To be honest, the full list would probably look more like 100 life lessons. Two years of traveling has taught me more than 18 years of public school education in one of the nation’s best K-12 districts and a top 30 private university. But these nine life lessons ring close to heart, so here they are in no particular order!
1. Learn to open yourself up to strangers.
Sometimes, all it takes is a single “yes” to a stranger’s offer of adventure to make friends and memories that will last a lifetime. Sounds cliché, no? But it actually has happened to me. Two summers ago I was backpacking solo in Western China, when two random guys in their late twenties asked me if I wanted to join them for a spontaneous trip into Central Asia; they had an extra bus ticket. I was 18 years old and fresh out of high school. A hundred suspicions and concerns swept through my mind. I said yes. The fire of traveling and excitement was burning in my heart and I threw away all worries and logic. I will never forget my trip to Central Asia, and those two amazing guys are now some of my best travel buddies! Sometimes, when you say yes to spontaneous and even dangerous things, you will gain experiences beyond any sort of expectations. And I have never regretted anything travel-related that I have said agreed to.
2. At the same time, don’t be so naive and trusting.
The world is a very messed up and complicated place. Having courage is not enough to get you around the globe alive; you also need good judgement and attention to detail. A lot of us travelers have developed a sixth sense about danger, and we know right off the bat whether someone can be trusted or not. It is not that people are bad; in fact, most people in the world are probably just like you and me. But it is important to remember that there are a lot of people who would not mind hurting you if they get a benefit out of it. Everyone is selfish to some degree. It is not personal; it is just reality.
3. The world is so big and life is actually pretty great.
Life can get pretty boring when everything is routine, and from there it is easy to sink into depression or constantly feel that life is meaningless save for drugs and video games. That is not anyone’s fault. What do people expect to come out of rotting away in a classroom for 20 years or more of their youth, or sitting forever in a cubicle until they retire? Maybe life is boring because you have not yet done the exciting things. Once you come out of the bubble aka your native town or college town, you will see just how much the world has to offer. Climb the Himalayas and snorkel in Egypt’s Blue Hole! Live your life on the margin–it will be more dangerous, but you’ll also feel incredibly alive! Even if you cannot afford to go abroad, try to explore the nooks and crannies of your own town, meet new friends using dating apps, or take up a new class. I can assure you that the world is an incredible place, you just need to get out there and get out of your comfort zone!
4. Solitude is a necessary and good thing.
Often, we are so caught up laughing with friends and chasing the bright neon lights of night skylines, that we do not pause to reflect. When you are traveling alone, you will inevitably have to face the silence. Treasure those moments, because they help you grow as a person. Traveling breaks you down to your bones and makes you face the darkest fears that you often pretend to not exist. But every time you successfully walk out of them, you arrive as a stronger and more wholesome person. You grow at an incredible speed, and come to understand the world and humankind better. Some may say this is quite a cruel way of “growing up”, but it is also the most rewarding way to gain wisdom. You might want to read my article on why I am obsessed with traveling.
5. It takes more courage and strength than you can ever imagine to live the nomadic lifestyle.
What I view as my burning passion is often looked down by society as a “pastime, like Netflix”. And I have so many examples I could share with you. The most recent one was an interview I had two mornings ago with the company that I will be interning with in London. One of the recruitment staff asked me if I had any hobbies outside of school that I did not write on my resume. I told him I was absolutely passionate about traveling, blogging and photography, and how I dream to be recruited by a magazine like the National Geographic one day.
The guy looked at me and was like: “Okay but besides photography do you have any real hobbies?” Excuse me? Of course I understand that he wanted me to elaborate on my debate team experience, or talk more about how I dabble in translation/interpretation and have my own broadcasting platform. His eyes lit up when I switched to saying how much my summer internships meant to me.
But how could he understand the hours and hours I put into my travel blog, the sweat and tears I spend editing my photos, or how much traveling and photography means to me? Nonetheless, when people look at or talk to you that way, all you have to remember is that the world is a very rapidly changing place. And what is considered bizarre today may be the norm tomorrow. So instead of trying to fit into society’s cut-out mold, just do what you want to do and enjoy it! Life is so short, why should we care about anything else?
6. My own mortality.
I have really realized just how mortal I am, and how even if a single part of my body wrong, I could die. When you are back home, every day is pretty much the same, and you do not expect a meteor to fall on you or to be deported because you overstayed your visa (to be determined after the recent election...). But when you are traveling, things are different. You cannot expect anything, and sometimes you slide right past death itself.
7. The only three things you really need to bring with you as you fly off to your next adventure are your passport, a phone, and a credit card.
If you were only allowed one, it would be that plastic item. Because the truth of the matter is that the world runs on money. Another tip is to always tuck 50 dollars/euros/pounds in your phone, or however much you need to survive on for a day, in case you lose your wallet or an emergency happens. Although chapstick, medical insurance cards, earphones and a flashdrive are also items that come in handy!
8. It is extremely difficult to find a serious relationship while on the nomadic lifestyle.
Most guys or girls that you will meet on the road are only down for a hook-up or a casual fling at best. It is completely understandable, because part of being a traveler is not wanting to settle down. But even as someone who feels the same way, sometimes I just cannot help but want something more. And I would recommend not to wear your heart on your sleeve. It is going to get broken very often that way.
9. Traveling has allowed me to see the world for what it really is.
My biggest fear is to have lived my life meaninglessly, like the billions of people out there who work 9-5 and yet come home feeling empty and that their existence means nothing. I kind of see the world as three different “worlds”. The super rich at the top exploits the lowest class who resembles nothing more than termites. There is also the middle “working” class, who seem to live a comfortable life, but a rather boring one at that.
But there is one thing that these three worlds all share in common: being caught up in commodities and material goods. 13 billion people live like pigs who stuff themselves everyday, not knowing that they will just end up being sacrificed to better the top level. They do not like their jobs; they just do it because either they have to, or it is a good way to pass time. They settle for everything, because they are too tired to fight for more. Such is the law of this society, and since society has dominated the world, it is also the law of this world. The system wants to chain us all and dumb us down to nothing more than consumerist pigs.
Some people may think it is enough yet I cannot brainwash myself into thinking so.
I hate the system. I want to break free of it. I think such a life is pointless and meaningless, and find the biggest struggles an average person has to deal with everyday to be not worth my time. I do not wish to climb the ladder to reach the top, nor do I want to be above the system. I wish to be outside of it; I do not like society, but I like this world. I only want to travel and love and laugh and be in touch with my own existence -- but alas I am plagued with social media and trying to meet people’s expectations. I overthink everything. Even a simple past-time like people-watching, for me, becomes a rapid analysis of everyone’s life like what they regret and wish for or why they think they are even alive. It is my own curse, I suppose. For someone who values freedom and happiness so much as me, I am tormented by the worst that could happen to me. I want to understand the meaning of our existence and of this world, and I wish to soar freely beyond the reach of society’s claws. Is that too much to ask for?