My Travel Lessons Thus Far

| Ngoc Nguyen

As I am traveling, I am keeping a kind of mental blog, and I finally had time to start writing some of it down.

Overall, I feel overwhelmed and humble at the same time. The pictures will highlight the places I have been, but the more intriguing bits are the things I have learned. I won’t be able to write everything and even when I do I am sure that I won’t be able to do it justice, but here are some of it:


Travels - Freedom of the Road

It took me months to even come to the decision that I want to leave and go travel, and it took even longer to work up the courage to actually go through with it. In looking back, I realize that I changed a bit the second I made my decision, and I changed a bit further when I executed that decision. I still have no clue what I am doing, and every now and then I have that ‘Holy crap, I am actually doing this’ moment, but I am in love with it.

The feeling of freedom hit the hardest during that first month across the US. I was driving north and west, but I didn’t have any definite plans of being at any one particular place by the end of the day. On occasion, I would drive from sunrise to sunset and enjoy the sense of just taking to the road, and I would stop and go when the mood hits me.

It gave me a lot of time to take everything in, ponder about past, present, future, and overall an understanding of what is really important in the grander scheme of things.

Some of the thoughts that occupied me:
Our choices define us, and in the end bind us.
The true worth of a man is determined by the strength of his character, and the compassion he shows to others.
We think of time as being linear with a beginning and an end, but it is less a thread and more of a tapestry.
Faith and Reason – and one more throw of the dice.
A girl – it is always about a girl.

Normal Life

Travels - Normalcy of Life

Normalcy is what you make it. It is the things that you are used to in your every day life and what seems strange one day is simply another thing the next. It is amazing how fast you adopt to the ‘new normal’.

It could be a small thing like seeing cars drive on the left side instead of the right, and then realizing everyone walks on the left instead of the right. It could be hailing taxis in different countries, not being able to read street signs, clean public transportation, no air conditioning, no indoor plumbing, etc. Overall though, it becomes less strange moment by moment, and you adapt and broaden your world a bit more.

When I first started my trip, I had limited experience on how to book hotels and lodging. Since then I have slept in budget hostels, 4-5 stars hotels, airports, benches, buses, trains, ferries, but I have not yet slept on the streets. I still miss having my own bed and place, but I no longer find it strange to move around. It is strange how quickly things become normal after you do it for awhile.


Travels - Appreciation at Sunset

Thus far, I think the most important lesson I have learned is appreciation – appreciation for family and friends, appreciation for living in a first world country, appreciation for how lucky I am to be able to go on this journey. I have learned to appreciate all that because I no longer have routines that allow me to take them for granted.

When you have to take four showers a day just to get rid of all the sweat, you really learn to appreciate first world amenities.

I have seen the sunrise and sunset over Ankgor Wat, and it was beautiful. However, the most beautiful sunrise I have seen was in South Dakota over the Badlands, and the most beautiful sunset is a tie between my drive into Seattle and my time spent on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand.

Overall, I am just much more appreciative of life. I sometimes finding myself just standing still to take everything in – watching the leaves dance in the wind, the rain as it falls from the sky, the ocean waves as it comes in. I am sure everyone else around me thinks I am weird because I just randomly stop to enjoy the moment, but since I no longer have to worry about going somewhere in a hurry, I can afford to take my time.

People are People

Travels - Traffic in Hanoi

For the most part, I find people to be people. You have the good, the bad, and the ugly everywhere – it crosses borders and all cultural boundaries. I have seen people who have given up and just want to live day by day with no goals or plans. I have seen others work 60+ hours a week doing hard labor just to provide a brighter future for their kids. I have seen millionaires who are spendthrifts, and millionaires who are financially capable, but for the most part I find that the more money you have, the lonelier you are.

You find all types of people everywhere; Most are just struggling to live and keep moving on, and they are not out to get you or treat you badly because you are a tourist or a foreigner. The exception are taxi drivers though – 95% of them are horrible and will rip you off left and right.

As I travel, the cultural differences are at first shocking but after awhile, it is the similarities that are more important and the differences just shrink into insignificance. Everyone is guarded at first too, but the moment someone truly laughs it crosses every thing. You can see it in their eyes, and it is the luckiest people whose eyes can shine the brightest with overwhelming joy.