so one day i decided to seize the day. and from quitting my job to going on an epic 3 month sojourn outside my comfort zone, boy did i seize that day! now looking back, here are some thoughts after my few months in between somewhere and everywhere.
What do you learn from traveling that you cannot learn from books?
That is a question I’ve been trying to answer since i started my adventure. There’s a part of me that wants to answer that question to understand this compelling need inside me to go out and see the world. And yes, maybe a little part that needs the answer just so I can justify my life choices.
Traveling is not a cheap endeavor. It’s not exactly as those “quit your job and travel” articles advertise it to be. No sir, not when you’re from a third-world country with all the cultural baggage of family support and an alarming unemployment rate. So maybe I need more of that justification than I’d like to admit. Partly to make people understand my choices but mostly just to appease that guilt of spending some of my savings out there in my attempt to find that beautiful somewhere.
3 months, 16 countries later, and my answer is still mulled. some days i’d say nothing. because really, almost everything there is to learn out there we can find through google. but then again, learning something and actually experiencing it are two distinct things. sometimes, words and pictures still cannot fully capture a place, a moment, an experience.
Like say, I can tell you all about my experience with the wonderful people of spain. like how warm they’ve welcomed us. how friendly words were exchanged in a mix of spanish and english which we surprisingly understood no thanks to the bittersweet history between spain and my country. but then again, would you really understand? could those words translate the way my heart shifts just remembering those late afternoons tapas hunting in ronda?
maybe it’s my inability to translate thought into words along with my lack of imagination when reading the accounts of other people. or maybe it’s just something you wouldn’t know until you get there. I tend to believe it’s the latter.
the difference between reading from books and actually going there and experiencing those things may not be the want for words. i think it’s primarily because reading about others’ accounts is like peeping at something through some filter, through someone else’s perspective. whereas, being actually there, you get to be the judge, you get to be the filter. you see things from your own eyes and get to decide what it means to you and how you fit in a world with the light that this new knowledge brings.
what i learned from my 3 months of travel are mostly old things. things i’ve already read about in history class, or in those travel blogs i frequent when I’m bored. Nothing much is new under the sun, but the difference is, this time, you get to re-learn in a convincing way. like doing lab work as opposed to just studying the theoretical stuff. like relearning what serenity means in the snow-covered norwegian woods. or how intricate is defined by the St. Peter’s Basilica.
but the most important things I learned I’m almost certain I can never learn from reading books. Those are the essential things I learned about myself. Because as much as traveling is about the external world, it is also a very introspective endeavor. I learned how relaxed I can be if only I stop trying to fight the universe for control at every move. In the train to Mongolia and meeting a woman from North Korea, I realized that what I know of the world is a spec of dust in the desert. That I need to read more, to look for knowledge in different places from different perspectives. In Oslo, I learned about how fear cripples my desire to help people. That fear from being exploited/scammed makes it difficult to trust people and extend a hand (or a few NOKs in that incident). But in Tromso, I realized that I can trust my gut and that I don’t have to be afraid of the world. That if I let go a little, I might be pleasantly surprised. However, i also learned to be careful because the world is not a perfect place and danger is everywhere-like that pack of ice in the middle of the road that night we went aurora-chasing or that drunk old man in Sandefjord. But i also found out that I can get myself out of those situations unscathed. There’s a thin line between being daring and being stupid. But you’ll get better at handling things as you gain more experience. YOLO shouldn’t be about putting ourselves at risk. But it’s about facing adventures with an understanding of risks and possible answers. In Florence I’ve learned that I can push hard with the right motivations. That some things are worth the tiring journey for.
those 3 wonderful months were spent walking under the blistering sun, the rain, the first snow of the season, the star-filled skies, the cloudy ones, with people I might never see again, with strangers turned friends, with fellow travelers ( or as J would put it, fellow students of life), with one of my best friends in the whole world, and mostly with my over-thinking control-freak self. And now as I sit at home in this small town that has raised me since childhood, I feel at home yet completely out of my comfort zone. everything’s the same yet different. and maybe for them I am the same yet different. and it feels like a new adventure- trying to go back to old routine with this new-found self in this same world seen in a new light. And surprisingly it’s a good mix.