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With a new era of millennials taking time to travel while they're young instead of going to school, starting a family or a business is a controversial topic that has sprouted. Being a young girl who has taken four years to explore the world instead of settling down right away, I have heard almost every opinion on this trending lifestyle.
"Get a degree, then go get your travelling done."
"Aren't you worried you'll never go back to school?"
"You're wasting so much money and time."
"I'm inspired by your bravery."
"I think what you're doing is so great."
"It's amazing—everything you've accomplished at such a young age."
"You could be investing in bigger things."
I've heard it all. Now here I am, four years and over 20 countries under my belt, ready to explain to anyone debating whether or not it’s a good idea and why I believe in taking time to travel.
We all know that poverty exists, but there is something different about immersing yourself right into it. At 18-years-old I left for Fiji where I met the most beautiful people. With fresh eyes to the world, I learned to watch the locals be happy within their simplicity as they lived in literal tin cans. “Poor in the pocket but rich in the heart,” they would tell me. As the children from my year three class came in one by one, some with shoes so holy I would barely call them shoes and others empty handed with no lunch, I watched. The kids became united and joyful beyond any measure as they ran through their muddy soccer fields, simply being kids. Although I knew they had their own difficulties, none of those children would ever worry about who wore the best outfit to school or who had the newest version of the iPhone. Coming home from Fiji I learned the importance our hearts have over any kind of materialistic item.
The islands of Fiji rekindled gratitude in my life.
As I brought my book and walked around the canals of Utrecht, I saw through my own eyes how simple life could really be. There was a certain lifestyle in the Netherlands that I got a sense of—a lifestyle of fitness, health and simplicity. The residents rode their bikes home from work to their loved ones while passing parks absolutely flooded with families, friends and lovers covering the green grass with checkered blankets and picnics. Park benches were all taken up by people enjoying their warm evenings by reading, painting the canals, or even simply sitting. Travelling the Netherlands, I learned that life can be easy—to breathe in and walk a little slower and to enjoy the scenery.
One of the best experiences I’ve had in my travels was living with a tribe in Northern Thailand. The moment I got out of the truck that drove me to their tribe, all I felt was love. I had been immersed in the most unique community, run only by its tribe members. With no running water or electricity, my eyes had been opened to a lifestyle I didn't even know could exist. I quickly learned selflessness along with so many other important lessons. The Lahu tribe members were the most selfless and hard working people I had ever met. Without question they all shared everything they owned and all the skills they possessed. Women watched over each others’ children, dinners were made and eaten in someone's hut together, and their living spaces were constructed by the strongest members. It put a completely new meaning to “all for one and one for all.” As I sat on a woven mat, eating the most delicious and authentic meal made over a fire and listening to the elders play instruments they themselves made, it dawned on me. They were some of the most happy people I had ever met. Simple living. That night I made myself promise to try my best to never lose the feeling of that experience. The Lahu tribe gifted me the knowledge that societies with values such as selflessness, honour and simplicity exist.
In both Japan and Southern Australia, I learned a more difficult lesson than the others. There are people who are very sick and my own physical and mental health should never be taken for granted. Twice I was at a certain place at a certain time, on two separate occasions, where two different people took their own lives. Even though I did not know either of them, it pained me to know that not everyone views life to be extraordinarily beautiful like I do. In both instances, I was taught that life can be extremely difficult, but that I should continue to be grateful for my ability to love life regardless.
In Morocco I learned to respect different cultures and religions. Meeting women in their late 20s and hearing their stories of forced marriages, at first, my heart broke despite how unfazed they seemed. Their own daughters were waiting for husbands because they could no longer afford eduction, they explained to me without resentment. I learned that it was what they believed in, and I developed a respect for their way of living. These stories also instilled gratefulness in me because I was so lucky to be born in a country of freedom. I belong to a country where I am free to pursue an education, any lover I choose, and every possible dream. For that I am so grateful.
On several different occasions, in many different countries and because of many people from different nationalities, I learned one of my favourite lessons; the love and kindness people could show me. I learned the great company strangers can be and the unimaginable love a friend of only a month can have for you. I feel so blessed to have met some of the most amazing people I've ever met while travelling. They showed me their loving eyes as I got to know them, their warm hands as we snuck out to swim in the ocean under the moonlight and their commitment as some of them forced me to wake up at 2 AM to catch the sunrise on top of a volcano. I've been so blessed to hear the stories of the families who sold everything to travel the world and chat with soulmates from different corners of the world who met and fell in love despite language barriers and cultural differences. I've been blessed by the opportunity to meet so many like-minded people with open hearts who made it so evident with the passion in their eyes that they too love life. I learned the extent of love people could show me and that I deserve it too.
Travel has permitted me to learn basic skills such as being able to sleep anywhere or to go another night without sleep because adventure won't stop knocking at my door. It’s taught me how to jump over fences to get into pools past midnight, how to shotgun a beer after a tequila shot, how to become a professional map reader and how to learn an entire transit system in days or less. Travel has managed to let confidence carve its way into one of the things I like most about myself. I am strong and brave because of the obstacles I’ve risen above—from asking strangers for directions, to going out for a beer with someone I just met. I know I’m my own best company. As much as it's over said, I don't think I could have learned more about myself in that span of time doing anything but travelling. From living daily with the reminder of having an open heart and an open mind to learning the exact type of people I want to surround myself with, I am more confident in exactly who I am. I learned that there are extraordinary human beings and that there are also troubled ones who don’t want the best for you. I learned not to trust everyone and to make sure you're walking in the right direction on your way home. I learned that I like boys who smile and love life.
I almost can't put it into words, but there is a lesson to be learned, different for everyone, as you stand facing the seemingly never-ending ocean. A lesson that can be learned from isolating yourself and seeing how big and beautiful this world really is. One day I sat upon a hill, a breeze going through my unwashed hair as I stared out into the world knowing that there were people back at the hostel I called home who already felt like family. It was in instances like this where I learned that I, yes me, I deserved great and wonderful things and I could go and get them. That, to me, is a priceless lesson.