Four years ago, on my 23rd birthday, I was on a road trip in Germany with my best friend Anna. It was the furthest away from home I had been since I was 18 and my first international trip. My passport was blank, my eyes wide, my creativity buzzing, and my heart completely open to all of life’s experiences. I’ve been travelling solor
I wasn’t always this though. I was in a codependent and highly destructive relationship. I was stuck on a rung in the corporate ladder, gripping to a job that made me wildly unhappy. I was surrounded by toxic people who also made excuses and placed limitations on their dreams. I was in a situation I hated with no real drive or inspiration to change it.
I was also obsessed with the idea of travel. I had a collection of antique maps and travel books sitting on my self. I pinned hundreds of places I dreamed of visiting on a map that hung over my bed. My bucket list was filled with exotic destinations from my teenage dreams. I spent my time looking at images of places I would never visit, because somehow I convinced myself these destinations would never be my reality. They were archived under the mental category of One Day.
It took winning $4600 dressed as an elf on Let’s Make a Deal to turn my obsession with travel into a reality. My only regret in life is not doing this for myself sooner. If I could shake the shoulders of 20-year-old me, I would tell her what I’m about to tell you.
If you’re looking for motivation to finally book that one-way ticket (or see the Grand Cayon, or take that road trip you’ve been planning) I hope one of the reasons outlined below is the trigger.
1. Travel because good health and longevity are no longer a guarantee.
Let’s face it. We know more people our age who have been diagnosed with cancer than any other generation before us. We are getting sicker and often without reason or warning. With a failing healthcare system in the US and a for-profit pharmaceutical industry, our health and wellness seem to the lowest priority.
After my Pulmonary Embolism in 2012, I realized the importance of health. Even with something so life-threatening, I was able to recover pretty quickly. Why? Because I was 23. My body and my mind were stronger than I gave myself credit for. I was back on my feet quicker than the doctor’s expected me to be, but I was never keen on being bed bound to begin with. I was also reminded every day how lucky I was to be alive. Every doctor, nurse, physician, tech, and receptionist I came into contact with said the same words, “But you’re so young. It could have killed you.”
I was frustrated with the constant reminder, but it kept me in check. I stopped taking life for granted. I stopped wasting my time on negative energy and toxic relationships. I did things I wanted to do instead of what was expected of me. I started saying yes to everything, and in turn, opportunities began to manifest in unexpected ways. My life improved drastically.
The point is this. I don’t know what I’m going to be facing in 10 or 20 years. What I do know is my 26-year-old self can recover from a week’s bought of Dengue Fever in Malaysia, but I can’t exactly say the same should I be 72. We’re also not guaranteed to grow old like we’re currently banking on. Yeah. I should probably be saving for retirement, but there is no guarantee of that either. So I choose now. I will always choose life and love and happiness, in this very moment, right now.
2. Travel because you are physically able to do so.
At the time of reading this, I imagine you are healthy, open-minded, adaptable, energetic, optimistic, and receptive. I’m not denying we will continue to embody these traits as we age, but I know the natural progression of life will cause us to be less of these things. I am extremely priviledged to occupy a physical vessel that is able to carry me through transformative life experiences. While I hope we can continue to step into the world throughout different stages of life, I know our experiences will inevitably be altered by physical ailments, a weakening immune system, and an overall decreased stamina that naturally comes with aging.
3. Travel because your mind is far more able to absorb and retain information.
From diverse languages and cultural differences to recalling historic events. Even the smallest details of the most cherished memories. With each interaction, our minds are constantly expanding. We are developing a greater sense of self and a deeper respect for the world around us. I love immersing in new cultures and absorbing as much information as my mental capacity will allow.
At least for now. . .
I have to acknowledge my mind is already failing me. I rely very heavily on photography and writing to preserve memories. Even utilizing these tools, so much of what I experience is inevitably forgotten. I want to look back on my life and remember the people I met at the nightclub in Berlin or the family in Vietnam who welcomed me openly into their home despite any differences or language barriers between us. Most days, I can’t even remember to grab my towel off of the hook before I check out of my hostel (oh how do I miss that towel).
What’s going to happen when our minds really go? You will undoubtedly be shaped by these experiences, but how will we begin to remember them all?
4. Travel because technology makes it feel like you never left.
Long gone are the days of snail mail and postcards to transatlantic lovers—though I am ecstatic when a friend takes time to pen their precious thoughts. Technology is our greatest asset and keeps us connected to everyone back home in real time. Even in the most remote corners of the world, including the edge of a rainforest, you can bank on there being Internet. Yep. Wifi. In the jungle. IT’S A REAL THING.
We also have an abundance of social media and communication platforms available for us to engage with: Whatsapp, Google Hangouts, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tiktok. I can FaceTime my mother in San Diego from a guesthouse lobby in Yangon. Most of the time it’s with an image of her thumb half covering her face, but her tech illiteracy is endearing (sorry Mom).
What I’m saying is this. Our parents were reading about this kind of technology in science fiction novels when they were kids. Today it is nestled between our two hands. We are living in their future. Mind. Literally. Blown.
5. Travel because it is easier than ever. . .
At any given point in time, perhaps in the next few hours should you feel like it, you can book a flight to anywhere in the world. You can ride a train through continental Europe. You can drive a car from San Diego to the Gulf Coast of Florida. You can meditate in a Buddhist monastery somewhere in the hills of Thailand. Distant islands are now accessible by fast boat. Jungle treks are no longer reserved for the elite.
We can access almost anything, any experience we could possibly want, quickly, easily and as efficiently as possible. Time, money, and energy are required to get there, sure, but the infrastructure exists and it’s being developed more and more each day.
There’s honestly no excuse anymore (besides money, but I saved that prime argument for last). Every opportunity to interact with the world is available should you be ready to attain it.
. . . and it’s affordable, too!
My plane ticket to Bangkok in 2015? $400. That’s the cost of a single phone upgrade. Once I was there, I could catch a plane to any country within SEAsia for less than the cost a new pair of shoes. I also guarantee I can find you a round-trip ticket to Europe for under $500 without having to deal with the nightmares of budget airlines—I’m talking about you, WOW Air.
Yeah. Okay. I look a little shabby the better part of the year. My car is used. My clothes are second hand. The most expensive thing I own is my camera equipment. And that’s okay.
I finally learned to stop placing importance in physical belongings and made the shift to investing in myself. The things that bring me the greatest sense of accomplishment are connecting with others in a genuine way, experiencing cultures very different than my own, learning something I didn’t know before, and writing with transparency about my experiences.
Buying a new purse doesn’t bring me closer to achieving those things. A plane ticket, a good book, and getting lost with no plan in place does.
But Hayli, I’m afraid!
Guess what?! I was too! Terrified, really. I bawled my eyes out for three solid hours on my first international flight. I was codependent and insecure and wildly unprepared for long-term travel. Even as I’ve gained more confidence through solo endeavors, I still get scared. I’ve walled up in hostels afraid to leave my room because I was so overwhelmed. My anxiety has even triggered a compromised immune system! Yep! I’ve gotten physically sick because my brain was trippin’ on fear.
The world can be a scary place, especially with everything we’re force-fed by the media. I promise that fear slowly diminishes the more you interact with what you do not know. If you allow fear to dominate your decisions, you’ll never make any progress. What’s more terrifying, at least to me, is being paralyzed to a point of complacency because of your fear.
Look. You’re going to fail at some point in your travels. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to be lost 90% of the time. You’re going to get ripped off. You’re going to miss your train and be stranded in the middle of the night. You’re going to have to communicate in a language you’ll never fully understand. You’ll order the wrong meal by accident. You’ll even book a hotel only to arrive and find there is no record of your reservation.
By overcoming these “failures” (see also: speed bumps, see barriers, see obstacles, see challenges, see learning opportunities) I promise you these outcomes: you’re going to become more resilient, more self-reliant, more confident in your decisions and headed in a stronger direction. You are going to become more intimate with your thoughts and more comfortable with being alone. You are going to grow quickly in a very short period of time.