IN 2 YEARS I HAVE:
- Written and translated 160 blog posts.
- Posted 970 photos on Instagram.
- Made about 36,000 photos.
- Covered 36.852 km overland.
- Flew 8.942 km in two aircraft (2.325km from Sharjah to New Dehli and 6,617km from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney), skipping one country each.
- Learned 1 new language (Russian): far from mastering it but still learning nevertheless.
- Went through three pairs of summer shoes and got a pair of hiking boots stolen from under my nose.
16 LESSONS LEARNED:
1. Nobody has a right to my truth.
A young woman travelling alone of marriageable age is something out of the ordinary in every country in the world and must be in search of a husband. Although people are getting used to the growing number of solo female travellers in Western countries, there are some cultures where it remains unthinkable (albeit not impossible). In many countries, it's more polite and safer to lie. Lying is a survival strategy and is understood as a necessary evil. It's very different from our puritanical Christian society, where any form of lying is considered a severe breach of trust.
2. Loneliness is a rare commodity.
Travelling alone means making decisions regardless of other people and taking sole responsibility for those decisions. It has nothing to do with isolation. There are people all over the world.
3. Travel does not change personalities.
Old friends that I meet and visit on the way are often surprised that I don't seem to change at all. Experiences abroad have never done that to me. The expectation of change within me amazes me. My views develop, my experiences broadens my mind, but my moral chore doesn't change. Or am I doing something wrong?
4. In every country, travelling means something different.
In some countries, solo tourists are equated with sex tourism. Depending on the nation you're in, that's because people project their realities upon yours. The Iranian tourist (when not on pilgrimage or visiting family), for example, goes abroad to have sex. It's so much easier and less dangerous elsewhere. In Thailand, however, the vast majority of tourists who flock to the country are sex tourists from abroad. Those realities will impact your interactions with the locals and their willingness to open up to you. In some countries travelling is a privilege of the rich (I've noticed that from India to Laos especially), in others, it's part of everyday life. No matter where you come from when you travel, people will project their experiences on you. It's useful to be aware of them, especially if you face an unusual amount of harassment on the streets. In between, there are many shades of grey (that goes without saying, does it?).
5. Eating, sleeping and happiness have many faces.
Everywhere things are approached in different ways, but in essence, they stay the same. On my journey, I slept on beds, Persian carpets, metal beds, wooden boards, stone floors and air mattresses. Almost everywhere I could learn to sleep well. Sometimes I lay in my sleeping bag stuffed with downs, other times I had a blanket of feathers, then again only a thin wool or polyester blanket. I could always sleep. The same goes for good food, family and cosiness. They exist everywhere in the world and are in their core the same.
6. 28 degrees can be the hight of summer or barely spring.
The constant change of the seasons is a central part of my self-image. Nothing makes me more blissful than a sunny summer, a snowy winter, a romantic spring and rainy autumn. However, my understanding of the seasons has widened considerably. Happily, I remember the cold Russian winter (-30 degrees ) as well as the warm one in Nepal (+25 degrees). In both of them, I felt the most comfortable with woollen socks on my feet, a few candles, tea in hand, snuggling into a blanket. The feeling of coldness is relative.
7. Money is a means to an end.
Money doesn't make you happy. It just makes life easier. Most people at home (in the Western world) are rich, though they feel poor.
8. Beauty is a construct.
Whether overpainted lips in Iran, operated noses, bleached skin in India or soft cheeks, beauty ideals are different. What unites them is that they are unreachable. Why do we want to be "beautiful", why is it not enough to be clean?
To be considered "beautiful", no matter in which culture, you have to waste vast amounts of time. In my opinion, a crime against humanity. For example, the time to learn make-up and the maintenance of the illusion of being hairless could be used to determine how to fix a car or scale a fish, or whatever you imagine you would like to know how to do.
When travelling, I am so busy with my surroundings, that I forget the thin black hairs on my nose and the shallow blonde down on my upper lip. As soon as I arrive in Sydney, my hairy realities catch my eyes. Within a few weeks, everything I believed to have learned on the road is lost. The western culture has me back under control, and my internal struggle begins anew.
9. Stress has many faces.
A stressed-out person can run through the city like a hunted rat or lie motionless on the sofa.
10. Travelling is an enormous privilege and expression of our wealth (and has nothing to do with money).
On my journey, I met people who travel with a lot of money, others who do the same without any. Both are possible. The best in life is free anyway. But what they all had were western, mostly European passports. Therein lies our freedom, our wealth and our privilege.
11. The gut feeling guides the mind. Always.
12. There is water in the desert.
There is everything everywhere: water in the desert, cocaine in Tehran, virgins in Thailand, frogs on treetops, Snickers at 5,000 meters in the Himalayas. Nowadays you get everything everywhere. The prices vary, but not the product. If you can't get it, that's because there is a cheaper, local product instead. Learn to appreciate it.
13. The most magical animals in the world (on land) are moose and camels.
15. The "good life" exists all over the world.
Luck and satisfaction have nothing to do with the luxury goods worshipped in the Western world.
16. Racism exists all over the world and is part of every society.
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