These epiphanies aren’t a typical list of “lessons learned while traveling.” From acknowledging my privilege, to changing my diet, to letting go of who I thought I was and who I thought I wanted to be, this list digs into the journey I took inward, while traveling through Southeast Asia.
1. I am privileged AF.
Throughout my life I have so strongly identified with my struggles, and the marginalized aspects of my life, that I was blinded to how privileged I actually am in this world. Before traveling I was thankful for the many opportunities I’ve had but was ignorant to many of the advantages I’ve had over others.
The combination of carrying a US passport, speaking English and being white has given me the upper hand on so many occasions. I could write a novel on what traveling taught me about privilege, especially the importance of acknowledging my own… Hmm maybe I will?
2. I don’t want to drink (alcohol).
Call it getting old or growing up but I have no desire to drink alcohol. I didn’t contrive some master plan to “quit” drinking altogether. About 4 months into my travels, I just stopped drinking.
It happened naturally…
One day, I didn’t feel like drinking, so I didn’t… a week after that, I still didn’t feel like drinking, so I didn’t… a month after that, still not interested… It’s been over 6 months now and I still don’t feel like drinking.
Who’s to say how I’ll feel next month or in a year. But right now, I don’t want to drink.
3. I want to consume a whole, plant-based, foods.
Essentially what this means is the majority of my food should be whole (not processed or chemically treated) and plant-based (not coming from animals).
I did not visit a particular country where a whole food plant-based diet was the norm. India helped kick start my vegetarianism (many people in India are vegetarian), which was great! But, I ate more butter, oil, sugar and cheese in India than I had anywhere else in the world. The typical diet in most places I visited is far from whole or plant-based.
Early on in my travels I had a YOLO attitude towards food. There was an abundance of delicious, cheap, sweet and meaty street foods available everywhere and I wanted to try them all- and I did. After a few months, eating unhealthy, unsustainable foods went from a novel cultural experience to part of my regular routine.
My health, from constipation to anxiety to sinus issues, began to decline. These issues coupled with extensive medical, environmental and philosophical research, inspired me to adopt a whole food, plant-based diet.
I am sure I will write more about this topic later but, in the meantime, if you have any questions feel free to reach out!
4. People are the “same same but different.”
The phrase “same same but different” is used all over Southeast Asia. I heard it used in the solicitation of “lady boys” on the streets of Bangkok. I heard people say it in the markets when comparing kiosk after kiosk of slightly varying souvenirs. It’s printed on t-shirts and bags. Every traveler uses the term to describe any two things that are remotely similar. The more I heard, and used, this silly phrase, the more I noticed how similar things actually are.
The more I traveled the more I came to know that people are more similar than they are different. “Same same but different” is the perfect phrase to sum up this reality. On a fundamental level people everywhere are the same… the only differences are minor and superficial.
5. Business is for the birds.
I am not a business person. I thought I was an entrepreneur because I was a successful self-employed hairstylist for nearly 5 years. Starting the salon came so naturally to me that I assumed I had a knack for business. I don’t. I have a knack for doing hair, for creating, and for following my passions and my truth- not for business.
Business, for business’ sake alone, is not where I want to put my energy. Sitting behind a computer, crunching numbers, sending emails, delegating, planning, budgeting, putting out fires and even making money does not inspire me. At all.
My salon business was successful because I was following my passion, following my truth, and creating, not because I had a successful business plan. As a matter of fact, I didn’t have a business plan at all.
If my passions, creations, or truth manifest in the form of a business again, I will happily follow the path. But, I have no desire to start or run a business with the pursuit of money or a particular lifestyle as the main goal.
6. I love doing hair.
Duh. I’ve known this for my entire life but traveling long term solidified it! I started doing hair in elementary school and have never stopped. When I closed my salon to travel, I worried I’d miss doing hair. I never got the opportunity to miss it because I never stopped doing hair. While traveling I did more hair than I ever imagined I would- I couldn’t not do hair!
I cut hair at a hostel in Bangkok, braided hair on Sao Beach in Phu Quoc, Vietnam, and cut and colored hair at yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, India. I didn’t do it because I needed money or because I felt obligated to, I did it because I wanted to.
You can take the girl out of the hair salon but you can’t take the hairstylist out of the girl!
7. I love stories.
I love stories- reading them, living them and writing them down. While traveling I read over a dozen books!
There were days, weeks and months of my life with story lines so incredible they felt scripted. In the 2 years it took me to prepare to travel, and the ten months I was on the road, I captured the stories of my life in over 1000 pages of journal entries!
8. Limiting the time I spend on the internet is good for my health.
Taking time away from my phone makes me feel more present, more connected and more peaceful.
Just like I didn’t visit any place where a whole food plant-based diet was the norm, I didn’t visit any place untouched by modernity. I saw elephant care takers in Chiang Mai, businessmen in Delhi, and fisherman in Gili Air with their eyes glued to their iPhones.
At first, this was disheartening. I was convinced I’d find a place in the world where life was simpler, where people were less connected to screens and more connected to each other. Needless to say, I didn’t.
Dismantling the notion that there is a place in the world completely free from the bondage of technology was a much needed reality check. It made me realize I can’t blame where I live, my society or my friends and family for my attachment to my phone and the internet. It is up to me to discipline myself by limiting my screen time- regardless of what others are choosing to do.
9. It’s better to wake up early than to stay up late.
Early on in my travels I was living like I always have- staying up all hours of the night and sleeping until whenever. Somewhere along my journey (I’m guessing it coincided with the time I stopped drinking) I started going to bed earlier and waking up earlier.
Turns out early morning is a way more beautiful and productive time of day than late night. Especially when I am well rested and wake up naturally!
(In Canggu, Bali I attended a lecture on Ayurveda Medicine. According to India’s ancient holistic healing system, people get better rest if they go to sleep before 10:30pm and wake up with the sun.)
10. I have the best friends and family.
Another big fat DUH!
My family and friends have always been super important to me. But, like my obvious love of doing hair, this fact was solidified while traveling. Before I left, I often focused on how different I was from my friends and family. What I see now is how supportive they are, despite our differences.
On the road I met people who had no support from their friends and family. People who were running away from problems at home, people searching for something or someone to complete them.
My friends, family and clients have showered me with love, support, and respect- not only for my long term travels but for every seemingly radical decision I’ve made over the years. From opening a salon in 3 weeks, to calling off my wedding, to indefinitely traveling the world I have had a group of unwavering supporters by my side.
(To my people (you know who you are): Thank you! You are forever loved and appreciated. I could not have become the woman I am today without you.)