This is an excerpt from How to Travel 60-90 Days a Year – Even If You Work 9-5. You can buy the book on Amazon (Paperback and Kindle).

Travel can and will make you a better person. In my case, few experiences have shaped my development as much. How specifically will travel help you will depend on your trips—where you go, what do you do and who do you meet. Where you’re in your life—age, experience—will also play a big part.

Because of that, you can’t expect travel to be a winning proposition in all cases. There are three limitations to note:

  1. a) The skills and areas you can develop in your travels are limited. There are no more high leverage skills than the below.
  2. b) Travel skills have diminishing returns. You’ll develop massively in your first long-term experiences, but will quickly plateau after that.
  3. c) To get the best results you’ll need to travel alone.

High Leverage Skills

I see my two first solo travels to Europe—at age 19 and 20, six months apart, as one of the key turning points in my life. There I was, far away from home—a spoiled mama’s boy, all alone and with little cash in hand. I can’t think of a bigger period of personal growth than those two roughly month-long trips.

Specifically, in those trips I developed three key skills—skills I would then go and leverage to build the rest of my life and career:

#1- Charisma & Conversation. I was an outcast growing up. I was more interested in computers and books than in going out. In all, I didn’t have many friends—and I was a zero with girls. I was a geek through-and-through—shy and closed to myself. Yet, I tell that to people today and nobody believes me. They tell me—“That can’t be you, Mario”. Still, that was me—until I was 19. My couple of Eurotrips changed all that. I met so many people, and had so many conversations that I went from zero to hero.

Literally—until 19, I never had a serious girlfriend, but by 22 I had opened my massive dating and relationship advice website. It was an intense couple of years.

This would have been impossible without my trips. There’s no better crash course in charisma and conversation than solo travel—especially for two reasons:

  1. a) When traveling, you meet a ton of new people in every city you visit—it’s the new hostel friends, the city tour buddies, the CouchSurfing girls, and more.
  2. b) There’s no friendlier crowd to meet than travelers—everyone is nice, everyone is in to have a good time.

This was the perfect combination for me. For a whole month (and then another) I made a new big group of friends every second or third day—everyone, again, incredibly friendly. I was a bit closed and uptight at the beginning, but got looser with every new city I visited. Then I started to notice which conversations worked (and which didn’t), what people liked about me (and disliked), and so on. In marketing terms, I A/B tested conversation on a massive scale—and, along the way, learned how to engage with a crowd, be interesting, get intimate and more.

I can’t stress enough how important this experience was for me. If there’s one takeaway for me from travel, this has to be it—there’s no better forum to practice charisma and conversation than solo travel.

#2 – Languages. I learned to speak English when on the road. (Remember—Spanish, not English, is my native language). I had, though, English classes in school—lots of them, but was mostly reading and writing—not much speaking. Once in Europe, though, I had to speak—English, after all, was the gateway to all the hostel conversations. It took me time, but I become better with every day, to the point that after the first trip I was speaking English fluently.

I can’t overstate how big of a deal this was. Becoming fluent in English was a before-and-after point in my life. In today’s world, if you don’t speak English you’re done—you can’t participate in the global economy.

If you’re reading this, it’s a given that you know English—but the same life-changing experiences can hold true for other languages. For example, I also learned German in my six months in Austria—“caveman” German, but still, I could speak and hold long conversations, and all without any prior knowledge. Don’t take me as the only example, though—I’ve friends who then learned languages as diverse as Italian, Danish and Chinese after long-term travel.

This, again, can all be career-boosting. For example, I got my first job because I spoke German. Knowing Chinese super-charged the career of one my friends, making him a manager in Shanghai for a major international company. If you know your foreign languages, opportunities will open up.

While you can learn any language at home, learning is exponentially faster if you’ve full immersion—and that’s much easier when you see, hear and talk the target language in situ.

#3 – Personal Responsibility & Independence. I don’t exaggerate when I say I was a spoiled kid growing up. After all, I’m from South America and from an Italian family. But to give you perspective of the magnitude of my immaturity, until my first solo trip, I could count with one hand the times that I had cooked, done the dishes, washed clothes, fixed (e.g. sew) broken clothes or cashed a check. (In my defense, this is more the norm than the exception in cultures as mine.)

I was, as you can see, pretty “useless”, and, with my two solo trips, thrown into the wild. I was all alone, with a very limited budget and far away (~14 hours by plane) from home. This in 2006 and 2007—before the iPhone came out, and without Google Maps and Facebook in my pocket.  I had no other choice than to adapt and grow up.

Grew up I did–the two first solo trips, and then all the ones after that, were an incredible push in terms of personal responsibility and independence. I learned—and you can learn, for example:

a) The Basic Life Skills. The ones I listed above. In my case, I had no choice—I didn’t have enough money to eat out every day, for example. I had to cook, and so I learned. It was the same with everything else.

Bonus Story – In 2006, I couldn’t even cook pasta. Just two years later, on the tail end of another trip, I got to cook homemade pizza for a whole hostel in the Greek island of Paros. This was not only just fun, but a good deal—I got to stay at the hostel for free for a couple of nights.

b) Organization. I’ve planned every trip on my own—flights, transport, accommodation, visas, vaccines and more. This was a huge deal for me, for example, back in 2006—but also even to this day as I, for example, plan a self-funded round the world trip on a specific budget and for two people.

c) Personal Finance. I’ve tracked every single expense I had—big or small—for almost a decade. Now I’ve a tighter control and better overview of my budget than anyone I know. I started this habit on the road—I had, again, no choice—in my obsession to travel more, I must make sure that every penny is well spent.

d) Going Through Tough Times—Alone. I’d my fair amount of tough experiences abroad: I got mugged in Ukraine, chased by mobs in Brazil, Romania and by solo madmen in Siberia, and got into trouble with customs and security in Ethiopia and Uzbekistan. I also almost got deported from Lebanon, among other crazy stories. It’s all a fun anecdote now, but I felt horrible in the moment. After I got mugged in Ukraine, for example, I was falling apart—most of my money was gone, I was alone, stranded in a strange country where almost nobody spoke English, and, to top it all, I had to almost beg the hostel owner not to kick me out.

I don’t wish that to anyone. Still, there’s no argument that extreme situations oblige you to level up—or you stay crying, or you stand up and start fixing the situation. Every time you stand up, you build resilience—you become a stronger, and, quoting Nassim Taleb, a more anti-fragile person.

Other Important Skills 

In my view, the three skills above have been the most valuable. Still, there’s more—likely less life-changing, though still important:

#4 – Intercultural Knowledge. There’s nothing that sounds more “fluffy” than “intercultural knowledge”. Yet, the cultural know-how of travel to half the globe has, in my case, for example, given me a lever in the following way:

a) Negotiation. Negotiating is a big part of my work, and I have conducted high-stakes meetings for multi-million-dollar contracts in Latin America, Northern and Southern Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. In all cases, it helped I had studied and lived the culture.

b) Rapport. I’ve now countless of examples of people from a small and/or little visited country or town being fascinated with me having been there. You’ve to see how the eyes from Ethiopians, Nicaraguans or Far-Eastern Russians light up when I tell them I was in and loved their places—it’s instant rapport. This has helped me build key friendships, but has also helped me in business.

c) More Interesting Person. If you’ve been to 100+ countries (or 20+ countries, even), you should’ve a ton of stories to share—from the adventurous, to the risky, to the romantic and more. If you work on your storytelling, this can make you a popular and interesting person to crowds big and small.

#5 – Specific Hard Skills Beyond Languages. There are hard skills (hard as vs. soft skills) that are faster and easier to learn on the road. For example:

a) Photography and Video. If you want to have a career as a photographer (or videographer), being exposed to different cultures, people and environments will give you much better opportunities to get the pictures (or videos) that could take you to the next level.

b) Public Speaking. If you want to become a speaker, going on tour and presenting and telling stories every day to different audiences will help you get better in the craft much faster than the weekly toastmasters practice.

Then, there’s a long-tail of specific skills which, with the right budget, are better to learn when on the road—e.g. you can take cooking lessons in every country you visit, with different teachers.

This is an excerpt from How to Travel 60-90 Days a Year – Even If You Work 9-5. You can buy the book on Amazon (Paperback and Kindle).