9 Lessons I Learned From Traveling Around the World

Hi everyone! I’m Alexis, Michelle’s younger sister and blogger at FITnancials. Many of you might already know me, but if you don’t, I’ve been spending the past two years traveling around the world as a blogger, au pair, and volunteer. I’ve also taken several mother and daughter trips with my mom. I write a lot…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: August 28, 2023

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Hi everyone! I’m Alexis, Michelle’s younger sister and blogger at FITnancials.

Many of you might already know me, but if you don’t, I’ve been spending the past two years traveling around the world as a blogger, au pair, and volunteer. I’ve also taken several mother and daughter trips with my mom. I write a lot about my travels, which you can read about here.

I caught the travel bug from my dad, who passed away when I was 14. He spent his life traveling around the world and had plenty of stories to share because of that.

Michelle and I both have boxes and boxes of photo albums from our dad, and I love opening up a photo album to see that I’ve taken a picture in the same exact spot as my dad. It’s almost as if we are traveling together, which is an amazing feeling when your dad has been gone for 10 years.

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I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I left the United States for the first time. I didn’t jet off to Europe like most kids my age do. Instead, I went to South America and spent two months in Peru, where I volunteered four days a week at a special needs orphanage. A few months later, I took off to Australia and then to Europe, where I was an au pair for three months. After Europe, I went to Japan and Mexico, and I am currently getting ready for my next trip.

I took a gap year from college and began traveling because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to experience the world and see what it had to offer. Surprisingly, I came back from every trip more confident, courageous, and independent. Each country has taught me something different about the world and myself, which I wasn’t really expecting.

I encourage traveling, especially solo traveling, because you can travel at your own pace and for several other reasons that I write about here.

Like I said, I’ve learned many things through my travels, and I’d like to share the lessons I’ve learned with you.

1. Make responsible travel decisions.

If you’d like to see animals and watch them in their natural environment while you’re traveling, it’s important to be aware that there is a lot of animal abuse in the tourism industry. And, thanks to social media, word is getting out, but not fast enough. I learned early on to never participate in any of these kinds of tours.

TripAdvisor is currently working to end their ticket sales for businesses that promote animal abuse. While this is incredibly helpful, it’s important that you make yourself aware of these types of businesses.

There are many places that you can visit that care for animals, like sanctuaries that rescue animals from these types of companies. However, before you participate in animal tourism, check out this list of 10 animal attractions around the world that you should NOT visit.

2. You’ll make lifelong friends.

It’s not uncommon to meet people on your travels that will make you ask yourself if you knew this person in a previous life. I have made Italian, Peruvian, Mexican, German, and British friends that I am so close with that I would even want to invite them to my wedding, which is saying a lot.

While in Italy, I met with someone from an online au pair group, and after 10 minutes of talking, I felt like we had been friends for my entire life. We only spent one day together, but we still stay in touch through Facebook.

Be prepared to meet some incredible people that will change your life, make you laugh so hard you’ll feel those invisible abs (British friend), or prepare an unbelievably delicious meal for you (Italian friend).

3. We’re all the same.

Traveling teaches you that we all have one thing in common- we’re all pursuing happiness. I’ve met people from six continents, of different ethnicities and religious backgrounds, and we are all looking for that same thing. We all want happiness for ourselves and our loved ones. I’ve met people from Egypt, Myanmar, and Mexico, and none of us ever cared or asked about each other’s religious or ethnic background.

Instead, we enjoyed asking each other questions about things like what it was like to grow up in a country other than our own.

4. Stay open minded.

It’s important to be open to trying new foods and seeing places aren’t on a city’s “must-see” list.

Don’t be afraid to get lost, as you’ll usually have the most fun experiencing a city off the beaten path. Once, I got lost in Florence, which landed me in a jewelry shop that was filled with the most beautiful pieces of handmade jewelry that I’ve ever seen. Because I’m not really interested in jewelry, I would have completely missed this.

5. Don’t let your fears hold you back.

We’ve all heard of certain countries being dangerous or off limits, but I wouldn’t totally let that determine which cities you visit. If I only listened to what people said online, I would’ve never visited Mexico, Peru, Chicago, or southern Italy.

Yes, you should obviously be smart and aware of any place you visit, but don’t let what people say online affect where you plan to travel. Mexico and Peru have the most generous and loving people in the entire world, yet we’re often told to avoid these areas or to just stay on resorts. Unless there’s a special travel advisory warning you not to visit a place, I wouldn’t listen to whatever you see on the internet.

6. Be open to falling in love.

This can be falling in love with someone romantically or just as a friend. You can end up falling in love with a country, and who knows, maybe you’ll love it so much that you’ll plan on moving their one day.

I’ve had friends from the US who have packed up their entire lives and moved abroad, met their significant other while traveling, and now permanently live in another country.

Be open to anything because anything is possible when you’re traveling abroad.

7. Learn to say no.

When traveling, don’t have a case of FOMO (fear of missing out). If you say yes to everything, you’ll be exhausted, broke, and burnt out. If you are staying somewhere like a hostel, you’ll most likely be invited out to a bar or event every single night.

But, we all need a break, even while we’re traveling abroad. Don’t feel bad if you want to stay in for a night after two weeks of nonstop traveling.

8. Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive.

While in Europe, I traveled from one country to another for under $5o. Some tickets were as little as $10. I took advantage of Blablacar, which is basically Uber for long distance driving in Europe while on a budget.

Couchsurfing, hostels, and Airbnb make my accommodations budget much more affordable, and I always make sure to try to find the cheapest available accommodation and transportation option. Couchsurfing has been an outlet for me to meet locals who can show me the best spots in town that aren’t flooded with tourists. Plus, when you visit a city, you want to visit the spots where locals eat and go for fun, right?

Since I travel for long periods of time, I switched from AT&T to T-Mobile and have zero regrets. I get free texting, internet usage, and $.20 per minute phone calls when I’m abroad. If you travel a lot, I encourage switching as soon as you can.

Dining doesn’t have to be expensive either. In South America, I could easily find a five course meal for $5 USD, and Tokyo has places with an amazing meal under $10. To find cheaper dining options, go off the beaten path and far away from tourist areas. Here are 10 ways to create a more affordable trip.

9. There’s no place like home.

Experiencing different cultures and meeting people from around the world is incredible, but there will never be any place like at home with my boyfriend and our dogs. There’s nothing like coming home from a three month trip to over-joyous love from your dogs who are smothering you with licks, kisses, and occasionally some pee.

I live in Austin, Texas with my boyfriend and our rescue pups, and I am spending my time as a full-time blogger and volunteer for a couple different rescues and farm sanctuaries. I plan on one day opening my own sanctuary for rescued farmed animals. 

If you want to travel more, please take my free 5 day email course on how to travel the world on a budget. Over the next 5 days, you’ll learn everything from how to get free flights and accommodation, travel essentials, how to make friends abroad, and other valuable information!


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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. I just “taught” a 1 hour class to 18 High School Seniors yesterday via Skype, telling of my life as an international businessman.

    Ironically, #3 (we’re all the same) was one of my key messages, as well as the growth you experience when traveling internationally.

    Your post is a great story, and I plan on sharing it with the teacher of the class, to share with his students as a follow up to my session.

    1. Thank you so much. That means a lot!

  2. I’m glad to see that you have had so much fund and have learned so much from traveling the world. I also love traveling (but not on a credit card). My husband and I often talk about how we will travel everywhere together when we’re financially secure and are retired. I just can’t wait until that day!

    1. I agree. I do not like putting my travels on a credit card, either. That can really add up!

  3. Connie Brentford

    #2! ๐Ÿ™‚ You really will make lifelong friends. We’ve continued meeting up with friends we’ve met
    from over a decade of location independence. It gets sweeter each time we meet and we’ve definitely changed travel plans to make sure we can spend time with our “travel friends.” travel calendar comparing is a thing! It’s a truly a wonderful tribe to belong to. You don’t have to be retired. We just took our (6) kids with us and their lives were forever changed by it. They’re now millennials who travel with their businesses like we do making their own set of travel friends.

    1. That’s amazing! Traveling with children and giving them those experiences is so beneficial to them.

  4. Awesome post! We LOVE traveling. Just got back from Virginia Beach for the week =) It’s so wonderful to immerse yourself in others culture and learn what more than your hometown has to offer.

    After going on many cruises, leaving the country, and vacationing all over the U.S. your last statement is so true, “there is no place like home”.

    Every time we get home from a vacation it’s the best feeling in the world to sleep in your own bed again.

    Looking forward to reading more of your blog posts =). Thanks for sharing.

    1. I’ve heard great things of Virginia Beach, but have never been. My mom and I are planning a cruise to Alaska soon. Thanks for reading!

  5. luxurybackpacking | Emma

    These are all so true, and can relate to all of them especially you make lifelong friends! I’m a travel blogger who has been to 44 countries being only 21, and if I let fear control myself I would never have travelled to the places I had! P.S I also met my long term boyfriend (other half of my blog) through travelling round Thailand back in 2014!

    Happy Travels! <3

    1. That’s so amazing! I look forward to reading your post. I’ve been following your Facebook profile for awhile.

  6. That’s funny, it’s thanks to #6 I stayed in Italy for the last 9 years ๐Ÿ˜€

    I also am such a big fan of traveling! Although I can’t travel that often, I still make sure I visit at least a couple of new destinations each year!

    I usually travel alone, but I’d much rather have my significant other’s company. I do enjoy seeing new things and meeting new people of different cultures, but when you get to share the experience with the one you love, somehow it’s 100 times better!

    1. I love hearing about love stories abroad. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yes, I also agree with what you said about traveling with others. I loved traveling solo, but have done it so often that I now appreciate when someone else is with me.