I have been traveling the world for four years.
To some, this sounds like the dream. And to be honest, it kind of it. I go wherever, do whatever, see whatever. My life is not bound by anything except myself, and I feel free to do and go what and where I please.
But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. There are also difficulties associated with living an alternative lifestyle: by doing so, I have taken myself out of accepted society and become a part of a culture and a mindset that many others cannot understand. Four years after embarking on an epic quest traveling the world alone, I have returned to the United States as an immensely different man.
My consciousness has shifted. I have developed a broader understanding of the world and the people within it, especially myself. My understanding of right and wrong has broadened and my grasp on the world around me has grown. I see things differently, and now my life is governed by a set of rules far different from those which govern the lives of others.
Things have changed for me, but not necessarily for better or worse. After four years of traveling the world, these things simply are.
A Slowed Down Lifestyle
When traveling for so long, responsibilities tend to dwindle. But they don’t dwindle in a way that merits irresponsibility, there are simply fewer things that need to get done in a day. There are no more errands to run or people to meet. There is nothing but you and the day you are living in. With such little to do, you can take more time for yourself. Things slow down, and life becomes more relaxed. Hang out in a hammock for while, stop and talk to a local on the street, or drink a beer for breakfast.
It’s all good, because life doesn’t have to be stressful.
You Develop a Filter for What Really Matters
There are few things in life that we really, truly need as a person. Food, water, shelter (sometimes). Comfort and luxury are nice, but what is their level of importance in the grand scheme of things? With so many other pressing issues in the world, and through first hand experience in dealing with them during travels, you develop a filter for what really makes a difference in the world and in your life. Your nails, new sneakers, and the dent in your bumper do not matter. Showing up late doesn’t matter. What that jerk said to your friend doesn’t matter. These things are trivial.
Syria and the Ukraine matter. Love matters. Experience matters. Joy matters.
You Learn to Recapture Joy
When traveling, we experience new places with wide open eyes and complete ignorance to local cultures and vistas. Travelers can recapture joy in their life in the same way an infant explores the world with unschooled thought. Everything is new again. The world is open and available, and every day is spent reacclimatizing to places and people. Looking back on four years of traveling the world, these are the moments that, time and time again, have brought me the most joy.
There is no dull day to day life. There is no monotony. Travelers have given up on accepting the status quo and have sought to recapture joy in their lives through new experiences the world over.
Gain a Global Understanding and Perspective
This is perhaps one of the most drastic and positive changes that comes from traveling the world for so long, but it’s also one of the most inhibiting. To struggle with small problems and local issues seems paltry. There are much larger issues that affect millions of people and beings, in hundreds of countries around the world. There is so much more to focus on, and your consciousness shifts to a more global perspective.
I no longer view situations from only my own perspective. I approach them with a global understanding and try to grasp at more substantial implications of how issues affect not only myself and a community, but people everywhere. This allows me to prioritize the things in life which truly matter, but it also means that relating to a large majority of people who do not see things this way is a truly difficult task.
It’s brilliant, but it can be socially limiting.
Discover Freedom and Independence
When traveling perpetually, with no particular plan, life becomes free. Your day is yours and you can do with it whatever you please. You travel on your own, sleep on your own, hike on your own, and essentially live on your own. Nobody tells you what to do, and your decisions are yours and yours alone. This is incredibly empowering, and you learn to live life on your own terms. It’s an intoxicating lifestyle, and it’s hard to come back from that.
This also breeds an understanding of who you can count on. Sometimes you can rely on others, but more often than not, you learn to rely on yourself.
You Find Strength in Self
Traveling the world is not easy. It can be stressful, lonely and tiresome, and sometimes, it downright sucks. In traveling for extended periods of time, you are broken down to your innermost core, to a point of hollowness. When things are bad, they get worse, and you are left on your own with nobody else to help you make a positive transition. In keeping going, though, you rebuild yourself from the ground up, and you develop the strength in yourself to keep at it.
In becoming nothing, you learn how to embrace everything.
You Learn Resourcefulness
Packing light is a skill that doesn’t come easily. It literally took me years to figure out how to downsize. This requires learning how to use what you have, and becoming resourceful enough to make the most of what’s available to you.
Sometimes we get bogged down with material possessions, in a world where there is an object to serve every purpose. At the core of life, though, we don’t need these things. Simply a tree and a blanket can serve as shelter for an evening.
Resourcefulness can come from interacting with other people, too. I have had a wealth of opportunities become available to me simply through networking and talking to strangers.
From nothing, it is, in fact, possible to create something.
Learn How to Take Care of Your Body
Traveling for so long will wear you down. Your body gets tired and your brain will be overwhelmed to the point of mental exhaustion. Whether sleeping on cramped overnight buses in Asia or wrapped in a sleeping bag in the backseat of a car in Tasmania, your body wears out. You must learn how to respond to what your body needs and when it needs it.
There is no such thing as a routine eating or sleeping schedule. In response, you are forced to tune in to the needs of your body and provide it with what it requires, through both preventative and mending measures. The effects of an unhealthy lifestyle are amplified when traveling, and you are forced to discover the best way to maintain a healthy body and mind.
The Acceptance of Change
In a world where change is hardly accepted, you are living a life in which change is the only constant. Whether you want things to change or not, they will.
Travelers change friends daily and cities weekly. Relationships change monthly. There is no routine, there is no schedule, there is nothing but what is new. People say hello and goodbye on a whim. It can be hollowing and lonely, but you will learn, though the heartbreak, sorrow and joy that change should be cherished because it can make way for beautiful new possibilities in the future.
After traveling the world for so long, I not only accept change, but I advance it. If things are not changing, life is not improving. We can learn from past experiences, change and grow from them, and move forward in life with newfound knowledge and sagacity.
A life without change breeds no new possibilities.
Find Your Place in the World
It’s a vast world that we live in, and as important as we think we are, we are not. Traveling is humbling because you realize how small you really are. You learn what your role in life is, and how that life manifests itself within the greater scope of the world. It also provides insight as to how you can position yourself to do greater good on a larger, more meaningful scale.
Popularity and a heavy ego account for nothing when you are hiking in the mountainous rice fields of Vietnam. The life you live gets put on scale and, whether you want to or not, you are forced to measure the weight of it.
You Learn to Live a Compassionate Life
Through experience with so many people around the world, you learn to connect with them and interact with them on a different level. Relationships are less superficial and friendships become more meaningful. Quite frankly, when you travel, they have to be. There is no time for grandiosity or indifference. You learn the importance of what you have around you and the life you lead becomes filled with compassion.
Learn to Place Faith in the Universe
You never end up where you think you will, and nothing ever results in what you expect. Through traveling the world you learn that, oftentimes, the path of your day or week is entirely out of your hands. Somehow, the universe is looking out for you, and you will learn to let go of control and allow your path to unfold on its own.
In all of my experience, I have never ended up where I thought I would, but I found that I always ended up exactly where I was supposed to be.
The structure for this article was adapted from a podcast from which I resonated with and took notes on, but which I have since been unable to locate. All text is my own. If you recognize any of the ideas and can place them with the aforementioned podcast, please get in touch so I can give the appropriate credit!