It’s no secret that traveling the world will teach you more lessons than you can count. I think (I hope) everyone realizes just how powerful traveling is in the personal growth department and is able to do it themselves. It has definitely been the best gift I’ve ever given myself, and one that will continue to help me throughout the rest of my life. Growing up isn’t easy, but doing it in new beautiful places certainly helps.
What has, perhaps, been the most interesting and exciting part of this journey has been my own ability to adapt in situations I used to consider uncomfortable or unbearable- true signs of my own growth. While I am nowhere near where I want to be, yet, I know I am on the right path when I acknowledge the things that don’t bother me anymore. The things I’ve learned to embrace with open arms. The many, many, things that have pushed me beyond my comfort zone and forced me to open my eyes up.
These things may seem small to you, but for me they were symbols of my shift in reality, and are therefore priceless to me.
The things I’ve gotten used to on the road…
Isolation. The word always had a negative connotation to it, or so I thought. Now, I couldn’t disagree more. My ample alone time gives me room to breathe and reflect. It gives me space to make sense of the world around me, the life behind me and the possibilities ahead of me. Without it, I feel like I am suffocating. I’ve learned over the years that some alone time every week is crucial to my mental state, but now I have realized it’s actually a daily need.
Being alone doesn’t scare me anymore. I can remember when I would fill my schedule up to the brim, just to stay busy and not have to face the silence. Isolation was terrifying to me then. Now, it excited and thrills me, while centering me at the same time. What’s more, is that I think you have to be completely at peace alone in the silence in order to bring true, healthy, substance into the noise that is the world full of human beings.
So many languages, I have no idea what is being said. A million different accents sound off all around as I travel along airports, train stations, restaurants and major attractions around the world. It used to kill me that I had no sense of what was being communicated around me. I felt isolated. And then I saw the brighter side. There’s something about not being able to partake in any of these conversations. You’re only able to perceive them as you will based on the body language, the tone of voice and the energy coming from these strangers.
I’ve learned to enjoy the game of reading people, trying to figure out what they are saying, sometimes making up a narrative in my head. Maybe that’s the creative writer in me? Somewhere along the way, this part of “travel life” became a charming comfort- reminding me I am a small part of a big world full of fascinating people.
Difficulty ordering food. Restaurants don’t always have the food that’s on their menu and a lot times you can’t even read the menu at all. At first this was so frustrating for me! It may seem like a small thing, but when you’re already in a foreign place, reading a foreign menu with strange-sounding foods, and you finally pick something that looks okay to you…then they say “It’s finished.” This is the standard line used by servers in Europe and Asia when the item you’ve requested is “out of stock” or “done for the day,” a concept Americans aren’t used to. When we order something back home, we get it. If it’s on the menu, it’s yours to order. Well, not out in the rest of the world!
The good news is, situations like this have challenged my palate (and my patience) and forced me to try things I would not normally try. I’ve discovered new likes and dislikes this way, and that’s what this is all about, right?
Riding with crazy drivers. For those of you who used to drive around with me back home, you’re probably thinking “It takes one to know one!” And that’s probably true, but the drivers in some of the countries I’ve been to have almost given me a heart attack. I’m not sure if there are speeding laws in Turkey, Thailand or Greece, but if there are they certainly aren’t being abided by.
One time in Phuket, Thailand we were driving in the back of a truck on the way to the pier and we were rear ended. The driver pulled over to the side of the road calmly and the guy at fault pulled over behind us. They met to assess the damage and exchanged what looked like a semi-heated discussion in Thai. The guy who hit us looked like he had just finished five beers and a joint, his long messy hair falling over his eyes and his demeanor speaking, “I don’t know man. Whoops.” They kept talking, as we sat in the car stressing out over getting to the pier on time to make our boat, and then we watched the stoner-drunk-mess guy hand our driver 2,000 baht. That is he equivalent of $59. They shook hands and walked away. Then we sped off again making up for the time we had just lost, driving even faster.
Taxi drivers plowing down the freeway would typically make me happy, as this means a shorter ride and lower fare, but not when they leave zero space between cars and change lanes faster than any crazy drunk driver you’ve ever spotted on the highway. I’ve questioned my lifespan many a time in the back of these cars and am grateful to still be alive, here and typing away. That being said, I am learning to not freak out as much and have come to expect a crazy drive; so when an easy cab ride happens, I am overjoyed with relief.
Never knowing where I’m going. Getting lost has become my new favorite hobby. If I don’t spend days getting lost in the place I am visiting, I don’t feel I’ve done it justice. I don’t want to go to the places on TripAdvisor or the “15 Best Restaurants According to So-and-So.” I’ll take a hole in the wall art studio, an old bookstore and a tiny cafe hidden in the alleyways away from the noise and tourists any day! I like to think of it as a treasure hunt. “If I just keep going down this street and turn down there, maybe I’ll find a hidden gem.” And I usually do.
Some of my favorite days of the last seven months have been aimless and a total surprise. I’ll walk out my door with my headphones, a book and my journal in tow and find myself in some of the most random, and beautiful, places I’ve ever seen. This is by far the best part of travel for me- exploring and finding new places and people to fall in love with everyday.
Learning to be flexible. The most important personal teaching for me, by far. As my close friends and family and ex-boyfriends will tell you, I have not always been the most flexible person- or flexible at all really. I was (shamefully) a “my way or the highway” kind of gal. Behavior like this simply can not survive when you’re traveling and I am proud to say that part of me died somewhere in Europe during my first few months on the road.
I think I will always have my stubborn moments and will want to have certain needs met, sure, but I now see the beauty in flexibility. Sometimes no plan is the best plan and can lead to you to some of the most amazing places and people you could imagine. And sometimes other people really do have a better idea of what a day should look like. And sometimes the universe has a trick hidden up its sleeve. And all the time, I am looking out for this and staying open to the possibilities- and what an amazing piece of personal growth that is (for myself and all people in my life).
I can only hope to continue to grow at this pace as I keep going, and am so appreciative for what my travels have taught so far. This has been the most priceless year of my life and one that will, surely, set the tone for the next few decades. With an open mind and heart, who knows what will come next.