What I learned about myself after traveling around the world for 7 months

It has taken me a while to write this reflection on my seven months of travel because I wanted to set some time aside to understand my feelings. After all, my trip was an entire lifetime of sights, sounds, and experiences compressed into a few months. There were so many hellos and goodbyes as I walked across different floors and saw different shores. It was an experience so eclectic in its mix of places and cultures, yet so uniform in the feelings that I had—awe, joy, sadness, longing—and wherever I went, I learned a lot about myself and the world around me.

It has been challenging and painful at times, yet so wonderfully rewarding. People often say that the world doesn’t change, only you change. The way I look at the world, at my problems, at the moments in my life, I feel as though they’re all different now. Here are some of the things that I learned about myself. Although, in some way, I knew them deep down in my heart before, they never truly hit me until I took a leap of faith to put my career on hold to travel.

 

I don’t feel as rushed anymore

In Venice, I spent hours just strolling through the maze of tiny, unique alleyways and along the streams that were the lifeblood of the city. It was an amazing feeling that I experienced just taking my time, observing its pulse in the form of throngs of people rushing by. My eyes were drawn to the world I had stepped into—drawn to the faded, painted brickwork of the walls of the narrow passageway I had just entered, the arch of brick ahead and its large keystone where two lovers had chiseled a heart and their initials, and the semicircle cutout above a door inset with a whimsical wrought iron design of roses. I had no desire to see the next sight on TripAdvisor, or run to the next top-rated restaurant anymore. I enjoyed the small things all around me.

 

I no longer feel like I am missing out

My generation has an intense FOMO (fear of missing out). We see the filtered lives of our friends through their online feeds, and we consciously or subconsciously compare it to our own lives. We want to be everywhere and do everything. We are afraid to do things because we want to be sure that the things we do are the best, and if something better were to come along at that time, we’d be devastated.

Being away from it all has allowed me to have some perspective. I missed big music festivals that all my friends went to. I missed parties, celebrations, and events. It was alright. It was tough for me at first, but in the end I realized that I’m really just trading one experience for another, and that the most important thing is to just be present wherever I was. If I’m not present, not living in the moment, then I’ll always be missing out no matter where I am.

 

Things figure themselves out

Shit happened while I was on the road. I learned. I made do. I figured it out eventually. I stumbled plenty of times, and I fell just as many. I lost things, got lost, lost myself. Sometimes the kindness of friends and strangers lifted me up and brought me back up onto my feet. Sometimes I had to learn to stand up on my own. But there’s always a solution to a problem, no matter how hard it may be.

 

My problems aren’t that big

The storms in my life, as impassable as they may seem, are often mere raindrops compared to the real and difficult struggles of so many people in this world. We are lucky to be where we are and have the things that we have. The poorest in many countries throughout the world live among heaps of trash, swarms of mosquitoes, and crippling poverty. Yet, they cling to each other and still find happiness despite all of it.

 

People are a reflection of you

I had a layover in Moscow’s airport late on a Tuesday night, and the flight was delayed an additional six hours. After sitting in one of the chairs for a while, I realized I was extremely thirsty and needed some water, so I headed towards one of the last cafes nearby that looked open. At the counter was a very old Russian woman with a grim frown, her eyes glared at the two young Chinese women across from her at the cash register. They were arguing (the old lady in Russian, the two young women in Mandarin) about what seemed to be the closing time of the cafe, and after what sounded like a nasty exchange the two young women stormed away.

I approached the old woman and, while attempting to convey the motion of turning on a faucet and water running into a cup with my hands, put forth my best smile. She looked at me, puzzled for a second. And then instantly her face transformed from a mean-looking grimace into one of the biggest, warmest smiles I had ever seen. Her giant smile ran from ear to ear revealing her remaining three teeth her bright blue eyes glistened at me. I got my cup of water even though her shop was closed. It’s something that I’ll never forget; you get what you give.

 

The world is beautiful, and I want to share it

There were so many moments on my trip that took my breath away. From the fiery crimson sunset over the island shores of Thailand to the rays of light pouring down over the towering rocks of Halong Bay in Vietnam. There was the time I caught the last bit of sun atop Elephant Mountain in Taipei as the night fog rolled into the city, or when I saw the sun dance and glisten among the skyscrapers from a boat in Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong. I stood in awe in the magnificent ruins of Angkor Wat, imagining how life must have been 1000 years ago.

The Greek island of Santorini—with its whimsical cliffside doors and the lighthouse at its very tip where you can stand there and feel as though you are at the edge of the world—showed me a life I’d one day, many years from now, like to live. I was blown away by the mass dance celebration in Pyongyang, North Korea, where tens of thousands of people came out to dance in unison, and we were able to learn and dance with them. The majestic, towering pillars of rock in Zhangjiajie in China, where parts of Avatar was filmed, was also a sight to behold.

I want my friends and family to one day experience all that I’ve experienced and more. I want these places to still be there for my future children and their children, so that they may also have the privilege to see and feel their beauty as well.

 

I can survive off of very little, but…

I’ve found that I don’t need much to live. I basically sold or donated most of my non-investment material possessions before striking it out on my own, living out of a backpack for 7 months. It was easy to get by. I didn’t have to think too much about what I’d wear. I could pack up and move to a different country in 10 minutes. If I wanted to, I could get an apartment in a cheap third-world country and live off of my passive income.

But after a few months I again wanted more than to merely exist. I thought about this a lot. To me, if we, as humans, had no goals, no desire for greatness, we’d still all be farmers or hunters spending most of our time trying to make or find food instead of reading, writing, building, making music, creating ideas, changing the world.

You see, I realized during my time away that I wasn’t content merely surviving. I wanted to create, to build, to learn. I reflected on the times when I felt the most alive, and it was when I was making things, not when I was enjoying a coconut on a beach somewhere. I wanted more from life than just that.

 

Life is too short for hate; there is only time for love

Seven months is a long time to be on the road. Yet, it’s also a really, really short amount time. I became acutely aware of the time that was rushing by, day by day. I’d wake up in a new city and wonder how the days and weeks had flown past me. I never wanted this grand adventure to end, but I also knew that, one day it had to.

I remember many years ago when I was chatting with a childhood friend. We were talking about life, time, and our perception of it all. He told me that he was volunteering with senior citizens, and one of them told him something that stuck with him. The old man said, “Time never stops; it never slows down. In fact, as you get older, it just goes by quicker. The days turn to weeks, and the weeks melt into years, faster and faster.”

Because of this great awareness of limited time that I had during my travels, I knew that no matter what happened, it would be a waste of my time to hate anybody. There are not enough hours in the day for hatred or misery or anger. Only love is worth my time.

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Yu Jiang decided to put his career at Apple as a robotics designer and programmer on hold in order to follow his dream of traveling the world. He loves exploring, meeting new people, and learning new things.

1 Comment

  1. I came to these same conclusions during the year that I spent in Bali to study music and dance, particularly the one about FOMO and that love is all that matters. The challenge is to hold on to this clarity when you’re back and create that life when you’re back at home. After you’ve had a taste of what it is to be fully expressed and inspired, you’re constantly trying to create that. All the best Yooj, glad you had FuN!! If you’re back in SF let’s hang out!

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