“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
On January 17th, 2012 I rented out my house and boarded a plane to Stockholm. In the past 2.5 years I’ve traveled to over 20 countries and have had quite a few adventures along the way. Through my travels I’ve been blessed with quite an education on the world’s nations and my perspective and lease on life has changed a great deal.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned…
It saddens me that this is still a shocking revelation for many people, especially Americans. I think it should be mandatory education in school. For whatever reason, most of us are brainwashed from a young age that long term travel is a ridiculous and superfluous luxury afforded to only the most elite class.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I suggest picking up Vagabonding & The Four Hour Work Week if you need to get the lowdown on just how cheap world travel can be. Also, check out our article about the pros and con’s of living abroad.
In spite of the vast differences in the world’s cultures, if you speak to farmers in Thailand, Dutch fishermen, Filipino web designers, or Swiss millionaires, you start to see how incredibly alike we all are where it counts.
Everyone wants the best for their friends and family. Everyone wants love, security, pleasure, a sense of purpose, and hopes for a better tomorrow. We all have the same basic wants and desires, it’s only the way we express them that differs. Once you realize this, you can relate to everyone in the world if you look a bit deeper, past the superficial things that set you apart.
As the saying goes, “No matter where you go, there you are.” If you’re running from your old life, or to avoid facing yourself, you won’t find solace on the road. In fact, the opposite seems true.
The adventures of travel, the meeting of strange new cultures, religions, and ways of doing things will most likely bring to the surface any issues you haven’t dealt with, and perhaps a few you didn’t even know you had.
This is a beautiful opportunity to remake yourself, a rebirth of sorts. Don’t block yourself off from the opportunities for growth you encounter. Instead, embrace them.
Although the evening news would have you believe that the world outside your boarders is in a constant state of political upheaval, natural disaster, and chaos, it is usually quite benign. The fact is that just like in your home town, people all over the world are simply going about their lives in a very similar fashion.
Nearly everyone, in every nation, gets up and goes to work, goes shopping for food, gathers around a table for supper, and raises their children as best they can. It can be amazingly interesting to see how different other cultures are, but to the locals, they’re just living their lives.
I’m far from being a language expert. When I say “speaking”, I don’t mean speaking with native fluency. I myself am only fluent in two languages, Spanish and English. What I’ve found is that trying to speak to locals in their native tongue at first makes you seem much less like a snooty tourist and more like an interesting traveller.
It can mean the difference in getting a dinner reservation or a room in a hotel, and it can lead to you creating memorable experiences with people that wouldn’t have given you the time of day without your bit of effort.
Don’t worry about sounding foolish, brush up on the basics of any language you’ll be around and watch how differently people react to you.
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
~Viktor E. Frankl
When I first found myself on a beach in the tropics, with enough money to last many months, I thought I would be content forever. But the time came, just as it has for all those who walked this path before us, when I couldn’t sip another damn fruity drink. I couldn’t bear the thought of another day spent relaxing and watching the tides roll in and out.
Crazy right!? Not really. As humans, we are made to work, and without it we deteriorate quite rapidly. Whether it’s volunteering, building a business, or continuing your education, nearly all of us find that without a purpose we cannot experience true happiness or peace.
Don’t mistake me for the metaphysical sort, who advocates giving away all your hard earned cash and living like a hobo, that’s not what I’m getting at here. Money is of course quite a useful tool, but it is just a tool. Regardless of how many digits there are in your bank account life still happens.
Often times the greatest peace is found when we learn to need less, not to have more.
When I first set out across the world I had a backpack and two large rolling suitcases. I had condensed my life to fit in these three bags and I was SCARED! Perhaps I had been foolish, I thought. What about all of the things I didn’t have anymore? What if I needed them?
I soon came to realize that I had so much more space in my life for peace and happiness. The less crap I had to weigh me down the more freedom I felt. Now I travel with a single backpack, and if I didn’t need it to carry this laptop that I’m writing to you from then I might not carry a bag at all.
“You can’t please everyone. When you’re too focused on living up to other people’s standards, you aren’t spending enough time raising your own.”
Be true to yourself. If you are confident enough and share your thoughts with enough people, you will piss someone off. Don’t let it get you down, at the end of the day it’s their problem, not yours.
High school is over (thank God!). Peer pressure is for people who are afraid of their individuality. Walk the path that feels right for you, and no one else. Name dropping, bragging about your success (or lack thereof), or trying to show off will never give you true validation.
True validation comes from unapologetically living your own life and chasing your dreams.
Looking back on my travels, it’s not that fancy hotel in London, it’s not that amazing sushi in Osaka, and it’s not the incredible scuba diving in Belize that are most memorable. These were incredible experiences of course, but the things that truly shaped my life and changed my perspective were more simple.
It is the week long romance with the beautiful Dutch girl I met while traveling through Indonesia, it was sitting on a pier in Mexico talking to a local fisherman about the meaning of life. The people that I’ve met and the lessons that I’ve learned along the way mean far more to me than any destination I’ve visited.
Pride and patriotism seem to be universal. When you meet someone in another country most of them will be quick to tell you something special about their city, country, or culture. Every nation in the world is busting at the seams with its own special, unique heritage and way of doing things.
Be respectful of other people customs and beliefs, and they will almost always reciprocate in kind.
Many people are terrified of the world beyond their neighborhood. But step outside your homeland borders and you’ll find that the vast majority of the people in the world aren’t terrorists, rapists, and thieves.
The world is full of people just like you and me., just living their lives and trying to get by. They love their nations and their families, and they are generally accepting of those who are different from themselves. There is no race, nationality, or religion that is exempt from this rule.
The way we go about our lives may be different, but the general wants and desires are the same.
What have you learned in your travels?