This month has been one big life lesson, and as I mark two years of the plunge to quit my corporate job (Read: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Quit My Job to Travel) in August, I want to share 10 important lessons that the road has taught me:
1) We take life too seriously.
Most of us have been brought up and set in such moulds of what our life should look like by the time we’re thirty, that we forget it’s okay to mess up and live a little. Meeting people both in my own backyard and halfway across the world made me realize that you don’t always have to be running and aspiring for something more. That more than a steady job, a posh apartment, a promotion, a life partner, or even a to-do list, it’s more fulfilling to have a life that you’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
2) Money can buy happiness.
For all my talk about how money isn’t the end goal, this might sound contradictory. But it’s true. I remember the time I was in Mauritius last year, and could fork up enough money for an unplanned flight to Rodrigues Island. I remember the numerous times that a few extra pennies have bought me a unique experience, a little more comfort, or the chance to go somewhere off the beaten path.
3) But not if you don’t spend the money.
You know when people talk about investments and making your money work for you? I’ve learnt that it’s bull shit. If I hadn’t, for instance, emptied by bank account to spend a month in Turkey, I would never have known how humbling it was to watch the sun set on the Black Sea with my newfound Turkish friends, even without a common language. It’s good to have a fall back fund, but saving all your money for a rainy day is not going to buy you any happiness.
4) People face the same challenges everywhere.
Here in India, we grow up with the notion that people elsewhere, especially in the west, have it much easier. Maybe in some ways they do. But for the most part, travelling has taught me that people everywhere are grappling with the same insecurities – dealing with parents, finding true love, feeling accepted by society, and the like. So while the grass may appear greener elsewhere, all that matters is how you use the cards you’re dealt.
5) Responsible choices can save the planet.
True story. In the driest parts of Punjab, Rajasthan and north-central Sri Lanka, I’ve met individuals who have literally transformed barren pieces of land into a flourishing green forest. You can tell the temperature difference in their corners of the globe, and you can feel the freshness in the vegetables they grow. Not all of us might have their conviction or patience to affect change, but supporting their tourism offerings can save atleast a small part of our planet.
6) Freedom is underrated.
At some point after I quit my job (Read: The Story of How I Quit My Job to Travel) and gave up any semblance of a regular schedule, I started to wonder why so many people, my family included, couldn’t appreciate the sense of freedom I felt everyday. Then I met a fisherman in Mauritius who chose not to work in a factory for more money like his friends, because he loved the sea and could choose not to work on some days and still feed his family (Read: What a Fisherman Taught Me About Paradise). It was his philosophy that made me more sure of mine.
7) Possessions are overrated.
While moving to Delhi from Singapore two years ago, I had accumulated a few suitcases worth of stuff, from six years of living there. I decided to get rid of most of it, though not without the gnawing feeling that I was going to miss it. The truth? A month from then, I didn’t even remember what stuff I had left behind. I’m in the process of instituting a big change in my life after August, and this time I’ll be more than happy to get rid of the things I certainly don’t need.
8) Karma can bitch-slap you.
You know when you go all out to help a friend and then they brutally backstab you? That’s kind of what karma has done to me recently. I won’t go into details, but I think I’ve learnt my lesson right here in the travel industry. You can either do the right thing or be politically correct, and while both have their consequences, it’s not true that doing the right thing can’t screw you over. That’s just how life is.
9) Strangers are kind.
I’ve trashed all those horror stories that end with the lesson, don’t talk to strangers. If I had a penny for every time I’ve been overwhelmed with the kindness of a stranger on my travels, I’d be a millionaire. Families with so little in small villages in India have shared their meals and life stories with me. People in Turkey opened up their homes and hearts to this stranger from Hindistan (Read: So Long, Turkey). The hospitality of an Aussie expat in Mauritius and a French-Mauritian couple in Rodrigues blew me over. And I haven’t yet experienced anything close to the warmth of the Bahraini people (Read: Land of a Thousand Friends). So trust your gut, but let strangers show you what a kind world we live in.
10) Happiness is not the goal.
I always thought that the leap of faith I took two years ago, to live and travel on my own terms, would take me closer to the illusive feeling of happiness. And it has. But happiness is such a fleeting feeling. Happiness for me was a drunk man on a lonely road in Sri Lanka stopping and shining the torch in our direction, till we found our way back to our guesthouse. Happiness was walking into a bakery in Turkey to ask for directions, and having the owner pull out his truck to give me a ride. The memories of these moments last, but happiness itself doesn’t. Recently a friend told me, we’re not people who can be happy. We’re just drifters. It’s true.