7 Lessons Learned from 15 Months on the Road
Everybody Is Pretty Much the Same
When you spend a long time in one place, it’s easy to think of people outside those borders as different. They seem dangerous, as if they have completely different values and goals in life. This trip showed me that no matter where you go, the differences are only superficial. A smile is universal. Everybody loves kids. Most people judge their wealth by their family and friends, not their bank account. And everybody pretty much wants to live a life where they can live in peace and be treated fairly and with respect. This includes the rich, the poor, Muslims, Atheists, and every religion and nationality you can find. Anybody who thinks otherwise needs to book an international flight as soon as possible.
97% of people are inherently good, and the other 3% are pretty easy to pick out
While in Salt Lake City, I couchsurfed at a guy’s house who was a prolific host. At that point, he had hosted something like 100 people at his house. Out of the 100 people, only 3 had caused any problems. In each case, the host told me he had a queasy feeling about hosting them from the outset.
These numbers seem to match up with my experience. Nearly 97% of people we met on this trip were decent, honest people. It’s the other 3% you need to watch out for. The good part is that the 3% are pretty easy to pick out. The more you interact with a wide range of people, the stronger your gut feeling about these people will be.
This means that the world can be a pretty safe place, but only if you go out and gain experience interacting with it. Sitting at home limits the number and variety of people you meet, which makes it harder to pick up the telltale signals of somebody who is about to screw you over.
People Love Obama
Wherever you stand on the politcal spectrum, this is an undeniable fact. By far the most common coversation I have had with locals everywhere goes like this:
Local: Where are you from?
Local: Ahhh America. O-bam-a!
This is a big change from when I was traveling around Europe in 2002 and South America in 2006-2007. It’s really nice to not brace yourself for a negative reaction when you say you’re from America. This is quite a change from the Bush years.
It’s Nice to Travel Where There are No Guns
Sometimes people assume that traveling to other countries, particularly poorer countries, is dangerous. So I tried to think about the last time I felt scared for my personal safety with regard to crime. The last place I could think of was a ghetto in Hawaii.
In Asia, unless you cross the mafia or the police, you’re pretty safe from guns. But in America, that is not the case at all. While my family was worried for my safety this summer, I kept turning on the American news to see a mass shooting every other week. First it was the Batman premiere shooting, then the Sikh massacre, then the Empire State building shooting. It was crazy. It’s really nice to travel in places where the worst situation that can occur involves a knife that you can run away from. In the meantime, I can only laugh at people who think our trip has been dangerous while they live in a place with such a prevalence of guns.
Don’t Measure Your Travels by Completing Checklists of “Must Sees”
Every place has a list of “must-see” things to do. Without fail, travelers show up and start going down the checklist, as if their vacation is a series of tasks. You don’t need to do this. In fact, you should not do this and you should not let other people make you feel guilty about not doing this. The only thing you need to do at the end of the day is to ask yourself one simple question.
Did I enjoy today?
If the answer is yes, you’re doing it right. If not, then slow down and do less stuff. Sometimes, this means sitting around watching movies and screwing around on the internet all day. That’s fine. Maybe you just want to sleep all day. Fine again. Just do what you please, and you will go home refreshed. Going to see that one last building, market, or cultural show is not going to refresh you. It will simply exhaust you.
Remember that traveling is not a competition. There will always be somebody with a bigger list of sites they saw, parties they went to, crazy stories they had, “authentic” experiences they had, or hot people they hooked up with. It’s a losing battle to compete with those people. So while you’re on the road, just worry about enjoying your day and everything will work out fine.
Sometimes, a simple beer run on an lazy day can make your entire week. One time I went to grab a beer in Vietnam, and I ended up seeing roughly $30,000 USD being casually counted in front of my face. It was just a stack of hundreds, about 2 inches thick. We never did see Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, but experiences like the 30K gangster roll aren’t in the guidebook.
Don’t Measure Your Life By Counting the Days
Most people measure life by their age. They hope to live to be very old, at which point they’re going to do all the stuff they’re putting off from doing right now. Measuring your life by measuring your days is foolish. Life should be measured by what you did with those days. You could always drop dead tomorrow, so you can only control what you’re going to do with today.
Don’t assume that the stuff you want to do when you’re 25 is the same as what you want to do when you’re retired at 65. It won’t be. And even if it is, you may not be physically capable of doing it, or you may have other responsibilities then that you don’t have now. So go out and do what you want to do now. I’m not saying people should completely ignore the future, or take unecessarily dangerous risks, but don’t put off enjoyment of your babyless years for a day that may never come. After all, how many seniors do you see sitting around saying, “Man, I wish I had done less stuff when I was younger.”
I am One Lucky Person
One thing nobody has any control over is what I call the birth lottery. It’s who you’re born to, where, and when. I hit the birth lottery Powerball. I was born to great parents who gave me every opportunity to succeed. I was born at a time where my passion, computer programming, became very valuable with the advent of the internet. I was born in a country where the sky is the limit with regard to financial success, and one that allows me to travel to pretty much any country I would like to. I started working at a time that allowed me to make enough money to save up for a big trip like this one. And I will return to America during boom times for the sofware industry.
It would be nice to say I’ve worked hard and overcome some crazy obstacles. But while I have worked hard, I would not have had the experiences I have had without having struck it rich in the birth lottery.
Many times we meet people on the road and it dawns on me, they can’t come to America even if they want to. Some countries have a limited number of other countries for which they can obtain visas, and even if that were not the case, the cost of travel rules it out for a large number of people worldwide. In all likelihood, these people will never leave their home country. And it’s not because they don’t work hard, aren’t smart, or aren’t deserving. They were just dealt a different hand.
All I can do is be thankful for my own luck, and keep this lesson in mind next time I meet somebody who is less lucky and could use some help.