Reflection: Expanding Horizons by Traveling

It’s a well worn cliche, how traveling is great at expanding horizons, but I’m realizing just now how true it is.

It’s that scene from Good Will Hunting, where the professor feels at peace after realizing that even though Will has his genius and book knowledge, he has no real experience. As a graduate of one of America’s top universities, you think you’re one of the intellectual elite. Working in finance, you think you’re on top of the world. Safe within your shell, surrounded by like minded people, it’s hard to not feel like you’re on a great path in life, hard to resist feeling superior to all the other plebs.

But when you’re traveling as a backpacker, you meet people from all walks of life, each with their own story, their own hopes, their own skills. And you realize, there’s no metric you can possibly use to compare lives; people are going about their lives in a way completely alien to your pre-journey self.

In one memorable encounter, I spent several hours chatting with a guy who had just gotten his doctoral degree in quantum physics – and is now choosing to do farm work while on a working holiday in Australia.

Another travel companion believed in horoscopes and wasn’t even old enough to (legally) drink in the US, but had incredible social intelligence & independence, and had financed her own travels halfway around the world.

There was a carpenter who only worked for six months out of the year, just to save enough to go sailing for the other six months.

Yet another carpenter had never gone to college, but had started his own business at 17, purchased his first home with cash at 22, and now rents out enough rental properties to finance a lifestyle of permanent travel.

A marketing strategist told me stories of hitchhiking across America, from California to New York, yet reminded me of myself in her current unrewarding work in the back office of a major international company.

A up and coming film producer showed me how the role of film producer is similar to that of a business analyst, but also told stories of how you have to spend many long years working for next to no pay before you gain enough experience to really break into the producer role.

So many scuba divemasters and surfers in Thailand and Indonesia respectively are spending their most ‘productive’ years living cheaply in SE Asia, dedicating their days to diving and surfing every day.

Several guys I met in Indonesia have been here for years now, just relaxing and living on $100 a month.

Some Australians work $60 an hour in the mining industry near Perth, then spend the money becoming extremely well read and well traveled.  As a result, they have the wisdom of somebody way beyond their years.

Other Australians do the same work, but then spend their money on beer, crystal meth, and hookers in Indonesia.

One traveler, at 22, had already financed her own travels around the world to 22 different countries, had found her soul mate, had worked to become a master surfer, snowboarder, and diver, and now has her own goldsmithing business.

And so many young 20ish couples told me stories of traveling and seeing the world on a shoestring budget, with rarely more than $200 in the bank at any time, with no idea of what they want to do in the future.

Traveling does a lot for expanding horizons.

And it just makes me think, there are so many people following different plans in life – not following the beaten path of working immediately after graduating, saving money, getting married, having kids, retiring at 60, and finally playing golf and waiting for death to come.  So why should I?

At some level, I’m envious.  Envious of master surfers who can shred the waves, envious of travelers who have toured Asia, Europe, and South America, envious of adventurous kids spending their late teens having wild and crazy experiences, envious of nonconformists who didn’t spend their early 20s working a corporate job.

But then I realize, it’s because I don’t know what I want from life yet.  I’m envious of these other travelers because they know exactly what they want in life, and are pursuing it with all their energy, societal expectations be damned.

The other day, I was reading In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks by Adam Carolla, and while most of the book was just amusing ranting, he did have one idea that resonated with me – that the true test of intelligence is whether you can achieve your goals.  But I really don’t know what my goals are.  My philosophy before traveling was, “well, I don’t know what I want to do, so I’ll just follow the beaten path and save money until I find my own path, and then I’ll have plenty of money to pursue my goal”.

Now that I’ve been exposed to the expanding horizons affect of traveling, I’m at a loss – I know for sure that I don’t want to go back to working a corporate job in finance, but what exactly is it that I want to do?  My mentor once told me, figure out the lifestyle you want first, then figure out how you can achieve it.

So that’s my next project, figuring out what exactly I want in life, the type of lifestyle I want to live.  Where do I want to live?  Do I want to move to a new country every three months?  Do I want to be in a relationship?  What kind of hobbies do I want to pursue?  I’m going through my own book summary, of the Aladdin Factor

It’s amazing, how great travel is for expanding horizons.

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