As you likely all know from my “About” page and my few posts I’ve briefly talked about it, 3 years ago I went on a 2 month trip to backpack South East Asia. I spent a month in Thailand, 10 days in Cambodia, and 3 weeks in Laos.
I had many, many adventures while there- including, but not limited to:
1) Jumping a rope of fire
2) Crossing the border into Cambodia with two other girls, getting across the border and having the car stop and the driver telling us all to get out of the car in the middle of nowhere (thankfully, he was just filling up the car and needed the weight out of the car- but I was truly terrified for 5 minutes or so)
3) Taking a boat ride in the middle of the night, with no lights on the boat (the town didn’t have electricity after 10 pm and we arrived at 11:30- completely dark)
4) Motor biking across Laos on a 2 day trip that turned into 4, in which at point we lost our other traveler who had my backpack that had EVERYTHING I had there. Thankfully I had my purse which held my money and passport. 2 days later we found him and I got my stuff back.
5) Mountain climbing
6) Trekking through the mountains and spending a night outside because no one remembered to bring a tent, pillows or blankets.
7) Taking a 14 hour bus ride to go 200 km (the bus threaded through a mountain and could only go about 15 km the entire way).
8) And most scary of all- meeting a wonderful man and beginning a relationship with him
While these were all AMAZING adventures, I think the biggest thing that happened for me while travelling is what I learnt about myself, and what was truly important. This happened because I was exposed to a completely different view point than the one I currently had.
Before I left to go backpacking, I was a Business student at University. I had high marks and the school really made you feel like you were special for getting in. I believed the most important thing in life was to be successful in work, make a lot of money, and have beautiful things. My goal in life was to be a Chief Financial Officer by the time I was 30.
When I went to SE Asia, it was really surprising to me to see how little the natives had. And not only did they have very little, but they were so happy!
I met a local in a small town called Pai. He and I hung out a couple of times, and at one point I even saw his home. It was made of wood, had no insulation, and was two rooms- the bedroom and a bathroom. The only furniture was a thin mattress on the floor. The bathroom had only cold water. The kitchen was actually outside, and consisted of a hotplate. No sink. No stove. No fridge.
Then he told me his story.
He had worked in Bangkok (Thailand’s capital city) as an interior designer. He had a girlfriend, a large home and was making a million a year (roughly). He was contracted to do a large project for a new subdivision that was going to be built. Then 2008 happened, the recession. The company he was working with went bankrupt, and all the money he had invested in this project was lost.
He lost everything. His home was foreclosed and his girlfriend left him. He told me he considered committing suicide, or joining a monastery and becoming a monk.
Instead, he came to this small town and opened a bar. He had no money, three changes of clothing, and a motorbike as his possessions. And you know what he told me?
He had never been happier in his life.
My mind couldn’t even understand this. How could a man who had been so successful, and wealthy, be happier with nothing?
But the more I thought about it- the more it made sense to me. And the idea that happiness didn’t come through success at work started to sink in.
I started to realize that the way the Western world defines happiness- through money, being thin, etc. wasn’t the only way that I could define happiness for myself.
So I thought about it- how did I want to define happiness for me? What was important to me?
The things I came up with had nothing to do with the things I had previously valued: time with friends, yoga, reading a book, cooking, baking, relaxing. All these different things that I had thought were “time wasters” were actually the things that I got the most satisfaction out of.
I think everyone should take the time to travel and experience other cultures. What you learn and discover about yourself, and the rest of the world, can change who you are. Or at least that was the effect it had on me.
Has anyone else traveled? How did it change you?