Ten Travel Truisms
(This article originally appeared on Rebelle Society, an amazing website run by amazing people who we have tricked into letting us be official contributors. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do. You won’t regret it.)
A girl we know is about to take her first trip overseas and she wanted some advice. Below is what we came up with: Our ten travel truisms for maintaining a swollen heart, an open mind and an inspired soul while away from home.
Truism #1: There is only one first.
So you’re off to see the world are you? Off to lose yourself in the unknown? You’re off to explore distant lands to see what the light feels like on the other end of the horizon?
I could not be happier for you nor more envious of you. And that’s a great feeling for me to have because it means that you are doing things right.
The first big trip out of the bubble is one that you will never forget and one that I long to experience again. Alas, like so many things in life, there can be only one first. Keep that in mind, and do not forget:You only get one. Hold this thought in the palm of your hand and squeeze it with all of your might –- you only get one first trip overseas just as you only get one bright and shining moment at a time.
Live in it.
If you don’t go out into the great blue yonder of this world to discover what you’re capable of, you’ll never know the boundaries of your potential, the possibilities you can create or the joy this pursuit may bring you.
The only thing sadder than undiscovered potential is unused potential.
Do not bring this sadness into your life.
Seek intimidation. Hunt fear. Overwhelm yourself. Search for the opportunities that scare you and try to make each day an insatiable quest to question, not only your ability, but your confidence and your faith in who you are and what you can do.
Why? Because you must learn on this journey that deep down you already have all of the answers. And the only way to do that is to live the questions.
That’s my best guess at least. I don’t know for sure, but I’m okay with that. I’m okay with not knowing. I’m alright with chasing mysteries.
For instance, I’ll walk around a rundown village in Africa and I’ll see little kids with big hearts walking around with no shoes, dirty clothes and a runny nose, begging me for money in the only English they know.
And I’ll talk to great men about their dreams, men with kind hearts and soft eyes who live amidst filth and squalor and poverty, and we’ll discuss their lives and their hopes, and I’ll hear about how the government wastes money, about how public officials are corrupt, about how selfishness and greed destroys entire cultures, about how society is starving, not because of a lack of food, but a lack of will, a need for courage, and a desire for kindness to prevail.
I’ll see these homes, these people, these lives, which seemingly have nothing to fill them, and yet I’ll witness such pure, unadulterated joy oozing from the very essence of their souls in such a completely overpowering and forceful display that I am taken aback, dumbstruck and amazed as to how it all works.
Why those with the least to show have the most to give, why the richest hearts seem to lead the poorest lives, and I’ll read Albert Camus’ observation that “There is solitude in poverty, but a solitude that gives everything back its value” and I am humbled, and curious, and intrigued about life and everything in it. And for a long time to come, each and every day, I can honestly say that I’m working on it, that I’m trying to understand, that I’m challenging myself to do more, to do good, to do better.
Truism #2: The darkest night is no match for the dimmest light.
The ugliest facts of life will find you no matter where you hide. No matter how bright you shine, some will always find you dull. No matter your beauty, some will see ugliness. No matter your grace, some will only notice your shortcomings.
However, this is not your fault nor is it your doing. Do not concern yourself with the perceptions from others and do not take anything personally.
Take nothing from strangers except directions, kindness and knowledge.
Because why take anything else?
You have everything you need right in front of you. Everywhere you look, literally, there is light. Everywhere you look, literally, there is life. Even with your eyes closed, there are many beautiful things to see. Focus on these things – the light and the life – and you will be okay.
You will be okay because deep down, you know that you find only what you search for. Deep down, you recognise that what you decide to search for is all that matters.
This search has a name. It is called Life. Go and find that fucker every chance you can.
However, sometimes things will go awry. People may force you to confront a situation you never wished to see and sometimes you will have no choice but to engage the darkness in a staring contest.
Do not be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help shows strength not weakness, just as being reliant upon others is a necessity, not a choice.
Once, on the streets of Vietnam, an angry man began screaming at me. “Fuck you,” he yelled. “Fuck you and your family. I will kill your mother.”
What would you have done?
Would you have yelled back? Would you have run? Cry?
I chose to smile. I chose amusement. I chose not to believe my eyes and ears, but rather, to trust my heart. And do you know what? He smiled back at me. Just like that, it was done.
So, when you come across the angry street vendor harassing you to buy his goods, what will you do? Shake his hand and wish him well.
The paranoid backpackers with pockets full of complaints and dark scowls threatening to scare off your sunrise? Offer them a hug, buy them a beer, and tell them a joke.
The cafe owner who overcharged you for lunch, the shady local policeman pestering you for money, and the disrespectful tourist littering on the street and loitering in the heat? The advice for dealing with them is the same for dealing with life itself: Smile, and keep moving.
The best revenge is a happy life and this is true regardless of country, creed or color.
I encourage you to prove me right.
Truism #3: Just because people aren’t advising you what to do or showing you how to live does not mean that people aren’t advising you what to do or showing you how to live.
My upbringing was about as normal as it gets: I graduated high school, got good grades and then studied at a community college. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life at that time, and, spectacularly, that seemed like a great thing to do with my life – to just dwell in that terrifying, yet strangely comforting, unknown.
So, I followed my heart and I worked hard and I moved to other countries. I fell in love and I got depressed and I had adventures. I met dazzling people, did fun, once-in-a-lifetime things. From these experiences, I learned about myself and I learned about the world and I grew to love people.
Eventually, at long last, what happened was that I began to tolerate myself. Slowly, I started to like myself and eventually, I began to adore humanity, to believe in who I was becoming, and to love the life I was creating. Trust me when I tell you that it is a wonderful feeling when you start to think like this.
It took a while though.
All good things do.
The other day, I was thinking about my family. I thought about what advice they’d offered me along my journey, what pearls of wisdom they had given me to get my ball rolling.
I thought about what they had told me about my life, and about life in general, and I thought about it and I thought about it, but I couldn’t think of anything specific. There was, for example, no revolutionary insight passed through the generations down into my heart.
I can recall no occasion in which they sat me down and told me, for instance, to “Stand with like-minded men, when possible” or “If in a fight, hit first and hit hard.”
There was, it turns out, not much of that at all.
I’m not sure.
However, my family gave me advice by showing me how to live and by supporting me, always and unconditionally, in how I chose to live my life. Though my choices were undeniably different than theirs in nearly every degree, they loved me fiercely, they supported me wholeheartedly, and they set a truly admirable example for me along the way.
“Work hard, love your family, be humble…” They taught me these things not by telling me, but by showing me.
“Don’t forget where you came from, be polite, be proud…” They led by example.
“Enjoy yourself, don’t be afraid to cry, never forget where you came from…” They were good teachers.
These lessons, these undeniable pearls of good, vibrant living, were their advice. They weren’t always quick to come right out and tell me, but I learned a tremendous amount from them.
Their experiences were their advice and their lives were my lessons. And, just as there will be lives and experiences all around you on this new adventure, so too will there be lessons. Take note of them, but also remember that you, too, are a teacher and as such it’s also very important for you, too, to live your lessons.
Truism #4: The journey is the destination.
Relax, my dear.
You’re off on an adventure and you have a lot planned: yoga retreats, temples, beaches, parties, hiking. You’re going to see it all, do it all and remember it all. Well, here’s a funny story: No, you’re not, no, you shouldn’t, and no, you won’t.
But that’s okay.
The open road doesn’t necessarily lead to anywhere and all of those curious sights, smells and tastes that will blow your mind each and every day? To other people, those are normal, commonplace, or boring. Those people you will meet with those new accents, different clothing and entirely unique ways of living, doing, and being? They are not strangers. You are the stranger.
They are not different. You are different.
They are not odd. You are odd.
These people are not weird or funny, crazy or complicated. Rather, YOU are those things, YOU are those thoughts, and YOU are those opinions.
Never forget the power of perception.
Truism #5: Optimism is a worthy investment.
I was in Indonesia last year and a local man told me this story:
“I born in Bali, but I go to Java when I young, maybe ten. Twelve? I go to live with my uncle and I work for him. All day, I work. Every day. So long days. So hard. I work in the house. My uncle he very mean man. He hit me. He scream at me. Every day, he scream at me! My aunt, she worse. No good, no good… Never happy for me. I so sad. I not go to school. I have no money. I have no friend. I stay in the house working, working, working. All the time working. I don’t know when I ever go back to Bali. I miss my family, my mother, my sisters. Everybody. I stay there maybe three years and I so sad. Every day so much sad. One day, I sit on my bed and I crying. I crying so much. I never happy in long time. My uncle, he hitting me and my aunt she always screaming me. Never good. Never happy. So, I sitting on my bed and I take rope. I take rope from the yard up to bedroom and I make a loop. I make like a loop, yes, and I put the loop around my neck. I crying, so much crying. I put rope around my neck on the bed and I crying, so sad. I want to die. I think I make suicide now. I sit with rope around my neck, yes, and I make tight. Very tight. And I sit for maybe one hour and I crying so much and I think about my family and my sisters and I think – I cannot die. No. My sisters would be so sad for me. So I take the rope off my head and I put it down and I sit on the bed and I cry. I work for my uncle maybe two more years and then his brother come and find me. He see what happen to me and he feel so bad and he take me away. I come back to Bali and I go to school and I working. I working so hard and now I so happy. I always laughing! Life is so very much happy now! I have good wife and daughter and my house is good house and we have Western toilet and TV and everybody happy. When I grow up in my uncle’s house, I was like frog in a well. I cannot do anything. I cannot go anywhere. I so much sad. But, I keep going and I keep trying and now I am so very happy all the time! People they say to me ‘How can you be so happy all the time?’ and I say ‘Because I AM SO HAPPY!’ When I child, I so much sad, but I very, very lucky for the sad. Very good for me to be so sad, because now I so, so happy! All the time I am happy because I am a so lucky man!”
Pain is a prelude to pleasure. It’s as simple as that.
Truism #6: Be inspired or be expired. The choice is yours.
Here’s the thing about travelling: It’s all up to you. If you want to sit around and complain all day about the trip, the food, the culture, the people, the toilets, the roads, the language, the internet and the lack of the regular comforts of home, feel free. By all means, go right ahead and do it. That’s entirely your choice.
But, it’s also your choice to embrace disappointment, to cuddle up with craziness, and to slow dance with all of the severely messed up things that make their way into your life. And don’t kid yourself – there will be a lot of unexpected slow dances on this trip.
But, like on the dance floor, just because you don’t know the words, doesn’t mean that you can’t sing along and just because you don’t know the steps, doesn’t mean that you can’t dance like a motherfucker until the sun comes up.
Setbacks are speed bumps and fears are fuel. Get moving, get shaking and don’t ever stop.
Truism #7: Life is funny. Don’t forget to laugh.
Once, I sat on a pier in Puerto Rico and watched a man walk his dog at sunset. It was a quiet night, with a light ocean breeze dancing through the air. The man stopped to admire the view before calmly bending down, picking up his dog and then throwing the little guy right off of the end of the pier. There was no apparent reason for this. He simply threw his dog straight out into the ocean.
My mind blown, I wandered the beach trying to make sense of what I had just seen. Words escaped me. Ideas were elusive.
Months later, I thought back to that man and that dog, I pictured the pooch flying through the air wondering to himself about how maiden voyages are always the most delicious (remember Truism One?), and I imagined the man, arms crossed in satisfaction, observing the magnificent splendour of his small dog in flight, and it hit me: You’ve got to take risks, you’ve got to live unexpectedly, and, sometimes, you have to pick up something you love and throw it out into the depths of the unknown just to see how it’ll fare without you, just to see if it will somehow find its way back into your arms.
For you, I hope it does.
Truism #8: Say yes, and say it often, but do not forget the powerful importance of saying no.
I’ve had enlightened conversations with third world prostitutes, taken motorcycle rides with strange French surf bums, and cuddled a Vietnamese chicken on an overnight bus ride. I’ve crossed borders on boats, taken taxis to nowhere, and been mugged in the daytime streets and robbed on a moonlit beach. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve made amends, but I’ve also made a life and I encourage you to do the same.
Go and do that thing that scares you. Climb a mountain, take that chance, and be that person that leads that group to do that thing that time that you’ve always wanted to do because THAT will be a good day. Express your heart, loudly and clearly, every chance you can. Sleep under the stars, cry under the moon and stumble face first into all of those glittering gutters that so many never escape from.
Make mistakes (but never the same one twice). Get sick. Fall down. Have adventures. Inspire yourself. Love everything. Create opportunities. Pinch potential on the ass as it walks past searching for a place to rest its head. Be raw. Tear yourself open and have a look around inside. Smile at a sunset and break dance with a break down. Push your memories aside and let the present have a turn at the wheel.
Get up and get going.
Live. It. Up.
But not too much.
Don’t forget that you’re in a faraway foreign land where everything feels different for a reason. Be careful. Be mindful. Take heed. Mind your own business, and pay attention.
Seriously. Pay attention.
Trust your gut. Nurture your awareness and give some thought to uncertainty when it seemingly appears from nowhere, pokes you in the arm and begs you for attention. When you’re scared, take note. When you’re not scared, take notes. Grow. Learn. Evolve. Be better than you thought you could be.
Above all else, through the pouring rainstorms of your soul and down across all of the frozen wastelands of apathy and evil that you may witness, never stop celebrating. In time, you will learn that every emotion is a gift, that hardship is a younger, dirtier version of wisdom, and that we are all, each of us, miracles in a constant state of grace.
You may not believe me now, but I’m right on this.
Truism #9: Remember to forget, but don’t forget to remember.
Don’t forget yourself; remember who you are. Remember why you are there, doing those things, seeing those scenes and living those dreams. Remember what you want to gain from this experience. Recall that you’ve been looking forward to this trip for a long time. You will be in a different place every day with different people talking different languages.
You are your only constant. Find comfort inside yourself. Lose yourself in every moment, but never forget where you’ve been, who you are, and what you wish to become.
Truism #10: The open road can close your heart. Don’t let it.
Crowds can make you feel alone, just as full rooms can make you feel empty inside. Fortunately, you are blessed with family and friends that love you. They will be thinking about you each and every day. They will miss you and even though you cannot feel it, you will carry your loved ones with you in every decision you make. Make them proud. Leave a noble legacy.
I am sad to see you go, I will miss you every day, and I will appreciate you even more the next time our eyes meet. But that’s a tale for another day. For now, it’s time for you to go and have the trip you’ve been dreaming about.
Go make memories. Go create stories. Go collect experiences.
If I can sum it all up in one little sentence, let it be this: Live a life that would make you jealous.