Camera pans out to me in my flowy cotton pants and flower crown strolling down the beach at sunset, the smell of salt water almost visible in the air. I am thinking back on the person I was 3 months ago before I left my structured London life and flew to the beaches of South East Asia. This is it, right? This is where I heal myself, I find my purpose in life and I become a wholesome being full of love and harmony? Or so the world seems to think…
How many Hollywood movies have you seen in your life that depict South East Asia or India as the places where you “find yourself” and become “a better person”? Where all you’ve ever known is shattered into pieces, unlearned and replaced with a completely different way of thinking? But can simply traveling to another country change your life? Well here’s my experience.
I embarked on a trip across Asia in August 2019 with a backpack, some savings and the love of my life. It was an exciting adventure full of numerous unexpected twists, unfortunate injuries and lucky encounters. It was my first time leaving Europe and that in itself was a leap but what traveled even further was my consciousness. Too cringey? Let me explain what I mean.
To give you some back story, the initial reason behind this trip was so that my girlfriend and I could stay together. We are from different countries and the difficulty of obtaining the right visas meant that we couldn’t live in each other’s countries, thus making it necessary to separate for an indefinite amount of time. Then the idea to leave our lives behind for a chance to explore the world together was born and, fast forward a year, I am writing this blog post from a small hostel in the heart of Istanbul with my love sleeping peacefully in bed next to me. The plan was that we will travel until I could get a green card and move to the US where she’s from. So travel we did, I applied for my green card and tried to enjoy our adventure as much as possible. However, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop myself from worrying. Am I going to get the green card? Will I have enough money to move? What if I don’t meet the necessary requirements? What if what if what if… my brain was in a constant whirl of anxious thoughts. At times I was so preoccupied with worrying about the future that I wasn’t enjoying the one-of-a-kind adventure I was on.
Alongside my anxiety about the future, I was also struggling with other things involving the local cultures I was trying to immerse myself in–the constant honking of vehicles, the lack of sidewalks on the streets, the idea of “punctuality” that was very different from my own… Basically, my issue was with my inability to surrender to my environment and stop trying to impose my ideas of right and wrong to people who were simply different. Of course I didn’t realize that immediately. I kept getting frustrated when things weren’t going the way I expected them to and I kept worrying about my uncertain future. I knew these thoughts were causing me unnecessary stress but I wasn’t actively trying to deal with them.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was not actually that bothered about these things that used to be causes for immense frustration and anxiety anymore. It had been such a gradual transition that I had almost missed it altogether. I had stopped yelling at drivers in my head every time they honked, I had adjusted to “local schedules” and simply arrived later or waited patiently, and most importantly, I wasn’t scared about my future anymore. Somewhere along the way I had realized that what I considered my only option was in fact only one path of many that were in front of me. I had let go of the need to control what happens and by doing so I began seeing all the other possibilities previously hidden from me by me. To sound even more cliché, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders!
Now am I the exact opposite of who I was 7 months ago? No. Have I changed? Unbelievably. And the change wasn’t so much in not minding that things like that were happening, it was in my response to them. Understanding and acceptance replaced the urge to oppose. Surrender replaced control. As open-minded as I thought I was before, I had now truly opened my eyes and decided to learn from everything and everyone, to trust the universe and myself. And did that happen because I went to India? Or Vietnam, or Cambodia or Thailand or any of the other places I spent time in? Yes and no. It wasn’t the specific place that drove this shift, it was the simple fact that I changed my environment, the people and the cultures I was surrounded by. It was pushing out of my comfort zone and experiencing something different that taught me how to feel something different. A similar shift of consciousness probably could’ve happened to me if I had traveled to Mexico or Canada or Portugal. It wasn’t the people of India, the food of Malaysia or the trees in Singapore that did it. It was the fact that I took a leap and put myself, physically and mentally, in the right environment for growth–a different environment from what I was used to.
So to whoever is in the business of finding themselves, I have one piece of advice for you–travel! It doesn’t have to be to India (although the food there totally justifies the trip). Just go out there and experience different things. Break out of your comfort zone, surround yourself with the opposite of what you’re used to, the opposite of what you crave or think you need. Explore, observe, partake, endure, learn. It is the only way to get to know yourself.