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10 Things I Learned Traveling Alone in my 20s

When I was 23, I decided I wanted to backpack around the Pacific. It was an idea that no one in my family was thrilled about — except me. At that point, I didn’t want to settle down or find a spouse or grow roots. I wasn’t particularly interested in making money. What I did want was new and different experiences. Lots of them, preferably in exotic places.

So I planned a trip that would take me to several destinations — Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan, Hong Kong and Japan — over the span of 11 months. Of course, it was an awesome experience filled with people, places and adventures I’ll never forget. The trip had lasting impact and, 20 years later, I still live by 10 big takeaways from that trip.

1. Street food is the best way to eat, if your stomach can take it. It’s cheap and authentic, because it’s what the locals eat.

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2. You don’t need a lot of money to go on an unforgettable trip. That said, traveling on a shoestring does make you appreciate the finer things in life.

3. Staying in hostels may not be luxurious, but it’s an incredible way to meet interesting people in a communal environment that you wouldn’t otherwise meet.

4. Most of the time, people from other places are more like us than we think.

5. All you really need when you’re young and single is shelter, food, water, a few clothes and a few friends.

6. Walking around in 90-degree temps with a 50-pound pack on your back is hard. But it’s doable. And it makes for good stories when it’s over.

7. When you’re planning an extended trip to numerous countries, “follow the sun” is a good mantra. If you're roughing it by staying in hostels, the last thing you want is to be cold. Plus, who wants to lug around sweaters in a backpack?

8. If you have the opportunity to swim with wild dolphins, do it. It beats Seaworld hands-down.

9. The most breathtakingly beautiful cities are those on the coast. Sydney and Auckland are two of them.

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10. Koalas are even more adorable up close than in pictures. But they can also be vicious. And they’re marsupials, which means they carry their babies in pouches like kangaroos. They are not, actually, bears.

Image by Jason Priem via Flickr

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