The Dalai Lama was once asked, “What thing about humanity surprises you the most?”
He replied, “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money, and then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present, the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
In 2015, inspired by the words of the Dalai Lama, we left London to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. After the tragic loss of my stepmother, my husband and I realized how short and fragile life can be, so we decided to throw caution to the wind.
Concerned relatives tried to intervene, “Shouldn’t you get a mortgage?” “Settle down and have kids.” “Haven’t you done enough traveling?” “Wait ‘til you retire.”
We steadfastly replied, “No way!” to all of them, and haven’t regretted our decision once.
We quit our jobs, gave away our possessions, bought a drone, got vaccinations, travel insurance, visas, a train ticket on the Trans-Siberian railway, and set off to explore the world with our life savings in tow.
We traveled on trains, planes, boats, bicycles, camels, horses, tuk-tuks, and motorbikes through 16 countries. First Russia, then Siberia, China, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, West Papua, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, India, and Nepal.
Instead of a mortgage, we invested in a Mongolian Yurt. It became our home for a month, 30 days spent under a sea of stars, with not a toilet, shower, nor wash basin in sight.
We climbed mountains and sand dunes in Mongolia, China, and Nepal, hung out with manta rays in West Papua, trekked to frozen waterfalls in Mongolia, and traversed a dangerous, foggy road in Vietnam on a motorbike.
We advanced from novice scuba divers to professional PADI Dive Masters. We helped monitor manta ray migration in one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world in West Papua, learning that each has a unique ID pattern akin to a human fingerprint.
We learned the basics of several new languages and captured all of our adventures with our drone.
In Nepal, my husband, Roni, trekked the Annapurna Circuit while I earned my certification as a yoga teacher. We created Planet Hero and organized and filmed the first yoga flash mob in the heart of Kathmandu, a unique and mind-blowing experience.
The highlight of our travels was helping over 1,000 children from underserved communities — teaching them filmmaking, photography, English, meditation, and eco-conservation. Working with 12 volunteer organizations, we made films to help promote each individual cause and encourage others to volunteer abroad and partake in responsible tourism.
We worked with homeless children, junior nuns and monks, orphans, and children with special needs. We met people who lived in corrugated iron shacks or on the street who had the biggest smiles and never once complained.
We lived in Buddhist meditation centers, cared for the sick and elderly, and visited so many pagodas and temples we lost count. We lived with nomads in the Gobi desert at -25 degrees Celsius, traversing the landscape on horseback. We were ignored by Filipino reef sharks and kissed by Thai elephants.
In India and Nepal, we embarked on a Buddhist pilgrimage, visiting the four most important Buddhist sites in the world. We met hundreds of amazing people along our journey who became lifelong friends. These people helped change how we see the world and how we live our lives.
We spent our first Christmas on the road in a Vietnamese village with two American volunteers singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” to 400 people. The local mayor quite literally pushed us onto the stage. Moments after receiving applause and bouquets, an undercover policeman arrested us for arriving without passports. So we spent Christmas Eve in the police station, smoking pipes with the police and taking selfies wearing their helmets. The next day, those same officers joined us at two local weddings and soon forgot about our missing passports after indulging in ‘happy water’ and drinking my husband under the table. The following Christmas, we scuba-dived with Nemo and friends in the Philippines, all while dressed in Father Christmas attire.
We want to take big steps in 2018. We’ve planned visits to Australia and Africa. In Tanzania, we will teach filmmaking to tribal kids and help whale shark conservation. We’ll teach filmmaking to empower Aboriginal Australian kids and help preserve their culture. We’ll continue to help children around the world and produce promotional videos for small organizations and charities to help launch them onto the digital stage.
Volunteering is a life-changing experience. We can all do something, however small, to make the world a better place.