A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.


"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Sunday, July 25, 2010

10 Things I Learned Traveling Around the World

I have successfully procrastinated writing this final blog post for days and weeks on end. Partly because once the blog is over, then I have to accept the unsettling fact that the trip is over. That is: “The Trip”. Although we have been back for a few months now, we have been in a state of suspended animation - a perpetual limbo. We live like hobos out of our backpacks and sleep like temporary vagrants on a blow-up air mattress.

In some ways, it’s like the trip was a dream I once had. It’s funny how fast the past bleeds into obscurity in the face of the present. So I’m left asking myself, “What does it all mean?” and “What did we learn at the end of it all?” A lot of the answers are cliché but somehow I feel them in a deeper, more ingrained way than I ever could if they were just needlepointed on a pillow.

1. The world is a BIG place

There are over 195 recognized sovereign nations on earth. In my lifetime, I’ve traveled to 23 countries over a total period of thirteen months of travel. That’s just shy of 12% of the countries out there. There is so much to explore, so much to see, it would take multiple lifetimes to see it all. Some places we visited, we had only scratched the surface, seen only the merest glimpse of its culture and what it has to offer. Instead of “seeing it all“ we were inspired by other travelers and exotic destinations, so now there are far more places we wish to travel to than when we left on the trip!

2. Everything is Same Same but Different

There is this great saying in SE Asia: same same but different. It’s a way to identify something as similar but not identical. A dragon fruit is same same but different than a prickly pear. Sam song is same same but different than Jack Daniels. Traveling has deepened this concept into my bones. It’s not just a quaint saying. All the countries and cultures around the world are same same but different. Sure, there are variations of food and fashion and geography, but the people are essentially the same. In fact, the similarities are more pronounced, the differences are usually on the surface. The world is the same the world over.

3. Money doesn’t buy happiness

Everyone is hoping to eek out a happy life filled with family and friends. It’s the oldest cliché in the book that money doesn’t buy happiness but you can see that truth reflected in the humble smiles of people living in near-poverty. They exude happiness. And not in that well-groomed I-have-a-lot-of-designer-shit happy way. Life is simple, if you stop fiddling with it and analyzing it to death.

4. The less shit, the better

Carrying everything you own on your back, like a crab dragging its conch shell of a home, makes you realize the value of “stuff”. All the stuff you thought you needed. All the stuff that doesn’t live up to its value proposition because of it’s size or weight or maintenance requirements. Everything is studied for its intrinsic value, it's utility. And guess what? There are very few real necessities, even in this modern life.

Out in Hayward, I have four storage cubes jam-packed full of stuff, and for the life of me, I can’t remember what half of it is. I feel like it will be quite the excavation project when we unearth our belongings. And I have the feeling, I won’t need quite so much stuff. I can get by on less. I want less. I need less.

5. Gratitude and Humility

I have come back with a deep gratitude for living in the United States. The richness of our life here. Not riches, but richness. The quality and variety we have in abundance. We are so indescribably lucky that we fail to see it anymore. We take our lives and our livelihoods for granted. One of the most important things I took away from this trip was a double shot dose of Gratitude & Humility.

6. There’s no place like home

No one said it better than Neil Young, “Make a living life like a rolling stone, on the road there’s no place like home.”

The other day, I gave a five minute soliloquy on “the couch”. My friend Tina was telling me how she spent the previous day on the couch. I stopped short, and my mouth dropped open. "The, the couch!" I stuttered. Ohhhh, how I remember you! My velvety plush chocolate colored couch. How I would snuggle on you all day. How I could be so luxuriously lazy that I would alternate between watching tv and snoozing. I would daydream and stroke the cat in it’s own droopy eyed bliss. I would eat dinner while I watched Top Chef. Oh, how I miss you so! My Beautiful, Wonderful, Comfortable Couch!

When you are away from home and deprived of all the homey indulgences, you are delighted by the littlest remembrances. I bet you don’t appreciate your couch that much. Go on, go give him a big, bear hug. You would sure miss him if he was gone.

[I don't know why I envision my couch as male, some sort of a big floppy eared dog, always glad to see you, and you just can't seem to resist]

7. Wherever you go there you are...

Someone more profound and wiser than I once said, “Wherever you go there you are.” How true. You can alter you surroundings, change your location, travel halfway around the world but you can’t escape yourself. You are always there, staring back.

It’s funny that my life could be turned upside down from where it was and yet I felt exactly the same in so many ways (same same but different). There was still not enough time and not enough money. My relationship was stuck in all the same spots. We had the same fights, and fought the same anxieties in ourselves. I guess the point is: you have to face up to yourself sometime and now’s as good a time as any.

8. Growth is a painful process

I embarked on this trip to learn and grow, perhaps become someone new. Something has shifted. But it’s unclear what exactly. It’s subtle. Or I could be so close to the picture I can’t see the nuances any longer. But I certainly didn’t become what I always dreamed overnight.

Change is hard to invoke. Even harder to make stick. I wasn’t the perfect person I yearned to be. I didn’t do yoga every morning or floss every night. I didn’t write anything substantial, but this silly little blog. I didn’t endeavor in art - a near impossibility on the road. The closest we could veer was to be living art: an ever shifting collage of time and place.

I crossed one impassable bridge I told myself for years: I can’t travel because [fill in the blank] and in doing so I unwittingly fell victim to: I can’t [fill in the blank] because I’m traveling too much. It’s not because I didn’t have time or money or any of the other litany of excuses I hid behind to mask laziness, fear, and weak-will. It‘s fucking hard to have the guts and grit to live the life you’ve always imagined. (Thoreau didn't bother to mention that tidbit.) You can have every possibility and opportunity you have always dreamed of right in front of you, and you can still hesitate!

Yes, growth is painful, but like all things that flower we must necessarily (and at times unwillingly) grow towards the light. Little by little. Small small. We'll eventually get there, or die trying.

9. Life is always happening

I wrote this back when we were leaving for the trip:

Like a single balloon escaping the bunch and floating away. No anchor to hold steady. No direction but up and away.

I had that giddy feeling that I found out a way to escape. Escape the normalcy of a prescribed life, the 9-to-6 job, the obligations of adulthood. This journey made me realize I wasn't one of the chosen few that miraculously found a way out. In reality, nothing ever anchored me to earth, but myself. I could always write myself a hall pass. In fact, we all have a thick stack of 'em in our desk drawer. Life is always out there - happening, whether you are apart of it or not. The best thing is: you can always join the party, there is no RSVP required.

[I think I mixed three metaphors in one paragraph, that’s a new personal best (or some would argue, worst) for me!]

10. Life is unutterably fragile and fleetingly short

One of the most motivating quotes I heard when I was getting up the guts to go on this trip was from the movie Rumble Fish:

"You know the older you get, you say, Jesus, how much I got? I got 35 summers left. 
        Think about it - 35 summers."

As frightening as this thought is, there are no guarantees in life. No one is going to promise you a long life of good health. You actually don’t know if you have thirty-five summers or just three left. So don’t hesitate, act. Whatever you were "planning" to do sometime in the future once "this" or "that" happens is just excuse-making. Like the wizened old runner in too short shorts says: Just do it. Don’t look back on your life with tearful regret. Don’t be bored with the life that flashes before your eyes when you kick the bucket. That would be really sad: "Eibert, I give it two and half stars, it was uninspiring and the ending just dragged on and on."

Promise me. 35 summers. No regrets.

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