The national lottery draw was taking place the same evening that we celebrated our engagement with our family. The winning prize was a heaping $50 million dollars and our guests took out their wallets and purchased a handful of tickets, agreeing to split the rewards if they happened to win. Glasses were clinking and clanging and eyes became wider as talks of pursuing travel dreams, changing careers and picking up long-lost hobbies filled the room. It’s interesting how the mind soars when money is no issue.
Attention was brought back to us when our guests posed the age-old-question: “What would you do if you won the lottery?” Proudly, we replied: “Exactly what we’re about to do – travel around the world.”
We decided to leave our jobs and lives in Toronto, Canada because the thought of travelling the world without any real plans other than “lets just see where life takes us” exhilarated us more than anything. While most people our age commit to careers and mortgages, we wanted to do just the opposite and live life exactly the way we imagined – full of adventure. We decided to start our journey in Cluj Napoca, Romania where Andra reconnected with her Romanian roots (and I, Rich, was introduced to her family!). We stopped in Italy to indulge in alici fritte (fried anchovies) and admire the beautiful views of the Amalfi coast. Then, for a complete change in culture and pace, we set off to Southeast Asia, where we spent four months adventuring from place to place by bus and boat.
“What we didn’t anticipate…was how those experiences would challenge all of our beliefs and create within us an internal transformation that would humble every bone in our bodies.”
Before we set off on our journey, we had certain expectations of what our trip might be like. We anticipated that we would slowly fall in love with each country we’d visit; that we would meet people from all walks of life that would somehow inspire us. What we didn’t anticipate, however, was how those experiences would challenge all of our beliefs and create within us an internal transformation that would humble every bone in our bodies.
On a trek through the rice fields of Sapa, Vietnam, all the ingredients for disaster presented themselves: rain, cold, knee-deep mud, and torn, unstable shoes. After a few hours of trekking – which was more like slipping and sliding through narrow trails of wet mud, working every muscle in our body to keep us from face-planting – we reached the peak of the hike. We were presented with a 360-degree view of fog-dusted, lush, rolling hills covered in rows of rice paddies. From that point onwards, we hardly noticed the weather or poor conditions and instead paused every so often to admire the views and offer a moment of gratitude. It’s experiences like this that have taught us to slow down and smell the knee-deep mud, instead of rush through it.
By slowing down, we’ve learned to appreciate the natural flow of life. It wasn’t something that we had done very much of working corporate jobs in Canada. We were accustomed to living life “on the go”; often not stopping to appreciate many of the beautiful moments that life has to offer. Our time in Vietnam taught us how to stop – dead in our tracks – and absorb all the beauty around us, no matter what.
“These moments are now part of our larger life story because of one choice we made last year: the choice to see the world.”
Our travels also taught how to trust our intuition; how to forgo a map and instead use our instincts as a guide for traveling from place to place. Many travelers will tell you that following their intuition often led them to their most memorable adventures.
Our time in Bali serves as a wonderful example. We arrived to the island with the intent of staying for a few weeks before moving on to Malaysia and then Australia. Almost immediately, however, we knew – we felt – that we had reached a very special place that could not satisfy us in a short time.
In Balinese culture, community is everything. Local Balinese place their hands over their heart when saying hello and goodbye as a way of showing that every encounter is one of the heart. They also believe that smiling is the secret to living a long life. Day by day in Bali, we were learning to smile more and live with open hearts.
Fascinated by the warmth and openness of the culture, we decided to forgo our Bali-Malaysia-Australia plan. Instead, we spent two months in a little villa, waking up to the sounds of roosters and a view of the rice paddies that is forever imprinted in our minds. We would jump on our motorbike and ride through the local villages. We felt free, bliss; as though we had nothing to worry about. Had we not listened to our intuition to extend our stay in Bali, we would have missed out on two of the best, most peaceful months of our lives.
These moments are now part of our larger life story because of one choice we made last year: the choice to see the world. It didn’t depend on winning a lottery ticket. Rather, it only depended on a shift in our own perception of what was – what is – possible.
The lottery ticket our family members bought didn’t win, of course. But for us, it didn’t matter. We were already on our way to a richer life.