The Best of the Voyage (Part 4: Lessons)
Part 1: Hostels (August 29)
Part 2: Bars and Restaurants (August 30)
Part 3: Facts and Cities (August 31)
Part 4: Lessons (September 1)
Part 5: Useful Things to Pack (September 2)
Part 6: Things I Wish I’d Done (September 3)
Part 7: Memories, Stories, and Wisdom (September 4)
6 Important Lessons
- Set your own limit – whether it’s haggling or drinking or even traveling, you have to decide your own stopping point. Everyone is different, and everyone responds to external and internal stimuli differently. With haggling, determine the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for something before you engage the salesperson. If your polite efforts to negotiate the price are not successful, smile and tell them you’re not interested, thus saving their (and your) time and energy. With drinking or taking substances, evaluate your surroundings and make sure you’re always in control of your actions. When you’re a guest in someone else’s country, it’s not respectful to throw up on their doorstep. And with traveling, do yourself a favor. When you’re burnt out and you want to go home, it’s not the end of the world; if you’re burnt out and you want to keep traveling, find somewhere you feel nourished and rest for a bit. Travel isn’t a race.
- Seek to improve the lives of those around you – Don’t look to others for a hint that they want you to do anything for them. They’re usually not going to say it outright. But I know from experience that it’s the unexpected hug, or compliment, or one-on-one talk that can change a grumpy, or at least average, day into a happier one. Always try to emanate positivity and treat those around you with love and respect, such that they will benefit from your overall being, even if they don’t respond to you directly.
- People always have stories to tell – As humans, we often feel most comfortable with others who share our language. Luckily for English-speakers, ours is the lingua franca of the world, and most people – particularly in traveler situations – have to communicate in a language we understand. However, this oftentimes can limit us from bridging that gap with those who don’t speak as clear English. When we make an effort, belabored as it might be, we can find a whole world of cultural nuance that allows us new insight into a world we thought we understood because we only operated within the parameters that people we spoke with created for us. This is a pretty obvious point, but it bears repeating; especially when traveling, it’s easy to use language as the delimiter of friendship, but when we make an effort to overcome the barrier, we open ourselves to stories we might never have heard staying home. On a separate, but related, note: you have to show interest for people to open up about themselves, so treat everyone like they have something valuable to share. You’ll be surprised by how much you can learn.
- Speak less, listen more – This is more a lesson for myself, since it seems most people have mastered this skill better than I have. I have to regularly remind myself to pay attention, to listen critically, to process what people are saying such that the response I give them is both meaningful and positive. And you know what? I think I’m doing a good job! I still talk a lot, but I try to regularly give space for interruption and reaction. And when someone else speaks, I wait until I’m certain they’re done with their bit before I respond. There are times in lively conversation when there’s an almost overlapping back and forth, but monologues – especially rapid-fire ones – are often viewed as aggressive, rude, and boring. As I write this, I’m watching a talk show in which one of the guests is almost tripping over himself to spit out words, giving no space for his fellow guest or the interviewer to interject. It lost my interest and spiked my anxiety levels.
- Don’t flake – This is a controversial point, so hear me out. I’ve always been a firm advocate of commitment, and it’s because I was able to commit to this trip that I even experienced it in the first place. I know that there are several people who will say that commitment – maybe due to the age factor or the traveling lifestyle – isn’t a necessary priority, but I wholly disagree. Why? Because the world is full of hundreds, thousands, millions of sights; there will always be a fear of missing out. There’s always some other story to be told, and some other relationship to be built. But carrying through with your original plan is a testament to how much you value the person you agreed to spend time with, or the activity you set your mind to doing. When someone asks you to do something, feel free to say no. But when you say yes, understand that they are now including you in their plans and have done so because they enjoy your company. To flake out on them is to insult their kindness. I have flaked before, and I’m sure I will again – but unless there’s a damn good reason, when I say I’m going to do something, I make sure to do it. There are few things more annoying than, for example, clearing your whole afternoon to go rock climbing with someone, only to have them cancel three hours beforehand. (For a better explanation of this conception, read this Bold Italic article.) Traveling without a phone, as I had for a majority of the Voyage, necessitates a lack of flakiness – and for this reason, people actually followed through!
- What you put out, you take in – In other words, practice good deeds such that you have good karma. Most things in life are unexpected, so it’s important that, when you can, you maximize the goodness you exude into the world such that when the time comes, you have some cosmic support. It’s almost selfish, in a way, to be so selfless. Always seek to better yourself and your surroundings. Smile often, trust people, and try to avoid hurting others in your quest to protect yourself. In preparing this point, I asked my dad a few questions about sanskara, and he introduced me to the idea of the “arhant.” An arhant (transliterated in a variety of ways) is in some Buddhist traditions the name given to one achieving nirvana and breaking free of the chain of samsara. After an arhant has achieved enlightenment, their corporeal form no longer is reincarnated, because all desires and material connections dissolve. This is a pretty powerful concept, and obviously it’s impossible for anyone to know whether they have achieved this state, but it’s an ideal goal to work towards and keep in mind in one’s everyday life.
“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” – Pablo Coelho, The Alchemist