15 Lessons My Mama Taught Me That Served Me Well During My Travels

by Megan Lee

It’s Mother’s Day, so it’s only natural you’re feeling-all-the-feels. Whether choosing a card for your mom at the shop,  brainstorming a gift that captures your appreciation for her, or crafting the perfect Facebook post, you’re probably thinking “I have the best Mom ever.”

And while you might have the best mom ever, I definitely have the Best June Ever. I love this woman, whom I lovingly call “bug” or “junie-moon.” Despite the miles that have separated us since leaving the Midwest at age 22, we’ve managed to forge and maintain a relationship that can only be described as one of my life’s richest blessings. She’s the kind of mom that everyone’s jealous of– she’s not only emotionally supportive and loving, but she’s really, really fun. She always beats me to the dance floor, splurges on pizza for me and my friends, and is the first to stick her fingers up her nose for a funny photo.

Megan Lee with her mother June Lee

June & Lil' June

Though we didn’t do much international travel while I was a kid, she instilled in me a love for adventure and the outdoors from a young age. We’d pack up our pop-out camper and head to Potato Creek for weeks at a time. Once we upgraded to our big camper, we ventured further distances, like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. I owe a lot of my adventurous spirit to her.

Without her support, I would've never studied in Africa or moved to China for a year when I graduated, nor would I have taken the leap for my dream job leading study abroad programs for Carpe Diem Education. Thanks Junebug for these little bits of wisdom that I’ve drawn inspiration, truth, and lessons from while traveling.

1. Leave a place cleaner than you found it.

Oh the days as a kid, combing the campsite to pick up even the tiniest bits and pieces of garbage, groaning and mumbling under my breath. Mom instilled in me, from a young age, the importance of ensuring the next visitors to a place find it nicer and more shiny than we did. This thought influences my mentality when I enter foreign communities, continuously inspiring me to be courteous and thoughtful towards future visitors. 

2. You don’t need a clean shower to be clean.

As a traveler, I’ve had my fair share of awkward showers in dicey-hostels. It’d probably be easier to book a fancy hotel where I KNOW my shower will be warm, the pressure just right, and the towels fluffy. But that’s really not the case when you want to see the nitty gritty of a country - sometimes this means homestays and bucket showers and having little critters join you for your daily cleanse. And it’s alllllllll good.

Grandmother reading to her grandchildren

She reads only very important books to the children in her life.

3. "Your fake English accent is annoying."

She was pretty adamant in her negative opinion of my take on the classic British intonation (“But mummy!”). Hurt feelings aside, this awareness probably kept me from ruining a lot of friendships.

4. Hikes are mandatory.

Though this wrought me to tears as a 5 year old, I’m so thankful that my mom helped me lace up my tennies for long walks as a kid. Hiking is now one of my favorite pastimes, not only because nature is one sexy-mofo, but because it makes me feel closer to my family, too.

5. Eat new stuff.

Our first trip to a foreign country together – England when I was 13 – was a really life-changing experience for my young teenage eyes (in fact, it’s where I first learned the concept of “study abroad,” which has defined my vocation!). We saw Stonehenge, went to Shakespeare’s Theater, got lost in a field of sheep – good times were had. Of all of my family members, my mom was the most adventurous when it came to the plate. She’d always order something new and different (okay, it was usually just muesli, but still, NOT CORNFLAKES?) – this was a really important behavior for me to observe.

6. Be proud of where you come from.

We may not get everything right and we may hold conversations a few decibels too loud for others, but being an American means something. I should feel proud to come from my country; my mother wears a flag pin on her nurse’s uniform every day. While I still hold some reservations about whether I should feel “proud” of things beyond my control – nationality, race, sex, family history, birthplace, etc. – I appreciate that she instilled in me a sense of accountability for positively representing where I come from.

Christmas themed 5k costumes

Running a Christmas 5K together to support the Lake County Animal Shelter - we're the snowmen!

7. Sometimes, it’s okay to pay a little extra for convenience.

While long bus rides, train journeys, and overland travel has its own intrinsic value, sometimes you just need to splurge on that flight.

8. Own your actions.

She always made me take ownership of my choices, and taught me not to blame others for my mistakes or lack of good judgment. The good thing about owning a mistake is that you actually end up learning from it. This is applicable whether booking the wrong flight, interacting inappropriately in a foreign culture, being a bad hostel roommate, making a questionable career switch. Ownership = learning = sweet spot.

9. Be resourceful.

To this day, I’ve never met a more creative and resourceful human as my mom. She could take a last minute request and turn something around on the spot, using whatever skills and materials she had available. While volunteering in Fiji, I looked around and found an old mattress to sponge paint our mural with. While visiting Mongolia, I used socks as gloves (should've researched the weather better!). These are silly manifestations of this lesson but the truth remains: never use a lack of resources as an excuse.

10. Give and give and give.

I remember being befuddled as a kid when the adults would argue over who would pick up the bill after a nice meal. Now I TOTALLY get it, and appreciate that I've repeatedly witnessed my mother’s generous spirit. Giving feels really dang good, and it doesn't just have to be money, either. Time, effort, energy is equally if not more valuable.

11. Be independent, but need someone a little bit.

We always argue a bit on this one, as she seems to think I’m too independent for my own good. “It’s okay to need someone,” she’ll say. “Why not ask for help?” And though my stubborn streak can be strong, it is nice to replay these words in my mind and then relinquish control (at least for a bit). It reminds me that being tough and being needy are not mutually exclusive.

New Christmas morning tradition - hiking at Indiana Dunes State Park

New Christmas morning tradition - hiking at Indiana Dunes State Park

12. Enjoy the little things!

While my brother and I always tease her for calling things “Neat” and for beckoning the baseball team mascot to dance with her, I know we both are secretly so proud to have a mom who loves life and lives it fully. And it's not just crazy adventures, like deep-sea fishing, that she signs up for. She loves sitting on the back porch, hanging the clothes on the line, riding her bike to the market. Her life is sweet, simple, and thoroughly enjoyed. When I’m traveling, I always try to stop, think about where the heck I am on a globe, and pause to relish in the little things like she does.

13. Don’t get a cat to blackmail your daughter to move home.

She tried it on me and it didn’t work. Now she’s stuck with a fat white furball named Thofie. How did this help my travels? It made me more confident in my decision to pursue a life away from home, and made me come face to face with the fact that cats will always come second to my passport. For now. :-)

14. Believe in yourself.

More than anything, my mom has encouraged me to put my mind to something and make it happen. She’s not lazy, and she would never stand for having a lazy daughter, either. I appreciate the work ethic and drive she exemplified for me in her work as a nurse, mom, cheerleader, ride giver, dinner maker, hugger, last-minute-project helper, listener, adviser, runner, mentor, Sound of Music partner, etc. You want to travel the world as a program leader? Do it. You want to start a yoga club in China? Do it. 

June Lee on the Great Wall in China

Streetlamp on the Great Wall of China

15. At the end of the day, your family is your rock.

I’ve become more brave and self-sufficient than I think I ever intended. And while friends have come and gone over the years (in large part due to my thus-far nomadic ways), my mom has never left me. She has always been there, asking how my day went, oogling the pictures, reminding me to self-care, and sharing in my joys and struggles. It takes a special person to remain so present in another’s life despite the miles between – but it also takes work.

You must choose to commit to your family and keep them steadfast. It requires patience, love, and a recognition of the seasonality of relationships. It takes some heartbreak. It means missing out. But it can also mean the moments when you’re together are sweeter than Indiana corn after the 4th of July.

In conclusion...

Ol’ June taught me a lot of other cool stuff too – like “make 13 monthly payments per year,” “don’t curse on the internet,” and the importance of ice cream with chocolate sauce and peanuts – and while those have served me well in life, they haven’t popped up on my travels (yet). I feel so lucky to have this woman in my life, to not only teach me important things, but to love me as I go through the sometimes painful process of REALLY understanding difficult lessons. Without her (and my awesome father’s - shoutout Dandy) emotional support, financial backing, and incredible encouragement, my life of travel – studying abroad, teaching abroad, and volunteering abroad – would’ve never come to fruition.

Thank your mom today for allowing your travel dreams to come true!