From learning to let go of belongings, to finding the courage to travel alone, taking leaps of faith to go with the flow (instead of being a militant planner), to being fun-employed past the one year mark, I feel like I’ve had an emotional growth spurt.
In the process of exploring our beautiful world the past 10 months, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a few new life lessons too.
29 Things I Learned This Year
- Being happy doesn’t require very much. I’ve lived out of a backpack for the last 10 months, with 3 pairs of pants, 4 pairs of shorts, 6 t-shirts and 3 sweaters, I’ve (surprisingly) never once missed my closet of clothes or wished I was back in my apartment. Some of my favourite moments have been from experiences and not from material things, like simply looking the stars in the Thar Desert in India.
- Fear can be beat by believing in something bigger than yourself. I’ve been scared to write since high school after my English teacher stamped a big, red cross bone & skull on one of my essays. Somehow in my desire to share my journey and travel experiences, I’ve summoned the courage to write this blog and even post on other major blogs. I’m happy to say I’m no longer (as) scared of sharing my thoughts with the world.
- I’m more capable than I thought. I’ve managed to navigate from town to town, overcome shyness to make new friends, even go scuba diving to 18 metres deep without freaking out. In facing new situations and with no companion traveller to lean on, I’ve seen myself step-up to challenges and achieve things I couldn’t imagine myself doing before.
- The body is surprisingly resilient. I expected to get sick as soon as my trip started in India. I thought I’d get indigestion from Southeast Asian street food or to sprain an ankle from always around with my backpack. None of these have happened. Maybe I’ve been lucky or maybe happiness has kept me healthy, but I’m grateful and pleasantly surprised at how well my body has coped with the stress of long-term travel.
- The mind is also just as resilient. As I discovered at my 10 day Vipassana silent meditation course in Malaysia, it’s possible to go suddenly not talk, read, write, surf the web, take photos and not eat meat for 10 days straight. Discovering that I can live without what I thought were life basics was empowering and clarifying.
- Working remotely isn’t as easy as it sounds. Not only is the internet sometimes not reliable enough to handle large or talking on Skype, I was in a different timezone from the colleagues I was working with. For anyone who wants to experiment with working remotely, I recommend starting off by staying in one spot for a few weeks a time rather than move from city to city every few days.
- Life unfolds in unexpected ways, that’s a good thing! After Southeast Asia, I was supposed to go to the South Pacific before heading home. In an unexpected turn of events, I met another traveller and I ended up going to the opposite direction to Turkey and then travelled for 5 months by rail in Europe instead.
- Travelling = living life. When I was working, I saw travel as an escape from life and that everything would magically become perfect when I was on vacation. Travelling long-term has made realize that travel is far from “perfect” and since you can’t escape yourself, long-term travel becomes just living life.
- I feel whole by myself. When I was a long-term relationship, I had the emotional security to know there was someone to support me up when things were overbearing. In challenging myself to travel alone, I’ve discovered that I feel like a complete person in my own company – this is probably been one of the most empowering realizations I’ve had in my life.
- Change brings more change. When I first left my job I couldn’t imagine being without a steady income. When I got over that, I couldn’t imagine not having a place to live. Then I couldn’t imagine spending major holidays away from home. However, the more change I created, the more I experienced, and the more I grew as a person.
- Imagination is very powerful. I was shocked by how bright and happy Dracula’s castle was in Brasov, and far from the dark place I imagined. Since then I’ve wondered what seemingly daunting ideas or obstacles are actually creations of the imagination.
- The individual voice does matter. Sometimes we lose perspective and believe we’re not important to the world. But your unique story, feelings and knowledge do make a big difference to someone else. On days when I forget why I blog, I read comments like this one, and I’m reminder that it’s a privilege to connect heart-to-heart with other people.
- Have faith, jump, and the net will appear. I’ve attempted a lot of things this year that I didn’t know would be possible. I sold a 1,500 sq. ft apartment worth of furniture in 3 weeks on Craigslist, pitched an article to a major newspaper editor and had it accepted, and even started using my blog is an asset to help fund my travels.
- Everyday is a gift. In having the freedom to choose how I spent everyday this past year, every “regular” day has been my “own”. This year, days that I used to consider major holidays like Christmas, New Year’s and my birthday, have each felt like a “regular” day, but in the most extraordinary way.
- The world isn’t as scary as the media leads you to believe. From watching news, I associated many parts of the world with civil unrest and crime. In Thailand, I thought I’d see nothing but drugs and prostitution; in Romania I thought I’d get robbed by gypsies. Both countries, among others I’ve visited, have turned out to be friendly and hospitable and nothing like how it was portrayed in the media.
- Living well doesn’t have to cost a lot. I first heard of “geo-arbitraging” from Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week book, but I didn’t the strategy applied to the average person until now. As some of my fellow travel blogger have mentioned, Thailand, Mexico and Berlin are just a few of the places in the world where you can live comfortably for under $1000 per month.
- Following travel dreams is not so crazy after all. Back in Toronto, where it’s normal to only have 3-4 weeks of vacation per year, leaving your job for a year sounded insane. Now I find myself surrounded by others who also left behind secure jobs and nice apartments to travel around the world. No matter how crazy your goals are, you are not alone.
- I’m lucky to have access to education and economic opportunities. I’ve taken for granted my standards of living in Canada, access to post-secondary education and economic/job opportunities. It’s not as easy in other parts of the world, especially for women. In India, there are children and families living in slum-like conditions and in Cambodia the literacy rate is only 75%.
- I know too little about the world. I’ve never really learned much world history/culture until now. Travelling has been an educational experience, but most importantly I’ve learned just how little I actually know about the world.
- It’s possible to cry tears of happiness. I cried the night I before leaving tropical Koh Tao, Thailand because I felt like I had left a piece of my heart there. In Rome, I felt so thankful to have the opportunity to see the Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel and to be in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. It’s been an honour to see these beautiful pieces of the world in person.
- Life and identity crisises are on-going. Finding my passion and identity has been an on-going process. I thought I wanted to pursue web design, then I realized I was attracted to the web because of it’s strength as a way to communicate, learn and interact with others. Looking back to the first-time I thought I was having quarter-life crisis, it was actually just the moment that I became aware that I felt disconnected with how I was spending my days.
- When you want to make it work, you’ll find a way to do it. Back in April on the one-year anniversary of my funemployment five months into my travels, I was torn between my desire to continue travelling and the going home to work again. I only budgetted a year off, but in following my passion to keep travelling, I’ve found ways to make it work, like partnering with Eurail.com for rail passes or using my blog to fund my travels.
- Gratitude puts everything perspective. When travelling, just like regular life, sometimes things just don’t go your away. Trains don’t show up, there’s no hot water or the food portions are too small. Every time I’m cranky, I remind myself how lucky I am – to have the opportunity to miss the train in Italy, to see Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or to be in Turkey drinking their (too) small shots of tea.
- Web 2.0 is my friend, but nothing compares to face-to-face contact. I spend a lot of time learning online, blogging and connecting with people on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn; but the strongest connections and friendships have been from meeting in person. This realization a big take-away for future relationship-building activities, in travel or otherwise.
- Alone doesn’t mean lonely. I thought I’d get sad from travelling alone, but I have yet to feel lonely these past 10 months. It’s been great to know I can enjoy my own company, because it means I can be even better company if I’m with others.
- It is possible to make a living doing what you love. Doing what you love and making money don’t have to be mutual exclusive, a great example is my traveller friend James Clark who I met back in Thailand who’s been travelling since 2003 by working in web design and travel marketing.
- Travelling doesn’t cost as much as I thought. I thought the LonelyPlanet guide was joking when they recommended budget of $20-$40/day for Southeast Asia. They weren’t. And as other experienced travellers commented in my reccent blog post about How much does it cost to travel?, it’s possible to travel for under $1,200/month in other parts of the world too.
- You can be anything, but you must give yourself permission first. When I was breaking out of my corporate identity this year, I experimented with telling people I was anything from a travel writer, photographer, web designer, social media manager, among other things. I expected people to frown with disapproval, but no one ever has. Turns out it’s been me who’s been frowning on myself.
- The grass is greener on this side. I used to compare myself to classmates and friends and found myself wishing for a better job, bigger salary or more money in the bank. This year, instead of pursuing what would make me more “comparable” to someone else, I’ve started following my heart and doing what makes me happy.
It’s been a privilege to share my journey with you this past year, and to be part of yours. I can’t think of anything else I could ask for more on my birthday.
To the friends who have asked if there’s more they can do, you can:
- Treat me to a Starbucks Frappucino: Starbucks eGift Card
- Enlighten me with a good book: my Amazon Kindle wishlist
- Fund my flight home for Christmas: add to my flight fund on PayPal
>> What interesting or new life lessons have you learned these past 12 months?
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- 45 Most Inspiring Quotes on Change