The benefits of long term travel and what I hope to take home with me

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As the trip is coming to an end, I’ve started to become pensive and analyze what all this meant. What have I learned? How will this affect how I continue to live my life? Or was it just a collection of memories for years to come?

It all started with a dream. I saw a video called “Would You?” in 2004. It was an inspirational video done by a travel journalist to promote his blog, theglobaltrip.com, where he wrote about his daily travels for 16 months straight. The video was a collection of photos he had taken around the world and every few seconds he would ask questions related to travel starting with “Would you …”. From that moment on, a round the world trip become part of my bucket list. I think it was because of the places he saw, or the message he was trying to convey: “Would you dare?”

We did.

Long term travel is not for everyone. It’s not really a vacation, but more of a lifestyle. Your house is your backpack, your kitchen is the local cuisine, your neighbor is everyone, your job is to enjoy, and your classroom is the world. Long term travel takes you to different physical places around the world but it also takes you to places in your mind you did not know existed. It changes the way you look at things and helps you realize what is important to you.

Follow your dreams (corny but true)

It all started with a dream and desire of travel. All odds were against us: we were $45,000 in student debt, with two high stress / high commitment careers and low income (student income + resident income). In the medicine career, a year gap to “travel and have fun” will not really give you bonus points. It’s looked down upon and not welcomed. In the path of an entrepreneur, I was told my business would die and I would return to nothing. Less than 30% of US Citizens have passports and the average length of a trip outside of the US is less than 10 days. Regardless of this and more, we made the trip our priority and researched how to do it.

It’s amazing how powerful it is to write the goal down, set a date, and believe in it. The beautiful thing is you can believe anything you want and only you can hold yourself back from believing your truth.

Many people tell me: “I wish I could do something like this. I envy you.” And when I say, you can do it too! They answer with: “Well, not really. I cannot do …” and give me some reason why they cannot do it. The thing is, the only reason you’re not achieving your goal is because you don’t want it bad enough. Have kids? We met traveler’s with kids. No money? Create a financial plan and make it happen. It took us 2 years to save the money we needed to take the trip and we needed to make drastic changes in our lifestyle to do so. Too old? We recently read an email from a lady that’s 70 and is having the time of her life in Istanbul. My job won’t be here when I come back? Who cares, a job doesn’t define you and if you want it bad enough, you can get your job back or even better!

The point is that whatever your dreams are, you can make it happen if you believe in them. My goal is to remember this simple rule and hopefully my future dreams will also come true.

Freedom

Besides the desire to see the Taj Mahal, climb the Eiffel Tower, explore ancient ruins, or eat local Thai food, I wanted to experience long-term travel to feel what is like to have complete freedom. At “home”, I used to feel I was not 100% free. I was attached to a career via jobs and school, I was attached to my material things, I was attached to a routine, and I was attached to my friends and family. Not being free from family/friends is not a bad thing, on the contrary, it’s a healthy dependency us humans need to survive. However, one of the biggest reasons we were afraid of the long term trip was because we would be separating from the people we love.

The freedom experienced during a long-term trip is unlike any freedom I’ve experienced before. Right when the trip started we had to change our flight from Mexico to Spain due to a stomach flu episode, and since our only plan in Spain was to land in Madrid, we had the freedom to choose what we wanted to do. In the extra day we had left in Mexico, browsing the web I found a ticket to Ibiza from Madrid for $70 for 2 people, and decided to fly there just because we could. While in Venice, we debated between going to Firenze or Slovenia. Without thinking we decided to go visit Slovenia on a whim and it became one of our favorite spots.

The freedom of choice is what many people strive for, and to get a taste of what this is like, you do not need to wait until you’re a millionaire, you just have to go on a long term trip (for at least a month), with NO PLANS.

Although, freedom is a mindset and you do not need to travel to have it. I mean, we do have the freedom of choice at all times. I am a firm believer of the power of the mind and that we have the power to chose whatever we want to do in life for career, family environment, personal relationships, financial decisions, etc. However, this trip has solidify this belief and instilled in me a constant reminder that we are free!

Say Yes

I’ve heard a quote that goes something like: “If you want to experience life, say yes.” While in Laos, we helped a student buy a laptop and as a thank you he invited us to visit his rural village 3 hours away from Luang Prabang. He wanted us to meet his parents and where he grew up. Being city people, at first we were hesitant to go because we were uncomfortable about a 3-hr motorcycle trip, driving in rural Laos, going to a village via a dirt road, being in a village with no electricity and no bathrooms, and afraid of getting sick from a different environment and food. Looking back, I feel stupid for being hesitant and not accepting the offer from the start.

Luckily, Sara and I decided to go, we said yes. We hopped behind the motorcycles of two Laotian guys without helmets and embarked on a 3 hour dirt road trip into the mountains in search for a village with houses built out of bamboo.  We’ve heard about poverty, villages with no bathroom and no electricity, and village people. But hearing about it and experiencing it is a whole different story. Even though people have low resources and low income, they are not poor. They are rich with love and community support. They work their ass off but they do it with a smile and enjoy the outcome of their crop to feed their family.  We learned different eating habits and different forms to show emotion. We had lunch with Mr. Mai’s family, walked around the village and learned about their sticky rice farming. We ate amazing food and it humbled us how happy people can be with so little. All because we said yes.

I hope upon our return, we continue to say yes to experiences, even though we might be afraid or hesitant, but never close the doors to something that could be wonderful.

Simplicity

Sara and I were able to keep our baggage under 25 kilograms at all times. Everything we needed fit in two backpacks. It allowed us to be mobile, change plans on the fly, and worry less about stuff. Being this way, I realized that in life, a similar attitude should be had. We need less stuff … this is a very tough one for me having grown up in the United States which is a very consumerist society. There are products that I would love to have and I cannot part away from. However, they’re not really needed and my hope is to learn how to detach myself from material goods. I don’t want to be an extremist and say I don’t want to buy anything or own anything, but before I buy anything, I’m going to think 100 times before the purchase and ask myself:

“Do I really need this? Will it help me succeed anything? Will it make me happy? Will I use it a lot or store it in the closet to find it 2 years later?”

Besides simplicity about material goods, simplicity is important about the way you feel. I’m no expert in human interaction but traveling with someone for 10 months, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, has increased our tolerance to just about anything. We learned that at the end of the day, we want to live a happy life and grow old together. We’ve learned how to get rid of the small details (“small stuff”) and look at the big picture. Who cares if we missed a flight because one of us made an error, let it go, and focus on the fact that you love each other and nothing bad will happen. Who cares if one of us made the wrong purchase, the worst that can happen is lose $100, $200, $1000 bucks but the love is still there. Keeping it simple (love) helps in any situation.

I hope to continue the path of simplicity in the years to come. It’s not an easy task, especially when life challenges get in the way and things are not what you expect. But it’s important to realize what matters at the end of the day and remove the things that make everything complicated.

Have you taken a long-term trip? What did you learn? Leave us a comment!

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