Sometimes you never realize how much you’ve changed until you reflect back on it. As I sit here typing this with 12 less inches of hair, far more experiences, a tougher shell, and an even bolder persona, I’m humbled by how much I’ve grown in the past year.
Travel has truly awakened my mind, senses, and soul. I’ve been given a fresh, new pair of eyes – a new perspective on the world. There are so many ways that I’ve morphed into a completely new person (for the better), and I surely hope it doesn’t stop here.
There was the whole “growing out of Lord of the Rings” phase that I went through. True, I’ll always have respect for everything Tolkien-related, but it’s now in a completely different way. Over a year ago, I practically scared off my potential roommate in Wellington when my overzealous LOTR fangirl nature seeped through my first e-mail to her. After the first few months of living and breathing the heart of Middle-earth, I realized that my so-called “fanaticism” for it began to fade. Not in a bad way – but in a maturing sense (I hope). Well, I still have an Elvish tattoo, but I like to attribute that to my own journey in New Zealand – the first time I left “home” behind and set off alone, much like Frodo (except he had a whole damn Fellowship). There was more to beautiful New Zealand than just Middle-earth, and I’m so glad I figured that out sooner rather than later.
There was the peak point when I realized I didn’t need, or even care about, my phone anymore. And there was also the point when I prided myself in being able to read a printed map far better than the Google Map app.
There was the point when I began to throw away and/or donate things with every step I took. I used to be so overprotective and careful of keeping all of my belongings at the start of my journey. But there comes a point when you’re like, “Seriously, why do I even NEED two flashlights?!” The lighter my pack, the better I feel.
There was the beautiful revelation that I no longer need to wear makeup to feel comfortable and content in my own skin, even when abroad. Unless I’m going out for a night in the town (chances are slim to none), the makeup stays off and the glasses stay on.
There was the point when I was averaging 45-minute walks daily just to get to the store or a general location. And it was amazing. There’s a calming nature to just walking and exercising every chance you get. Plus, I don’t get lost on foot as much as with public transit. And with no time restraints, I could just walk all day everywhere… as much as my big feet allow me.
There was the point when I could care less about wearing wrinkled clothing, let alone the same clothing, all the time. My happiness isn’t based on my fashion – I’m just grateful to have clothes to keep me warm.
There was the day that my umbrella broke and instead of doing my usual frenzy of running to get a new one, I just stuck with it. Makes for better stories when an umbrella is caving in on half of your head and dumping more water than the sky is, anyway.
There was the turning point when I suddenly developed a palette for anything – and everything – food-related. This was a big one for me, since I’m known to my family as the pickiest, most stubborn eater. I’d like to bow down to Melbourne on this one – the capital of the best food in Australia. Melbourne widened my palette immensely, made me realize how much I actually DO love all types of Asian foods, and how I willingly dunk on hot sauce onto all dishes now. And the thought of eating raw fish, boiled crickets, and kangaroo steak no longer frightens me – I mean, after all, you never know when you’ll get the opportunity to try certain things again, so just savor each little opportunity.
There was the point when I found sheer beauty in nature, wildlife, and architecture in a way I never have before.
There were the countless times I ran out into pouring rain to capture it on video rather than shelter myself away from it. Because, RAIN. It’s just a beautiful gift from nature that California rarely gets.
There was the point when I realized I was okay with spending so much time alone – and now, alone time is the best thing for my health.
There was the point when I no longer had sticker shock. Prices of food, clothing, etc. – no big deal. Money is relative. It comes and goes; some people just choose to sadly base their entire lives around it. I don’t think twice when looking up prices of flights anymore – because the price isn’t what I’ll be remembering years from now. It’s the memories. The unseen, distant lands that are itching to be seen and delved into. Life is too short to not explore everything!
There was the point when I stopped scrutinizing my Google Drive spreadsheet of finances after every purchase. Because, again, money is relative, and it means so little when you think in the big picture of happiness. I’d rather be drop-dead broke and homeless than comfortably living in a miserable, set routine.
There was the point when I stopped planning so much. And even though I realized that I sometimes skated by too freely (like not knowing how to get from the airport to the hostel on public transport because I didn’t have data on my phone), everything always worked out and I always found my way. And when I missed a train or a connecting bus or two (or three), it just made for better stories when I finally did show up late to something [that really didn’t depend on timeliness anyway].
There was the point when I forced myself to learn how to read maps and use a compass (with
some a lot of help from H).
There was the point when I restored all faith in humanity thanks to all the kindhearted Aussies, Kiwis, and Canucks I met everywhere. Americans need to take some notes from them, and FAST.
There was the point when I discovered that everything in my storage space of a home that I thought I couldn’t live without (i.e. clothes, books, stuffed animals) – are all things I don’t even want anymore. Because, when you travel for long periods of time, you learn that you don’t really “need” anything – just happiness and a passion for life.
And then, of course, when I let go. When I let go of my fears, stress, anxiety, pressure I placed on myself…. when I pushed it all aside and just lived. Embraced. Explored. Escaped the American sugarcoated bubble. Perhaps this is what a bird set free feels like – wings outstretched and flapping away tirelessly into the rising sun every day. Here’s to always taking risks.