Backpacking Southeast Asia for the past 6 months has been a rewarding, difficult, and incredible experience. It is stereotypical to say that traveling is life-changing but after 6 months on the road with all its ups and downs, it is not as much a cliché as one would think. As somebody I met while traveling once said, “you never really come back from a trip.” That phrase really stuck with me. After my half year milestone, a lot of realizations dawned on me and I would like to share some of the ones that stand out the most.
1. ) The human body is truly amazing
I was never really much of an athlete although being a fairly active person. The coordination was just never there for team sports. So between that and just sheer luck, I had never broken or sprained anything before. That is, until my second month of traveling in Thailand when I fell off my motorbike, a right of passage here in Southeast Asia amongst travelers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite as lucky as most of the travelers who get away with the typical skin wounds, which require gauze, iodine, and a little TLC. I sprained my right foot pretty badly and had to walk slowly with a limp for a month.
During this month, based on how my foot felt and looked, I couldn’t fathom it ever going back to normal. A part of myself doubted that there would be a recovery with full mobility. This may sound silly to people who have been injured before but if it’s your first time and there is not much medical consultation aside from the initial hospitalization, doubt was normal.
After a month, there was some definite improvement and I was well enough to get back on the road. Amongst other things, this initially negative experience has shown me how amazing the human body’s capacity to heal itself really is. While we may not be up there with those animals that regrow limbs, our bodies are capable of deep and profound healing that is pretty astounding. Since then, whether I have been hiking up mountains or staircases, I occasionally will look down at my foot and be amazed all over again.
2.) The best camera is the one you have on you
I can count the number of times I’ve used my mirrorless camera on one hand. I brought it with the best intentions but when always having stuff on you and trying to navigate in unfamiliar places, taking out a camera, adjusting the settings, and taking a photo is not the easiest task. In some places, it is also just not a great idea as far as tempting potential thieves.
I have found myself exclusively using my phone on this trip. While the quality may not be as great, I have captured moments that otherwise would never have been captured. It’s defInitely a tradeoff but there are lots of things you can do in post production to compensate for the poorer quality than using a professional camera.
3.) For better or for worse, Tomorrow is always a new day
My favorite and least favorite part about traveling might just be the same thing: nothing lasts forever. The amazing people you meet on the road and the beautiful places you see, will eventually be replaced by something different and new. This can be bad if you are really enjoying where you are or it can also be good if things aren’t going your way. So if you are happy where you are, make sure to just soak it all in as much as possible and be present. However, if something is not quite right, don’t fret because the next day or week will be completely different. Yes, I realize this advice can be applied to life in general but the speed at which everything changes when you’re on the road makes it extra relevant for traveling.
4.) Instagram does not tell the full story
It’s easy to admire someone’s travel photos and be in awe of how perfect they are. Just like with “regular” life, social media paints an incomplete story of what is happening. I don’t have any photos on my Instagram of myself sweating with an 18 kilo backpack while waiting at the bus station. I don’t have any photos of the numerous types of bug bites I’ve gotten. I could go on for a while with these examples. Backpacking is amazing but it’s far from glamorous and even with higher-end types of travel that involve planes and hotels instead of buses and hostels, there are always going to be things that go wrong and those moments between destinations that can be long and tiring.
Nobody wants to tell this story because people want to focus on the positive experiences, which is totally understandable. These positive experiences are why you travel and they are plentiful. Telling a story of just the difficult times, would also be an incomplete picture whether its on Instagram or a blog.
The takeaway is that regardless of how someone is presenting their travel experiences and how amazing they look, the viewer needs to remember that this is one side of the story and nobody’s experiences are always perfect, especially in a foreign country.
5. Traveling is a powerful tool for objective self-reflection
There have been realizations I have had about myself as a person recently that have surprised me. They are things that are so obvious that I can’t believe I didn’t see before. While I won’t list them here right now, all I can say is that they are opportunities for self-improvement that comes from reflection on the past.
I realized that traveling is an amazing tool for self-reflection because you are putting both time and space between your usual life and yourself. You are taking yourself out of the picture and putting yourself in new circumstances and some of those things that pop out in the new circumstances are more easily noticeable as patterns than if you were in your regular life.
6. The vast majority of people are good
The media is filled with dire and sad news. Maybe in some places more than others. If an alien came down to planet earth and watched the news without any previous knowledge of the human race, they would have some very negative ideas.
However, in the past 6 months, I can’t count the amount of people I have met and interacted with. The longer you travel and the more people you meet, the more you realize that the vast majority of people are kind, good, and helpful.
7. I appreciate my things more
In the western world, clothes and material goods are readily available and can be bought for cheap. We have so many clothes and things that we never really find out just how durable or well-made they are because we will never use them enough.
But after 6 months of using the same bag, the same shoes, and the same clothes, I started to really appreciate the quality of these objects for lasting a long as they do through constant wear and tear. I have a pair of flip flops I have worn every day, that have really come through are so comfortable. This is kind of crazy that the same $10.00 rubber flip flops can last for 6 months.
I have a new appreciation for how durable some of my things are. Furthermore, I have an appreciation that these types of products are available and at such an affordable price. This may all sound strange, but growing up I heard a lot of stories from my family about the Soviet Union and how scarce clothing and shoes were and how terrible the quality was. We should all be happy and grateful for the quality of goods we have, although when they are just sitting around in our closets, it’s not something that is really obvious.
So these are some of the things that I have taken away from the past 6 months and I look forward to expanding this list!