I Visited 30 Countries Before I Turned 30, and Here’s What I Learned | POPSUGAR

My first solo trip abroad was at the age of 16 to Spain, following classic British holidays to the south of France with my family. My travels have since taken me far and wide. It's safe to say I picked up the travel bug early in life, realising that so much could be learned when you are out of your comfort zone. I turned 26 earlier this year, and I've somehow managed to visit 30 countries so far, hitting up Europe, Asia, Africa, and the US. From far away trips to New Zealand to popping over to Denmark for a weekend, every destination has taught me a valuable lesson. Here's what I learned.

1 Don’t Be Cultural If You’re Not Into It

Yes, the Mona Lisa is world famous, and that War Museum in some European city gets incredible reviews. But if you're not an art lover or that into history, just don't do them. Much more can be learned by sitting in a beautiful cafe and watching life go by than paying €10 to wander around a modern art exhibition when all you see are splashes of paint on a wall. Your time at a destination will often be short, so do the things that inspire you, not the things you think you're supposed to do.

2 You Never Need More Than Hand Luggage

One thing I hate about international travel is checking my luggage and waiting for my bag at the baggage carousel, with the fear that it has been lost along the way. So I don't check a bag anymore, and always travel with only hand luggage. This included a week skiing, a week in Dubai, and even ten days in Croatia. Things like three pairs of heels, party dresses when you're in -10-degree weather, and a hair dryer and straighteners can be left behind. T-shirts and jeans, knickers, a camera, and makeup are all that you need, thanks to hotels and Airbnbs providing all other beauty products and electronics. Bulky coats and shoes? Wear them on the plane.

3 The Places You Think You’ll Love Will Surprise You

Cuba and Lisbon were two places I expected to love, yet came away from severely underwhelmed. Just because places look fantastic on Instagram and are raved about by other people doesn't mean they will be loved by you, sometimes for no reason at all. However, that is the point of travelling, to learn where you want to return one day.

4 The Places You Didn’t Think You’d Love Will Become Your Favourites

Morocco, as a single woman, was a daunting prospect, but it quickly became one of my favourite countries, from the bright colours to the constant music and fascinating history. Poland, a place I simply chose after finding cheap flights, surprised me with it's architecture and cheap patisseries galore.

5 You Will Fall Out With Friends

Spending 30 days travelling by train with five people in very close quarters would be tough for anyone on their first big trip abroad, so arguments and spats were to be expected when I started travelling! Travel buddies are ones to choose wisely. Even your best friend at home could be your worst nightmare in a foreign environment, especially if one of you wants to relax in five-star luxury while the other wants to explore on a budget.

6 You Will Make Friends All Across the World

You will always make new friends along the way, as it's almost impossible to be lonely when travelling and meeting people from countries across the globe. Not only that, but it's surprising how likely it is to bump into a university friend despite being the opposite end of the world in New Zealand, or end up sharing a dorm with a friend's ex-boyfriend. It all make the planet seem so much smaller, and makes your travel experiences all the more exciting.

7 Pack More Music Than You Think on a Road Trip

After spending two weeks driving through France, Spain, Italy, and Germany and realising that the five CDs you have burnt with music don't work, you're bound to go mad listening to the same five songs. Don't forget, Spotify doesn't stream without internet, so unless you're in Europe, make a very, very long summer music playlist to download.

8 Things Will Go Wrong

When taking a long trip abroad, you can plan all you want, but something will always go wrong. Even as one of the most organised people — making sure all hotels are booked, all trains times are remembered, and emergency numbers and details written down — I have still been caught out so many times. Booking the wrong flight home, having passports and clothes stolen after skinny-dipping, and camping in a church garden after getting lost in Germany are just the highlights. But it's how you work in a crisis and solve problems that make you a stronger person. My biggest piece of advice is to always have backup money, a photocopy of your passport, and an emergency number. Then, whatever happens can be fixed!

9 Trips Don’t Always Need to Be an Adventure

My biggest problem is wanting to get the most out of a trip. This means booking excursions, ticking off the best restaurants, and exploring every part of the city to make the most of the time off. Sometimes, this break from the world ends up being just another task that leaves you coming back even more tired. My one holiday to Greece where I sat by a pool and read books resulted in me being the most well-rested I've ever been after a holiday.

10 You Will Forget Things

For me, it is always the travel adaptor that fails to make it into my suitcase. But body wash, socks, hair ties; something will always be missed. The frantic rush at the airport to replace things is inevitable, or perhaps you'll end up attempting to find a weird substitute (I once used shoelaces to tie my hair up in a hot country). As long as you have your passport and mobile phone, you'll be fine.

11 You Can Always Do More Than You Think

Booking time off work to travel can be difficult, especially if working in a small team. You'll soon learn all the tricks to fit as much as possible into just 36 hours, because after all, one of the benefits of living in Europe is having so many great countries only a couple of hours away by plane. Norway and Ireland are perfect for a short trip: I flew in Saturday morning and left by Sunday evening. Not only is it cheap, as you'll only be paying for one night's accommodations, but a city can easily be explored in less than two days, with the best bits on show. If you love it, make a note to return for a longer trip next time.

12 Solo Travel Is the Best Thing a Woman Can Do

Even now, as I am closer to 30 than 20, many of my female friends have never travelled by themselves abroad. Being lonely or the fear of something awful happening are often the two biggest concerns, but being a young woman by yourself allows you to be one thing we are often not persuaded to be: selfish. Solo travel means only doing what you want when visiting a city, without compromising for another person. It also means time spent without having to make small talk: you'll experience silence and a break from the hectic daily life, as well as seeing somewhere you wouldn't be able to if you waited for friends to become available to join you. It's amazing what a holiday alone can teach.

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Kara Godfrey