Today I turned 30, and this is my first post after a long hiatus. After traveling the majority of last year, I had a rough couple months readjusting to life in the US. Going from absolute freedom, being able to go where the wind would take me, to working a full-time job was an unpleasant jolt. I felt stuck and a bit depressed for the first few months. Has that happened to you guys and gals out there? Have you ever felt really bummed to be back in your home country after an extensive trip, even though you have family and friends you care a lot about waiting for you?
Now that I am mostly past that hump (a traveler never feels quite right unless he or she is traveling), I have been thinking about my experiences over the last 10 years of world travel and the ways it has changed me. Here is what I have learned from my travels:
- What my passion really is – I learned that travel is my true passion, not the silly answers I give in job interviews to make myself a prime candidate for whatever position they are offering. I wish I discovered this when I was in college, but hey, it’s never too late to realize what your true passion is.
- The value of making new friends – Many of my friends and family, and even strangers for that matter, ask me “you’re traveling alone? Don’t you get lonely?” That’s because they don’t realize that if you are open to it, you will make plenty of friends out there in the world. Some of the people I have met would be my best friends if we both actually lived in the same city, or even same country for that matter. By staying open to meeting people, it was rare that I have ever spent more than a few days without meeting someone new and interesting.
- To be OK with being uncomfortable – When I travel, I am usually hungry, tired, sweaty, dirty or just uncomfortable in some way every day. Some moments I find myself feeling a combination of 2 or more of these sensations at the same time. Now, that’s not the same for everyone. I like the ‘roughing it’ style of travel, so some of those experiences I choose to save money. Either way you travel, life of luxe or roughing it like me, you learn to just DEAL with it. It has toughened me up, and I am less likely to complain about silly shit when I am in my home country.
- Impermanence – This was a big lesson for me during my last trip. Heraclitus (no not Heracles) said – “The only thing that is constant is change.” He was right, but when you’re caught up in a routine that doesn’t change much, you may not get to experience this at the same rate as you do when you travel. I spent 2015 changing cities every couple days, meeting tons of people, and traveling by plane, train, bus, van and motorcycle. Besides my two months in Brazil, I don’t think I stayed in one city longer than 9 days, sleeping in a different bed every few nights. I came to understand in a very experiential way that all things are impermanent. Jobs, people you know, the things you have, situations, emotions, ALL OF IT! It’s not really a reassuring lesson, but it definitely puts things into perspective.
- That prejudice is stupid – I am not a prejudice person, but no matter what, I feel that when you grow up in a certain environment, you nonetheless learn to perceive and judge things as the people that surround you do. Once I moved away from my hometown and started traveling the world, I began to gain enough perspective to examine different beliefs that I grew up with about other people and their cultures. It’s hard to explain, but Mark Twain said it best – “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Click HERE for an in-depth article about how travel is the destroyer of prejudice.
- To try new things – If you are going to places you’ve never been before, then you’re already trying something new. Take it a step further and try something you’re uncomfortable with (within certain boundaries of course). I’ve eaten camel face, fried bull’s testicles, sea urchin, crickets, scorpions, horse meat, and I drank fermented horse milk (btw I’m vegetarian now, so sorry to those animals I ate just to “try something new” it seems silly to me now). I’ve gotten tattooed, gone sky-diving, scuba-diving, and learned to ride a motorcycle in the insane streets of Chiang Mai. Some things I don’t feel the need to try again (like the animals), and others have become a part of my current lifestyle (motorcycles for instance)!
- More about myself – I’m already very introspective, but traveling has deepened my self-awareness significantly. Many people assume that they know themselves, and to a certain level everyone does. However, many of those people are still not sitting quietly with their own minds for very long. Western culture is big on never being bored. So, there are a myriad of distractions available. TV, internet; playing music constantly, when we drive, when we work, when we cook, at the dinner table. When I travel there are times when I don’t have access to those things, and other times when I’ve chosen to avoid them. I’ve been to villages in India without electricity. I’ve done 10-day Vipassana meditations, meditating for 11 hours a day and being silent the whole time. I’ve rode thousands of kilometers (or miles) on a motorcycle never listening to music, just observing the scenery and listening to myself. Those instances allowed me to shut up enough to listen to what my head and heart were saying. Try it sometime! You might be surprised.
- To look at my culture of origin with perspective – This was another big lesson from my most recent trip. I think it hit me harder than my previous travels because this time I was in Asia and not a western country where the differences in culture are less noticeable. When I was in the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, my first time in the US that year, a woman across from me was ordering catering for her company luncheon. I felt a strong aversion to how corporate the US is. My culture of origin is too focused on the dollar, producing and consuming. Since coming back I have noticed how barraged we are with advertisements of all kinds, images of what beauty should look like, and the correct way to perceive the world around us. Our worldview is being shaped by media and marketing. I’m reminded of yet another quote: ”Economies thrive when individuals strive, but because individuals will only strive for their own happiness, it is essential that they mistakenly believe that producing and consuming are routes to personal well-being.”
- The value of acceptance – Some aspects of another people or culture are bound to test your beliefs. They will no doubt look at life a little differently, or have behaviors that will appall or shock you. No matter what, I learned to respect other people and their beliefs or worldview. Sometimes I talked to someone long enough to realize that the way I was thinking about an issue or value had holes, and I came to a space where I felt I needed to alter my values in order to accommodate this new understanding.
- To be in the present moment – This was another important lesson ( I guess they were all important to me). I realized that when I have a routine, I spend a lot of time thinking about the past or future, and far too little time just enjoying the present. When I take a long vacation, it is exactly the opposite. Every day I do exactly what I want to, for me! Because of this, each day is so full, and the time seems to stretch on for much longer than a day back in the US. During past trips, I’d do something in the morning, and that same evening I’d feel as if it was something I did a couple days ago. It’s like being in never-never land. In travel-time a day feels like a week, a week feels like a month, a month feels like a year, all because I am ever-present, not looking to kill time or just get the day over with (like many of us do during a work-day).
I feel as though I learned other lessons, both big and small, and just couldn’t remember them at the time of writing this. Please share any lessons that you have learned from being out in the world! Thanks for reading, follow my blog and contact me sometime!