You’ve only lived in one country, and this is what you’re missing out on
“There’s more to see than can ever be seen; more to do than can ever be done.”
Zagreb, Croatia. I was standing in line at the supermarket with a pack of toilet paper in one hand, and a tub of hummus in the other.
As I stared mindlessly at a pack of chocolate cookies, trying (rather uselessly) to pronounce the brand name, a voice in my head, as loud and clear as if someone were standing next to me, said: “How the hell am I going to explain this to my kids?”
See, I don’t have any kids. I’m a single 28-year old female from Mexico. My last serious relationship ended 7 years ago. It was only 2 years ago that I stared working online, earning $5 per hour, from a small desk I set up in my apartment in my hometown, Guadalajara.
The voice spoke again. “How in the world did I end up shopping for hummus and toilet paper in Zagreb, Croatia?”
One big realization hit me: my life plan never included spending 2 months living in the Balkans. Hell, when I mapped my life (sometime in the Summer of 2013, fresh out of university, the world at my feet and so on) I didn’t even know these countries were called “the Balkans”. Back then I had only one path in mind: to have a steady job, live a ‘normal’ life, stay in Mexico, have a successful career, maybe travel a bit (but always come back), have a relationship, get married, have kids…
Thankfully, life is not linear. In the past 2 years, things led to other things, and I had to put that plan aside. I’ve traveled to 19 countries and want to visit 30 by the time I’m 30. I have now lived in 4 different countries.
I reflected on this for a while, thinking about how my life is much more fun, rich, exciting, disappointing and challenging than my original plan. I thought about how I could ever explain this time of my life to someone in the future, like my unborn children. I thought about how getting out of that life plan actually saved me.
Because, you see, if you only stay in one place, there are some things you can never fully grasp:
1. Knowing yourself better
Staying at home is a comfort zone, and for me, traveling (the actual action of moving from one place to the other) is another comfort zone. But staying in one single place for a longer period of time actually allowed me to get to know and understand parts of me that had never surfaced before. I was forced to spend time on my own, and that provided great opportunities to get to know myself better.
2. Questioning your beliefs
“In [insert country name] we do it differently” is probably the most repeated phrase among travelers. It’s only natural to see how other people do or think of things, and compare them to your own way. What you think is ‘normal’ where you come from, is usually done in a completely different way elsewhere. Concepts like time, individuality, respect and commitment have entirely different meanings around the world. This is an opportunity to evaluate how you perceive them and why you think of them like you do.
3. Realizing your culture is great
The more I travel, the more I realize my country is very loved and admired by the international community. In complete honesty, I left home in the search for adventure because I never really felt 100% Mexican. I always try to blend in with the place where I’m living, doing things the way they do, but the truth is I will always have latin blood. While I sometimes complain about how we’re doing things wrong as a culture, many other aspects of Mexico are completely amazing and I am more and more proud of them as time goes by.
4. Meeting incredibly interesting people
I’m sure your circle of friends is nice. But if you’ve only lived in your home country, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to meet the most amazing people yet — the ones with entirely different mindsets, incredible life stories, and an unparalleled energy to create a a positive impact in the world. Go out there and meet them. Period.
5. Pushing your boundaries
Learning a new language and not being afraid of speaking it badly for months. Starting conversations with strangers when you’re actually the shyest person on the planet. Going to a party full of naked people and being completely okay with it. Going somewhere without having to constantly look at Google Maps. Move out of your home country, and you will see how you start to expand in ways you never thought possible.
6. Learning new ways to solve old problems
This is probably my most favorite part of traveling and living in other countries — people solve the same problems you have, but in completely new and creative ways. I recently made a new friend in Sarajevo who gave me the most simple answer to a problem I had had for years. Serendipity brought us together. By talking to her, we learned we were very similar, even if we were living in completely opposite sides of the planet. She figured out a way of solving this particular problem, and shared the solution with me. My life will never be the same thanks to her. Magic.
7. Becoming more mindful
Being a foreigner in different countries allowed me to realize that people are mindlessly carrying on with their lives everywhere. At first I thought this was only happening in my hometown. But then I went into the U-bahn in Berlin, and the Metro in Paris, and the Tram in Zagreb — people staring at their phones! Sad people commuting every day to jobs they don’t even like! People littering the streets! They, too, are probably still stuck in the Matrix. This powerful observation taught me that anywhere I go, living mindfully is a better choice.
As I sit now in the balcony of my Airbnb in Kreuzberg, in Berlin, staring mindfully at the trees in the courtyard lit by the rising sun, I wonder what life will bring next. I decide not to worry about it. Instead, I am keeping track of everything I experience while it happens, as it happens, so that I can pass on that wisdom to my kids, or dog, or future partner, or whoever is there to listen.