this journey, I had high expectations, but my experiences were beyond anything I could've ever imagined for myself. I've built wonderful friendships with strangers across the globe, eaten foods I never knew existed, and gotten lost in unlikely places. The lessons I learned from traveling to 12 countries have been invaluable.

Even though I had high hopes, I really had no idea what to expect when I began navigating the world solo — I just knew that I wanted to try new foods, meet new people, and visit far-flung destinations. I lived with a local family in Guatemala, and learned Spanish through full immersion. I was able to check off dancing in the streets of Cuba from my bucket list, along with spending four days trekking to Machu Picchu in Peru. I swam under sparkling waterfalls in Croatia, and made lifelong friends in Bosnia.

I'm now a huge advocate for travel. I believe stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world can lead to the most extraordinary experiences you can't learn in a classroom. I gained so much in such a short period of time, and I'll carry those lessons with me for the rest of my life.

1We Are More Similar Than We Think

hey_ciara on Instagram

First and foremost, travel has taught me that we are more similar than we think. While people throughout the world certainly have their differences, passions, and daily routines to follow, it's important to realize that we are all human at the core. We don't need to share the same language, religion, personality, or homeland to form a connection with each other.

I crossed paths with a friendly Dutch girl in Panama, and continued to travel with her over the course of several days. We bonded so quickly that I returned to visit her family in The Netherlands several months later. Our friendship was one of many lifelong friendships that I formed, and will cherish for a lifetime.

2There Are Many Possibilities Out There Waiting To Be Explored

hey_ciara on Instagram

When you've lived in one place your entire life, this can have a major impact on your view of the world. If you're comfortable and content there, that's totally OK — but travel has shown me, personally, that the possibilities this word has to offer are truly endless. There isn't a right or wrong way to do things or live your life.

I spent my entire life viewing things a specific way, only to discover that there isn't solely one way. After spending time with people who live very different lifestyles than myself, my viewpoint isn't limited to the small Texan bubble that I grew up with.

3It Feels Incredible To Take A Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, If You Want To

hey_ciara on Instagram

While your comfort zone can feel safe and cozy, it can also be a source of limitation. Once you step outside your comfort zone, there's the potential to live a life beyond what you could've ever imagined. You are introduced to new people, places, sights, sounds, and smells that will forever have an impact on your life.

When I initially began my journey, I doubted my abilities to make friends while traveling alone. I quickly discovered that I wasn't as shy as I thought. Within a few weeks, I discovered a confidence within me that I never knew existed. I crossed into territories that I had no idea about, and I was rewarded with immense beauty and irreplaceable memories. These days,I have no fear about journeying into the unknown.

4It's Important To Be Present

hey_ciara on Instagram

Travel tends to bring awareness to all that is beautiful in the world. When you travel, life's daily distractions leave your mind. Being present allows you to simply live for the moment instead of stressing over the past or worrying about the future. Fortunately, you can practice being present in your daily life, too.

I made a strong effort to soak in every single moment of my year-long journey. I listened to the sounds and observe every little detail. I journaled special moments so that they would be marked in my memory for years to come. I can now relive those memories as if they happened yesterday, because I was fully present.

5You Only Live Once

hey_ciara on Instagram

This may seem cliché, but travel reminds you just how short and sweet life is. Nothing lasts forever, and sometimes it's easy to forget that when you're caught up in your hectic schedule. Travel will continuously remind you that life is short, so it's important to let the good times roll and let the bad times go.

There were moments when I truly doubted whether or not I should travel for a whole 12 months. I now know that it would have been the biggest regret of my life if I didn't just go for it.

6It's Key To Remain Positive Through Roadblocks

hey_ciara on Instagram

On the one hand, traveling can be so exciting. On the other hand, it can also be extremely stressful. I've lost valuables, couldn't find my way back to my hotel for hours, and so much more. Things can go wrong in an instant, so it's important to remain flexible and have a positive mindset. You quickly realize that things will work themselves out in the end, so there's no need to cause unnecessary stress. Travel teaches you to roll with the punches if your luggage gets lost or you miss a flight, and keep your head up.