A year ago I landed in Hong Kong after leaving a ten-year career, to permanently travel. My intentions for the year ahead as I landed in Hong Kong were to have a blank slate for the next year and to see what happened. I had a few ideas of what I wanted to do, mainly to travel, explore, and share those experiences with others. As I arrived in Hong Kong I didn’t have a job or any prospects for work and I didn’t know how long I’d stay in Hong Kong. I had five weeks booked in a room in an apartment and that was the only thing set in stone at the time.
Now a year later, I’m looking back on all of the experiences from the past trip around the sun, and quite literally around the planet. It is quite the reflective moment to follow my path and where my year of adventure took me; from Myanmar to Milford, China to Wyoming, Peru to Nashville, Germany to Hawaii, beaches to ski slopes, jungles to deserts, cities to farms.
During this past year, I’ve visited 17 countries, 11 states, and spent 6 months out of the United States. I also spent most of July on the family farm, and numerous days exploring my home state of Utah both in the summer and in the winter.
Even more than reflecting the experiences I’ve had and places I’ve been, I’ve loved reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned about life, and what I’ve learned about myself during this adventure.
One of the biggest surprises to me was how much I missed working. I’d left a full-time job to take a break from work, and ironically that was one of the things I realized I missed most. I missed feeling productive, and like I was contributing to something. I picked up a few jobs I could do online from anywhere in the world, as long as I had Wi-Fi and cell service. I also learned that I had to give myself “assignments” I’d give myself to do lists, writing assignments, and other daily tasks. Another purpose in this time away from a traditional life was to explore what else I might like to do career wise. At the end of the year, I haven’t exactly narrowed that down, but do know specific themes of what I’d like to do. I love to research and learn, I like to hear stories and share stories, I like to explore and share, and I want to be able to work independently, but with other people.
I’ve learned a few things about relationships and interactions with other people as I’ve traveled. I’ve been able to meet so many people from all over the world during this year. I’ve learned about many different cultures and different ways of life. My hope is that I can cherry pick the best practices of these cultures and incorporate them into my own life.
In China and other parts of Asia, I learned the importance of “keeping face.” In those cultures, it is crucial that you maintain a social reputation; this means it is of utmost importance that you always maintain your poise and composure in any interaction. I’ve carried this with me, and try to approach any situation with a calm, collected demeanor.
Since most of my travels this year have been solo, I’ve started to notice other people who are alone for whatever reason. Whether they are just traveling alone, or are alone for some other reason. There have been times when others have included me by inviting me to join them, and it has meant so much. I now make it a practice to include anyone that might be alone while I’m traveling and while I’m home. I think simple inclusion can go a long way to making people feel wanted. The simple act of inviting someone to join you or your group of people could make someone’s day or even more. I’ve also solidified the fact that I do need to be alone sometimes. When surrounded by family and friends, it is hard to think that alone time would be beneficial. I have FOMO, fear of missing out, but that alone time gives me time to recharge and come back onto the social scene with a renewed energy.
During my travels this year, I spent a lot of time letting go of fear. I’ve practiced letting go of my fear of what harm others might cause to me, and that goes for close relationships and strangers. I realized I was spending far too much time and energy worrying about what could go wrong with relationships than actually just enjoying the relationship. I also removed any past grievances from my mind, why spend time dwelling on them right now, which in the end only projects them onto the future. This also came into play with my relationship with myself, I’ve realized that I’m extremely hard on myself and I was more often tearing myself down than I was encouraging myself. This kind of seems silly, but I think a lot of us are our worst critics, and often times it isn’t constructive criticism. I read a book that compared this behavior we do to ourselves to the behavior of our friends. The book asked if you would keep yourself as a friend if your friend said all of the terrible things to you that you say to yourself. Now, anytime I catch myself in a self-criticizing spiral, I quickly reverse my train of thought and start pointing out good qualities about myself, to myself. During some time I spent in India with my best friend, we wrote down all of the things that we wanted to forgive, both things that had been done to us and things that we’d been holding over ourselves that we’d done. We wrote them down on a piece of paper, bought a floating candle, and set them free down the Ganges River. You were supposed to actually get in the river and bathe to cleanse yourself of these types of things, but the river was absolutely filthy. We figured we emerge from the river spiritually clean but physically contaminated with every known bacteria and parasite known to the human race.
Stressing and worrying are pointless, and don’t serve any purpose. If there are any issues to deal with, deal with them when the time is appropriate to deal with them. During my travels, I’d find that I’d spend time stressing and worrying about events in the future and as I was worrying I wasn’t actually doing anything productive about the issue ahead. Often times, there wasn’t anything I could do about the issue until I encountered the issue. On a long bus ride from the Cambodia border to Bangkok, Thailand, I stressed about what I would do once I arrived in Bangkok. I’d already booked a hotel, I’d studied up on how taxis operated and how to stay safe in Bangkok, so I’d done everything in my control to handle the situation when I arrived. The stressing and worrying for four hours while I sat in the bus about how I would find a taxi or if I could and how much it would cost in Bangkok was a waste of energy. I was prepared, and when arrived I’d be able to find the best option. I noticed I did this at other times during my travels as well and also about things in life in general. Arriving into Myanmar I worried the length of the flight and length of a bus ride about if I’d be able to find internet to do some work. It was also a waste of energy, there was nothing I could do sitting on the plane or on the bus to fix the situation. I wouldn’t need to take action until I actually got there, and had all of the information to go find internet.
Even though this has been an adventurous year and you might think a lot of what I’m doing sounds crazy, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really like feeling secure and safe, especially at night. I’ve spent numerous nights sleeping on planes, trains, in the back seat of a car, camping, etc., and have found out that I really like having somewhere safe to call home for the night and a bed to sleep. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; it could be a tent, hut, or a bunk bed on a train, as long as I feel safe.
Being alone on the road, thousands of miles from home gives your mind a lot of time to wander and sort through some pretty heavy topics. Traveling through different cultures where each culture has their own truth, and people from different religions or ways of life each have their own truths made me wonder how anyone from one religion or way of life can say that another religion or way of life is incorrect. I found that religion tends to keep world views in a box when there often ends up being so much more. I also found this to be the same with science, it keeps things in a calculated scientific box, when there is obviously something more going with life. I’ve come to the conclusion that my “religious” views can all be summed up with one simple word, connection; connection with other humans, with nature, with a significant other, animals, myself, and with a higher power.
While I was living a traditional life back in Utah, I’d fantasize about what it would be like to permanently travel the world. Now that I’m always traveling, I find myself fantasizing about having a home. I make lists of where I’d want to live, what I’d want to have in my house, and what I’d want “home” to look like. It is also very easy for me to make myself at home. I can pretty much be at home in a new destination after one night. After that, I’ve met people, found my favorite running spots, favorite foods, and have completely settled into the new location.
Even though I left a life of routine for adventure, I soon found out that I really like routine and gravitate towards having one. No matter where I was, give me two days, and I’ll have created a daily routine. I’ll have my favorite restaurant, activities, coffee shop, grocery store, etc. In Siem Reap, Cambodia, after seeing Angkor Wat, I decided to stay for a few extra days because I was set in my little routine and wasn’t ready to pack up and start a new one. I’d stay days there working or reading over a long breakfast, then swimming/tanning before going to lunch. I’d shower, then head to a coffee shop and work some more, after that, I’d go back to the pool, then to my favorite bar for a beer, and my favorite street food stand for dinner.
Surprise, I’m really busy! You’d think after leaving a full-time job I’d have lots of spare time on my hands. Now that I’m in control of my time, and my life is a blank slate, I’ve filled and scheduled things that I’d never have scheduled in a normal work week then weekend life. I make it a point to see friends and family more, and I’m a planner, so I’ve had adventures plotted six months to a year in advance. My day to day is also really busy and completely full. I’m up early, working, journaling, exercising, adventuring, meeting friends, traveling, etc. Without a set Monday-Friday schedule, that business often carries into the weekends; it is hard to differentiate a work day from a play day. I’ve toyed with the idea of having at least one day a week where I don’t do anything and just rest, a “Sabbath” from my adventure. Part of the obsessiveness to stay busy and occupy my time might be me overcompensating by trying not to become stagnate now that I’m not bound to a full-time work schedule. I’ve also heard this from people who have recently retired, they say that their retired life is busier than their work life was.
Another time-related surprise to me was how much time it takes to administer a life on the road. Think of how much time it takes you to plan a trip, now imagine that every day of your life is a trip and you are constantly planning it. I spend quite a bit of time researching flights, lodging, activities, etc. Then, as I move from place to place I’m also packing and unpacking, which takes time. It takes a lot of logistic planning to administer this type of life. A life of routine is pretty easy, it is like auto pilot when you don’t have a lot of changing variables in your life. Right now, I’m in a constant flux. Just as I get settled into my routine somewhere, it is time to pack up and adjust to a new routine. This type of adventure is exactly the life I’ve dreamed about living, but now I have some many little places/routines that I miss. Over this year I’ve had so many different experiences! In a traditional life you might look back on your year and only remember a few major events or milestones (vacations, weddings, holidays, etc.) but for this year since every day was a new adventure, I can just about recall each and every day and what I did that day. I have a fairly good memory to begin with, so you can really throw out any date on the calendar from this last year and I’ll be able to give you the exact details of that day and what I was doing. The years before this year aren’t that easy since there was so much routine and sameness every day. This is something I hope to carry forward with my life, creating a memory that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life every single day. A year later, I can now give you the possible side effect warning for this type of constantly changing lifestyle. While it is extremely fun and adventurous, and one of the most memorable years of my life, I think it has also been the year of my life that has aged me the most. I now notice more wrinkles that ever and I think I look three years older. This is probably in direct relation to the fact that my life over the last year has been constantly changing and it takes more energy to adjust to new locations, cultures, and new daily life. When you live in the same place, work in the same place, and hang out in the same place day after day, it is pretty easy. The one stat that comes to mind that supports this to me is the number of different beds I’ve slept in this year. After counting, it is about 100 different beds, that’s a new bed every three or four days.
Life is better when you unplug. For my first month in Hong Kong, I didn’t have a phone. I stayed connected using my laptop when I was on wifi at my place or in coffee shops. I feel like those days without a phone in Hong Kong were very rich days. I wasn’t obsessing over the phone and my quality of time actually improved. If I was on the train or bus, I’d read or journal, instead of first reaching for my phone. When I was out with friends, I was actually out with friends, engaged with them, and not pre-occupied with my phone. I was noticing more details and connecting with life more when I didn’t have my device. I was also more productive when I did connect using my laptop. When I went online it was online time and I was able to focus more on the work and tasks that I needed to do because it was time set aside for that specific reason. After getting a phone set up, I’ll admit that I’ve let the connection addition take back over. I’m constantly grabbing for my phone for entertainment/connection, instead of seeking it in the real world.
If you are reading this, it means you have access to electricity and some type of computing device, which makes you pretty lucky. You are also probably reading it on a mobile device which means you are somewhere with the infrastructure to support a data network and you have a service plan to tap into that network. These couple of items; electricity, computer, infrastructure, makes you one of the richest people in the world. After traveling, I’m even more grateful for the life we get to live in the modern world, don’t ever take it for granted, be continuously appreciative for even the smallest things, and stop worrying about the little things.
Starting this adventure, and leaving a full-time job, I figured I’d be money poor and time rich. I’ve been very surprised by how much money I have, and how much time I seem to not have. The money part is in large part due to a few budgeting shifts, and the time part is due to the fact that I’m now completely booked with things that I love doing.
With my budget, I’ve learned to weed out buying things that aren’t important. Most of my budget goes towards things that are in alignment with what I’d like my life to be. I’m not tricked into make impulse purchases that don’t match my values anymore.
I’ve made a list of things that I really want/need, then only spend money on those. If I’m tempted to buy something and it doesn’t fit on my top ten list, I don’t buy it. (my list, shorts, shoes) Avoid buying anything on sale, unless it is on that list. I have to make better purchases and spend money on quality items that I really need, and that are going to last. I’ve stopped buying things on sale just because they are on sale, they are on sale for a reason. I’m also living out of a suitcase most of the time, and I’m not going to pack around low-quality items. I have a few good quality things, and that is all I need. I have one pair of really nice jeans, my five favorite shirts, nice running shoes, nice dress shoes, nice flip flops, and a nice swimming suit. I don’t need to and don’t have room to pack around something that isn’t absolutely perfect.
Something that I’ve had to remind myself of is that I’m happier when I’m eating well, exercising, and staying within my budget. Like I mentioned before, I’m fairly hard on myself, so when I set eating/exercise/budget goals and don’t meet them, I remember. There are a few times when I think a splurge on food or a purchase is ok, but for the most part, excess isn’t better. I’ve learned that more of something good isn’t always more. Usually, the first thing you eat or drink of something is always the best, then the benefit and enjoyment of the second, third, etc., goes down exponentially, even though you think the next and next will give you just as much happiness. A great way to remind yourself of this is to keep up on that journal that I mentioned before. If you write down how you feel when you do positive things, and also when you do negative things, its easier to remember to take the positive choice when you have the choice again. “I ate an entire cake in a single sitting, it was great, but made me feel like crap afterward.” “I spent money on something silly and now I don’t have the budget to do something that I really want.” “I drank too much last night, and my hangover ruined the entire next day.” “I went on a run and felt amazing!” “I’m eating healthy and I have more energy.”
I also have a new sense of abundance that I haven’t felt in my life before, it is really ironic that when you third your income is when you start to feel like you have more than you’ve ever had in your life. This might be the combo of more time, but it is also that I’ve realized what is important and what isn’t. I’m sharing more than I’ve ever shared. I now readily give away things, share things, and don’t have any emotional tie or regret to give up material possessions. This may be in part due to all of my time spent outside the United States, and seeing how much we have, and living day to day with very few packed possessions. One of my favorite quotes that I’ve come across this year is this, “when you have more than you need, build a bigger table, not a taller fence.”
Don’t think I’ve turned into a non-materialistic free spirit because I still love nice things. This experience has really just refined my tastes and forced me to focus on only things that I absolutely love. There is just no more clutter, only things that are crucial or that I really love.
Speaking of processions it was quick to see that want destroys happiness; things give a false promise of happiness. After spending two months in Southeast Asia I spent a couple of days in Singapore and then headed back to the US for the summer. Arriving in Singapore and visiting my first mall in a few months, I could feel the spark of want hit me. All of these nice things…If I had them, I’d be happier, wouldn’t I? It grew worse as I flew to the US and entered familiar territory. There were so many things to buy, and so many promises that those things would make me happy. In the end, it is the experiences and connections that we have with others that bring us happiness. Strong friendships, strong families, strong partnerships, and the experiences that we get to have together. I’m extremely grateful that I get to extend my year into another year, and maybe more. Stay tuned to see where this next year takes me and those who join me.
These are a few habits that I’ve picked up during this year of travel and are ones that I hope to keep with me through my entire life.
- Journaling, no matter what it is about. Keep a journal about every day. It helps memories come alive.
- If you have an idea, write it down so you can keep it.
- Mornings are extremely important; don’t let them go to waste. Make sure you use your mornings for you, and the things most important in your life. Don’t wake up, rush to get ready, and rush to work to give that most important time to someone else. Allow enough time to take your morning slow, take a long shower, savor a cup of coffee or tea, journal, and do anything else that requires creative energy. You’ll be able to accomplish more in the morning before everyone else has even got out of bed than you can in the rest of the day. This all important start to your day will set the stage for the rest of the time, and with a good beginning, you can coast through the remainder of the day.
- Slow down, smell things, observe with all senses and be in the moment
- Forgive quickly, trust people; for the most part, they are good.
- Turn off your phone and enjoy the actual world that surrounds you.
- If you do get on your phone, spend the time actually connecting with others instead of just scrolling through Facebook/Instagram/Twitter. Reach out to an old friend, message your family, do something that will actually connect you with another human.
- Just like only carrying good, quality material things that you love, keep your life like that. Don’t pack around negative emotional baggage or negative relationships.
- Don’t worry about things until it is time to do something about them. Worrying before you have any control over the situation is a waste of time and energy.
- Ask for advice! This is hard if you are as headstrong as me, but advice from others is like gold. No matter what the topic, you probably know someone that is an expert in that area; don’t hesitate to ask them for advice.
More than just travel tips, these are some fundamentals that I’ve learned about travel that can make it a more enriching experience.
- Longer time in places. Less anxiety for me, I don’t have to eat, drink, and see everything all at once. I can enjoy it, and soak it up like a local.
- I really like home! (Utah), spend time exploring anything that is nearby.
- People make travel, connect with locals and ask for the destination’s story and their story.
- Journal, it’s the best souvenir, and journal while you aren’t traveling
- I like the planning stage of travel, and the actual travel as much as I like being somewhere new.
- Don’t try to document every aspect of your trip with photos, step back and sense the entire world around you when you are traveling. The noises, the smells, the people, put the phone down and just absorb.
- A big part of travel and experiences for me is sharing them with someone else. I now know that some of these experiences can’t be shared, they are only mine and will always only be mine, it took me a long time to be ok with that. I’d be on the other side of the world experience something wishing that I had family and friends there with me to enjoy it. I now cherish some of those times as just my time.
You have done and seen so much, it feels longer than a year!!
Priceless! You have given me so many ideas to ponder and share over the many years I have known you and this post was a treasure trove of so many more. I miss you.
If you’re still wandering around and trying to work in remote places, I can’t recommend T-Mobile and a hotspot capable phone enough. You get free data and texting in like 150+ countries and I can personally vouch for at least a dozen. It’s made it so much easier for me to plan flights and stuff and to share internet with anyone I’m traveling with, even if the speeds are a little slow abroad.
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Thank you, thank you, for sharing your thoughts, Austin! This is fantastic.
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