Adaptation: Lessons learned in traveling applied to everyday life

Posted on August 23rd, 2013 by BreAnn

One of the most significant lessons I’ve learned in past travels—and on this particular trip—is the importance of adaptation.

You’re in a new country where you don’t have all the things from back home? Adapt.

When you travel, you are constantly in situations that aren’t completely ideal, and these experiences in turn help you to deal with future issues back home.

Economy’s tough and your budget needs to tighten up? Adapt. Have to move into an apartment when you were used to house living? Adapt.

Big changes are never easy, and in situations in life and traveling, you always have two choices: be upset, complain, and resist… and in turn, be in a constant state of misery, or… ADAPT!

Sure, I’m making this “solution” sound simple and short, but I do realize that adapting to new situations in life often is NOT easy. It takes a lot of changes—mentally, emotionally, and physically—to get used to being in a sometimes difficult situation you may not want to be in. Adapting hugely involves a drastic mind shift, trying to understand why things are or need to be different, acceptance that you no longer can or should do things the way you used to do them, along with succumbing to this new “lifestyle.”

During my past travels, as well as on our big trip this year, adaptation has become a crucial aspect in my own happiness as well as those around me; it’s pretty much the sole factor that dictates whether you’re going to be miserable, content, or overjoyed in your everyday life.

2008 in Spain

Take, for example, back in 2008 when I lived in Spain for eight months. It was the first time I lived abroad or spent a considerable amount of time in another country and culture, so it was a BIG change for me. At first, even though I was culture shocked, I was somewhat in “acceptance mode” because I was excited to be somewhere new and was still in that travel-honeymoon-phase. I looked at everything as, “OK, this is different, but it’s new and exciting, so just ‘go with it.’ And that was GOOD!  But then I soon fell into “resistance mode” and looking back now, I spent a GREAT deal of time miserable and complaining all the time because of the closed-off and judgmental mindset I was in. I really didn’t want to adapt, and spent most of my time yearning for the way things used to be, or the way I wished they could be.  I was annoyed that we didn’t have a toaster in our apartment, and when I moved to another apartment I didn’t have a microwave. I was upset with the damn police station, because I had to go back to the office around SIX separate times to deal with issues with my Visa, and nobody there was organized or clear with explaining what I needed exactly. When I moved to a new apartment, it took the phone/internet company ONE WHOLE MONTH to get my unit connected with internet, and since I was working my full time US job at the time, I constantly shuffled from internet café to restaurant to library, continually searching for internet and frustrated most of the time. And when I attempted to get email or internet on my cellphone, I bounced store to store, asking about options and getting a lot of blank stares and not much help from anyone. I felt angry most of the time, and complained WAY too much to my family and friends about it.

In the end, what really came out of all that complaining and wishing?  Not a whole lot.

In the six months or so of our trip so far, James and I realized we have also spent a bit of time making similar types of observations, comments, and judgments as we’ve been through culture shock and feeling uncomfortable in new environments:

Waiting over an hour and a half on the side of the road in Tahiti for a bus… you’d think they’d create a schedule?

“Why is there no bus schedule? Really, the ‘process’ is to just wait forever on the side of the road and simply WAVE at a bus going by? Can’t somebody here get it together?”

“I’m SO sick of rice and noodles, and why does every ‘pizza restaurant’ around here make the most disgusting pizza?”

“Ugh, everything is SO dirty and unsanitary, and these floor toilets are simply disgusting.”

“I really wish I was back home right now.”

“You know, back home we had…”

“You know, when we get back home we can…”

You get the point. Of course, meanwhile we were still having a lovely time wherever we happened to be—for the most part—but when a great deal of your time is consumed with negativity, resistance, judgment, or yearning for something in your “past life” or “future life,” you are kind of missing out on living IN THE MOMENT, and being fully happy or just content at present time.

Here’s the truth:

Not EVERYTHING is going to be as efficient or organized as it probably is in your own country, city, or even your own household.

Not everybody does things the way YOU do them, and that’s OK.

If you live most of your life in the past and/or in the future, you are often missing out in the joy in PRESENT day.

Most of the time in general, you aren’t going to be 100% happy with every aspect of your life or your surroundings, but there are usually always many things to be grateful and appreciative for. Try to remember that.


So what does this mean to you? 

You’re thinking, “But I don’t travel or live in other countries, and I haven’t experienced those feelings before.”  Well, chances are, you HAVE experienced a loss of a job or being in debt.  Or you may be experiencing excitement—but yet new stress and being overwhelmed—about being a brand new mother or father, or have gone through a very hard breakup or divorce. Maybe you have had to take a job you weren’t happy with just to make ends meet or to work your way up the ladder, or maybe you are dealing with some health conditions. No matter what unfortunate occurrence or situation you might have experienced or are currently experiencing, chances are that you may be yearning for something different or “better.”  But if you could just learn to adapt to the new situation, you will probably be much happier than yearning for something you think may be better.

**I DO need to make one sidenote, however… if you really want to continue to resist adaptation because you have extreme aspirations and higher goals in life, then by all means: make a plan.  This post is not about settling for less; it’s simply about trying to be happy with what you have instead of living in a constant state of yearning for something you don’t have.

Crumbling houses on stilts in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta

I guess the main reason I thought to even write this post is because of the experiences James and I have had over the past few months, seeing a lot of poverty around us and just seeing the way people live who have a LOT less than ourselves and most people we know back home.  Throughout our travels, James has said on a number of occasions how it must be SO hard to live that way, or they must be SO miserable with their living conditions and really wish they could have more in life. But from my past travels, I had come to understand something very profound about many of these less fortunate:  People are just making do with WHAT THEY HAVE. Not with what they DON’T have.

This Vietnamese girl in orange told us about how she lives with her parents, brother, brother’s wife, and her niece. She said even though they have normal family spats and disagreements, they are all very close and happy together under one roof.

Sure, some people living in extreme poverty are miserable, sick, and have a hard time getting by. But some of the other families and people we’ve seen along the way are laughing, working together, have kids playing in the yard, and they all live together under one roof. They are happy for what they have and seem to be getting by on whatever they have at present time. In addition, a lot of these people live in very isolated areas and probably don’t even KNOW about some of the things that we consider “luxuries,” so the fact that they don’t have some of the things that we do doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t happy. For example, we actually heard on the news a few weeks ago that in India, more than 400 million people, the vast majority of them villagers, have no electricity!  As comparison, there are only 350 million people TOTAL living in the United States… so imagine that the ENTIRE population of the US (plus 50 million more) have never had electricity… makes you realize there still are many people out there who don’t even know what it’s like to flip a light switch!

I guess I also have a bit more prior understanding about this all from past experiences.  After my year-long excursion out of the country in 2008, I went back to the US and realized that many things that used to bother me no longer did. I was much more minimalistic and tolerant in general, and I was OK living with a lot less than I THOUGHT I needed.

I’ve learned through traveling the following points that have helped me be happier in my everyday normal life back home:

Toasting bread over an open flame in Thailand. Making due with what we’ve got!

You can get by with a lot less than you think you need.
We tend to live in an over-indulgent society where many people believe the more stuff you have, the happier or more successful you are. But when it comes down to it, a lot of that “stuff” just clutters up your life and you can surely get by on less. Something as silly as the lack of a toaster and microwave in Spain made me learn that I could simply just use the stove for toasting and reheating.  And once I learned this new way to toast and reheat food using only a pan and the stove, basically adapting to the lack of modern appliances, and it really wasn’t a big deal anymore. (Side note: When James and I lived in our little house in Thailand this past month, we actually toasted bread over an open flame with a wire grate!)

Learn to live with what you have at present time instead of being consumed with what you used to have, or what you wished you had.
From traveling, I realized you aren’t always going to have EVERYTHING you want or need 100% of the time. So, instead of wishing to have more than you currently have, focus on what is in front of you at the moment and make due. James and I made a “rule” about one month ago for our future travels this year: no more talking about things from back home we wished we had, and no more talking about plans and stresses of returning back home in the future. It was time to stop worrying about what we DON’T have and make it work with what we DO have and learn to be happy with just that for now.

This hostel room was SO small, the only floor space is what you see on the left. But our expectations at this point in traveling and life have become a lot lower these days. The room and hostel was clean, centrally located, safe, and has A/C, and that was perfect for us! 🙂

Alter your expectations
I used to always be a HUGE dreamer with big expectations not only for myself, but also everybody else around me. I soon realized I was constantly let down because I just expected WAY too much than what was “normal.”  Every person is different and every situation is different, so if you alter your expectations slightly, you might not be as disappointed as you normally would.  As James and I have been traveling from country to country and hostel to hostel, our expectations have gotten SO low with what we need and expect out of a bedroom, kitchen (if a hostel even has one), or even customer service… so we are often more excited and surprised about things when they end up being nicer or better than we had expected.

It’s not going to be like this forever
Whenever I’m faced with hard times or if I’m feeling hopeless or depressed about something in particular, I constantly remind myself that I’m not going to feel this way FOREVER.  Sometimes it really feels that way, though.  You get in a situation or mood where it truly feels like things will never improve. But things really can’t stay exactly the same forever, and as long as you can try to stay positive and remind yourself that things WILL improve or change at some point, then that’s already half the battle.

Always remind yourself about the good things you DO have in your life.
Whenever I was going through a breakup in the past, or was out of work, etc., I would either physically write a list, or simply just remind myself over and over about the GOOD things I had in my life at that time: great friends, supportive family, a roof over my head, my health, and the “luxury” of being financially responsible enough to have savings to help me get by when out of work. Things could always be worse, and no matter how bad things are, there will always be somebody else out there that is worse off.

In the end, it’s really about figuring out what makes you happy and content in everyday life. Adapting to your surroundings is just one of those things.

And as James and I continue on this wild and crazy round-the-world journey, you better believe we’ll be adapting over and over and over again . . . and then over once more when we get back home and attempt to get back to “normal life” again.  🙂


How about you?  When have you had to adapt in your life to big changes, and how did you handle it?  Share your experiences in the comments section, we’d love to hear from you!


6 responses to “Adaptation: Lessons learned in traveling applied to everyday life”

  1. Michelle says:

    Great post! And I see we have something in common! Whenever something “bad” happens to me, I think of how lucky I am to be in the position to have that thing happen to me. Car troubles, for example. Yeah, I hit that pot hole and had to buy a new rim and 4 tires. But how fortunate am I to have a car in the first place? *Most* of the time when I start to really get upset about something (vs simply complaining for the sake of complaining, which can be cathartic in its own right) I remind myself of all the good things I have. “Yeah, but I also have x, y, and z. And that’s pretty fantastic.”

    And you notice I put “bad” in quotes. Cuz in the grand scheme of things, how bad is it really? I’m alive. I have people who love me and who love me back. I have shelter, food, and water. I live in one of the best countries to live in, in one of the best time periods to live in. I live in a good and safe area. And because of that, I have a whole lot more things that millions of other people don’t. Electricity, medicine, clean water and food, safety, freedom. I’m able to have a job, drive a car, date and marry whomever I want. I can go outside half naked if I wanted to and live to tell about it. How many women in the world are not allowed to do those simple things. We are very privileged. No one should ever forget that.

    Always think in the grand scheme of things. And when it gets really bad remember that, “This too shall pass.”

    • BreAnn BreAnn says:

      Yes, I guess we do! 🙂

      I’m glad you know and realize that. Sometimes, for many people, it really takes traveling like this to TRULY appreciate what we have back home.

      And yes, it’s eye opening to experience and see just how little rights women have in other countries.

  2. Andrea says:

    I love reading your blog! You are a very inspiring young lady and wise beyond your years! I have had to adapt to having a spouse with leukemia. Our “journey” began last June and we have experienced chemo, life threatening infections, a 14 hour surgery, and finally a stem cell transplant. We have had to learn to adapt to severe restrictions, extensive cleanliness, long periods of isolation and extreme stress. However, we made it through those times with help from our family, friends, doctors, nurses, and our faith! Cancer changed our perspective on life and what is truly important! While not quite the adventure you are experiencing, my husband and I will be taking a road trip to Niagara Falls in September to celebrate 31 years together. The fact that he is still here with me is a miracle that I won’t take for granted! Thank you for letting me share this. God bless you and keep you safe on your travels!

    • BreAnn BreAnn says:

      Thank you so much for the wonderful compliments! And thank you also for sharing your experience. What a troubling yet amazing times you have been through, and I am SO happy to hear things are on the upswing for you both!

      Enjoy your trip to Niagra Falls… you dont need to be doing any “crazy” international traveling as we are… as long as you get out there and enjoy the beauty and culture around you—and enjoy your time together— that’s all that matters!

      Thanks again for writing,

  3. Glenda says:

    I love your outlook on life! You are absolutely right about adapting to your surroundings and that is one thing that you definitely learn from traveling outside the United States. Everyone should travel to a third world country when they’re young. It really helps to see how other people live with much less money and material items. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    • BreAnn BreAnn says:

      Thanks, Glenda! Yes, I’m glad we are able to experience all the wonders of countries around the world. I somehow missed out on the whole study-abroad college experience, so I guess I’m making up for it now! And you better believe once I have kids, I’m definitely encouraging them to travel abroad as well 🙂

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