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March 15, 2016

Life lessons in travel

I've never espoused anything deep about travel. I travel because I want to see new places and take some cool photos, that just happens to be fun to me. It's never been about anything meaningful like growing as a person or finding life inspiration. I guess I've personally got the travel bug, but I don't think travel is a life necessity if you don't want it to be: if you have other things to spend your money on (like surviving), that's totally valid. But this past summer was my longest trip yet - and looking back, I've definitely learned a couple of new things about the world, other people, and myself. Here's a list of ten.

Ronda, Spain.

1. I can and will pee anywhere. There's no longer such thing as a "gross toilet" anymore. I'm here to pee, not lick the floor. A squat toilet? That's luxurious. I can pee on a drop toilet staring a gecko in the face. I can pee in the red dirt on the side of the road, with the tour leader telling us to stay calm but hurry up as he can see an elephant coming over. I can pee in the snow in total darkness with no feeling in my feet. No toilet paper? Take Taylor's advice and shake it off.

2. I can deal with questionable sleeping situations. Camping? I'm totally okay with it now, as long as there's a good shower and toilet block nearby. And an electric fence to keep out hyenas. Mud hut with no electricty, reception, or hot water, but with bonus spiders on the walls and a frog croaking under my bed? That's fine, but only for a maximum of 6 nights please.

3. My small talk is now amazing. Where are you from? Oh I've never been there/I've been there/I met someone from there. What have you done here so far? Oh cool, is it worth going? I went to X museum today, it was all right, it's free so might as well check it out. But I've also learned that the fatal question is "What are your plans?", because then I receive the dreaded "You can come if you like!" Which leads me into the next point...

4. I've learned all kinds of smooth ways of avoiding people. Really friendly hostel dorm mates? Sneak out of there before they wake up in the morning. Spot them while wandering around the city? Turn and run. Look, it's not like I don't like you, but I'm here with things I want to do and I don't want to have to take other people's feelings into account.

5. That being said, sometimes meeting people isn't too bad. Some of them stick out in my mind and it's kind of fun to imagine what they're all doing now. Like the girl in our San Francisco dorm a few years back who gave us Korean souvenirs when we said goodbye (I still have mine), the unintentionally hilarious Brazilian guy who helped us order dinner in Porto, or the well-dressed French girl who was in Stockholm for her Masters interview.

6. There's always something good up or down an outdoor stairway. An awesome view of the House of Wonders in Zanzibar, garden with an old mine shaft leading to the bottom of a gorge in Southern Spain, or a deserted terrace with a perfect view of over the Thames. Or it could just be dark and slippery with ice and you could find yourself thinking that if something happened you would have no one to blame but yourself... but that was only one time.

7. I always learn something from travelling with others. Everyone has a different style to their travel. I've learned to be more spontaneous and more adventurous, to turn off our planned route down an interesting looking alleyway. I've learned to recognise works by Cezanne and Dali and Bacon. I've learned to ask questions and directions when I need to. I've learned to be less self conscious; in the words of one of my blunter travelling companions, "Just think of it this way. After today you'll never see them again, so why care?"

8. A reminder not to take feeling well for granted. You know how when you're sick and uncomfortable and you think back to last week when your nose wasn't blocked and how you wish you appreciated how easy it was to breathe at that point in time? When I got sick, it was this times a billion. I'm also appreciative that back at home, I know what to do. Scene: I'm lying in bed, headachey and sweaty and feverish, convinced I have malaria, Googling "how to see a GP in London if you're Australian".

9. I'll never let med student awkwardness get on top of me again. Fellow med students know what I'm talking about. The finding your team, trailing them around, trying to help out with jobs but wondering if you're just making more work for them, working out how the OT is run, introducing yourself to the disinterested surgeon and asking if you can scrub in to do the all important jobs of Retracting and Suctioning. This was 100 times worse in Arusha, where I knew about 0% of what was going on, and still pretty awkward in London at 75%. Being back on familiar territory in Sydney is going to be a breeze in comparison.

10. I learned how to pan fry dumplings. Two and a half months is a long time to go without my parents' pan fried dumplings (aka potstickers). When peak desperation levels were reached, I headed to London's Chinatown, paid way too much for a pack of frozen dumplings, and cooked them at home with the aid of a friend who's been living on her own for several years (and was thus forced to start pan frying her own dumplings a while ago). Second most important life skill after lesson 1.

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