South-East Asia is, for many backpackers, their first experience of travelling solo for an extended amount of time. It’s a popular destination for so many reasons – for the famous, hedonistic parties that attracts young people and have put Asia on the map, for the indescribable beauty, for the cheap price of food, booze and accommodation. For many, it’s a place that acts as a magnet for travellers, bringing them back time and time again. And I can understand why. Not only is SE Asia beautiful AND cheap, but it is laid-back, filled with a backpacker lifestyle and likeminded people, and there is always so much to see and do.
South East Asia is where I started my traveller journey. Before I boarded the plane to Bangkok, I had been abroad many times, but never alone, and never for longer than 2 weeks. I was about to embark on an adventure of which there was, and still is, no end date. I don’t know when I’ll return to the UK. It’s an adventure that now sees me at the beginning of a working holiday in Australia. However, flying to Australia felt like a totally new adventure – something separate from my adventures in Asia. I spent four months all in all, traipsing around Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia. I fell in love with Asia way more than I ever thought I would. I’ve been intrigued about this beautiful beast of a continent for many years, and it blew me over. It was so different from home, yet I experienced more culture shock coming back to western society in Australia than I did landing in Bangkok. I feel like I have barely even seen this area of the world, there is still so much to explore and revisit and I know one day I will.
The truth is, as cliche as it might sound, travelling through South East Asia wasn’t just an experience of boozing and night-buses. It taught me many lessons which i will carry with me for the rest of my life. Some of these lessons were specific to the area of the world I was travelling in, others were lessons I gained simply from the act of travel which I have decided to reflect on.
1. Take life slowly
Back at home, people are always rushing around – me included. We rush for transport, to complete deadlines, to get to work/school. We even rush in our times of leisure – when we cook and even when we eat, when we go shopping, when we workout. Life feels like a race and it’s no wonder we get ill, we’re constantly stressing ourselves and pushing ourselves. Every time in Asia I got a little bit stressed and felt pushed for time, it didn’t feel suitable. I felt silly. Locals would tell me to take it slow. And I realised they were right. Life moves at a slower pace in a lot of Asian countries. I started to stop stressing out and rushing myself, I started taking it easy and living life at a slower pace. I wasn’t being lazy. I was combining managing my time better when I needed to and not worrying if things weren’t on time. The result is I now feel way more relaxed, accepting, and stress free. I appreciate the little things in life because I take the time to. Life is a lot more beautiful when you put things on a slow burner.
2. Everything will work out.
This is very much linked to my point above. Through learning to take life at a slower pace, I learnt that things have a wonderful way of working out. There is no point pushing life, it will only push back. Instead it is much more pleasurable to take things as they come. With this comes a greater appreciation of life, and an attitude of surrendering to the universe, instead of trying to control everything. At home, people care about control. They care about power-play. Of course, you need to take control of your life to some extent, but travel taught me to stop trying to control the things that are out of your power. There is no point worrying if the ferry/bus/train isn’t on time. There is no point worrying if the girl in the restaurant or at the food stall got your order wrong. It’s not about accepting everything at face value, it’s simply about not sweating the small stuff and accepting it’s not all bad. You will get your order, or at least some food, tonight. You will get to your destination at some point. You will get where you need to go.
3. Don’t Judge.
I never liked to think of myself as a judgemental person, but the truth is we all do it. I’ve liked to think of myself as someone who is generally accepting and not bitchy, and won’t make prejudices based on silly things. I don’t think I really learnt to do this until I started travelling, and I think this is a big one for many people. When you travel, you meet all sorts of characters, and a beautiful thing happens. People who would never in a million years socialise at home, end up getting on like a house on fire. I saw laid-back dudes with dreads and tattoos getting on with footballer ‘lads’. I met girls who I judged at first for wearing make up all the time, even round the pool, and guys who seemed to care more about their hair and beer and ‘shagging birds’ than anything else. This was wrong of me. I got to know people and became really good friends with people I never would get on with at home, because at the end of it all we were travelling for similar reasons. We wanted to see a different way of life, a life that cannot be represented in the UK.
Of course, I did meet some people along the way I really could not abide. You cannot get on with everyone and your bound to meet some people throughout months of travel who annoy you to no end. But thankfully most of the people I met were people I could get on with. I try not to judge people based purely on appearance anymore. Your best friend might not be the person with the same aesthetic as you. I just try to get on with absolutely everyone and my life is far more richer for it.
4. Be Yourself.
Again, this is something I thought I’d already mastered, but it turns out I was wrong. Of course, ‘be yourself’ is a pretty broad statement, and I mean it in every sense of the word. Before I came travelling, I like to think I was pretty secure in myself. I was loud, I said what I meant, I danced, I didn’t usually feel shy. However, without knowing, I was still holding myself back in many ways. Sometimes it was simple aesthetic things, which seem like nothing but are in fact important in determining and asserting who we are – things like not wearing something I liked or getting a tattoo/piercing I liked because I knew people would judge it. I wasn’t bothered about people I didn’t know, it was more people like my friends. I worried about their opinions and would base what they thought around some of these choices. Sometimes it was much bigger things. I was often too afraid to put my writing out on a public domain and advertise it amongst my peers because I feared the criticism or judgement, or I was too afraid to entertain big plans for my future, discuss those plans and put them into action, because back at home they seemed ridiculous. It seemed easier to say, as a journalism student, I’d like to work for a magazine, than to say I’d like to work for myself as a writer and a yoga teacher. That was too wacky, bold and frightening for many people.
Travelling around, that changed. Like I said above, you meet all sorts of characters living all sorts of realities, and you learn you can be who you want and people probably won’t judge you. I started actually entertaining the ideas of what I envisioned my life to be like. I wrote more than I ever wrote in my life, even when I was a kid. I wore what I wanted. I told people I was a writer. It was slow, at first I still told them I was just a humble graduate and barista. But then I realised I was in charge of my life.
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5. Try New Things
Travel taught me to take risks. I’ve always believed in taking risks in order to make the most out of life, but travel really hammered it home. For me, travelling itself scared me. Now, I always try to try new things even if it seems scary. Canyoning in Vietnam was terrifying. I wouldn’t do it again, but I’m glad I went for it. Riding mopeds at first scared me. Sometimes the new things weren’t scary or risky, but things I actively embraced. Things like trying new foods, trying out a new activity or practising your new language skills. Travel provides the opportunities to try out a new way of life.
6. Be Grateful.
Travel has taught to be grateful of all the opportunities that come my way. Practising gratitude has become a huge part of my life. It’s hard not to be grateful when every day you are faced with indescribable natural beauty, whether it’s the sun setting over the sea or the mountains, or the tastes of a gorgeous green curry, or simply the beauty of laughing with new friends. I am so in love with my life and with the opportunities presented to me, I am grateful for the earth and for the universe. I am grateful for all of these lessons. I am humbled by it. I feel like this is a level of humanity I could not of reached if I stayed at home. It was possible, but it would of been hard. It’s hard to feel gratitude when you’re rushing, stressing, moaning, and failing to recognise the beauty in the world around you.
So there you have it. These are the lessons I learnt simply from travelling in Asia and paying attention to the world around me. Does this resonate with you? Have you learnt other valuable lessons from travel?