The last few months I have been traveling with my girlfriend throughout Middle and South-East Asia. I climbed the Himalayas in Nepal, fell in love with the vibrant cuisine of Thailand, got my divers certificate on a remote island in Cambodia, spent a month meditating in a forest retreat in Myanmar, survived a week of eating nothing but just young coconuts during a yoga retreat in the Philippines and swam with huge turtles in the pristine sea of Indonesia. And while these places and the impression they have made on us are very distinct, there has been a common theme surrounding them, or more so, every culture held a constant and very important lesson for us.
Every time we stepped out of the plane, bus, boat, tuk-tuk, tricycle, jeepney, taxi or motorbike we had to deal with the big unknown. Not being sure where we would sleep, what we would eat or what would do. Not sure what the local prices were or if we could trust the friendly appearing guy who offered us help to get around. Is he genuinely interested in helping us, because in Asia, most of the time they are? Or does he sees us as a walking wallet, because we are white and half-way around the world from home, not uncommon either for the very poor?
As you might imagine, we were being confronted with new and unpredictable situations at an unprecedented rate. Asia is a world where taxis break down just before your flight, entire towns are suddenly fully booked and a working internet connection is often a fata morgana of idle hope. Oh, and roads disappear over night. And in this world, where buses and planes rarely go on time, if they go at all, we often had to deal with the thing that colored our world the most. Our own expectations.
The important lesson for us was that it did not matter where we were or what happened to us. What did matter was what we brought into the situation ourselves. We were often happy and excited if everything worked out according to or above our expectations, yet, we were just as often sad and disappointed if it did not go according to our own plan. Because planned we did, and the funny thing is, looking back on our whole journey, rarely anything went according to any plan at all, and thus, our expectations were very rarely met. We were stressed and tired at idyllic places millions of people use as their screensaver. A place where you would expect it the least. And in contrast, we felt at home at dim-lit hot and humid tiny room in the middle of Kuala Lumpur just because we were at ease and could enjoy each moment fully.
In the end, we found zero correlation between our expectations and the value of each moment. Instead we found we actually valued everything more when we could let those illusionary expectations go. The easier we could let these plans and the attempt to control go the less friction we experienced from moment to moment. I am writing now after just missing my plane and being stuck on an airport of god knows where. And I could groan and moan about how I expected to be dipping myself into the cool swimming pool by now, sipping a mango coconut shake.
Yet, the moment the airport officer signaled that there was no way to get on an airplane that already left I let that attractive wish go. And in that moment, I found myself inhabiting a new world full of stable working Starbucks internet (I dread the place, but the internet is unparalleled in shaky Asia) and announcements in Engrish I never seem to be able to understand.
In these last few months I have experienced an amazing freedom, being able to travel, learn, grow and love as I pleased. I feel very grateful for having time of from the dragging obligations from home. But the freedom I feel from being free from the prison of my own expectations is a freedom I can bring wherever I go. And this is the lesson I am most grateful for.