10 Powerful Life Lessons I Learned From Two Backpacking Millennials

Not all wisdom comes with age.

10 Powerful Life Lessons I Learned From Two Backpacking Millennials getty

My son and his girlfriend left last week on their multi-month exploratory to Asia.

The first year he did this, I was anxious. Although we have lived in non-English speaking countries, we had each other and a community around us. He was going alone to countries that didn’t speak English and countries I had never been to. I didn’t know who would take care of him should he become sick or injured. I didn’t know who would help center him when he became confused.


Parents, you will know what I mean when I say this was the child who couldn’t find his shoes behind the bedroom door. This is the child that waits until ten minutes before it is time to go, suddenly finds he doesn’t have everything he needs and creates a tornado inside the house and in my heart.

Well, he’s grown up now, and they're travelers. He didn’t want our help which meant we were in the dark about his plans. He made all of his own arrangements, shopped around for the best travel credit card, considered what he might need traveling, visited the Doctor before going and managed to string friends and stopping places together before taking the big trip.


RELATED: Living Out Of A Backpack For A Few Months Doesn't Make You A Traveler

1. If it is something you want to do, you’ll find a way.

The dishes might not get done. The vacuuming might not get done but friends and traveling? Well, I never saw so much coordinating!

Imagine a life where all you do, are things you love and are excited about! There wouldn’t be any couch potatoes or depression in this world.

As he heaved the backpack that seemed to be larger than he was, over his shoulder, I thought he was going to fall over backward.

2. How much of what we use in our daily lives really matter?

If you could make it for three months without it, could you do without it permanently? What can you clean out, sell or give away that might help you lighten up?


3. Community. Saving your pennies. Becoming an insider.

As far as I knew he didn’t have a place to stay and he was going to do it on the fly. I’ve seen him do that many times in the States when he travelled to Ultimate Frisbee tournaments. This time he registered with a CouchSurfing organization. I was so surprised to find there were over a million people willing to host around the world. Seriously? There really is such a thing.

There is a vetting process, there is a matching process, and there is a just be kind to each other process. In a world where we raised our children to be careful and not to talk to strangers, he literally went out and slept in stranger’s homes. WOW. That one blew my mind. I would have found all kinds of excuses not to do that.

On the bright side, while Couchsurfing, he made new friends, minimized hotel use and sometimes even slept outside. As he makes his third trip back to Asia, he still has those friends to connect with.

Did I worry about his safety? Of course. The CouchSurfing community and system helps reduce problems. M’s only robbery was from so-called friends he had met up with during travels, and these were Americans — not Asians.


This year, M & C decided to return to Thailand and Malaysia. It is their second time doing this together, and planning started early. They watched airfares, and read how much something weighed before they bought it. (There is a valuable real estate in backpack land — after all, it is an airline carry on.) They decided to leave some things behind and purchase it in the country.

4. Travel can be inexpensive!

There are telephone numbers that work through the internet as opposed to Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint. I can call his number, leave a message and it will print out what I said. They are dollars per month, and they work great provided there is Internet access. Skype works for free. E-mail is free. Haircuts, massages, eyeglasses and dental checkups are so much more affordable in Thailand! Having someone else do your laundry and deliver it to you is cheap!

Important things to take were Kindles for reading, sunscreen without bleach, a game of Spikeball, cozy one piece character pajamas that double as a pillow, and an extra layer that will also invite conversation and cleats for the Ultimate Frisbee Tournaments.


When traveling with someone else, share sundries as it saves on space.

5. Ask!

C parlayed a brilliant move, showcasing the influencing and negotiation skills of a pro, by working with her employer to allow remote work for three months! In a global economy, having someone work an opposite shift allows clients to feel even more supported.

RELATED: 10 Things You Need To Know Before Traveling Alone As A Woman

6. Buy experiences, not things. There will be stories for a lifetime.

The first year, M communicated by text more frequently. That made sense. He was alone. He didn’t know anyone. “Arrived in Manila and there are guns everywhere,” wasn’t quite what I wanted to hear.


“Didn’t know what bus to take so took a hotel shuttle from the airport and had to walk the rest of the way. An older woman asked if I wanted to come to her hotel room. Walking by naked babies and open sewers.”

Seeing how others live helps us understand privilege even if our parents don’t have a six-figure income.

“My wallet, passport, and cash have been stolen, but they did recover my backpack and clothing, and I spent the night at the police station,” he texted. That wasn’t what I wanted to read. “I was supposed to travel back with my friends, but they left,” (me, alone, in a foreign country, without money, and no passport) had me steaming — considering these so-called friends had been watching his things. They watched them right into their own pockets and abandoned him so he wouldn’t know they had his money.

7. Let go Mom. He’ll be fine.

He didn’t have anyone with him to metaphorically “find his shoes,” so he found a way and providence happened as I sat back chewing my nails but still tried to be encouraging. I actually acted more as a sounding board instead of a helicopter Mom. I can change.


Okay, yes, he did show up at the airport without shoes in Hawaii, and they missed the flight, and someone caught up with him and brought his shoes, and they caught another flight…

Even though I monitored his health and well-being from afar through Facebook and texts and a few Skype sessions and saw all kinds of things, I didn’t necessarily want to see like, “Now I’m looking at a typhoon that might end up delaying my flight to Puerto Princessa tomorrow. Who wants to ring in the new year with pad thai and board games and avoiding breathing firework debris?” I saw a whole bunch that made me proud, envious and questioning myself as to why I wouldn’t dare travel alone to the same countries.

8. “Sometimes you have to do the thing that scares you.” Dig deep.

During a day when he was feeling alone and was holed up in a hotel where rainwater leaked through the roof so much he had to move his bed we texted back and forth. It was a day when he probably hadn’t spoken English in a while. I suggested to him that he could always come home sooner than planned. I knew it would be tough to put myself out there. “Mom, sometimes you have to do the thing that scares you.”

Be uncomfortable and dig deep to find out why.


He was right of course and was just wishing he had a travel companion as it would make the traveling so much more enjoyable if he had someone to share it with. These Millennials amaze me.

9. Roll with it.

You pay for your flight, get ready to board and find out visa’s need to be applied for before you fly; not after you arrive. What do you do?

Try to get a refund from your credit card company, Facebook your friends and come up with new options.

So your Airbnb host ditches you, what do you do?


Facebook a friend: “Anyone have any bed/couch/floor space available for the weekend, or any leads on any other options near the fields or near the parties?”

So you come down with a stomach bug in a foreign country. What do you do?

Crawl to a hostel and Facebook your friends: “Holed up in Bangkok for a couple days while C gets over an illness, then heading south to Penang. Friends, who know southern Thailand well, what islands should we definitely hit along the way/on the way back, and which are not worth it?”

10. Immerse yourself. Blend. Mix. Play. Get to know the locals and environment around you. Move outside of your comfort zone. Skip the high-end tourist traps.

C learned traditional dance and performed it with her hosts in native costume. M went shopping with his host. He went to their barber, optometrist and dentist in the Philippines.


Shop at the local market. Hold on to your purse. Discover new foods. Try the fruit drink or the coconut drink that is made fresh in front of you. Ride the local bus. Visit the island where cats sleep with you in your room. Sleep in a hammock. Spend time with your hosts as opposed to going out and doing the tourist thing. Get to know the culture through those you meet.

Travel doesn’t have to be expensive to be meaningful or enjoyable.

RELATED: I Left My Boyfriend Of 10 Years To Travel The World

Kris Benevento is in Emergency Services Management and a mentor, author, healer, baseball Mom, connector-of-the-dots, student of life, new-thoughtarian, and possibility hunter. Follow her on Medium and Twitter