How Long-Term Travel Transforms You

Yogi Anna in Lanta

“What you know matters, but who you are matters most.” – Brené Brown

In every wanderer’s long journey, there is always that time to come home. And when she returns, she brings gifts and shares these gifts to the people around her.

To say that putting into words all the best lessons I’ve learned for the past 2+ years traveling independently around the world is rewarding is an understatement. My travels have given me the best gifts I could ever dream of. Gifts that were unexpected, gifts that made me laugh, gifts that made me cry but most of all, gifts that transformed my life.

Some of you might already be planning for your next trip, or maybe planning on a long-term trip, or maybe you’re just happy wherever you are and that’s fine. My mission for having this blog is simple: to inspire my readers, particularly women to live a more adventurous life.

If you’ve been following my blog, you would already know that the life lessons and life experiences are the biggest reasons why I travel and not just a shallow reason of ticking something in a bucket list, which I actually don’t even have. As a Zen teacher says: ”When we return to the root we gain the meaning. When we chase branches, we lose the substance.” Let’s go to the roots.

You will understand the power of gratitude

Dad and Me

Future world traveler and my parents’ pain since age 2.

“Dear Dad and Mom, I’m quitting my job next week to travel solo around Asia for a few months. Ktnxbye.”

This is how I broke the news to my parents.

Growing up with traditional Asian parents, it’s not normal  to hear that a daughter would say she’s going to drop everything and travel the world all by herself. After all, Asian kids are all raised to be achievers in everything status quo related and long-term world travel is not in the books. To say that I’m so glad that my dad didn’t lose his hair while raising a stubborn child like me is to put the most positive spin to reality. Where I came from, to this point I think my parents are still trying to figure out.

Despite living continents away from my parents I’ve always been close to them. My parents are not world travelers so they couldn’t figure out what I was doing and why I was doing it. I on the other hand couldn’t figure out why despite not world travelers themselves, they were among the most contented people I know.

Visiting home this August after a year traveling between North America and Europe,  I saw them with a very different set of lens. I’ve learned to appreciate every little thing my parents do for me and my sister. I’ve grown to learn that no one will ever have the perfect set of parents nor the perfect childhood. But all of this will be instrumental to your growth as a person. I’ve come to see the miracle of how two imperfect people came together and built a big adventure called family. I couldn’t help but be so grateful for the life I had and for them supporting me with my dreams despite all the worries I caused them.

Now, I look at my parents with so much love and gratitude for the beautiful life I owe the two of them. Everything I will ever need to know to survive in life, I learned from them. One of them is the power of gratitude. If gratitude is all you ever have, you will always have enough.

You learn to be mindful

Ko Lanta Sunset 2

A typical afternoon in Ko Lanta, Thailand

One of the most powerful gifts you can give yourself is disconnection. People are shocked every time they find out that I don’t carry a local number with me wherever I am. The only places I bought a sim was in Thailand, The Philippines and Spain. The rest of the the other countries, I’m disconnected. I’ve used my phone only wherever I can find wifi. Disconnection taught me to be more present. Because we live in a society that teaches us to do more, get more, be more, we forget how delicious it is to just savor every moment.

I realized that once I started doing things I love, time literally slows down. I stopped waiting for the weekends or for special occasions and know that this is it. This is life. Life isn’t reserved for the happy hours or weeknights.  Life doesn’t happen just sitting in front of a box or a computer checking and comparing your life to other people’s lives. I started living my own life and I wanted to live every moment of it.

There were times in my trips where I just want to freeze time and take in everything and savor every detail- the sights, the smell, the sounds, the quirks  and imperfection of the place and the people where I am and everything in between that the present moment offers. Everyday seems to be a magical event and I couldn’t wait for it to unfold. The best part is that this mindfulness carries on with you even after you end your travels.

The world will teach you real life skills

“Some people get an education without going to college, the rest get it after they get out.”- Mark Twain

Anna in Mount Bromo

Climbing a volcano to watch the sunrise in Java Indonesia

So what really happened in my travels?

I have landed in airports, cities, islands and places where I know not a single soul far too many times I can count but also had the most amazing times of my life. Most of the time I don’t even reserve a place to stay but I always end up staying at the best accommodations.

I’ve missed planes, buses and train rides but also met my future lifelong friends through these misadventures. I’ve had my fair share of bus-from-hell moments but also had the most hilarious times with the most wonderful group of people. I’ve hitchhiked my way during a landslide in Northern Laos, felt like a refugee but most of all had the best seat in the truck to watch the stars that night.

I’ve been harassed in Sri Lanka when a college kid grabbed my butt in broad daylight but also got to know the nicest locals who helped me hunt down the man and hit him till he went home crying. I’ve also been dropped off at 3 am  at a small town in Java, Indonesia with only 4 random local guys who were giving me remarks and whom upon realizing I was a bad target, went back to their job of selling the tour to the volcano, which of course I got at my negotiated price.

Traveling has also forced me to meet people from different walks of life. Despite being an introvert, I’ve come to learn how real networking works. Whether I’m hugging my favorite street food vendors in Chiang Mai or bouncing off ideas with other travelers in Europe or having amazing conversations with millionaire entrepreneurs in New York City, I learned to truly enjoy being myself with people. For a girl who for the longest time was painfully shy, I’ve come a long way.

Problem solving, stress management and people skills are just few important- if not the most important of the real world skills you will learn from traveling. Sometimes you just have to know what you really want and go do it. That in itself is where your education begins.

Your life will be transformed by people you least expect

Collage

Just a few of the wonderful sisters who made my journeys so beautiful L-R: From Amsterdam to Madrid to Berlin to Edinburgh to Toronto to Singapore to Phuket to London all the way to Manila

I’ve already exposed the myth of loneliness for solo travelers. Unless you are going somewhere where no human being lives, chances are you are going to meet people. If there’s only one good reason why you should travel is this: the people you will meet.

One of the most treasured gifts that my long-term travels gave me is being able to find my travel soul sisters. I have met my dearest friends in the most random places and the most random events. People ask me why I have so many friends everywhere. The secret comes from weak ties. Weak ties are people whom you feel connected to but not know too well or they could also be people who are connected to you through your strong ties. And weak ties overtime can become strong ties.

Most of the time, we prefer just to be with close friends. I’m also all for that. However, close friends are comfort zones. Being in your comfort zone is very limiting as you probably already have the same way of thinking. It limits what you know, how you talk and eventually how you think. Transformation doesn’t happen there. Why not try meeting with people who see things differently? Traveling will expose you to them. These are people you should meet. These are people who will drastically change your life.

You learn to value life’s fragility

“Many people die at 25 and aren’t buried until they are 75”- Benjamin Franklin

Anna in Ko Lanta

A very happy volunteer at an animal shelter in Ko Lanta

When I was in the Philippines, I met up with a good friend. It’s been a year since I last saw her and she tells me that she hasn’t traveled since and that she always go to my blog to read so she will be inspired to pursue her love for travel. This made me happy but more of sad. Here I am persuading people to travel and have meaningful experiences when a lot of my good friends are not traveling.

As I listen to her talk about her life, work, and reasons why she can’t put travel in her plans, I asked her only one thing: If not now, when?

Everyone has a reason for everything. Not making a choice is still a choice. When you realize that time is your most important resource in the world, you will start taking your dreams seriously. Ask yourself if you are spending time on the right things? Because really, time is all you have.

You will learn to find funny in everything

Pumpkin

My sister accidentally took this while I was scaring the kids at a farm

When I came back to the States last month, I was sick as a dog and suffered with a flu that lingered for the longest two weeks of my life. This was the first time in three years that I got sick again. I wondered if it was really the virus or because I’m already ending my long-term trip and my body couldn’t adjust to it? On top of that, the universe threw me into a very challenging situation in my personal life that hit my breaking point.

One fine autumn night, I found myself crying in the streets of Manhattan.  In an attempt to calm myself and stop the tears from falling, I started counting the things that I was grateful for. While thinking for reasons, it occurred to me that I am going on a strict vegan detox the next day and my vegetables are still incomplete. I panicked and realized that I need to go to the grocery but I wasn’t going to make it and I was also too weak to do it.

An image flashed through my head of me tripping, falling dead on the street and nobody knowing who I am. So I wondered what the news will be. It was sort of like this:

“In her persistence to go to the grocery, this woman was found dead on the street before her detox even started.”

I thought to myself: “Wow, I just spent two years of my life doing great things and I’ll just end up dead on the streets due to malnutrition?!? Shucks. This is tragic… But wait, maybe I will be featured on failblog?”

I learned that once you allow yourself to be vulnerable to feel these difficult emotions, sooner or later your body  will come to the rescue and counter these sad feelings with feel good thoughts. When you develop that, you will find that even during the low points in your life you will still find plenty of reasons to laugh.

You develop compassion then you learn to forgive

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”- Plato

Thai kids

With the little angels who helped me find my way back while motorcycling the jungles of Ko Lanta

Not all travels are as glamorous as you think they are. Most of the time, it will be a test of your character and your limits. You will get to see the most heart breaking scenes of poverty and real world in developing countries. You will also see first hand how lucky you are compared to the rest of the world.

If there’s one thing that this world so desperately needs, it’s forgiveness. 

I learned real forgiveness in the most random places on earth- during a train ride from Budapest to Bratislava. One of the reasons why I went to Budapest was because I was meeting up with a friend. That was until I found out that all I was meeting was a ghost. To be stood up in a country in a different region of the world where you know not a single soul, is definitely not an enviable position to be in. However, I wasn’t surprised that it could happen, I was surprised because despite my anger, the only question that came to my mind was this: “how can someone sleep at night when they have done something that horrible?” I just could not fathom.

So how do you deal with these people? You forgive them. What?! Sure it’s easier said than done and this will not change anything about the other person. But the change will happen to you and this change is one of the most powerful experiences you will ever have. If you have compassion for yourself, you can easily extend it to others. And when you genuinely forgive, it’s as if a floodgate of beautiful things start opening up for you. Then

You will start seeing miracles everywhere

“Miracles are a natural occurrence, when they do not occur, something has gone wrong.”- A Course in Miracles

Ko Lanta Sunset

One of my favorite Ko Lanta sunsets

I don’t claim to know or have the answer to everything. I never posted any of my future travel plans because I let go of planning after six months of traveling. But over the course of my spontaneous travels in Europe, I’ve learned to be okay with opening myself to serendipity and not knowing. I didn’t have a plan yet I managed to go to more than a dozen European countries and have boatloads of fun. I became more present and simply flowed through life. As I see serendipitous events happening over and over and over for me, it taught me one thing: something in the universe is greater and deeper than human intelligence.

Actually, I have been putting off this post for the longest time. But something inside me tells me that I cannot NOT post this. It’s a miracle that I was able to open more of myself and write this. It’s also a miracle if you happen to land on my blog, clicked this and read through this point. If my  journey inspired and helped you even in the tiniest way, then that by itself I consider a big miracle. And that’s exactly what I want my blog to be- an avenue for miracles.

You learn to trust yourself

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Meeting Abby Cadabby in Negril

Getting a hug from Abby Cadabby in Negril Jamaica, October 2008

My yoga teacher, who’s also one of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever known, recently asked us: “If you could write a note to your younger self, what would you say in only two words?”

My answer: Trust yourself.

When I was in my early 20s I had so many doubts. From starting a new life as an immigrant in the US as a clueless 21 year old; landing a job at my dream company with only a degree from the Philippines a year after; then quitting my job and self-financing my independent travels around the world at age 26. Actually, I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. But one thing I knew for sure- the more I held on to my dreams, ignored and dissociated myself with dream zappers and trusted myself, the more my life evolved. Because the moment you shift your thinking from not being good enough to completely trusting yourself is the moment when your real Self emerges.

And most of all:

You learn to love yourself like your life depends on it

“When a woman falls in love with the magnificent possibilities within herself, the forces that would limit those possibilities hold less and less sway over her.”- Marianne Williamson

Anna at CIA

Back in  New York, October 2013

One of the most common questions I get asked as a solo traveler is: “Don’t you ever get lonely?” Just like everything else in life, the beginning of anything is always going to be the hardest. Loneliness, I believe just like happiness, is a choice.  The truth of the matter is that loneliness is not the real enemy. Alienation from ourselves is.

Someone once told me that when you get to enjoy your own company, you will always be in good company. Well, it only took me 28 years to realize all the while I have always been in great company. I have found that when you stop looking for happiness outside yourself, it always, always finds its way to you.

Now that I am slowly and happily settling back to life in the States, I feel so excited to start a new chapter in my life. I am ending this post with a happy note to let you dear readers know that I have already gone back home and finished my long trip. This however, does not mean that I am not going to travel and write here anymore. Far from it! Who says my adventures are stopping there?

I can’t say it any better than what my friend James Altucher wrote in one of the best books ever written, Choose Yourself“You can live a life of unexpected surprise. Where everyday is an adventure. And every time you look in the mirror, a new person is there.”

Today when I see myself in the mirror, I see a different person. I see a woman.  A woman who has deep love and compassion for herself.  A woman who has evolved from being a people pleaser, exhausting herself trying to fit in, into a woman who learned to embrace everything about her including all her flaws and imperfections and get to know what she’s made of and who she really is.

I wrote this post with the intention that everyone who reads it could see how beautiful long-term solo travel can be for anyone wishing to do the same. My travels have given me so much more than I imagine it to give me. And most of all the greatest gift my travels has given me is the answer to the childhood question: “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

All I ever wanted to be is to be me.

As always thank you for following along my adventures. The best is yet to come!

With gratitude,

Anna

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8 Responses to “How Long-Term Travel Transforms You”

  1. Joey T
    October 29, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

    Beautiful post b! You just made me cry :’) Continue being an inspiration to all of us.. So blessed to be a part of your journey.. Love you! :)

    • October 30, 2013 at 11:32 am #

      Thank you so much S and also for sharing the journey with me! Love you! <3

  2. Beatriz Graça
    October 30, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    As always, you keep us inspired sharing the most important ingredients to our-shelf evolution. Thank you to be on my way…I wish you all the best and much love!!!

    • October 30, 2013 at 11:32 am #

      Beatriz, muito obrigado! Much love back to you! :)

  3. October 30, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    Wow, a lot of nuggets of wisdom and fitting quotes all jammed into a single post. Between gratitude, mindful, compassion, forgiveness, sounds like you’ve found a little Buddhism in you :)

    Having gone through a long solo trip, I’ve come to realize that all travelers return with shared realization and wisdoms; wisdom that have always existed and is available to anyone willing to walk the same path.

    Thanks for sharing.

    -Will

    • October 30, 2013 at 11:33 am #

      Truly agree with you on that. And yes I guess I’ve found some Buddhism in me. It was challenging to jam it all in one post. But didn’t want to miss any of it. :) – Anna

  4. October 31, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    “I have found that when you stop looking for happiness outside yourself, it always, always finds its way to you.”

    Well played. Fortunate to have met you during the course of your travels, and love your beautiful writing :)

    • November 1, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

      Thank you so much Drew! Happy to have met you and traveled with you too! It’s been an adventure! :)