FEATURED ON: Where To Next?
When I packed my bags and headed for Asia, I knew I was on my way to an epic adventure. I wanted to learn about other cultures and try living different ways of life. More than anything I wanted to be challenged as I have never been challenged before. Well … I got all of that, and more. My patience has been stretched to new limits, my mind opened to new possibilities, and I’ve learned some tough lessons along the way that have completely challenged everything I thought I knew before.
Each day is a surprise. Some mornings I wake up to no power or WiFi, and on other evenings trees are blown down in hurricanes and I’m locked inside my house for hours on end in complete darkness. I’ve never seen so many babies and naked children in my life, but I’ve also never seen so many warm and smiling faces. Last week a man driving a motorbike with a gigantic cage full of chickens crashed into a woman driving a motorbike with a gigantic cage full of coconuts. Feathers and coconut milk littered my street, and no one else besides myself seemed to find this the least bit odd or shocking. Needless to say it was not a good day to be a chicken.
#1: DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF.
If the chicken story is any indication of a normal day around here, I’ve had to learn to not get worked up over the little things in life. When neighboring villages don’t have power or electricity, and are forced to use one central contaminated water source for drinking, cooking, showering, and disposing of their dead animals, it sort of puts life into perspective. They can barely cook dinner or have access to a restroom, and here I am complaining because I can’t find Cupcake Chardonnay at the local grocery store. #WhiteGirlProbelms
Living in a society that has such a drastic gap between rich and poor has been extremely humbling. We don’t like to see things that make us feel uncomfortable, or guilty, but I think on some level it’s necessary. We need to learn to appreciate, actually appreciate, what we have. I’ve learned to not sweat the small stuff. Life could be way worse than most of us could ever even imagine. If you’re on a computer reading this, or your iPhone, or some fancy tech device, life clearly isn’t too bad. Take a moment to appreciate that.
#2: KEEP AN OPEN MIND.
Despite the chaotic nonsense that is life these days, one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is having my perception so radically changed. Living amongst new cultures and ways of thinking is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you learn more about the world than you ever could by just staying home. On the other, you are forced to see the loopholes and lies of a belief system you once so strongly held on to.
The norms of our society as Americans, and the things I once cherished and prioritized, have shifted. Traveling changes everything. Your beliefs are tipped upside down and inside out, until all of your preconceived notions are left scattered upon the floor. You slowly sift through them as you attempt to figure out what you actually stand behind. Do I really believe the things I’ve been taught? Is there another way of living? Could that way be … better? Does that mean I don’t know anything anymore?!
It’s TERRIFYING having your beliefs tested. It makes you question everything you’ve ever known. But again – like having to see something that makes you feel uncomfortable – it’s necessary. We need to be asking questions, pushing boundaries, and testing our limits. The truth is no one really knows the secrets to life (except for maybe Buddha or Beyoncé), so you definitely don’t need to feel like you have it all figured out. Try to keep an open mind and see how the other side of the world lives before you hold on so tightly on to those convictions you think you know so well.
#3: EXCUSES ARE LIKE A**HOLES, WE ALL HAVE THEM, AND THEY’RE ALL FULL OF SH*T.
Living abroad had been a dream of mine for years, but when it came down to actually planning the big move, there was always something or someone stopping me from taking the leap. Family events, school functions, job opportunities, friendships, unsupportive boyfriends, the list goes on and on. After over a decade of making excuses, I finally ripped off that band aid.
Whatever your excuse – money, relationships, jobs, or other priorities – your dreams will continue slipping farther and farther away the older you get. If you don’t do it now, it’s never going to happen. Your excuses aren’t stopping you from traveling, or chasing your dream, your choices are. There is no such thing as a good excuse. You only have bad excuses fueled by fear that are stopping your from living a happier and fuller life. Believe me, you aren’t fooling yourself and you certainly aren’t fooling anyone around you. Whatever it is, just go do it.
#4: THE WORTH OF A DOLLAR.
Once you start to travel and see how other people spend their money, it makes you realize how much crap we buy, and how much of it we really do not need. Once you also realize you could spend the same amount of money on a flight to Mexico that could otherwise be spent on a month of Starbuck’s coffee, the way you look at money completely changes forever. Spend $96 extra a month on a fancy gym membership or go running outside and save enough for a hotel in Europe for a week? Spend $18 on that dress at Forever21 or have enough money for 3 full days of food in Thailand? Decisions, decisions.
#5: THE PINTEREST WEDDING YOU THINK YOU NEED IS A GIANT SCAM.
I’m preaching to the choir here, seeing as Tessa and Matt definitely already know this and are 10 steps ahead of the game. These rock stars decided to forgo the traditional large ceremony and wisely spent their money on travel instead.
I was/am one of the suckers on Pinterest (not going to lie I totally still have a private wedding board) who spent hours upon hours searching for wedding pins, planning out my dream ring, dress, location, and of course, honeymoon. However after months of traveling and seeing how the rest of the world celebrates marriage, I have no choice but to realize I might have been a bit delusional in my planning efforts.
There is nothing wrong with using Pinterest in general, or even using it to plan your wedding. The problem lies in the extensive influence this social media platform has over young women, and how it is morphing our perception of what a wedding, and marriage, should look like and be about. This is a ploy by marketing geniuses. We are encouraged to spend all of our hard earned money on one giant 30 thousand dollar party. (That’s the current average cost of an American wedding!) That amount of money could easily sustain you for a 1-year trip around the world! That’s an incredible adventure with your partner. Or that’s a tiny home, paid for in full with no debt. Or money saved for your children’s future. Just sayin …
#6: WE DON’T NEED A BIG HOUSE, A FANCY CAR, OR A NEW BABY TO FIND MEANING IN OUR LIVES.
Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant, and die. JK. But seriously … I have learned I am not procreating anytime soon. For one, there are millions of children who need loving homes, and there are way too many people on this planet as it is. For another, it would be mighty challenging to travel the world with a baby in tow.
Just like with the weddings, we are bombarded with these insane images of luxury and decadence, involving mega-mansions, expensive cars, and children running around on emerald green lawns in matching adorable outfits. The more we are exposed, the more we actually start to believe it’s not only normal to want these things, but it’s normal to live that way.
According to most statistics, the odds are not in our favor and we will end up in debt, divorced, with unhappy children who resent us. Sounds fun! Why not use our resources elsewhere? On trips where we could be expanding our knowledge, creating new connections, and helping others who have needs greater than ours.
You won’t regret traveling. You will never ever regret going on an adventure, but you will regret never trying and picking the safe route. When you see cultures that are all living and thriving out of small hand-built huts in a lush valley of rice paddies, it really makes you stop and wonder: Do we need a huge house with the white picket fence? Do we need 3 stories, 4.5 bathrooms, and a 2 car garage for our brand new convertibles? No, Probably not.
My final words of advice are this: before you decide to get married, buy a house, lease a new expensive car, or have a child – travel. Go live! You need to know who you are before you start to make some of these gigantic life decisions. It’s not fair to anyone, most of all to a baby, to bring a new life into this world when you still haven’t figured out the meaning of yours.
Go jump out of an airplane, or ride a hot air balloon across the desert. Go swim with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef, or trek Machu Picchu. Go do anything and everything that will push you outside of your comfort zone. You might find when you’ve returned, those things don’t seem so important anymore.