I have stepped on five continents within the past year, visited eleven countries, and met people from all over the world. It is hard to say all of that without sounding like a fully pretentious asshole. But besides the obviously enriching experiences I’ve had driving down Great Ocean Road in Australia or drinking hot wine while walking through the Christmas markets in Paris, I’ve found that the most important things I’ve learned are incredibly mundane.
1. Good company is hard to find, but easier when you know you’ll never see them again. We all know that finding good friends is a painstakingly difficult process. But when traveling, your fellow travelers are your best friends. The barista at the cafe who serves you your cafe au lait can be your replacement sister, and the guy you met on the metro can turn into your lover for a night or two. The appeal of everyone as a human being increases when you know your time together is fleeting. Or maybe it’s because everyone decides to be nicer because first impressions really matter when you only have so much time with someone. Yes, you will meet people you cannot stand, but you will meet people that you wish you could spend the rest of your life with. But you don’t. Because that is entirely unrealistic, since you will never be in the same place at the same time again. Some things are better left short and unadulterated; it is what it is and what it was is perfect.
2. You learn to associate certain places with certain people. This gets dangerous, as you realize that you can never return to the places you love and have them be the same ever again. It goes something like this: Wait. That was the step of Sacre Coeur we sat on when we talked about your family, no? Isn’t that spot on Bondi Beach where we realized that absolutely had to move to Australia? Haven’t you been to Bondi? Hey, isn’t that where your friend Jennifer vomited on the steps of Lan Kwai Fong? God, I miss her. Shit, you don’t know her do you? You get the point. Makes for some pretty profound nostalgia. I had three relatively serious flings while traveling, all in different countries — Spain, Singapore, and Hong Kong. And it sucks just because I know I will think of those people every time I think of the place. They’re not just my cities or places. The construct of each place in my mind is based around that one person or group of people. But was it the person that made me fall in love with the place or the place that made me fall in love with the person?
3. Home is where you make it. Not just where your heart is. The definition of home tends to vary from person to person. But you learn to build and rebuild everywhere you go. You find new friends, new family, and places where you’ll be a regular. It’s all about relearning the things in new places that make your everyday life tick — like where the best latte is, the shortest walk to where you need to go, the longer scenic walk to where you need to go, where to buy groceries that have international imports that remind you of your actual home, and so on. This is an ongoing process. Some days you’ll hate the place, and it will feel nothing like home. And other days, you know there’s no place else that feels more like it.
4. Paradise is temporary; reality is there. So I went to the Thai island of Koh Phi Phi this past April. We were sitting at a bar on the beach when we heard that there was an 8.6 earthquake in Indonesia, which set off a tsunami warning. The siren went off across the entire island. Everyone was evacuated to higher ground. We sat in the jungle on a mountain for five hours. Paradise shattered. Sent a couple of “If anything happens, please know that I love you” texts (3G is awesome). Thankfully, no tsunami. But this realization that shit can happen even in places where you feel so far removed from reality was incredibly disconcerting.
5. You find the most important people in your life when you’re the furthest away from them. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, but distance also makes the heart grow colder. It could be “out of sight, out of mind.” You figure out who makes the effort to keep in touch with you and who doesn’t. But more importantly, you figure out who YOU make the effort to keep in touch with and who you don’t. You learn who you want to come back to.
6. If there is one thing that you could spend the rest of your money on for the rest of your life, it should be this. And by “this” I mean traveling, new experiences, and new places. There are few things more valuable than that. Although traveling does not necessarily make you a better person per se, it does color your life in new ways. Yes, it is a luxury, and yes, it does cost heaps of money. But how many times do you wake up in the morning wishing you were somewhere else? How many times do you wish you had booked that trip to Southeast Asia but never got around to doing it? Think about it. And go.