When I arrived in Bangkok, I found myself, as so many others do, wandering aimlessly around Khao San Road at 2:00am, exhausted, overwhelmed, confused, shooing away lady-boys and searching for a place to stay. I’ll never forget the fear of that first night as I sat awake until sunrise, staring out a dirty window from an over-priced room, just observing the street below.
At the time, I had no idea the true significance of that first trip. I had no idea that it would fuel an addiction so intense that I would literally refuse to stop wandering around the world throughout the entire decade that followed. An addiction that has taken me to sixty-seven countries while traveling over 800,000 miles. And now that incredible decade is about to come to a close. Yet I am happy to announce that I regret not a single minute of the past ten years.
This post, and the next post I’ll put up in a few days, is a reflection upon my wanderings thus far. I’ve created a list of the first fifty things – places, people, adventures, thoughts, lessons learned – that pop into my head when I think about the past decade. Today I’ll post the first twenty-five.
The list is a bit rough but I thought it better to present these thoughts exactly as they flowed from my brain…
- The conventional path of life is absolutely not the only option. Lives can be created out of anything we are passionate about. I used to state this with trembling knees and an unsure voice ten years ago, but now I know it to be completely true.
- Having friends from all over the world is invaluable. Such relationships open the mind more than any other type of interaction. Looking at my email and phone contact lists, I can’t believe that I now have friends listed from 41 different countries!
- Nobody should suffer from a lack of self-confidence. We don’t have the time to waste and it turns out, that after high school, nobody really cares how you look or why you have a small, weird-looking ball of skin sticking out of your left foot.
- Personal success is the result of determination, confidence and a refusal to accept anything less than the achievement of your goals.
- I learned to walk everywhere, often over 5 miles per day while traveling as it provides constant exercise and helps me maintain an elevated level of awareness of my surroundings. This leads to a deeper interaction with a culture as I find myself in areas rarely visited by foreigners.
- The most difficult and terrifying step in facing any challenge is the first one – genuinely believing that you can succeed. Once you believe in yourself, yes, the sky is literally the limit.
- People are inherently good and kind. I have been helped by strangers too many times to count. They’ve directed me, given me food, a place to stay, even money when my wallet was stolen. Being afraid of strangers brings about fear and misunderstanding, while being receptive to strangers brings about kindness and mutually beneficial interactions.
- It is sad how little we really know about the world upon being released into it after graduating from high school. The schoolbooks are incomplete, real-world experience is almost non-existent and the media is as trustworthy as a politician. The only way to learn is through active, first-hand education, by venturing out into the unknown and exploring life for yourself. This does not require world travel, but at least the desire to challenge yourself and to question your own beliefs and motives at all times.
- I made the decision that at the end of my life, I want to have a long list of goals and dreams achieved, not a long list of regrets. Nobody can make this decision for us, it is up to us to make sure we end up with the list we want!
- All people are equal – no ifs, ands or buts. ALL PEOPLE. Not one human being is worth more than another.
- A lack of money is not a valid excuse for not going after the life of your dreams. I began my journey with about $1700. Good money can be made all over the world. There are NO EXCUSES.
- Facing your fears is the only way to overcome them. I overcame my fear of death by spending three days watching a never-ending line of bodies burn on open flames at the burning ghats of Varanasi. I realized that death is as unavoidable as potatoes in Prague and therefore I had no option but to live one kick-ass life.
- Some of the most rewarding human interactions take place without verbal language. I once spent a night with a family in a remote mountain village in Kashmir, eating, drinking, laughing and playing with the children, all without uttering a single word.
- Carrying a small guitar in a case is quite a good idea when traveling through some of the world’s more dangerous regions. Everyone will mistake it for a gun and anyone with negative intentions will generally leave you alone.
- Utensils should be banned in favor of using our hands to eat. The food just tastes better this way. Go ahead and eat your pasta with your hands…you’ll give up forks forever.
- There is no better feeling than finding yourself completely comfortable in a strange land, among strange customs so different from those you grew up with. It is a test of your willingness to open your mind and learn.
- I was once invited by a good friend to spend six weeks backpacking around Argentina, Chile and Uruguay with her as a remedy for a broken heart I had suffered. Some people just know what you need.
- A two-hour flight may be quicker than a 22-hour train ride, but the flight flies you over the culture below while the train takes you directly through its heart. I’ll choose the train journey every time.
- Traveling with friends is an amazing experience. Traveling alone is even more amazing as you are forced to meet more people and make more friends.
- Doctors and dentists who offer high-standard services for a tiny fraction of the cost at home can be found overseas – try Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok or a US-educated dentist in Delhi.
- Travel has nothing to do with the actual destination or the sites visited during a trip. Travel is all about the distance your mind is willing to go in testing its own limitations and long-held beliefs. Sure, the photos of the Taj Mahal or the Guatemalan woodcarvings make good souvenirs, but they are no indication of whether or not a person has traveled.
- People don’t hug enough.
- In order to maintain my health and sanity, I need to spend at least one month per year as far away as possible from any resemblance of a consumer culture. In 2009 I managed to do this twice – once on the tiny Thai island of Ko Mak and again in the isolated Mexican village of Chacala.
- A genuine smile is a true sign of happiness. Just think of those photos, we’ve all seen them, of an elderly village woman in some faraway land, all wrinkled and toothless, but with such a beaming smile, that we are left stunned by the real possibility that this poverty-stricken woman might be happier than we are. It turns out that most of them are! So do whatever it takes to get a genuine and permanent smile stuck on your face.
- This planet is full of such awe-inspiring places, places that have left me no choice but to shed a tear of happiness for being fortunate enough to have witnessed them.
I’ll end Part 1 of this two part post with a heartfelt THANK YOU to every single person that has been a part of the past ten years of my life. And I look forward to all of the people out there around the world who will become a part of the next ten!
Stay tuned for Part 2 – to be posted on Wednesday.
Any thoughts on the past decade? What have you accomplished? What sticks out in your mind as the most memorable moments or lessons learned?