7 Things We Can All Learn From Jada Yuan’s Journey Around the World for The New York Times

It’s the dream job, and that’s certainly how The New York Times showcased it: travel to 52 places in 2018. Out of 13,000 applicants, Jada Yuan was the lucky soul who got to embark on a life-changing journey around the world, and write about it. Understandably, a year of non-stop travel will teach you many things, but much of what Yuan was to learn was unexpected.

In an inspiring and heartwarming article published in The New York Times called 1 Woman, 12 Months, 52 Places, Yuan recounts her journey over the last year, sharing lessons she learned along the way. The rawness of her words and honest description of the experience moved our editorial team, and we wanted to share which of her lessons left an impact on us!

1. Travel has its challenges, but it’s a privilege, and no matter what happens, you want to keep doing it over and again.

Every time Yuan would describe the year-long project she was on, the words dream job followed in hot pursuit. In her article, she explains that she was grateful to travel the world and do lots of exciting things like swimming in Australia’s waterfalls, paragliding off mountains, and devouring Michelin-star cuisine in France’s restaurants — but she also had to face reality.

Even a dream job requires dedication and hard work, more than you would think. Yuan worked her butt off for a year, chronicling her travels, filing stories on the go and spending time in front of a computer in some of the world’s most breathtaking destinations. But as Yuan so poignantly explains, the beauty of travel is that despite the challenges and mishaps, at the end of the day all you want is to do it all over again.

2. Research the places you are travelling to

Every country is different, with different currencies and different languages, a different pace and different cultural customs. An unreserved train ticket means one thing in India and another in Spain. Had I done cursory research on the dual-island African nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, I would have known to show up with a wad of euros, because the society is completely cash-based and there are no ATMs foreigners can use.

Jada Yuan, 1 Woman, 12 Months, 52 Places

Seeing new places is always an incredible feeling, but we enjoy travel so much more when the intricacies of it seep into our day-to-day routine. Having insight into the destinations we’re making our way to doesn’t simply arm us with facts, but enhances the overall experience and gives us an opportunity to learn more about our world.

3. Mishaps aren’t the end of the world

I’ve become far calmer from having to deal with mishap after mishap, and realizing that nothing dire usually happens. There would be another plane, and more trains if I missed that one, too. Maybe I’d lose a day, but when you’re on the road this long, time becomes malleable, too.

Jada Yuan, 1 Woman, 12 Months, 52 Places

When you’re travelling, you don’t know what to expect a lot of the time, sometimes these mishaps can feel like the end of the world, but in a way, it makes things more unpredictable.

No trip will ever go as perfectly as planned, and maybe that’s the point.
Travel allows us to grow, but if everything is smooth sailing the entire time, we don’t get a chance to learn that we’re capable of so much more than we realise.

4. We all need a superpower

I discovered I have a superpower, which may be the sole reason I’ve stayed relatively healthy: the ability to sleep anywhere, under any conditions. Give me a window seat on an airplane and I’ll be lights out before takeoff, no earplugs, eye mask or neck pillow.

I’d fall asleep in hotels on noisy streets as dogs barked all night, and in 20-minute chunks, regulated by an alarm, between writing paragraphs of articles on an all-nighter. In Tangier, two friends who joined me started looking like death because of hourlong prayer calls outside our windows every morning at 4 a.m. I didn’t even notice them.

Jada Yuan, 1 Woman, 12 Months, 52 Places

A few members of our team discussed whether or not we had a superpower while travelling. One of us had more patience on our trips, while another had developed an overly resistant stomach to street food, and our social media whiz has a knack for taking amazing pictures. It wasn’t something we’d thought about before, but we’re certainly going to cultivate a superpower to take with us on our travels thanks to Yuan.

5. Get out of your way

For two hours I watched the rain flood the dirt streets before me, and the inside of this prison. I tweeted out my location, just in case. Then my phone’s battery died, and it was just me and the torrent, alone in the wilds of Patagonia, with the sun going down.

I had to make a decision, and the decision was to run, through the rain. And in that rain, soaked and running, I looked around, at the blue-tinged mountains around me, and the jungle shrubs on all sides, and the kind people laughing at this silly foreigner who’d gotten caught in an abandoned prison in the rain, and realised that all the rest was superfluous. This was why I was here.

Something crystallised for me in that moment, of how singular this trip was. I started trying things: I jumped off a 30-foot cliff into freezing river water while “canyoning” in Megève, France; scuba dived and surfed for the first time in Fiji; and maybe scariest of all tried a taco with a crispy-fried ant at Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia.

Jada Yuan, 1 Woman, 12 Months, 52 Places

Years ago, I was in the middle of a brutal workout, completely ready to throw in the towel when my best friend said this magical phrase to me: “You’re only holding yourself back.” I’ve used these five little words throughout my life, but they’ve come in handy when I’ve been travelling. When we get out of our own way, the world becomes our oyster.

6. Be cautious while travelling, but not  fearful

Caution as a solo female traveler is healthy; blind fear is not. I find that for me the best system is to always remember that I am a tourist. It’s good to know what people who live in a place have to say about safety, but also realize that the rules that apply to them, who know where they are going, and can blend in, don’t apply to me.

Jada Yuan, 1 Woman, 12 Months, 52 Places

Sadly, there have been a number of tragic incidents in recent months involving travellers. Yuan emphasises that we have to learn and prioritise what safe means to us as individuals.

For Yuan, that meant not going out alone at night, but with friends in tow, she was happy to experience a city’s nightlife. At times she opted for cabs and Ubers instead of trying to save money on public transport. One night after a delayed flight, while fumbling for keys in a lockbox at 12 am for the apartment she had rented, with a stranger stumbling around just 20-feet away, Yuan vowed only to stay in hotels with 24-hour front desks.

Staying safe while travelling is paramount. Holidays often put us in a carefree state of mind, but thinking about what makes us feel safe and comfortable while exploring, and acting on it is essential. Healthy amounts of caution are necessary to ensure there’s nothing to fear while travelling.

7. Travelling by yourself does not mean you will be lonely

Solo travel is an experience I’d urge every human, and particularly every woman, to try at least once. You’ll find that while you might physically be without people you know, you’re rarely alone. I had a device in my pocket that allowed me to call home, and to post a picture on an app that opened up conversations with strangers who just seemed to want to wish me well.

Jada Yuan, 1 Woman, 12 Months, 52 Places

This! Being alone doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be lonely. If Yuan’s experience is anything to go by, travelling by yourself has its pros and cons, but the positive benefits will outweigh any of the adversities. Having to trust your instincts and no one but yourself is an invaluable experience. Having said that, you’ll also make friends along the way with the like-minded people you meet along the way and create memories that last a lifetime. So if there’s a dream trip you’ve wanted to go on, but you’ve been holding yourself back because you’re trying to plan it with friends or loved ones, take a leap of faith and do it alone!