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How Travel Has Re-Shaped My Life

NEW ZEALAND | Tuesday, 31 May 2011 | Views [447]

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white” – Mark Jenkins

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I have always loved travel, but I never realized how much I would learn from my global adventures and how insights gained would translate into re-defining my life, re-shaping it in often surprisingly new ways.

This blog exists to inspire you to learn from your own travels as I have, challenge yourself, and use your wanderings as positive springboards for change. If I can give you some encouragement in this, my job will be done! Here are some ways that travel has re-shaped my life.

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1. LESS IS MORE

These days people seem preoccupied and weighed down with homes, cars and other material possessions. But the truth is that we came into life with nothing and we’ll leave it the same way. I’ve learnt early on in my travels that a 60L hiking bag can carry all one’s real essentials. Quite literally, everything and anything that’s important comes into my little backpack, and I figure those extra material things.. they’ll come eventually. I’ll always have the opportunity to ‘settle down’ (urgh I hate that word) and have those ‘nice things’. After all, although travel may not last a lifetime, memories will.

2. CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE

Of course, I’ve had many exciting adventures during these travels, but some of my most special memories are also often of quiet, apparently insignificant moments when I really connected with someone; often a complete stranger. I strongly value the importance of connection – For me, the human soul is the critical element in binding relationships. I want to forge true and honest connections with people in my lifetime. I love meeting people with an energy and passion for life. I’ve be fortunate enough to have met many people with this thirst along the way. Many a kindred spirit has been met thus far.

 

3. MAKING LIFESTYLE CHANGES

After my travels through smoggy and exhaust-fumed cities I’ve become more aware of how much I used to rely on my car. And yet outside the cities I’ve visited, the main mode of rural transport often remained a bike or a donkey. So why do we need to use our car for local journeys?

Another impact has been the call for our generation to make lifestyle changes that will improve prospects for people and planet alike. It’s not that I’m an eco-warrior but my eyes have certainly been opened by the things I’ve seen.

Almost half of all car journeys in the Western world are for journeys less than two miles long (when the car is less efficient and most polluting). So I’m doing my best to walk or cycle as an alternative. I've invested in some waterproofs, remembering that “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing”.

 

4. MONEY IS UNLIMITED. LIFE IS.

One day when I start teaching I would love to create a discussion amongst my students so that I can understand the younger generation’s viewpoint on life (indirectly related to travel). I want to know whether working hard for a better future or working less for a better today is more suitable for their current lives. Of course there is no correct answer to this, and I would expect mixed responses. I’m sure that many today would agree with the traditional (I'd really like to say conformist) way. That is; to work as hard as possible for a future of marriage, jobs, and a steady life. My response, of course would be this - money is unlimited but life is limited.

I guess this is the life I chose for myself, so I'm biased, but when I started studying at University and preparing myself for a future of teaching, I was living for tomorrow. I was setting a path for a secure future because I was programmed to think I didn’t have enough. Aren’t we all? These (Western/conformist/traditional) aspirations stop us from living for the moment and rather worry too much of what we might have in the future. I am not saying not to prepare for your future, but rather to balance your life. Simply, remember that you are breathing today.

 

5. TRAVEL TESTS YOU. IN EVERY WAY.

I’d have to admit the greatest test I face with travel involves emotions. Travelling can be an emotional rollercoaster; I may feel sad, happy, angry, depressed, tired, excited, driven, emotional, and everything else in between – all happening just within a few hours. It gets confusing. What’s even more confusing is that when I’m happy, I’m really happy and when I’m sad, I’m really sad. Emotions seem to go in extremes during travel.

Not only are my emotions tested, my adaptive skills are too. Travelling requires me to adapt to my surroundings and sometimes just make do. In many occasions I have found myself in less than desirable situations, but I learnt quickly enough that the only thing I can do is laugh and appreciate the small things and look at them as not road blocks, but stepping stones that are all part of the journey towards achieving something great.

In line with this, my patience and calmness are also tested. When everything seems to go wrong, there’s nothing I can do but to just keep marching forward with a smile. I could complain about how my food order has been wrong for the tenth time in a row or how I’ve been over charged $1.50 on a taxi but ultimately, it’s not that big of a deal. I need to remember the bigger picture. Patience I would say is one of the most frequent occurring tests. Sometimes I fail and get frustrated but I continue learning from it. Things go wrong and they go wrong often. Just need to make the best of it. No need to rush anyway.

Although I’m yet to encounter this (having not travelled to an area where English isn’t spoken) I’m currently preparing myself for the greatest test of all – language barriers. Inevitably travelling will require me to use communication skills that aren’t needed at home. In destinations where English is nil, I will be forced to be creative using hand signals and a perhaps phrase book that will understandably be useless much of the time (refer to patience).

I’ve made best friends in a single day. Travelled and shared things that even some of my closest friends back at home may not know about me. Then to say bye after a full week together is as depressing and sad as it was leaving my other friends back at home. Testing again my emotions.

Relationships are tested. Want to know if the person you’re with is the one for you? Travel with them. I did, and he is :)

Respect is tested. I aim to be as respectful as possible to the country and people. This means I put an enormous amount of time into researching local culture, history and need to take a history and memorizing several phrases like Hello, Thank You, and Good Bye before I arrive.

Instincts are tested. Sometimes people want to rob me and other times people want to invite me. So who do I trust? Natural instincts are kicked in quick with travel. I use my gut feeling often. The times I’ve made bad choices were because I didn’t go with my instincts.

 

So there you have it – some personal ways in which my life has been impacted by travelling. I could say much more, but I hope that what you’ve already gleaned is the way that travelling and living simply, meeting people from different cultures and delving into others way of life can lead to surprising insights and new directions for your own life. It’s a reminder of the constant importance of upping sticks, getting out there, and hitting the road again with nothing more than a backpack.

Travel is never easy…I think that’s what’s so great about it. Travelling teaches and tests us. I feel stronger. My mind feels stronger. I feel like I can handle a lot more stress and overcome it better than I did before. I’ve learned to live on less but ultimately it has taught me to be happy with more.

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