10 Life Lessons I Learned From My First Trip to The USA

Walking barefoot at Carmel-by-the-Sea California
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

Last December, I took a one-month trip to the United States with my partner, and it totally changed my life. It was our first time in the USA, and we had a blast. I had been dreaming of going to California since I was fifteen (more than half my life ago). And now that I’m back to the Netherlands, I’m feeling more alive and inspired. Because of that, I’d like to share some of the life lessons I learned during this epic trip:

1. Travel light.

Since I knew I was going to be away for a whole month, I packed everything you could possibly imagine. I even brought my favorite stuffed animal (and I’m not ashamed to say that). But at a certain point, my suitcase started to feel so heavy. We had to change accommodations a few times, and dragging around a 20-kilo suitcase and a 10-kilo backpack wasn’t fun. It was then that I decided to get rid of some stuff. I threw away a towel I hadn’t used for two weeks. Every accommodation we went to had clean towels anyway. I also got rid of one of my many cardigans, a pair of shoes, and a shirt that didn’t fit, among other things. After I cleared out some baggage, I could move with ease again.

2. Share your joy.

In the past, I hoarded my joy by not sharing it with others. I made up stories of what others would think of me, imprisoning myself mentally in the process. I was too worried about what others would think:

“She’s bragging”
“It’s not that interesting”
“She’s gained weight”

I learned that when you share your joy, you invite others to join the party too. And you never know who’s going to feel inspired by that act of boldness. People will always have an opinion of us anyway, but that’s none of our business. So don’t care about what anyone else might be thinking or whispering. Let go of your insecurities and share your happiness with the world. And here’s a secret: We all look/do better than we think.

I documented my trip and shared travel photos with my friends and family on social media. Even the no-make-up and closed-eye ones.

Having fun at Baker Beach San Francisco

3. Accept that we all travel differently.

During our trip, we met with my dad and his girlfriend. While they wanted to spend more time in the city center, my partner and I wanted to do more nature-related things. Traveling in a group can be challenging, especially when you all have different interests. But hey, we all like different things. I love pistachio ice cream and my partner loves lemon. And I can’t change that. So why would I want others to experience traveling in the same way that I do?

So we joined them on their shopping days, and they joined us on some of our trails. This made for a better experience for all of us. And when we didn’t feel like joining another Target/Ross round, we simply gave them freedom to do their thing, and they also gave us space to explore on our own.

Target store
Does this photo really need a caption? We love Target.

4. We all have a story to share.

It doesn’t matter how happy, wealthy, or stable someone looks, that person probably has his/her own struggles. While traveling, I met people who opened up to me and told me about their difficult past, and how they overcame things like addiction, violence, and depression. This made me want to treat them (and everyone really) with more kindness. We never know who’s in the middle of a healing process, and some empathy, love, or small acts of kindness can go a long way.

5. Sometimes not getting what you want is the best thing.

While we were in San Francisco, we took a whole day to explore the nearby beaches. We spent a couple of hours at Baker and Marshall’s Beach soaking our feet in the water and taking shots of the Golden Gate Bridge from different angles.

Baker Beach San Francisco
Baker Beach, San Francisco, CA.

After that, we headed to the next vista point, but not without first having lunch. We were starving, so we drove around in search of a place to eat. After looking around, we found a perfect restaurant near the beach. But we started to look around for a parking spot and couldn’t find anything! We continued driving and we ended up parking half a mile from our original spot. I was tired and cranky, and I didn’t want to walk. I just wanted to eat!

After five minutes of walking we stumbled upon Cliff House, a beautiful ocean-front restaurant. We ended up having lunch there, and even got a table by the window with a view of the Seal Rocks. The food was delicious, and we loved every second of it.

Cliff House San Francisco

I don’t doubt that our experience would have been good at the other restaurant too, but we found our magic at Cliff House! So in the end, not finding a parking place was a good thing. The lesson I learned here is to let the universe surprise you!

6. Home is where family (love) is.

Many times during my trip, friends asked me if I missed home, to which I replied, “No, I don’t miss home because home is right here, with Marten and my dad.

I felt at home wherever we went. We made a home in each of our Airbnbs. Even the fancy hotel in Las Vegas felt like home. For me, home is more about the people than the physical structure.

Group family photo

7. You can create new habits while you travel.

Working out is an important part of my life. And when we embarked on our travels, I was afraid I’d lose that habit. But it wasn’t like that at all. On the contrary, a long trip can help you create new habits.

For instance, the first week we arrived in Los Angeles, I woke up between 5:00 and 6:00 am due to jet lag. And instead of going back to bed, I went out to exercise. While the sun was rising in beautiful LA, I did a 20-minute HIIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout. On other days, I joined the locals and went for a jog around the neighborhood while the rest of the group was sleeping. And when we stayed in hotels, I made use of the gym. Exercising during my travels made me feel energized for the day.

I decided to continue with this habit, so these days I go outside for a breath of fresh air first thing in the morning. And it feels so good!

View of Mount Rose from my hotel gym in Reno.
View of the mountains from my hotel gym in Reno.

8. You can learn to BE in the moment.

Going to new places can help us re-connect with the present moment. We leave the routine at home and just want to soak in all that newness. We appreciate more of what’s around us – the ocean, trees, people, and food – all the little things we sometimes take for granted.

Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe
Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe.

9. You can appreciate what you already have.

Once we were back, everything felt new. I almost had forgotten that we had such a cozy place. The first thing I said to my partner when we entered our place was, “Wow, do we really have such a clean and pretty kitchen?”

It’s not that the accommodations we stayed at in California weren’t clean or pretty, but some of them lacked certain things, like kitchen appliances or cleaning utensils. Having a fully-equipped kitchen made me feel lucky and grateful.

I experienced the same gratitude when I went out to my backyard: “Look! we have a backyard!” Now that I’m back, I appreciate some of the things that I had taken for granted. Everything amazes me. I’m now seeing things through the eyes of an explorer.

10. Never say never, and just go with the flow.

Sometimes we avoid doing certain things because we have labeled them as boring, difficult, popular, etc. During my stay in the U.S. I did things I’d once said I would never do:

  • Going to casinos. My thoughts before: “Gambling isn’t good.” After: “Let’s play one more!”
  • Getting obsessed with Starbucks. Before: “Too expensive and overrated.” After: “Best lattes ever.”
  • Going to a Madame Tussauds. Before: “Childish and crowded.” After: “Fun, interesting…Can we go again?”

I wouldn’t have normally chosen to do any of these things because “it wasn’t my thing.” But when my dad suggested them, I just went with the flow. And to my surprise, I ended up having lots of fun!

Joy can be found everywhere (and with everyone) if we allow it. Click To Tweet


So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed reading this list. What about you? Where was the last place you went on vacation, and what did you learn from that experience? Let me know in the comments below. ?


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Author: Jessica Araus

Jessica Araus is a mixed media artist and illustrator living in the Netherlands.

8 Replies to “10 Life Lessons I Learned From My First Trip to The USA

  1. Since I have been away from my primary residence almost a month now I can concur with what you have so beautifully written!

  2. I haven’t been on a vacation for a very long time. Instead of your 10 tips making me ache for a vacation I am able to incorporate them in my life. For example exercise is a big part of my life. Thank you for sharing.

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