13 Great Life Lessons I Learned Traveling and Living Abroad


It has been 10 years since I packed everything and left for North America to travel, study, work, and live. Here are the important life lessons that I learned along the way.

It started when I hopped on a 12-hour flight from Shanghai to Chicago, stepping excitedly and nervously into the unknown and leaving my comfortable life behind, while I embarked on an adventure to North America.

Life Lessons learned from living abroad

I still remember the excitement and the thrilling feeling when my flight touch down at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Five years later I returned to Chicago watching the city light up from Willis Tower. 

It has been a thrilling, wild, and a rough ride, and I have learned many life lessons since my first day in the USA. I have decided to share a collection of my best and most important life lessons that will help you to build an easy and happy life.

Feel free to share your life lessons in the comments section.

1. Experience and knowledge are more precious than material possessions

Invest in your experience and your brain, and let these become a part of your identity. Experience and knowledge will help you to deal with difficult situations. Having several houses and cars will not change you, but experience and knowledge will definitely alter you for the better.

Important Life lessons I learned from traveling and living abroad

Cape Breton National Park – the most enchanting place in the world for road trips. I don’t think I will forget such  a beautiful view like this. 

2. Open up to new opportunities

It is nerve-wracking to travel to a foreign country without knowing anyone. Rather than getting uncomfortable, be prepared for the journey and be happy that you have this opportunity to see other parts of the world. Do not afraid to face the rough situations alone. It will develop your independence and your problem-solving skills. Do not worry about being homesick. You will meet friends that are far more interesting than those in your homeland. You can always go home if you feel you cannot handle living in a foreign country on your own, but at least give it a try.

3. Get the most out of your time abroad

Living and working abroad gives you an extensive period to get to know a country. To make your time abroad count, seize the weekend and holiday opportunity to explore your city and your host country. If you have 4 months summer holidays like most American universities do, I recommend at least spending few weeks traveling around your host country, instead of just going back to your homeland. You may have concerns about your budget, or miss home like hell, but you will glad you did.

Important Life Lessons I learned from living and traveling abroad

Winter in Fairbanks Alaska: we flew to Fairbanks from Hawaii and embraced the shortest daylight of the year. It was really cold but we made long-lasting memories and fell in love with the last frontier.

Some of my favorite moments during my four years in the USA include exploring Alaska in winter, island hopping in Hawaii, and morning walks in a park in Minnesota. Even sunbathing on the beach after the class is a pure joy.

4. Having few friends is okay 

Only invest your time in people that are worth your time. There are hundreds of people from elementary and high school you run into years later, and dozens more that you meet at a party and decide to be friends for life, and then never talk to them again, or those who say they are your best friends, but offer a negative and careless attitude to your dream career pursuit. Why should they be in your inner-circle?

Those people who you keep in touch with after ten years, those who you dial an emergency call at 3:00am and can be there for you without complaints, those who support your dreams, and those who accept you for who you really are, they are your friends and your keeper. Unfortunately, this list of friends is very short. This is okay, because life will be more enjoyable if you have two to three friends who share your values, support you, and make you happy, rather than having thousands of those who don’t.

5. Abandon the idea of fitting in 

People will never validate you if you try to sacrifice yourself to please them, to live under their shadows at the expense of your wants and goals.

People are impressed by those who are not trying to impress them. Oftentimes to fit in, all you have to do is to be yourself and be a good listener.

6. Solo travel at least once in your lifetime

You will have a lot of fun traveling solo, and you will realize that you are more capable than you think you are.

Important Life lessons I learned from traveling and living abroad

Travel solo in Key West, FL and reached the southernmost point of the mainland USA

7. There is always a way out

If you have trouble dealing with a difficult situation, or if everything goes wrong at the same time, do not give up. It is not the end of the world. You have just not figured out the solution yet. Do not surrender to the hardship and discouragements.

The right moments will come and your perseverance will pay off. I cannot tell you how many times that I have been rejected by the Canadian universities and I have been told that I cannot make it to Canada, only to prove that I was right not to listen to the advice and continue to go against the flow anyway.

8. Learn to not give a damn

This is a hard life lesson, but it will make your life easy and light.

9. You cannot make everyone happy

Speak up and stand your ground.  Trying to please everyone is a gateway to failure. If you are being true to yourself and share your true opinion, you will make someone upset. That is their problem, not yours.

10. Visit developing countries

If you are born and raised in developed countries, give yourself a chance to visit developing countries, even countries in North Africa and West Asia. It will make you appreciate what you have and give you a different perspective on what life is all about.

Important life lessons I have learned from traveling and living abroad

Avenida de Maceo – one of the few nice-looking places I have been to in Havana. Most people in Cuba is still struggling with day-to-day living, lack of basic facilities, electricity and the food, not to say traveling to exotic places. Visiting places like this makes me feel lucky that I live in Canada.

11. Learn to let go

Your past, your frustrations, the things that are out of your control, your friends that you will never meet again, the date you swear you are in love with but  they are not with you anymore, let them go so you can have more space, time and energy to move forward.

12. People all around the world are the same

We all want the same thing: respect, love, and happiness. The way we work towards those three things may branch us off, and we cannot have what we want all the time. That is life.

13. Travel when you are young

Many people postpone traveling because they want to be responsible, find a career, get married and build up a life, and travel when they retire. In my experience, it is a mistake to wait for that perfect moment to come. While I am happy to travel over the next few decades, I will never know what will happen tomorrow. No one is guaranteed to live after they retire, so take every opportunity presented to you at this moment, and do not hold regrets.

There are so many life lessons I have learned during my travels, and with important life lessons in general, is that we learned it in a hard way and in retrospect. The great news is that other people can benefit from and inspired by the lessons we learned from our travels.

Do you have any important life lessons that you learned from your travels? Comment below. 

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Life Lessons

Julie Cao

Julie is the creator of Always On The Way. She lived in Hawaii and now resides in London (Ontario, Canada). In 2017, she went on an overland trip from Bogota Colombia to Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world. She believes travel is not only about visiting tourist attractions but more about getting to know the culture, people, and the place.

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