Tonight I walked down a street in Chiang Mai I’ve been down a hundred times before. I’ve been down it a hundred times because I’ve now been based here for four years. It’s the longest time I’ve had the same “home” since high school and feels like a lifetime ago that I was working in Seattle and living at home saving money to move abroad.
Since then I’ve lived in three places in Chiang Mai, had multiple jobs, acquired one dog, only been in one motorbike accident, been to 15 countries (most while traveling solo), flown back and forth to the U.S. four times, taste tested endless plates of street food, met too many fascinating people to count, visited literally hundreds of temples throughout Southeast Asia and eaten more MSG than I care to think about. My living situation, travel style, work and priorities have all changed.
Simply put, I’ve experienced and learned more than I ever could have staying at home.
When you Google “lessons learned while traveling” you come up with a ton of posts like, “29 Life Lessons Learned in Traveling the World for 8 years”, “20 Unforgettable Lessons You Can Learn From Traveling”, “50 Lessons I’ve Learned After 5 Years of Traveling” and, my favorite, “108 Little, Yet Important, Things I’ve Learned After 1000 Days Traveling Around the World”. I could go down the same route, detailing every minor piece of advice or personal realization I’ve had over the past four years, but honestly just reading those titles makes me a little anxious and exhausted. Fifty “lessons” is a lot to take in and, when it comes down to it, I’ve really only learned or reinforced my belief in four things…especially numbers 3 and 4…
I never thought I would be in Thailand this long. I have never had a pet before and never wanted one. I never anticipated I’d be freelancing and not be in a “real” 9-5 job. I never thought I’d be comfortable not having the security of a full-time gig and benefits. I never expected some people to fall out of my life and others to stick around. I never thought I’d be in a relationship with someone so unlike myself. I never imagined being comfortable living in a place where it’s “cold” at 75 degrees. But all those things have happened. Though you might like to think you do, you really have no control over what happens in your life, where a path may lead you or how your beliefs, desires and perspectives may change.
Though I’ve never been one to accumulate things or want the latest whatever, my time living in northern Thailand and traveling around poorer parts of the world has just strengthened my position on living simply. (Though in the big scheme of things, my lifestyle and belongings are still far more complicated and expensive than most others. I’m unbelievably fortunate to have any power over my lifestyle at all.) Money-wise I make much, much less than everyone I know from home. If I had stayed working in Seattle I would certainly have more money, savings and possessions than I do now. However, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to put the money that I do earn toward experiences that mean more than things and create a simple, yet still very comfortable, lifestyle where I am free of the restraints of possessions, including the cost and responsibility that comes with them, and rich in the ability to control my own time, invest money and effort in things that I truly enjoy, and able to appreciate relationships and experiences over objects. Life is complicated and messy all on its own, don’t add to your stress by collecting stuff that you then have to work more to take care of and pay for. It’s a neverending cycle and one of the most backwards concepts I can imagine.
There are a million and one ways to do things. From how people work and make money, to how they interact with their families, to the food they eat and even how to do seemingly universal tasks like sweeping the floor or washing laundry, the same things can be done entirely differently. I’ve met people who have an apparently “typical” or “normal” life compared to the stereotypes and expectations I grew up with and then I’ve met people who are living a life, working a job, or practicing a belief I would have never, ever expected or thought of. I’ve also learned how to do new things I never would have at home, like drive a motorbike while carrying several groceries bags and a dog, or how to do things differently, here I slice the limes differently than the limes found in the U.S. – who would have thought? The more you travel and see new things, the more you realize you really don’t know or have seen much at all. The ways to live are infinite.
Aside from knowingly hurting someone, there are very few things I can think of that are truly 100% right or 100% wrong. No situations in life are black and white. There is a lot – a lot – of gray area and where I might have judged before I now bite my tongue or where I may have felt I had the correct point of view, I now realize that may not be the case. You can’t anticipate how you will react to a situation until you’re in it and can’t judge others for the decisions or actions they made for circumstances you’ve never had to deal with. A dream job won’t be perfect and a difficult time may make space for positive changes. The way you look at or handle a particular situation depends on your past perceptions, experience and acceptance that most things come with their own complications, drawbacks or tradeoffs. Nothing is completely good or completely bad.
Photo by: Kimberly Lauren Bryant // kimberlylbryant.com
Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
New places are always calling my name...
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