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?

Michael Tieso

Michael Tieso travels around the world writing, photographing, and filming his adventures. He is the Editor-in-chief of Art of Adventuring.
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