Exactly a year ago, I embarked on a journey of exploration and self-discovery. I don’t need a Facebook reminder or TimeHop to help me remember the date of March 21st, 2016, or I like to fondly refer to as 3-2-1. This was the most thrilling and terrifying day of my life.
The months leading up to this date were filled with preparing to quit my job, selling all my clothes and furniture, and planning for the upcoming adventure. I remember having friends come to rid me of my overfilled closet and take arm-fulls of clothes home, or sitting on the curb outside my then apartment to sell my used coffee pot for a mere $10 on Craigslist.
These days of running errands and getting ready to officially be a digital nomad were exciting and exhilarating. But I remember standing at the airport a year ago, with all my possessions in my 40L backpack and thinking to myself, “What the *bleep* did I just do!?”
I had moved out of my comfortable apartment with my beloved sister. I had kissed my fat cat, King Henry, goodbye and signed over cat parent responsibilities to my sister and her boyfriend. I had left my very successful, high paying job to be essentially homeless.
Now, I look back on the person I was, a business suit wearing, high-powered professional, to what I am now- a backpacker, a vagabond, a digital nomad, and I hardly recognize the person I used to be. The past year has changed me. I’ve seen more things than most people can ever dream of seeing in their lifetime. I’ve experienced good things, as well as bad, met amazing people, and learned about who I am as a person. Here are a few things I’ve learned in just one short, action packed year.
1. Things Don’t Make You Happy
It’s easy to get caught up in a materialistic world. Before my adventure, I used to have “Treatyoself Days” where I would go on a shopping spree after a rough week, or when I was feeling blue. I would buy overly priced things that would make me feel better for about thirty minutes, then they would sit in my closet.
Now, as a backpacker, I know that if I buy something, that means something else in my backpack has to be thrown away. I have enough clothes to last me just 10 days and each item has to serve multiple purposes. I don’t have the luxury of many options and that makes life simpler and creates less stress. I equate purchases to experiences. Buying that dress for $50 could mean I give up a meal in Italy with hand rolled pasta and wine from the vineyard next door.
My one pair of yoga pants can go with three different tops, be used for workouts, or long days at the airport. My athletic shoes take me on runs and hikes, but can also be used to protect fragile keepsakes when packed.
Living a minimalistic lifestyle can surprisingly bring you more happiness. You no longer have the options or things weighing you down, which allows you to experience and enjoy more.
2. You Can Read People Quickly
Within five to ten minutes of meeting someone, I can determine whether they are worth my energy or not. On the road, I’m meeting someone new almost every day. I don’t have time to waste the investment of efforts into someone that I won’t talk to in a month or even a week.
This may sound harsh, to caste someone off after a few short minutes, but in reality, it saves me the energy for someone that I do want to invest my friendship in. As a traveler, you realize that you have a very small window of opportunity to get to know someone before you’re both traveling in opposite directions. You have to utilize this time to connect and grow a friendship quickly!
I fondly remember meeting my good friend, Kim, on a haunted walking tour in Dublin. It was my first city on my trip. After talking for only 15 minutes, we had a time and place to meet the following morning. It’s amazing to think that after just a small amount of time, this person has become one of my closest friends who I see every few months and visit and keep in contact with.
3. The Road is a Lonely Place
My original dream was to work and travel with a partner, but one day I realized, that I couldn’t wait for another person to make my dreams come true. I had to conquer it on my own. Being a solo traveler has both positives and negatives.
Being by myself allows me to be open to more opportunities. I’m much more approachable to other people, compared to if I had a travel companion with me. Every day I have the freedom to do whatever I want to do. I can set my own schedule and see the things that I want to see.
When I was in Germany, I wanted to see Burg Eltz with all my heart. Unfortunately, it wasn’t tourist season and a random weekday, so no buses went to the castle. I took the train as close as I could get, then hiked for three hours. I wanted to see Burg Eltz, so I did. Had I been with someone else, they could have deterred me from going, but I find that having to work harder to get to something makes the reward so much sweeter.
On the other hand, traveling alone is hard. It forces you to rely solely on yourself and you are your own constant company. As someone that struggles with anxiety and depression, it’s not an easy feat. I’ve learned that I have a three-day rule. I can spend three days by myself, without meeting or talking to other people and be fine, but after three I need to have an intelligent, face to face conversation with someone or I find myself in a dark place. Even though I’m fortunate to have friends around the world, talking through the internet can’t replace a human’s presence.
Vice-versa, I can only handle three days with constant company. If I’m traveling with someone, I find that after three days I need my own space and the ability to recharge. I consider myself an extrovert, but I still need time to myself.
4. It’s Not a Vacation
I find that many people think that I’m on a year-long vacation and have the misconception that all I do is go on tours and party. What they don’t understand is that I am working, I’m trying to build a life for myself by being an entrepreneur and not every day is easy.
When you travel, you are constantly being pushed outside of your comfort zone. You’re forced to venture beyond your routine and find new ways to communicate or navigate a new city. Your mind and body get exhausted being in a constant state of unknown and it’s important to listen to what you need.
The past few months I learned a valuable lesson about traveling and it’s not to overdo it. I made a travel plan of three months with 10 days in each city. After not even two months, I found myself exhausted, drained, and on the verge of a breakdown. I was too stubborn to admit defeat and tried to continue on. I learned the hard way that you need to find rest and routine with a transient lifestyle.
5. Travel Gives You Patience and Understanding
On the road, you realize how many things are out of your control. A plane delay, traffic, an internet outage, etc are things you know you can’t fix. Being able to identify what is in your control and what’s not, helps you to alleviate stress in your life. When I found out that the train I was on would be delayed for another five hours, instead of being angry or getting worked up about it, I relished the fact that I had offline work saved on my computer and a good book that I could lose myself in to pass the time.
You start to realize that the problems you have are much smaller than what other people suffer. In India, I saw men, women, and children living in conditions that would be appalling to most Westerners. Girls that looked no older than 15 working in the fields of Rajasthan and carrying large bundles of straw on their heads, when they could be in school. People living in houses made out of whatever the owners could find, rubbish, rocks, tarps, and even cow dung. Or a small Indian boy trying to sell wilted roses on the hot roads of Delhi so that he can help feed his siblings.
When you see different cultures and different standards of living it opens your eyes to how fortunate we are to have the opportunities available to us. We take for granted how easy it is to get safe drinking water, or go to school so you can someday have a career, or even speak English fluently.
These experiences have opened my eyes to better understand who I am as a person and how big the world truly is. I don’t regret for an instant taking this jump into the unknown. I don’t have the monetary safety net or steady income that I did a year ago, but I find my life rich with experiences and friends instead. In fifty years, when I look back on my life and what I’ve achieved, I know I can safely say that I have no regrets, just memories and people that have changed me.