I have been dreaming of traveling in Asia since I was a student in undergraduate university because I was mesmerized by eastern culture. This was even before I became a yoga teacher — and it was a force greater than I can explain pulling me in the exact direction my life needed to go. After finishing my masters degree, I knew the time was right, I packed up and traveled out east for 7 amazing months. The following are 10 ways traveling in Asia has changed me:
One of the main things you gain from traveling is perspective. You realize that coming from a western society all the privilege you have: all the things you take for granted. Toilets where you can flush toilet paper down, sleeping on mattresses, eating all different types of food at nearly any time of the year let alone any time of day. Your perspective of the world is turned around in a way to help you see what’s really important in life.
2. Sometimes no plan is the best plan
When you have months at a time of travel you move slowly and let the experiences come to you instead of seeking them. Planning can cause you to become too rigid instead of allowing the magic of traveling come to you. For example, while I was traveling in India, I met a lovely group of people who told me that Alt J was going to perform in Delhi in a few days. I had already been to Delhi and my plan was to travel up north, but I decided to forget about my original plans because I mean, ALT J, in India, how many opportunities in my life will I have to do that! Traveling has taught me to be open to new experiences and new opportunities whenever they fall into my lap.
I was speaking to a friend of mine who is a medical doctor in America. I was discussing with her my ideas on life and how and why we are motivated to do things. She looked at me and said, “I don’t like to think that much, it makes me uncomfortable and sad.” One thing traveling does is allows you to be introspective, allows you to question yourself and the world around you. It forces you to create your own dialogue and ideas of life and what truly is happiness.
I grew up in a family where my mom and dad raised me, but also did nearly everything for me. I am inherently not a planner because most of my life was planned out for me and I just went along. Traveling, especially traveling alone, makes you become independent, you have to make a million decisions a day, from where your going to stay, how you are going to get there, what’s most cost effective, what you will be doing, where you will be eating. All of these seem like pretty typical decisions but when you don’t speak the language and people’s English is minimal you have to be creative.
Traveling has made me much more savvy, of how to seamlessly get by on next to nothing. When money is tight backpackers know how to stretch their dollar. You quickly learn about buying in markets and making your own food instead of eating out. sleeping outside on a roof or in tents to save cost on hostels. Knowing that night busses and trains are the way to go to save time and money. You become an expert on knowing how to get the most experiences with the least amount of money.
One of the first things that I like to do when I arrive in a new city or town is get in with the locals. They know where all the good spots are. They will guide you away from the backpacker trail and lead you into incredibly authentic cultural experiences. Most locals are very proud and excited to share their country with you, offering to cook for you and possibly house you for a night or two. You also get to have genuine dialogue of the problems socially and economically they face. I most enjoy seeing the different family structures and values across different countries and cultures. I was able to first hand see what my life could have been like if I grew up in a different country.
This might seem redundant, but when you are not hanging out with the locals you are surrounded by other likeminded people from all over the world. I can go nearly any place in the world and have a friend to call up. While I was couch surfing in New Zealand with a girlfriend we stayed with a house full of South Americans. One night they invited over some of their friends. Included were Americans, a Chilean, Argentinians, a Brazilian, and a German. We drank wine, taught each other our different languages, and collectively laughed at the inconstancies of our government’s and our historical downfalls. You realize that no one’s country is perfect and that there are people all over the world struggling and laughing about the same things you are. It makes this giant world we live in feel a lot smaller.
While I traveled through Asia I was able to cross off so many things from my bucket list that have been looking at me since I was 23. I skydived, bungee jumped, hiked the Nepal Himalayas. I was able to see the festival of lights in Thailand, I was in India for Holi and so many more. I was able to do the things that I wanted to in this lifetime, I realized that I can do more and more! My bucket list gets longer and shorter at the same time the more I travel, but each experience is just as exciting and amazing as the last.
One thing I learned while traveling was how strong the bonds I have with my friends and family back at home are. Some people you don’t keep in touch with and that’s ok, but I was able to continue so many of my amazing relationships while I was away. This taught me to appreciate the people in my life so much. As many do, I went threw a particularly challenging part of my trip emotional and psychologically. My friends and family members from home made the extra efforts to check in on me, despite the 12 hour or more time difference, they were there. There is no better feeling in the world then to come home to the people who truly deeply love you.
Inevitably through all these amazing experiences I grew, I grew in ways that I didn’t even think were possible. I even notice the changes 6 months being back home, as I am more understanding, more curious, more open to meeting new people and doing new things. I recently just met a girl at a coffee shop, We started talking, exchanged information, and now we go to fun events all over the city together. Before traveling, I would have never struck up a conversation to a stranger at a coffee shop, and now I welcome those interactions.
Naomi Zelin is a world traveler, a wanderluster, and an international yoga teacher and student. She has lived all over the globe and now calls Thailand her home. Check out her Instagram @LightOnYogaProject to keep up with her adventures.