Ask any traveller on the road, and he or she would definitely remark how travelling is rewarding because of the happiness it brings.
For many, travel is the perfect catalyst for happiness as it allows one to be there in person to admire both natural and man-made wonders of the world. This is what makes travel alluring — visiting other countries, taking in the sights and sounds of different societies and cultures; travelling allows you to learn more about the world, and about yourself along the way.
In the winter of 2017, I spent 5 months in America on a student exchange programme, and returned home with great adventures lived, beautiful memories created. Travelling for those wonderful 5 months taught me more about life and most importantly myself, than 2 years in university did. The biggest lesson from travelling was learning how to find happiness in everyday life. It was then it occurred to me — travel not only made me happy, but taught me how to be happy. Here are 4 important takeaways from travelling that continue to guide me in my everyday life:
1) Be grateful and count your blessings
My time in America made me gain a new perspective on what really matters. At a cozy pub in San Diego, hordes of privileged young people gathered around the television broadcasting American football, warming up with pints of beer. Yet, just outside, in the cold night, a withered old man huddled under a tattered stained blanket on the dirt smeared pavement, staring through the glass windows of the same pub, watching the same game earnestly. Just round the corner, a middle aged man with sad eyes stood quietly, holding a sign. “Anything helps, even a smile.” Despite all these, crowds of people dressed to the nines brushed past him. With each person who ignored his presence, the remaining life in his eyes quickly died. My heart broke.
Witnessing the lived realities of others — social injustice, poverty, racial violence, I grew acutely aware of the privilege I am blessed with for my social circumstances.
I returned home inspired to do more for the less privileged, and to remember to be constantly grateful for my blessings, and appreciative of my family and friends.
2) Be inspired to find purpose
Travel has revealed to me how much the world has to offer, and the limitless possibilities and opportunities we strive to achieve in life.
Before my trip to America, I was in a huge slump — feeling rather lost, unsure of myself, and anxious about the unknown. I was clueless about my place in the world, and I confessed about feeling this turbulence to a pretty cool Brazilian professor (who is also a political activist) I met during my one of my travels.
She replied, “Well love, it is okay to be lost. Life is a journey, so go out there and explore the world, and see what it has to offer. When you do, you will discover what you believe in. You will dream again, and you will find your way.”
It was in these incredible moments when I shared conversations with strangers, that I discovered the beauty of stories, the astounding diversity of individuals, and the warmth of human connection. Travel has provided the opportunity to meet and converse with people. In those moments when we laughed over jokes, talked about where life has taken us, professed our fears and vulnerabilities, shared about our dreams, hopes and aspirations for the future, it dawned on me that there is nothing more beautiful than people who pursue their passions with an earnest heart.
Travel allows me to learn from the wisdom of fellow humans in different stages of the journey of life, and it constantly reminds me that good people exist everywhere, in all colors, gender, sexuality, sizes. ⠀⠀
Our conversations taught me that purpose is integral to finding happiness and fulfilment in one’s life, and I became inspired to fight for the things I love fiercely and boldly, to find my place in the world, and to make the best out of my life. ⠀⠀
3) Have faith, learn to let go, and be brave
The beauty of travel is how it incites feelings of disorientation and fright, but at the same time, one continues to feel alive. As an over thinker and perpetual worrier, when I first started travelling on my own, I used to have a tendency to plan my trips in detail as a coping mechanism towards an innate fear of the unknown.
Eventually, it didn’t take me long to discover that I could never be fully prepared for all situations. Travel brings about an array of unexpected situations. This includes the time I broke my phone in a storm, which rendered me lost in a quiet town with no means of communication (a story to tell for another day). Rather than living in constant anxiety about the future, travel taught me to always live fully in the present, and learn to let go.
Throughout my travels, there were spectacular highs and equally drastic lows, but every single journey was definitely one of personal growth. The feelings of dislocation and uncertainty that comes with challenge and travel became electrifying, and it was within the most trying situations that I grew braver as I overcame them.
Once I stepped out of the fears and anxieties about safety and uncertainty which initially caged me, travel made me a happier person who is contented, more self assured and confident, with the courage to speak to explore, and connect with strangers.
4) Happiness must be cultivated from the within
In Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, she shared how alcohol was just one of the ways she constantly turned to numb unwanted feelings. Brown suggests that everyone practices numbing behaviors (albeit on different levels) to avoid negative emotions.
It wasn’t until my recent trip to Japan that it dawned on me — travelling has morphed into my numbing behaviour to escape from my problems. I thought that a trip would be an antidote to my burgeoning sadness and dissatisfaction with my life.
Yet, it did nothing to actually resolve the issue. Rather, I continue to feel deeply unhappy even while I was travelling — a pursuit that usually brings me great joy. Turning to travel and expecting to find immediate happiness, and emotional comfort, as well as stability, is naive.
By using travel as an escape from life, even if happiness is achieved, it remains ephemeral. You can’t outrun your inner demons because you will always carry your emotional baggage with you, even if you are hiking up Mount Everest, strolling by the edge of the ocean at Santa Monica, or scouring the ruins of Rome.
Travel can equip you with insights about the world, allowing you to understand self on a deeper level. Travel can teach you lifelong lessons that can shape you into becoming a better version of yourself.
However, one should always remember that happiness comes from within. Travel taught me how to be happy, but ultimately, for the happiness to translate into an enduring form in everyday life beyond travel, it takes patience, courage and conviction.
Remember, happiness is a journey, and not a destination. May your travels be rich and vibrant! :)
Written by Si Yun Gien