When I returned from my recent extended trip to South America, it occurred to me how much my daily thoughts had changed from their routine back home. These are a few thoughts that didn’t even occur to me during three weeks on the road:
1. How’s my stuff doing?
I have written on the topic of minimalism before, but living out of a suitcase for three weeks shows you that you can lead a fulfilling life with a bare minimum of stuff. While at home I wouldn’t have dared wear the same shirt two or three times in a week, I came to realize that this stuff largely doesn’t matter. We spend precious time, money, and headspace making sure our apartments look perfect, we have the right shoes to complement our pants, etc., but once these things considerations aren’t around to clutter your mind they lose their foothold on your consciousness. When I had to do minor chores manually that were usually done by superfluous devices back home (e.g., drying my clothes, as Law Dogger has written about from his travels), it became just a minor part of the day.
2. Are things at work okay?
If you were raised in America and consider yourself a “productive member of society,” you were likely imbued with some remnants of the Puritan work ethic. Get a job, work yourself to the bone, be as supplicating and useful to your managers as possible, and kiss ass hoping for a bigger raise at the end of the year. There is an element of shame that we all have to shed when disengaging from the corporate drone mentality, and travel can be an important catalyst in that process. If you’re working for someone else, no matter how much you like your job, it’s still just a job. As soon as you disengage from your smartphone, it’s amazing how quickly the crises of the office seem to melt into the background of your consciousness.
3. Am I in danger?
When I told people I was going to South America, I was amazed at how many people told me to “watch out” and “don’t get kidnapped”. Most Americans are scared to leave the United States, even when violent crime rates in many South American countries are lower than U.S. cities. Much like sex, the risks of travel can of course only be minimized and never entirely eliminated. But with proper precautions, I did not feel truly in danger at any point during my trip. You’re not going to have an adventure if your risk aversion prevents you from seeing the world outside your day-to-day life. Take a shot, and chances are things will be fine.
4. Am I spending too much money?
This is, admittedly, a first-world privilege for those who have disposable income to spend, but once you free yourself from the need to buy dumb trinkets, eat at the fanciest places, and sleep at 5-star hotels, the most fulfilling experiences on your travels often end up being the cheapest. I could spend less than $20 reading a book on Copacabana beach under the shade of an umbrella, eating my fill of açai, and drinking as much water and coconut juice as I pleased. You’d be amazed how little you spend taking in a city, drinking espresso at cafes, and talking to strangers. If you can, in a typical workweek, eat out at lunchtime (and sometimes dinner), go out for drinks with co-workers, pay for recreation, own a gas-guzzling car, and engage in other types of consumption, you can afford a fulfilling vacation.
It’s a cliché that travel allows us to introspect on our priorities, but its power to change our very thought processes makes it a truism worth repeating. Go on an extended voyage and record the things you think about on a day-to-day basis. You just might be surprised with what’s really important to you.
Read More: Thoughts From A Siberian Girl