Travel and Happiness

Hey everyone, It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post, but yesterday on the motorcycle ride from Meo Vac to Ha Giang, I found myself thinking about everyone back home, and reminiscing about the good times I’ve had with many of you, and I felt compelled to share some of my thoughts, and to keep you guys posted on how the trip is coming along. The nice thing about these long bike rides through Vietnam is that they do give you a lot of time to think, and more often than not I catch myself thinking back on my life, and all the people I have known, the places I’ve been, and the things I have done throughout high school, college, and all the way up to the present. We all do this sort of reflecting at some point or another, and it’s an activity that I think most would agree makes us happy, but in a muted sort of way, in that those happy moments, and many of those people who we were so close with only exist to us now in the past. Thankfully, in this day and age we are all so connected that it’s easy to reach out to someone who you might have lost contact with, and I think travelling has taught me the imporance of doing this. Although travelling for the past two months has brought me overwhelming happiness, There have still been a few times when I have felt out of my element abroad, but a message from someone who I haven’t talked to in a while, or even from someone who I may have never talked to always grounds me and makes me appreciate all the people who have been in my life. This is not to take away from the people I talk to on a daily basis, I just think there is something special when you get a message from someone who you had no idea even thought of you, you know?

We all feel out of our elements at times, and might even feel like we don’t have anyone out there, but there is always someone out there. There is always someone thinking about you who is on your side, so I would encourage you guys to reach out to someone who you have thought about lately but haven’t talked to in a while, who might be feeling out of their element, and see what they are up to, or if they want to hang out. You never know how much such a simple gesture could mean.

Well, I got a little carried away there, what was this post supposed to be about again? Travel and Happiness… Ok, ok.

One of the main reasons we travel, one of the main reasons we live for that matter, is to find happiness. We tend to seek out happiness above all else in life, whether that is through work, or travel, or relationships. Often, when searching so hard for happiness however, we don’t find exactly what we are looking for, and this leads us instead to finding unhappiness.

So how do we find happiness? And is travelling the answer? I can’t tell you the secret to eternal happiness (rest assured if I knew that I would tell you) but I think I am beginning to put together an idea of how travelling can play a part.

To state things very over simplisticly, I think unhappiness can be caused by 3 factors:

  1. Dissatisfaction with one’s situation
  2. Dissatisfaction with oneself
  3. When reality falls short and doesn’t match the expectations you have set (as a result of unattainable expectations?)

It has been said by many people that travelling or moving to avoid unhappiness is impossible, because no matter where you go, you can’t get away from yourself. I think that standing alone this argument is true. If you are unhappy, and expect that by taking a trip to Bali all your troubles will disappear instantly, you will most likely be disappointed. However, I do believe that taking a long trip can put the wheels in motion, especially if you are discontent with your current situation, in which case you are satisfying the conditions of bullet point #1 by travelling, and therefore changing a large component of your overall situation. For a trip to do more than just set the wheels of change in motion, first you have to be honest, and ask yourself if you are dissatisfied with who you are, and if you are, you must be willing to change.

This is where travel can be such a potent medicine, in that it affords us a clean slate in a sense. Here you are having been disappointed with your previous life, and now you are in a completely new place, surrounded by new people, and hopefully you will also be gifted with a wealth of time and freedom. Depending on your situation back home, you might also be freed from all sorts of responsibilities which stressed you out, and kept you busy to the point where your happiness and well being wasn’t even an afterthought. Now while travelling, you can relax and think about your well being, and even direct your energy and focus on becoming the person you want to be if you were dissatisfied with your previous self.

Many of us might even realize all of this this, but will still hesitate to make a move, telling ourselves that travel, no matter how long, will only be a temporary escape from reality. Is this true? Maybe it is true, but only in the sense that the vast majority of us who travel will go back to our home country once we are done. The people we have become, the things we have done, the friends we have made, the happiness and meaning we have found for ourselves while travelling, this will remain.

That being said, it does take “work”. To take a personal example, I can be pretty introverted at times, but I have been trying to make more of an effort to connect with other travellers and the locals over here when I can. In doing so, I have found that it is much more rewarding when I make the decision to go socialize, even when I might be more inclined to do what is easier, which is going somewhere quiet after a long day and sitting on my phone (which I still do very often!). What I am trying to say is that in my experience, to find meaning and happiness in travel (or even everyday life) it is helpful to step out of your comfort zone, and to place yourself in unfamiliar situations, in order to grow and learn new things about your character. You may also find that stepping out of your comfort zone builds your confidence, as it often proves to yourself that you are capable of much more than you thought. However you will only realize what you are truly capable of if you consciously take that step out of your comfort zone, and travelling provides a means to do just that.

On the other hand, I have also found it helpful to literally do nothing. Ok, let me clarify that: to take time out to be by yourself to relax, and to reflect on life and travelling. When I was back home working, I almost always felt the need to be doing something; working, studying, going to the gym, etc. Although this nagging feeling of constantly needing to do something can be positive in that it provides self motivation, it can also make you feel guilty when you are not doing anything, which I don’t think is right. While being abroad, I have found that these times where I do nothing, and take a few quiet minutes to think and reflect have been essential to my well-being, and always left me feeling refreshed and happy. So when you are done reading this (if you made it this far, and if you have thank you for sticking with me), take a couple minutes to close your eyes and relax, and you will most likely feel happy and refreshed after.

There is one other thing to try and keep in mind when travelling, and that is your expectations. Regarding happiness in general, part of the reason why we often don’t find it, or don’t find whatever it is we are looking for is because we are expecting to find something perfect, and expectations like that will always be met with disappointment. When it comes to travel I think the same is true. If you think every place you are going to visit will be the greatest place ever, you will probably be underwhelmed constantly. Similarly, if you think that by taking a trip across the world you will find the meaning of life, well, that is not necessarily going to happen, and with weighty expectations like that you will always be waiting for that meaning to fall into your lap, and by the time you realize that isn’t going to happen, it will be too late. My advice for expectations is to be optimistic about the future, but remember things happen that you have no control over that will misalign your expectations with reality, that’s life! Don’t worry about the things you can’t control. It is impossible to control everything (as you learn fast in SE Asia), so learning to adapt positively and calmly to a changing situation is key. Keeping this in mind has made accepting the uncertainty that comes along with backpacking much easier, and it’s just another lesson I’ve learned over here which I will apply to my life when I get back home.

One final note I would like to add about happiness is the importance of being grateful. We all take things in our life for granted at times, and reminding ourselves to be grateful for the people we have around us, and for the things we have is something that not only makes us happier, but makes us more thoughtful too. With that I’d like to give a shout out to the two people to whom I owe the most, my Mom and Dad, the two best parents I could ask for. Also, a shout out is in order for the two awesome guys I’m with, AJ and Alex. Thank you for putting up with me! Haha and finally, I would like to say thank you to everyone reading this. knowing there are people who take the time out of their busy day to take an interest in my life makes me feel extremely grateful.

As always, thank you stopping by everyone. I would love it if you left me a comment or message on any platform giving me feedback or telling me what you think about travel and happiness, or about anything!

Until next time,