Travel has changed me.
I see the world differently – it’s not quite as big or as foreign as I once thought, but there’s always the opportunity to learn something in each place you visit.
And since life is one big classroom, I’m constantly learning – my priorities are shifting away from having things and leaning more towards doing things. It’s not always a smooth transition, but I’m getting there.
Lately, there have been three important lessons that travel has made me understand.
1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Humans – we’re messy. We generate waste at a mind-blowing rate, and the more I travel, the more I despair.
This, coming from a girl who used to throw rubbish out the window of a moving car.
Look, we all did stupid things as teenagers. Please don’t make me feel worse than I already do.
The point is, we create so much unnecessary crap, and then we throw it away for ‘someone else’ to deal with. Take India, where the cows dine on McDonald’s bags and takeaway coffee cups. Or here in Korea, where cookies are individually packaged, plastic bags are handed out ad nauseum, and fresh food at the supermarket is so heavily saran-wrapped you’d have to be an engineer to liberate a single carrot.
India and Korea aren’t the only offenders, of course. Everyone’s doing it, my pre-traveling self included. I used to think recycling was a hassle. Separate my garbage and physically take it somewhere? No thanks. I’ll just put it all in the same bin.
But as I travel, I’ve been exposed to how easy it is to recycle. In Korea, land of the plastic bag, there’s also a pretty simple system for garbage. The recycle bins are all labeled in front of our apartment building, so we can take out the trash as we leave. Suddenly, it’s second nature. Why don’t we have this in America again?
2. Don’t succumb to materialistic tendencies.
Speaking of recycling, I’ve been doing a lot of that in my closet lately. It’s a side-effect of constant long-term travel: you live out of a suitcase, you don’t have a permanent residence, it’s not really viable to collect a lot of stuff.
But oh, how I love stuff.
Every time I travel through a big city, I go all googly-eyed when we pass the shopping districts. I’m overcome with an urge to put on makeup, do my hair, and wear heels. I want to dress up and go out, to try new restaurants and pick up little trinkets along the way.
As soon as I leave the big city…I don’t really care anymore. That stuff is less important when I’m back in my poky little Korean town, or on a harrowing overnight bus in Vietnam. I can put aside my materialistic tendencies and focus on what I really want out of my life. Suffice it to say, it can’t be found in a pair of heels or a handbag (though I still wouldn’t say no to either of those).
Which brings me to my final lesson…
3. Budget isn’t a four-letter word.
I hate being told I can’t have something. Hate it.
And traveling on a budget is like having a little angel and devil riding on your shoulders, whispering into your ear.
Me (drooling at the window of a gelateria): That looks sooo goood…
Angel: Now, now, you’re on a budget. You can’t have that.
Devil: That cherry flavor looks niiiice. What’s another 4 euro?
For several years, I listened to the little devil. I was decadent, indulging in gelato and boots, nights out and big breakfasts. And I paid the price, in the form of a big, fat, credit card bill.
Now, I realize that being on a budget isn’t about depriving yourself. It actually allows you to do more. Now, when I travel, there’s some wiggle room in the wallet. If my fiancé and I want to have a big night out, we have one. It just might mean that we have to grab convenience-store sandwiches for lunch the next day.
Balance. It’s the key to life, isn’t it?
What have you learned in your travels?