It had been almost 6 months since I last touched foot in New Zealand when I arrived back this May, and now I’m getting ready to depart again in less than a week. In some ways the time I spent in Asia passed by so fast, in others it feels as if I’ve been traveling my whole life.
People say travel changes you, and I whole heartedly agree. The process and catalysts that transform a traveler are as unique as the person themselves. I left my homeland with only a backpack and a violin, but despite my lack of possessions there were still so many less-physical things to be lost along the way.
1. Ability to communicate only in words
I had an inkling that all this talk about the importance on non-verbal communication being true, I had tested the waters once or twice before, but never with a great deal of success. Spending 6 months in Asia really helped me to hone my expressions and sign language. I dropped my perfectionist streak and learnt that the most efficient & effective ways of describing what you want to eat, buy or do aren’t always made with sound.
2. Self Consciousness & Makeup
The last time I wore makeup was the last day of my office job. That was over 190 days ago (not that I’m counting, or anything..) and I couldn’t be happier. I don’t feel a strong pull toward slathering the foundation on again, if anything my self confidence has massively improved and I am quite happy with the way I look, untouched. It’s a beautiful and liberating feeling to enjoy your own skin without enhancement, each step I’ve taken out of my homeland, and my comfort zone, has boosted my self image and confidence in being me – just how I am.
3. Vices & Unhealthy Habits
It’s a year since I quit full-time smoking and over 6 months since I quit social smoking. That’s a habit I never plan to pick up again. Taking my life, job and even taxes into my own hands this year has really made me see the world in a different way, and I’ve lost my attachment to a few vices in favour of choosing my health over all else. Realising the amount I was spending on cigarettes could have bought me all kinds of interesting plane tickets, and coming to the understanding that it’s pretty tough to live out of a backpack when you’re being treated for lung cancer was the final motivator I needed to treat my body right. I’ve also let go of a few other habits along the way – namely excessive consumerism/shopping and binge drinking.
5. The Pull for Physical Stability
From the moment I stepped back into New Zealand my feet began itching, and the urge to shed some winter clothing layers pulled harder at my heart. I don’t feel at all attached to the idea of a permanent residence or a regular job. I’ve spent my whole life feeling the pull for travel, and each year that’s passed I’ve edged a step closer. Now I’m here, I’m free, and I don’t feel like I ever want to give up the freedom that long term travel brings, not for a house, not for a dog, not for any of those physical things that used to signify stability to me.
6. Judgements and Assumptions
I arrived into Thailand with a whole host of fear based assumptions, mostly about other people. I was freaked out that everyone was out to get me, rob me and rip me off. Turns out, I was completely wrong. 6 months of traveling and I was never mugged, pick pocketed or robbed, nor did I contract food poisoning, malaria or need to get air lifted home. Yes, I understand that these things DO happen, and that certainly some of them may happen to me in the future, but expecting disaster around every corner was a huge mistake that I eventually managed to shed.
7. Preconceptions of Humanity
Everybody grows up with certain social norms – I was no exception. I consider myself well educated, and thought I had a good understanding of what life is like around the world. However, despite my open mind and broad understanding, the thing that hit me the hardest was realising how many human issues exist that are just too big to be easily fixed.
I was prepared for homelessness, I’ve passed through the slums of Mexico City. But that was poverty-in-bulk, you don’t get the one-on-one experience that really hits you with those kinds of explorations. What stunned me was the real day to day lives of people living in hunger. I grew up with the media and my society around me slowly passing me messages about homelessness essentially being chosen – being born from bad choices or addiction. It’s not until you’re face to face with somebody who is genuinely just hungry that all of those preconceptions melt away.
Sitting in KFC in a central city part of Malaysia I was gobsmacked to see a homeless man come in, and politely (yet, terrified) ask to take our leftover chicken bones. He had waited until we were finished eating, and you could just tell from his mannerisms and body language that he had been shouted at, or treated less than human, many times before for doing this.
Of course we obliged, in an awkward and embarrassing manoeuvre to pass over our trash to this man. He scuttled away and ran across the road to share his bones with the others waiting out and sleeping across the road. That moment was deeply upsetting, not just because of the obvious, but to realise that this man did not ask for money, he wasn’t out to buy drugs, he was just, plain and simply, a hungry man who was being treated like a stray animal by the people around him. It broke my heart.
We immediately went up to the counter and bought a full box of (uneaten) chicken, we took it across the road to the group, at first he was way – I suspect many people hand them rubbish. Once he had a chance to look inside, and see that it was actually real food, it must be one of the most genuine thank you’s I have ever received.
That was when I realised how passionately I believe in this one truth: every single person, regardless of their situation or choices, deserves to be treated as a person. Nothing less.
Southeast Asia taught me so many valuable lessons. I lost things, I gained things, I learnt things. I triumphed and simultaneously completely disintegrated. It was the most rewarding, beautiful, exhilarating and challenging adventure of my life so far, and I am beyond ecstatic to be merely days away from returning to the stunning and often overwhelming lifestyle of permanent travel. I can’t wait to see what other things I loose along the way.