1) Wanting to be something you’re not is far too normal
A fascinating part about traveling is the ability to observe ‘normal behavior’ from an unbiased perspective. By that I mean societal norms that you wouldn’t think twice about if you’re a part of that paritcular society. For example, in most of Asia it is aesthetically pleasing to be as white as possible. The result is facial creams with the same whitening promises as tooth paste. In fact, it was difficult to find a face wash without a bleaching effect.
My first thought was ‘why would they want to be white?’ Then I pulled the reins on my ethnocentrism and asked why Western culture values tan skin. Oh right, we’re all just crazy… Bleaching or scorching our skin to get closer to what is viewed as beautiful? Even stranger is that it takes a trip to Asia to even consider how ridiculous this norm is.
2) Embracing chaos leads to serendipity
With traveling comes uncertainty and many split-second, ill-researched decisions. To those who like planning things out, that may sounds like hell but for me it was closer to heaven. With all of that randomness tossed in, serendipitous events are a dime a dozen. You find yourself meeting amazing people to travel with, finding the perfect hostel that wasn’t listed online or ending up in a place you would have never found if you hadn’t just gone with the flow. It becomes obvious that there is some method to this madness because things work out far too perfectly to blame chance.
I also found that this isn’t the case for everyone. The hardened planners I met who resisted uncertainty consistently found themselves in less than ideal circumstances. Conversely, the travelers who full-on embraced the chaos found magical paths paved for their travels. Call it law of attraction, positive thinking, or whatever else — it is real and becomes amazingly (or painfully) obvious while traveling.
3) All sunrises are not created equal
Koh Phangan, Thailand (this have not been photoshopped or altered in any way and does not even come close to doing it justice)
4) Advertising is powerful
Besides the major cities, Thailand is completely void of advertisements. If you opt-out of paying for a TV in your guest house and install an ad-blocking extension on your browser, you can go for months without being reminded of what you don’t have. It was only upon coming back to the US that I realized how big of a change this perpetuated in my moment-to-moment thoughts. New clothes, cars & gadgets become the furthest things from your mind. The urge to consume is just not there.
5) Eastern toilet practices are vastly superior
In Asia they have these water hoses by each toilet that you use instead of toilet paper. Paper is only used to dry off after using the hose and is placed in a trash can rather than in the toilet. This is brilliant for three reasons:
1) Hygiene — I’ll try to explain this an as clean of a metaphor as possible. If you spill some spaghetti on the floor, would you try to clean it up using only dry towels, or would you use something wet? I think you get my point.
2) Efficiency — The hose is SO much faster than using toilet paper. It’s the difference between 5 seconds and 30 – 90 seconds.
3) Environmentally Friendly — Less paper used + no flushing paper into our water systems = environmental win.
6) The world is not nearly as scary as you think
Before I left, my family was up in arms about the perils of Asia. I received a money-belt to prevent pickpocketing, reports about what diseases were circulating in the area and even a newspaper cutout about a landslide that had recently killed hundreds of people in Thailand. I took the opposite approach, refusing any vaccinations and attempting to plan ahead as little as possible.
I had it right.
I felt safer walking around at night in SE Asia than I do in some places in suburban Orange County, California. Crime was non-existent in the 3 months I was there. I took plenty of solo walks at 3am and even left valuables outside of the provided lockers in hostels because the feeling of safety and trust was so strong. Ladies, I also met a good number of women traveling alone who spoke of having the same experience.
…and I didn’t die of malaria or swine flu :)
7) Celebrities are horrible role models
Like the whitening facial cream, I was also able to objectively look at Thai celebrities. They were disgustingly more attractive than even an a beautiful non-celebrity. Back home I think of celebrities as being just really good-looking (although a more accurate way to phrase that for most people is probably ‘much better looking than me’). With the Thai celebs, it was painfully obvious that their looks were not natural. Their every photo had been photoshopped into almost tangible perfection.
I’m sure this isn’t new to you, but we do need to remember that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to images that aren’t real.
8) Monkeys love soda
Here’s a video of his Sprite-fiend friend:
9) Happiness is not location-dependent
I left the United States with a good amount of resentment towards my home country. I was fed up with the consumer culture, celebrity gossip and corrupt politics. I just knew the cultures and people of foreign countries would offer what that the US lacked.
Upon arriving in Thailand, my suspicions were confirmed. Here was this gorgeous country with full, delicious meals for $1, welcoming people and endless new experiences to be had. 30 days later the high was still there, but fading. My Thai visa was up so I took a bus up to Laos for some fresh sights and tastes. A few weeks later that high was starting to fade too.
Then it hit me. I was forgetting a fundamental lesson I had learned a while back about contentment. You have to be able to appreciate wherever you are, even if that place isn’t new or exciting. Otherwise even the most exciting and beautiful places will eventually become just the opposite. Traveling isn’t a solution to discontent, it’s only a supplement.
10) Motorbikes are freaking awesome
This is old news for you Europeans who can get licenses for motorbikes before you can drive cars. But for those who haven’t had the pleasure of riding a motorbike/vespa, you must try it. Some of my favorite hours on this trip were spent zooming around Thai country roads admiring the scenery with the warm wind in my face. Yes, it was every bit as cheesy and romantic as it sounds.
There are too many fun statistics about how many motorbike accidents occur each day in Thailand, but don’t let those scare you! If you do die on a motorbike, I promise you will die smiling :)