One Year Later…
One year. One whole year. Take a deep breath and…
I’ll start with: I can’t believe I actually did it. I can’t believe I’m actually typing this from a little coffee shop in Melbourne, Australia. Australia! I can’t believe all of my goals, hopes, dreams, everything, became a reality in the last year.
When I was 8 or 9 I knew I wanted to travel. I knew I wanted to see the places, things and people this world had to offer. In high school I would sit in class and daydream about leaving the world I knew. I’d lay in bed at night and dream big, placing myself in a far off corner of the world, just a backpack, camera, and myself walking the streets of a land I’d never been before. The desire to travel, this desire to see the world has been embedded in me since I can remember, and then finally, this past year, everything became a reality.
I suppose part of me never doubted it would happen. The dream of the whole thing was simply too big, rooted too deep into my soul for me not to listen to it. Not going was never an option because the regret of it simply would have been too big. And so last September, breath held, backpack packed, and camera charged, I leaped into the world and gave up everything I knew to head into the great unknown.
And the unknown it was. Lesson One: The world is an incredible, huge place (emphasis on ‘huge’). The actual, physical beauty it offers with its diverse landscapes is, for lack of a better term, mind blowing. And it’s size, my God, its size. I’m pretty sure I could travel for the rest of my life and barely touch on the amazingness that this Earth has to offer. With all its nooks ‘n caves and golden beaches ‘n breathtaking little ‘n big scenaries, it’s simply astonishing and I, for one, am happy I live in a time of jumbo planes and annual leave.
Lesson Two: The more you travel, the more you want to travel. I am ready to settle down, I am. I am ready to get my photos developed and buy cute, charming things for a real, actual, house. But. But my thirst to travel has only been teased. I feel like the last year has shown me how huge the world is and made me want more-more-more. Sometimes I feel anxiety come on because I feel I won’t have enough time to travel all of Australia! I stand humbled by my trip and in awe of this beautiful world we live in and just want to see, and do more!
A year later I’m a better version of myself. Lesson three: travelling will change you. And lesson four: I am braver and stronger than I give myself credit for. I’ve learnt so many things about places, people and myself, and have no doubt many more lessons will come with hindsight. I’m a more confident person in nearly all aspects of my life now. And I’ve learnt what environments I do well in, and what things and places I don’t like. I know how to read people better, and fear the unknown a great amount less. I’ve learnt the value of a dollar in Singapore, and seen the value of a dollar (or twenty) to a family in Cambodia (that was one of my favourite moments the entire trip). I’ve learnt what it means to be a minimalist, and how unimportant (or perhaps even embarrassing) obsessing over things such as being overweight is.
Lesson Five: There is no such thing as a good lifestyle or bad lifestyle, as long as its owner is happy and content. You often hear people who have just returned from travelling say the cliché thing, “and even though they were so poor, everyone was so happy,” and I have to co-sign this statement. From the Himalayas in Nepal, to the fields of Thailand, to beaches of Indonesia, a happy man is a happy man because he chooses to be happy. Lesson Six: There is zero correlation with a person’s wealth and happiness. (And Lesson Seven, while we’re noting correlations, there is zero correlation between an area’s economic status and the speed of the Internet. The best Internet I had my entire trip was 3,000+ feet into the sky in Nepal, and in a small village in Vietnam.)
Lesson Eight: A tourist is a tourist is a tourist. “Leave the beaten path, take the path less travelled, don’t be a sheep, etc.” It’s all easier said than done when a language barrier and unfriendly faces stand before you. The colour of one’s skin and the accent in their voice plays a huge role in this. To a local person, in a foreign land, you are a tourist no ifs, ands, or buts. Without doubt the most surreal moment of my whole trip was when I stayed for a few nights on a floating village in Thailand: every morning everyone in the village switched out of their Nike shorts and into their old, worn clothes and other traditional Thai garb as the tourists pulled up in boats. They would cover up their flat screen tvs, video games, chainsaws, generators, turn off the wireless Internet and go out and beg the tourists for money or try to sell imported “hand crafted” jewelry to them. Of course they were still living in open air huts above water (a village that has been there for over a hundred years), but as I’m sure you can imagine, it was a bit odd seeing 50 inch LCD TVs with satellites that ran on generators in this little, floating village. And then, of course, the tourists would come through each day and have absolutely no idea this little village was a show - a business. This made me really reconsider the reality of several places I visited in the previous few months, and of course this story leads me back to lesson eight, a tourist is a tourist, is a tourist.
Lesson nine: People are generally good. With the exception of the old lady who tried to steal all of my money in Vietnam, on the whole I came out of my trip thinking humans are kind, generous, wonderful creatures. From locals to fellow travelers, I loved getting to meet new people, hearing new stories, and sharing mine with whomever was listening. I found strangers were likely always willing to help me out, and how a smile goes a long, long way, as does taking the time to share something you know or help someone out.
Lesson ten: Travelling is awesome. Lesson Eleven. Travelling is hard. Lesson Twelve: Travelling alone is harder. So many lessons here, but yes. Travelling is fantastic. I will vouch for seeing new places until I’m blue in the face, but it’s also hard work. Know that. I think when you travel for months you’re expected to “make every day count!” Hell, you want to make every day count, but you get tired, you find your self in small towns with nothing to do, you get homesick, lonely, bored… It is hard. I know last time I wrote a post on this people hit me up in the comments saying I wasn’t grateful, but I promise you when you’re moving around so much you need your quiet beach day, or do nothing but stay in bed days. It’s hard work travelling, way harder than I thought it would be and I think the added variable of being alone made it even harder for me. Also, you’re always on the move and want to see and do as much as possible, which means naps are sometimes crucial! :)
Lesson Thirteen: You don’t need a lot of money to travel. Travel is a wonderful thing because it can be done on $5 a day, or a $5,000 a day, it doesn’t really have a budget, but rather a comfort level. In Vietnam I met an Irish bloke who was travelling the world for a year on 5,000 pounds, which meant when it came down to a 20 cents difference for air conditioning or a fan (when it was sweaty-hot out), he would choose the fan. I, on the other hand, would choose the air-con, and would personally always like to be in a position where I can choose the air-con. If you’re limited with money, my preference would be to travel for a shorter amount of time. Travelling yet not being able to actually see or do anything because of money isn’t too much fun, but don’t let money limit you. (Obviously) I am a huge believer in spending money on experiences as I’ve always (oh God, this is sooooo lame) thought I wanted to die with a story, not a load of cash, and so I’m pretty willing to spend money on seeing and doing things. I also have to mention the saying, “the best things in life are free,” is oh-so-very true. Most of my favourite memories from the last year were because of the people I was surrounded by, or scenery I was seeing for, well, free!
Lesson Fourteen: Document your journey. Blog, Facebook, Tweet, write postcards, keep a leather bound diary. I blogged (obvs) during my trip, as well as kept a diary and I am so pleased I did! It’s amazing how easily the little moments can so easily leave your memory. I also kept a sayings notepad with me and simply reading the random sentences on there takes me right back to that place and time and often leaves me laughing out loud. Also, I think capturing a great photo is part of the excitement of travelling. Truth be told, I only ended up with about five photos I “love!” from my entire trip, but still, I will keep trying.
Lesson Fifteen: Travelling abroad will teach you about home. I’m certain this entire point will be a post of its own in the coming days, but my God, it really did take leaving Toronto and everything I had to realize how amazing I once had it. I’m sure some people will think that’s a stupid, snobby, whatever thing to say, but I look back on Toronto so differently now to when I lived there. I’ve come to really realize the importance of a network, having my sister and family so close, and a life that is rooted deep. I really, really learnt how life, my life, isn’t at all about the place I live, but rather the community I create for myself. I want a good Monday to Friday, I know that now. I believe that that is what life is about. Yes, the weekends will always be great. Yes, planned vacations will always be awesome. But life is about the routine of it all, having ‘your people,’ creating a life you don’t constantly want to leave for a vacation.
Travel is an adventure, a transformation - as this past year so easily proves. It was a year of crazy, energizing, exhausting, exciting and terrifying tales and emotions, and I am so, so thrilled I finally, actually did it. Go me!
Also, I kid you not, but the below quote helped me kick start this trip, so it seems fitting to place it here :)
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”