A teacher isn’t always a person sitting at the front of a classroom guiding you throughout your traditional academic career. Nor is it always a boss or someone who has more age or academic prowess than you.
A teacher can be as simple or small as observing a child play outdoors, observing an army of ants prepping for the cold season, or an unplanned event like running late to catch a flight because you didn’t plan for the possibility of the unknown: traffic, long lines, a flat tire or an emergency fuel run. The size or length of the event is irrelevant. Life, as we know it and experience it, is a daily teacher, if we listen.
And on that note, I highly believe that travel is the biggest/most impactful teacher of all. Travel isn’t just the movement from one place to another. It isn’t just the flight you take, the websites you use to book your trip nor is it the location you stay at. Travel, as a teacher, is the collection of all aforementioned and all never mentioned, here and beyond. It’s the people you meet, the food you eat, the cultures you interact with, the rituals you are introduced to, the customs you partake in, and the toilet you squat over (no matter the height, location, cleanliness or infrastructure). Travel is all this and more. So much more that it’s impossible to fully jot down on any sheet of paper. And still, travel is even more than all this. It encompasses the way in which you approach all these things, the attitudes you pick up along the way, and the acceptance of the life you are a part of in each particular moment and even more than that!
In other words, when it comes to documenting how or ways in which the experiences during travel can be your teachers: The Limit Does Not Exist! Because we don’t always know in the moment we are learning a valuable lesson about life and ourselves.
- During some of my travels, I’ve been heckled and I’ve felt highly unsafe (especially when traveling alone in parts of South America and Asia).
- I’ve been stranded alone with 5 dollars to my name, 6% battery, and zero data connection or sense of direction. Not a single person to help. A few times now. These instances and occurrences are something I’d definitely believe have the power to leave me in unspeakable territories, but thank goodness they haven’t, and in turn, I’ve learned so much because of them.
- I’ve been yelled at for harmless mistakes that are not acceptable by local standards, as well as other mistakes I thoughtlessly committed (thinking of being yelled at by an elderly lady for squatting near her home in the mountains somewhere in the Phillipines – that was a rough ride).
- I’ve been left without and I’ve had to leave things or people behind.
- I’ve had to make the best of unfavorable situations: from how/where to shower to how to get to the place I need to be and more.
- I’ve trusted random strangers to guide me where I need to go with no way of accessing any digital help such as zero data connection or dead phone batteries (currently thinking of a man whose name I will never be able to recall who SAVED me from being stranded in the middle of a foreign metropolitan city where no one spoke English just before the sun had set and made sure he walked me to the door of my hostel located miles away).
- I’ve partaken in long conversations with elderly and young women and men who speak little to no English and have learned so much from their lives and realities and beared witness to their smiles regardless of their individual situations.
IN OTHER TRAVELS
- I’ve laughed with locals and shared homecooked meals over power outages with unknown friends (both local and travelers).
- I’ve been taught how to do things by people all over the world and from all walks of life.
- I’ve accepted car rides from strangers in the middle of the night because I needed to find a way home, something I do not recommend, but luckily my experience was absolutely harmless.
- I’ve slept on floors as well as been afraid to step on floors due to possibly being faced with a roaming roach.
- I’ve had to wear the same clothes for multiple days and have washed my undergarments in public sinks.
- I’ve traveled on a typical (2-person max) motorbike with 4 adults for hours at a time in beautiful jungles.
- I’ve climbed and camped in freezing remote mountains, nearly falling to my death en route.
I’ve done it all. And I’ve loved it all. The good, the bad, the ugly, the uncomfortable, and the I’ll never do that again.
I’ve watched beautiful natural sceneries both up in the air (flight from India to China) or in the middle of the night high up in the mountains (somewhere between Manila and Buscalan village, boths scenes looked like something taken out of a Disney movie) or even something as simple as a beach sunset overlooking the sea in remote places like Nacpan Beach, General Luna, Seminyak Beach, Gili Tarawangan, Daecheon Beach, Gamcheon Cultural Village can shove you off your “is this real” seat.
In all of these still moments, I remember feeling immense gratitude for the life I was gifted that made these moments possible. And all the chaos leading up to these moments seemed to vanish or feel immensely unimportant at that specific moment. Life’s troubles escaped me. But nonetheless, the small, big, awkward, funny, thought-provoking and transformative moments that got me to any specific location or destination made the experience intangible and impossible to replicate or explain. It’s shaped me into not just a person with X amount of accolades under my belt or X amount of interests, yadda yadda yadda (because it has impacted me in these ways as well), but into a person with a deep sense of reality and appreciation for the ground under our collective feet, and all that it inhabits.
And from traveling and accepting the randomness, embracing the now, and letting go of all that I can not control I’ve learned to:
- I’ve learned to trust my gut (although not always a bulletproof system)
- I’ve learned ways to prep for the unknown in tangible and non-overbearing ways (you can’t prepare for everything always)
- I’ve learned how to think critically on a second’s notice
- I’ve learned the beauty of humans and human connection
- I’ve learned how to say no and trust my gut in unimaginable situations
- I’ve learned how to prep for the unthinkable in case of an emergency (especially during sketchy bus rides in the middle of forests in foreign countries with no way of knowing if they were operating under a harmful mission)
- I’ve learned the importance of stopping what you’re doing and breathing it all in
- I’ve learned how to accept life, as messy as it may be
- I’ve learned how to trust my instincts and how to forgive myself when being fooled by them
I’ve learned to find beauty or joy in the most undesirable circumstance
- I’ve learned the importance of saying yes, especially when you want to say no
- I’ve learned the renewing properties of a mental and physical shower
- I’ve learned the power of asking questions and trusting in the goodness of people, whomever they may be
- I’ve learned how to find peace and solace in me (this one is hard)
- I’ve learned the power of experiences vs. material things and comfortability
- I’ve learned the beauty of life, and the importance of preserving it. All of it: humans, nonhuman animals, and the environment
- I’ve learned how vulnerable the planet is and vulnerable we all are
I’ve traveled with others who share my age but not my background. With others not my age nor my background. With others who share my age but not my language. With others whom I’ve known my whole life, for a few months, weeks, or a few hours. A lot of people would think I’m crazy for jumping towards opportunities where the worse case scenarios could lead me stranded or worse. I’m not saying my instinct is the best or that I’m even over-trusting because I am not. And although not bulletproof nor fully recommended, there is something you develop in the inner workings of yourself that words could not describe when you take chances that scare you. When you trust your gut, take that leap of faith, and are blessed with people who are the least like you offering a smile, a helping hand, and/or a welcome seat at their tableor home, it’s a developmental journey that is difficult to describe. Probably even impossible.
I could write a 1000-page book about the transformative properties of travel and it still would not provide a quarter of what you’d gain if you experienced it yourself. With your hands, your feet, your brain, your person. But again, this is all if you accept travel for what it offers you: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Any teacher can stand give you lessons and sermons to help you grow but if you don’t actively listen and participate in the process, you miss out on the learning. This is the same, and I promise it will always translate to the indescribable in the best of ways.
So next time you’re faced with something you could not have imagined, welcome it with open arms, challenge yourself to think critically, and find the beauty in it. You’ll laugh about it later, and best of all, you’ll be forever changed into a better version of yourself you could not have imagined becoming.
Enjoy this horrible picture of me in Singapore with 48 hours no sleep, frizzy unwashed hair, days of travelling from one Asian country to the next with the same clothes and nice cup of local coffee. It’s not all luxurious, but it remains forever worth it.