Recently, I returned back to the United States from a job where I traveled to Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia all aboard a ship. I encountered roughly 15 different cultures during the job, and it was eye-opening.
During my contract, I was working and adventuring alongside people from many different walks of life. I was seeing places I had only dreamed about before. I was put into sometimes-uncomfortable situations. It was truly an experience, and it taught me some important lessons about traveling internationally.
1. People will scam you.
Working in an international community showed me not everyone wants to help you. I hate to say it, but many people will happily short-change you without a second thought.
As an American girl, I scream "gullible!" I was fortunate enough to not get scammed, but oh, people tried.
For example, a piercing shop in Malaysia tried to charge me 150 times the going rate for an ear piercing, but I luckily had the sense to go to another shop and find a much cheaper price. Don't take everyone at face value.
2. Always negotiate.
Most of the world is not as expensive as the US, and they just might love the challenge of making a deal.
Our costs of living are much higher compared to many areas of the world. You can buy a $2 shirt in Thailand or find a nice apartment in South Africa for $350. You can order a $5 meal in Oman or a $3 beer in Berlin.
American are typically viewed as suckers because we'll happily pay a lot of money for things, unaware of the price differences. We can also be impatient, so we'll spend more in order to avoid confrontation or negotiation.
3. Hit the highlights, but it's more about the company.
When I first started my journey, I was eager to jump off the ship and view the iconic sites. But after three months of this, I felt exhausted and lost interest. It was no longer the most important thing to do.
Yes, I remember places that gave me goosebumps like the Gates of India in Mumbai, India, and Kata Noi Beach in Phuket, Thailand and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
More than this, though, I remember the conversations I had with Hungarians, Venezuelans, Italians and Filipinos. They each showed me different ways of living life, and for that, I'm grateful.
I didn't need to get so caught up in the sites because the best lessons and memories came from the people.
4. You don't always need to plan.
Once you've hit the highlights in a city, just wake up one day, go out to a new neighborhood and see what happens.
By doing this, I was able to uncover a sushi restaurant in Singapore that brought the delicious rolls on a conveyor belt. I didn't even have to type anything into Google Search to find this gem of a place.
When you plan down to the single second, you miss experiencing unique moments and having a different story than everyone else. Allow some time in your itinerary for some spontaneity.
Working and traveling gave me the chance to learn from different cultures, and it wasn't always a walk in the park. I felt more aware of my American privilege after traveling the world, and felt more grateful for what I have.
But I also felt like I gained a better understanding of humanity. I feel more attuned to people's desires and intentions now. I relate better to others. Traveling gave me more than some great Instagram shots of the pyramids -- it gave me wisdom.
So, go and travel! See the world, but remember it's more than just the sights -- it's about the people.