I came home on November 23, 2016. 367 days, 13 countries, 1 year on the road. To distill my travels, numbers like these are easy to offer. Yet, to convey the totality of my experience, numbers clearly fall short. Photographs and stories are more detailed and engaging, but they too are incomplete, often just snapshots tethered to a time and place. Instead, I find the lasting value of my trip is best appreciated as a set of lessons, connected and reinforced from across my journey.
Like so many others, my travels were initially guided by a spirit of adventure. I sought out beautiful locations and once in a lifetime experiences. I trekked over mountains and descended deep into the ocean. I connected with fellow travelers and stayed with gracious locals. I immersed myself in culture and I found time to reflect by myself. I hoped the exotic world around me might teach me something. That in the right circumstance with the right people, I might discover something transcendent about who I was or how I saw the world. So long as I chose the right trail and the weather was just so, the truth of it all would magically appear in one epic and obvious shift.
In reality, the most meaningful moments of my trip were subtle, and at the same time readily available. Gathered from interactions in a remote village in Laos and on a crowded street in India, and then pieced together on a lonely stretch of trail in Nepal, it was the shared and repeated expressions of everyday life that yielded the most profound lessons of my journey. That one country, just like one sunset, is not better or worse than the next — they’re just different. And, despite cultural differences, people from all over the world are fundamentally the same, trying the best they can to take care of themselves and the ones they love.
By its nature, travel sharpens our external senses. Yet, it also implores us to turn inward. In a world where everything is foreign, where moving on is more common than staying put, the only thing that is reliably familiar, stable, and apparently constant is ourselves. In these wild and often uncomfortable environments, we learn that we can get used to just about anything. That, like the many I saw who live and thrive on very little, we are infinitely adaptable because we can assert the power of our mind. And our mind, rather than any point on a map, is where we may find real peace.
Ultimately, extended travel is less about where we go physically, but where we go intellectually and spiritually. It alone cannot permanently fill a void or ensure lasting happiness. But, it can provide a circumstance to freely explore our true selves. And for that opportunity, I am forever grateful.