When I was younger, time felt very slow. I couldn’t wait to grow up and do things, daydreaming about the day I reach a certain age and achieve certain accomplishments. I thought being 25 meant a well-paying stable job, a long term relationship and maybe a condo unit or a car under my name.
Now that I’m actually living that age, I want to go back and tell my younger self that I won’t be getting any of that. Not because I’ll be failing miserably at life but because what I’ll get is something better and bigger than what I ever dreamed of.
In celebration of the year closing and a life well-lived, here are some gems I learned this 2015:
I’m going to be okay
My 2014 was mostly a series of breakdowns that I spent the first couple of months of 2015 figuring out who I am and what I wanted to do. I knew I wasn’t doing myself or anyone else a favor by staying where I was, so I had a big Now or Never moment. In the end, I left almost four years of comfort zone and I jumped into the unknown and unstable world of remote work and freelancing.
I finally had the courage to close a chapter that I was no longer happy with and in turn, gave myself the chance to make more room for discovering what I’m truly passionate about. I didn’t see myself making that move that soon but despite the challenges and uncertainty, I know I’m headed towards the right path.
I’m not stuck
I don’t have to stay put in one place. Whether it’s jobs, relationships or tourist attractions, I can always walk away. I also don’t have to be the same person and live the life I have always lived.
It’s okay to get lost
Some millennials are so fixated on hitting deadlines and following a life map: get married before they hit 30, have three kids by 35, be a CEO by 40. But life is not a task waiting to be ticked off – it’s meant to be lived. And if that means straying away from the normal path? Well, go ahead and get lost. There’s a pleasant surprise waiting when you get brave enough to put the life map down.
Contrary to what my Instagram feed looks like, I also do things outside traveling. It just so happens that my work lets me virtually travel to places I haven’t been to – by curating, producing and writing content for a travel-related brand. Working from home helps me stay rooted, where I get to see my family every day and do mundane tasks like my own laundry and dishes at dinnertime.
I have to work on the friendship aspect though. When I came home this month and met up with different groups of friends, I realized how much I missed out on. Either I was too busy to ask or they were too shy to bring up stuff. It also didn’t help that when I wasn’t a thousand miles away, I was two hours away holed up at home in my pajamas, typing away on a laptop. I rarely go out these days that I’m putting on weight despite cutting down on my bad habit of stress eating. So while I’m proud of my attempt to strike a balance between work and travel, I still need to hit some improvements come 2016.
Keep it simple
I lived a life of dressing up. From my university days to my PR days, I had a full wardrobe that kept me well-dressed for different occasions. I kept a rotation of classic items with trendy updates, had an annual subscription to a local fashion magazine and I regularly followed the international fashion week coverage on Style.com!
Then I started traveling with just a 7kg backpack and I learned the art of keeping it simpler. Paring down my wardrobe to seven shirts, three bottoms and two dresses is still a lot compared to some people, but it surely felt like a sacrifice when I left home. Now that I’m back, I look at my closet and wonder why I ever bought so many clothes in my former life.
The way to a local’s heart
This year, I learned how to say hello, goodbye and thank you in Burmese, Thai, Lao and Bahasa and while I’m pretty sure I butchered some of the pronunciation, that usually won me a smile. I dressed up in a makeshift longyi in Myanmar, wore a frangipani behind my ear in Indonesia and watched a monk ceremony in Laos. I attempted to adapt to the local culture as much as possible and while that took a lot of effort and care from my end, it was worth the kindness and thoughtful attention I got from the locals.
The warning bells are there for a reason
It’s not all fine and dandy, though. I like seeing the good in most people or giving them benefit of the doubt but there were times when I felt extremely uncomfortable that I should’ve known something was about to go wrong. There’s always a risk when traveling and the best way to get through it is a mix of instinct and experience.
There’s still kindness left in this world
When I was crossing the Thailand-Laos border from Nong Khai to Vientiane, I found myself stupefied by the whole process. There was a complete lack of English signs or clear instructions that I stood there hunched with my backpack and messenger bag, gripping my passport on one hand. A kind Filipino woman noticed my struggle and helped me get through immigration. Turns out she flies between Korea, Thailand and Laos all the time and is quite an expert on crossing the Thailand-Laos border.
There were many other moments when I realized how, for every bad person out there, there’s five other persons with kindness in their hearts. Locals offered me more than tips – I got free tea, fruits, flowers, candies and even accommodation upgrades.
This didn’t come naturally to me. I’m a multi-tasker who, after working in a fast-paced environment, turned into the kind of person whose mind is running everywhere every time. But that’s what traveling does to you: it has the power to change you. Instead of thinking about attractions waiting to be ticked off or getting obsessed with shooting the perfect photos, I let myself go with the flow and just enjoy the trip. It opened me up to so many life-changing experiences, like lighting my own lantern during the Yi Peng in Chiang Mai and discovering thin places in Luang Prabang.
It takes a lot of courage to let yourself be vulnerable especially when traveling alone, but it’s rewarding in the end. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying hello to that stranger you’re sharing the bunk with or veering off your intended plans for the day. It’s about taking the leap and leaving room for possibilities, keeping your eyes and your heart open.
What has 2015 taught you? 🙂