Traveling the world for 19 months and living out of a backpack for seven of those has, unsurprisingly, changed me as a person. I knew it would. It’s one of those things you go into with an expectation to be changed. I was just surprised by how I was affected.
One of the big reasons people leave behind their lives at home and travel is for the experiences to be had throughout the world. Whether it’s slogging through a mountainous jungle in Borneo, floating up the Thanlwin River in Myanmar, or gunning the throttle of an antiquated Chinese motorcycle as you fly over the bumpy terrain of the Mongolian steppes; there are experiences to be had throughout the world that are amazing, unique, and challenging. It’s part of what makes this world such an amazing place.
Another reason people travel is to interact with other cultures. While we share our humanity with people around the world, our customs and traditions are so wildly different it’s staggering. Some things amaze, others horrify, still others confound; but they are, all of them, unique. One of the beauties of our species is the uniqueness inherent in all of our cultures, and the individuality of the people within those cultures. Experiencing all that first hand is one of the best things about traveling.
One thing I’ve been surprised to discover is how traveling has made me appreciate the things I have. You may enjoy your family and friends at home and think you appreciate them, but spend several months/years in the company of yourself and strangers and you’ll get all mushy the next time you see your loved ones again. You may think you’re not too attached to hamburgers and other American foods, but spend a chunk of your life eating rice dishes several times a day and you’ll weep the next time you sink your teeth into a bloody, charred chunk of steak with potatoes on the side. Oh heaven. Then there’s clothes. I never thought I’d miss clothes, but after seven months of wearing the same four shirts/pairs of underwear over and over and over again; it’s a thing of beauty to reach day five and be able to don something without doing a sniff test first.
I mentioned that I was surprised at exactly how I’ve been changed by my travels. The answer might surprise you too. I’ve seen and heard of so many people having ‘spiritual’ awakenings in far-off places. Gaining a new perspective, finding inner peace, blah blah blah. Not to take away from those people’s experiences, but that’s not what I was seeking and that’s not what I found. Rather, I found confidence, respect for myself and what I’m capable of, awareness of (some of) my flaws, and a realization of some things that make me happy. The best thing about all that? Those aren’t things that I need to be overseas in some magical new place to remember. Those are things I will carry with me forever.
I know I’ve changed from when I left home in October of 2011. I’ve had new experiences, met new people; people who I’ve laughed and cried with. I like to think these things have impacted me in a positive way. I hope I’m a better person than when I left. I hope I remember what I’ve learned; about the world and about myself. More than anything, I hope that this will be one magnificent adventure in a life filled with them. Here’s to the future.