Travel means different things to different people. From traditional life perspective, travel is a destination, place outside of normalcy – a bubble. Life pauses while away and resumes on return.
Life means different things to different people. Its excitement, struggle, frustration, acceptance, happiness and contentment, happening independently and simultaneously on a forward path.
But what happens when you give travel permissions to your days, weeks, months, life? It no longer resembles an outlying bubble but another path. And what happens when the path of life, and path of travel merge? What can you learn walking this path?
Travelers who embark on such journey find their own answers – no right or wrong, better or worse, only different but all matters. Here are ten travel imparted life lessons.
1. The World is a Safe, Friendly Place
If you choose to embrace the positive and possibilities. The danger of violence, disease portrayed on news and sometimes from friends and families are usually a stereotype of a small portion of the culture and geographic area. Do heed the government travel warning and be aware of current events, but don’t let that deter you from exploring that part of the world.
2. People are all Fundamentally Good
Random kindness is demonstrated in every country I’ve visited. From giving helpful directions to going out of the way to help track down a lost luggage, there are always locals and friendly travelers to lend a helping hand sometimes in places you least expected. And as such, you learned to pay the kindness forward to others in need.
3. Happiness is Abundant and all Around Us
We just have to recognize it. Observing poverty in third world countries where people struggle to live day-to-day, and see how easily a smile, a laughter and a willingness to share as a community changes your perspective and challenges you to reevaluate what it means to be happy. It is not about choices, options, having more, having better. Rather it’s recognizing what is already around you.
4. Change is a Constant
While changes happen in our daily life, they intensify with travel. The bed we lay-in changes every few days, the time zone flips back and forward, and the languages and currencies only make the change more apparent. We cross paths with people on overnight buses, shared taxis, and breakfast tables, and serendipitous friendships form quickly and intensely exactly because we know the path will quickly part again. It’s in brevity and impermanence we recognize the beauty and value of now.
5. Few Choices in Life are Irreversible
People worry by nature, about not having enough – money, security, love, and time. Viewing life as a sequences of choices, we fear making wrong ones that are damaging and irreversible; ending a long term relationship or overextend on a thirty year mortgage are challenging to navigate and correct course, but few are truly irreversible on their own; you have to make several grave mistakes one after another to go down an unlikely, difficult to recover path. Most life choices are outside of that category: changing job, moving away, or taking a long career break to see the world. Even when we do make seemingly irreversible choices, wounds heal, memories fade, perspectives change. When life is long, it has a funny way of working itself out.
6. Life takes You where You Aught To Be
And not necessarily where you want to be. From a wrong train station drop-off to a missed flight connection, we are dissatisfied when events don’t unfold the way we want them to. But if you are willing to put aside how things “should” be, put aside the anger and disappointment of not getting what you want, the seemingly random conversations, people met, route taken at the time may impact your decisions a week, months or a year later; you just don’t know it yet. Sometimes “Lost” is exactly where you need to be the most. Life takes you where you aught to be – and gives not what you want, but what you need.
7. Being is a Privilege
Being invited to a wedding, a family meal, a birthday celebration, or a random game of chess or soccer, or just share a cup of afternoon tea. It matters not the country, culture, or activity, being with and know people who open their arms to you is always a privilege.
8. Embrace Duality
Be it religion, philosophy or politics, our ideas or opinions, likes and dislikes, in one way defines us but in another limits our growth. While ideas of opposites or dualities, seem to require selection of one, they are just man-made constructs. Conflicts between ideas exist because each alone is incapable of and inadequate in describing the whole. Yet we label ourselves with incomplete pieces while rejecting the other half. To understand, we have to let go of these labels and reach out to learn the world around us.
9. To Live is to Learn and Play
A favorite photographer in his book encouraged the best way to learn is to simply play. Pick up the camera, turn it around, flip it upside-down; learn hands-on with trials and errors, play as children do as we all did once. But somewhere along growing up, between responsibilities, risks, cautions and consequences, we forgot how to play. To run off the edge of table, to crawl into the small space behind the couch, to take a weekend trip on a whim, to dance to the music in your head, to ask a lone diner to join you, or to throw out the day plan and spend the morning in the perfectly worn out couch reading a novel recommended by a fellow traveler months back. Embrace random, throw out what-ifs, say yes, and learn along the way.
10. Count Your Blessings
Food on the table every day, a bed to sleep in, a roof to shelter, good health, loving spouse, caring family, and supporting friends. Sometimes travel gives you a seat front and center, to see life without these basic human conditions. Recognize these blessings and their impermanence, and cherish and protect them.
* * *
Travel is broad, narrow, far and near. It awakens the senses, takes you to new sights, circumstances, people where you see the beautiful, the ugly and then for what they really are. The expansiveness of the edgeless ocean, the warmth and brilliantness of a sunrise that can never be captured on a swatch, the moment when opening a car window, airplane hand, and gentle summer breeze meet, and the first time you see true poverty and true happiness side by side. More importantly it changes you inside, small and big, sudden and quiet without fanfare. A recognition, an understanding, a new perspective, like a tiny spark of flame taking shape, lighting up the unexplored part of you for you to discover. That to me, is life happening.
2012, 2013, lessons learned, southeast asia