Looking back, I don’t remember the part where I ran directly off the mountain top, but I do remember the sense of complete freedom that came with paragliding, floating above the snow-capped peaks of Nepal. It was the sensation of flying, spiraling around and around over the Himalayas. It was night and day from where I had been: New York City.
While in New York I spent years working long hours in the fashion industry. I felt burnt out and unfulfilled. I needed a change. A big change. One day I googled “travel and volunteer.” Dozens of options appeared. It was as easy as choosing a volunteer organization and booking my flight. I would travel to Asia, visiting seven countries in three months. During this time I would try everything from working at an elephant foundation in Sri Lanka to teaching English in Thailand.
It came as a shock to friends and family when I announced my plan. Some were supportive, some weren’t. Some said it was my own version of Eat Pray Love, that I would “find myself” and discover my purpose in life. Those were not the reasons why I planned the trip and the alleged epiphany never happened. But I did return feeling refreshed and inspired, having learned some lessons I will always carry with me.
8 Lessons I Learned From Traveling
1. Just Say “YES”
Want to try some crocodile? Yes. Care to ride an elephant? Yes. Dance on the beach until sunrise Yes. Hike through the jungle to an ancient temple? Absolutely yes! By saying “yes”, I experienced a new adventure every day. I was proactive, embracing any opportunity that came my way.
2. Have Faith
Have faith in people, most are inherently good. The world is brimming with people who want to help each other! I met countless volunteers and locals who gave selflessly of their time and money. I learned to have faith in my choices, my gut instincts and my journey.
One of the most difficult moments of my trip took place in India. Having signed up for a tour, I was told upon arrival that the other travelers weren’t coming and I would be traveling through five different cities alone. I had signed up for this tour because I wanted to be with other travelers, both for the experience and safety. India is far from the safest country to travel through alone as a woman, but the tour company was disorganized and unconcerned with my situation. Nervous, I decided to make the best of the situation and go anyway. I was told I would have the company of another traveler for the first leg of my journey to Jaipur. Once we met, we quickly hit it off. He decided to defer his volunteer placement at an orphanage and accompany me around India. I am forever grateful he did because he was with me during some precarious situations. Not only was he my travel angel, but he had a profound influence on my trip. I met some amazing people throughout my journey who I will never forget.
Prior to this trip I didn’t quite believe this, but everything will work out the way it’s meant to.
3. Be Flexible
Expect plans to change. In India, expect traffic jams when a herd of cows decide to take a nap in the center of the highway. I quickly learned that my concept of time is not the same as everyone else’s. No Internet connection? You’ll find one eventually. Take a shower from a faucet? Do your best. A squat toilet? Bring toilet paper! Taking things as they come is part of any adventure.
4. Appreciate Beauty
The Taj Mahal is just as awe-inspiring as everyone says it is. Angkor Wat is unreal. Mt. Everest is majestic. See the world with wide-eyed wonder and amazement. And sunrises are always worth waking up early for.
5. You’re Braver Than You Think
I took a leap of faith when I left for this trip. I attempted to teach English to a group of children who barely knew their ABC’s. I shoveled poo from elephant beds in the middle of a jungle. I went on safari, encountering a rhinoceros rumored to charge Jeeps at will (which luckily didn’t happen). Above all, I traveled on my own through Asia and I embraced the unknown. The hardest part about doing something new is to stop dreaming about it and make it a reality. Once you begin, everything falls into place. I’ll always take that realization with me in the future.
6. Live Simply
Rotating the same few items of clothing for three months isn’t as bad as it sounds. It might not be up to western standards of cleanliness, but it’s completely freeing. Backpacking teaches you what you can live with and what you can live without. Turns out I can live without a lot.
7. The More You See, The More You Want to See
Everything feels exciting in a different country, with its own unique customs, language and landscape. The grandeur of the Himalayan mountains, rows upon rows of intricately-carved ancient Buddha statues, hundreds of elephants making their way to wash in the river: these are some of the most breathtaking sites I’ve ever seen. But even routine things like ordering food at a restaurant, doing laundry or taking a shower become a new experience. My point of view was constantly challenged. After I returned home, people said, “Well, you got that out of your system.” But the Travel Bug never leaves you, and that’s the best part about it. I will never stop exploring.
8. When Traveling Through Asia, Always Bring Toilet Paper.