Travel is a test of the mind

There are beautiful landscapes and delicious foods to eat around the world but often missed in travel writing is how we got there and how we felt along the way. This is how my mind has been tested in the last two years.

My emotions are tested. Traveling can be an emotional rollercoaster. Within the same day, I may feel sad, happy, angry, depressed, tired, excited, driven, emotional, and everything else in between – all happening just within a few hours. It gets confusing. What’s even more confusing is that when I’m happy, I’m really happy and when I’m sad, I’m really sad. Emotions seem to go in extremes during travel.

My adaptive skills are tested. Traveling requires me to adapt to my surroundings. In a guest house that took me several hours to find, a single sheet the size of a towel (even looks like one), pillow that I was convinced was a sandbag, freezing room, piss water tea, walls covered in plastic (no idea why), and over charged – the only thing I can do is laugh and appreciate the small things. The locals staying next door didn’t seem to mind at all. However, adapting to a public squat toilet is something that will never happen.

My patience and calmness are tested. When everything seems to go wrong, there’s nothing I can do but to just keep marching forward with a smile. I could complain about how my food order has been wrong for the tenth time in a row or how I’ve been over charged $.50 on a taxi but ultimately, it’s not that big of a deal. I need to remember the bigger picture. Patience could be one of the most frequent occurring tests. Sometimes I fail and get frustrated but I continue learning from it.  Things go wrong and they go wrong often. Just need to make the best of it. No need to rush anyway.

A man in Cuzco, Peru with a book

Trying to keep my patience in Peru

People skills are tested. Traveling requires me to use communication skills that were never used at home. In destinations where English is nil, I’m forced to be creative using hand signals and a phrase book that can sometimes be useless (refer to patience). Conversations are easy to follow through and I don’t ever feel awkward meeting new people. Before travel, I was a wreck if I had to give a speech or teach in front of a group of people while they focused on me.

I’ve made best friends in a single day. Traveled and shared things that even some of my closest friends back at home may not know about me. Then to say bye after a full week together is as depressing and sad as it was leaving my other friends back at home. Testing again my emotions.

Friends made in Xi'an, China

Friends made in Xi’an, China

Relationships are tested. Want to know if the person your with is the one for you? Travel with them. I did, and she is.

Respect is tested. I want to be as respectful as possible to the country and people. This means I need to take a history and cultural lesson by reading enormous Wikipedia/Wikitravel articles and memorizing several phrases like Hello, Thank You, and Good Bye before I arrive. After spending so many months in China, I’ve adapted new respectful eating habits. Pouring drinks for others before mine is a common new habit of mine. Thailand taught me no shoes in the house.

Self reliance is tested. Being sick abroad with not a single person knowing my name is a horrible feeling. Mom isn’t there to take make me tea. I wish she were when I was in the hospital in Laos. I took care myself and continued on forward. It’s just part of travel.

Australia - Drive On The Left

Australia was testing me…

Instincts are tested. Sometimes people want to rob me and other times people want to invite me. So who do I trust? Natural instincts are kicked in quick with travel. I use my gut feeling often. The times I’ve made bad choices were because I didn’t go with my instincts. Sometimes it was meant to go wrong but it turned into something better. I met a man in his 60’s on a train in Thailand, he invited me to his mansion outside of Bangkok where I stayed for a few days. He ended up being a retired government official and toured me around the behind the scene places and buildings in Bangkok. I used my instincts whether I should have trusted him or not.

It’s never easy and I think that’s what’s so great about it. Traveling teaches and tests us.

I feel stronger. My mind feels stronger. I feel like I can handle a lot more stress and overcome it better than I did before. I’ve learned to live on less but ultimately it has taught me to be happy with more.

How has traveling tested your mind?

39 Comments

  1. TravelnLass on March 27, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    Wow Michael – you’ve hit upon precisely the reason I’m so addicted to off-the-grid travel. It’s all that “testing” – such an adrenaline rush when I manage to half way “pass” all those many (daily, indeed HOURLY) tests of my travel mettle.

    Reminds me a bit of my recent TravelnLass post: Do You Have What It Takes To Be a (happy) Indie Traveler?

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 7:36 am

      Just took the test on your post. I scored pretty well 🙂

  2. Don on March 27, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Michael, I can relate to everything you wrote. Emotions are tested, adaptive skills are tested, patience is tested, people skills are tested, friendships are tested, etc, etc. I would add that traveling, for me anyway, has tested and debunked many preconceived ideas I had about places and people.

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 7:54 am

      Very true. It’s really changed my view of the world.

  3. Don on March 27, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Michael, I can relate to everything you wrote. Emotions are tested, adaptive skills are tested, patience is tested, people skills are tested, friendships are tested, etc, etc. I would add that traveling, for me anyway, has tested and debunked many preconceived ideas I had about places and people.

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 8:54 am

      Very true. It’s really changed my view of the world.

  4. TravelnLass on March 27, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Wow Michael – you’ve hit upon precisely the reason I’m so addicted to off-the-grid travel. It’s all that “testing” – such an adrenaline rush when I manage to half way “pass” all those many (daily, indeed HOURLY) tests of my travel mettle.

    Reminds me a bit of my recent TravelnLass post: Do You Have What It Takes To Be a (happy) Indie Traveler?

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 8:36 am

      Just took the test on your post. I scored pretty well 🙂

  5. Amer on March 27, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    I can relate to that, travel is not all good and glossy. But at the end of the day it’s the experience that enriches your life. Weirdly enough, I’ve found my patience and emotions to be more tested at work. Maybe I should travel more 😉

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 7:32 am

      My office job use to frustrate me often but I wasn’t really learning from it. I kept getting annoyed and it kept going. At least with travel, I seem to be learning how to handle things better. Maybe if I were happier with the job, it could have been different.

  6. Amer on March 27, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    I can relate to that, travel is not all good and glossy. But at the end of the day it’s the experience that enriches your life. Weirdly enough, I’ve found my patience and emotions to be more tested at work. Maybe I should travel more 😉

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 8:32 am

      My office job use to frustrate me often but I wasn’t really learning from it. I kept getting annoyed and it kept going. At least with travel, I seem to be learning how to handle things better. Maybe if I were happier with the job, it could have been different.

  7. Breakaway Backpacker on March 27, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    As you know I just started longterm travel and less than a month in i can tell you that all of the above has been tested. It’s crazy how you are kept on your toes at all times.

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 7:28 am

      Its already been a month?
      Reading all your tweets and entries and sounds like you’re having a killer time out there.

  8. Breakaway Backpacker on March 27, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    As you know I just started longterm travel and less than a month in i can tell you that all of the above has been tested. It’s crazy how you are kept on your toes at all times.

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 8:28 am

      Its already been a month?
      Reading all your tweets and entries and sounds like you’re having a killer time out there.

  9. Harrison on March 28, 2011 at 12:07 am

    I guess that’s what makes the traveling experience so wonderful … all those ups and downs … otherwise, we wouldn’t have great stories to tell 🙂

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 7:26 am

      So true.

  10. Harrison on March 28, 2011 at 1:07 am

    I guess that’s what makes the traveling experience so wonderful … all those ups and downs … otherwise, we wouldn’t have great stories to tell 🙂

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 8:26 am

      So true.

  11. Adrienne & Jerry on March 28, 2011 at 12:33 am

    This post is coming at an opportune time for me… The hubby and I are one week away from starting our RTW trip and I started panicking JUST this weekend. Anxious thoughts of “what the $%^# are we doing?! Can I really leave behind everything I’m familiar and comfortable with for an entire year??” I’m admittedly freaking out…but I know that there is an amazingly unforgettable journey ahead of us. I am definitely expecting to be tested by every single thing you described. Thanks for posting!

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 7:26 am

      It always seems to work out in the end. You’ll have a great time. I’m looking forward to following you guys. Safe travels!

  12. Adrienne on March 28, 2011 at 1:33 am

    This post is coming at an opportune time for me… The hubby and I are one week away from starting our RTW trip and I started panicking JUST this weekend. Anxious thoughts of “what the $%^# are we doing?! Can I really leave behind everything I’m familiar and comfortable with for an entire year??” I’m admittedly freaking out…but I know that there is an amazingly unforgettable journey ahead of us. I am definitely expecting to be tested by every single thing you described. Thanks for posting!

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 8:26 am

      It always seems to work out in the end. You’ll have a great time. I’m looking forward to following you guys. Safe travels!

  13. Torre DeRoche on March 28, 2011 at 2:04 am

    Beautiful post, especially this one: “Relationships are tested. Want to know if the person your with is the one for you? Travel with them. I did, and she is.”

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 7:25 am

      Thanks!

  14. Torre DeRoche on March 28, 2011 at 3:04 am

    Beautiful post, especially this one: “Relationships are tested. Want to know if the person your with is the one for you? Travel with them. I did, and she is.”

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 8:25 am

      Thanks!

  15. ConfusedJulia on March 28, 2011 at 4:51 am

    Most people who read this post will be able to relate to at least one of the points you’ve made. When you’re out of your comfort zone everything seems so much harder / more tiring / more confusing, but in the end that seems to be what makes travel such a strengthening and enlightening experience….if it wasn’t we wouldn’t all be so addicted!

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 7:24 am

      It is definitely addicting.

  16. ConfusedJulia on March 28, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Most people who read this post will be able to relate to at least one of the points you’ve made. When you’re out of your comfort zone everything seems so much harder / more tiring / more confusing, but in the end that seems to be what makes travel such a strengthening and enlightening experience….if it wasn’t we wouldn’t all be so addicted!

    • Michael on March 29, 2011 at 8:24 am

      It is definitely addicting.

  17. goteresago on April 1, 2011 at 11:49 am

    HAHA I remember when that Peru picture was taken. Everything you said is so true! It’s amazing how many countries value and appreciate travel as a social norm as part of a healthy development. Something a lot of our buddies back home can learn!!!

  18. Transcendental Gypsy on April 1, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    HAHA I remember when that Peru picture was taken. Everything you said is so true! It’s amazing how many countries value and appreciate travel as a social norm as part of a healthy development. Something a lot of our buddies back home can learn!!!

  19. Asina S. on April 14, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    thanks for the nice posting. i agree that traveling test our instinct. i met a man when I was backpacking in Bali, at first, he was so nice and helpful, but then i know all those his way to trick me. thanks God, i could get away from him. at first it get me trauma. but then i learnt from it, and it makes me feel stronger.

    • Michael on April 15, 2011 at 3:02 am

      That’s great that you’ve learned.

  20. Asina S. on April 15, 2011 at 12:17 am

    thanks for the nice posting. i agree that traveling test our instinct. i met a man when I was backpacking in Bali, at first, he was so nice and helpful, but then i know all those his way to trick me. thanks God, i could get away from him. at first it get me trauma. but then i learnt from it, and it makes me feel stronger.

    • Michael on April 15, 2011 at 4:02 am

      That’s great that you’ve learned.

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