Lessons I Learned From Backpacking in Asia for Four Months

It’s been 11 days since I’ve returned home from my four-month backpacking journey in China and Southeast Asia. What a rich, rewarding adventure it was. I learned many lessons while traveling that will be valuable to me not only for future travels, but for life. I hope that the lessons I share below inspire you in some small way to see for yourself what happens when you give yourself the gift of living life fully and deeply.

Less is More

One doesn’t need much to live comfortably. While traveling, I discovered how simple my needs were. As long as I had food, water, shelter, basic toiletries, and a few pieces of clothing, I was content. When you start backpacking, you realize just how much stuff you own that you don’t really need. There were many items I had brought with me to Asia which I didn’t use and ended up leaving behind. Nearly every day I handwashed the few clothes I kept, a habit from which I derived great pleasure and continue to enjoy even here at home.

The less stuff I kept, the simpler my life became. It was easier to find things in my backpack, to keep track of what I owned, to pack all my stuff when it was time to go from one place to the next, and to be on the move. Imagine packing a backpack full of stuff every two to four days or trying to find your hostel in a new city when you’re lugging a colossal backpack on your back! Not so much fun, I can say from experience.

Practically everything I could possibly need I saw that I could find in the Asian countries I visited–often for just a tiny fraction of what I would pay at home! I promised myself that next time I hit the road, I’d bring a smaller backpack with just what I truly needed.

Live in the Moment

One of the best things about traveling is that it forces you to immerse yourself completely in your experience. It’s easy not to think about anything other than where you are when you’re in a beautiful place far away from home. Traveling abroad gave me the opportunity to live in the present 24 hours of every day, 7 days a week. When I tried to remember life back home, it was as though I had amnesia. Nothing else existed for me other than what was happening right there and then before my very eyes. I learned to live each moment so fully and deeply that the past and the future became totally irrelevant. I discovered that the joy and peace we often seek without naturally arise from within when we totally surrender ourselves to life in the now.

Accept and Learn from Change

Traveling for an extended period of time taught me to embrace and adapt to change. Everything around me was continually changing–the food, the environment, the culture, the languages, the locals, the travelers I met, situations, etc. If I arrived somewhere with a set of expectations, ideas, or beliefs, they would be challenged because life was in full flux, always moving. The only thing constant was change itself. I couldn’t expect to eat Vietnamese Pho and spring rolls in every country I visited no matter how much I wanted to, just like I couldn’t expect people to behave a certain way everywhere I went. The best thing I could do was to throw all my preconceived notions out the window and open my heart and mind completely to whatever I experienced.

For every beginning I saw an end. I found myself repeatedly having to say goodbye to people, places, and situations that I had really grown fond of. When I understood that letting go wasn’t just a part of life but was life itself, it became effortless. Why resist that which is bound to happen? You live fully, enjoying everything deeply, but when things run their course and it’s time to turn the page, you just let go. The more I let go, the easier it was to do so.

Instead of being bogged down by change, I opened myself to it fully, to whatever it would show me and teach me. I saw setbacks and unpleasant experiences as learning opportunities. I asked, ‘what do these experiences have to teach me?’ Then I let them go, too, so that I could continue giving myself wholeheartedly to the present moment. As a result I found myself able to adapt to changes more quickly and effortlessly. There’s an exquisite richness to life when you allow yourself to embrace and live life deeply in the present moment no matter how much change is happening at the same time.

Trust and Open Yourself to Life

Traveling also asked of me to open myself to the unknown and learn to feel comfortable living in it. As I did so, I saw myself trusting life more and more, having faith that everything would turn out well, even if I had no idea what lay ahead. I had always been a devoted planner and organizer, prone to planning everything to the last detail, but at some point I felt the natural urge to just step back and see what happened if I stopped all the planning and just went with the flow. There was a lack of surprise and spontaneity, a limited range of possibilities when I meticulously planned where I would go, what I would do, what I would see, and how I would do everything.

When I decided to be wide open to whatever would happen instead, life just started flowing. Traveling became second nature–I didn’t need to think much about how to do it anymore. I just traveled, going places simply trusting I’d somehow figure out whatever I needed to figure out–where to go, what to do, how to do it. What ensued was amazing. The things I had struggled with before, such as finding a way to get to my hostel when I arrived in a new city, I no longer struggled with. The right people, the right circumstances began to appear unexpectedly at the right time and place to help me with whatever I needed!

When I wanted to find fellow travelers to do things with, they just sort of showed up without my seeking them out. For instance, one evening at my hostel in Bangkok, a dorm mate started talking to me while I was trying on the white clothes I had just bought for the two-week meditation retreat that was to begin the following day. When I told her I was going on a meditation retreat, she asked me if she could come along. I was absolutely delighted because I had been secretly hoping to have someone to share a taxi with me to go to the retreat! And as it turned out, the girl was exactly the kind of person I had been wishing to meet on my travels. She was at the same point in life I was and we really connected. Many such coincidences–little miracles as I like to call them–occurred regularly throughout my trip when I stepped out of the little box where I had lived life and allowed things to flow as they naturally would.

Find Yourself

I had been fairly spiritual before I went to Asia, but it is during this trip that my connection with silence and stillness was intimately cultivated. Many people venture out into the world to find themselves. When I set out on this trip, I, too, was yearning to know who I was. I now know who I really am. I’ve come back renewed, with the innate desire to express who I am. Obviously the journey doesn’t end here. Just as there are more lands on earth to explore, the inner odyssey continues.

I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to every single person whom I have met before and during my travels. Without you I wouldn’t be where I am today. May peace be with you.

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every moment with love, grace, and gratitude. ~Denis Waitley

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