Last fall at Georgia Tech Lorraine, every weekend was spent traveling to somewhere new, somewhere different. Right after 6 p.m. French class on Wednesday, we grabbed our backpacks, ran down to the train station and settled in our deck beds on the overnight train. The next morning, we’d wake up to the industrial countryside of Budapest, the shimmering waters of the Italian Riveria or the snow-capped Swiss mountains. But more than physically visiting the places, it made us feel like we could go anywhere, do anything and be anyone.
When Monday finally rolled around, it felt like I left a part of myself behind. Travelers I met in beautiful little European cities would ask me where I’m from and I never knew how to answer. “I was born in Indonesia, but my family migrated to Singapore when I was five. And then I went off to college in the U.S., but now I’m studying in France.” In truth, I felt like I was a child of the world. There was never one place I belonged to singularly, but the world in all its beauty had captured my heart and soul. It was the small moments where I felt I was truly living in the now and savoring every sight, sound and taste.
And more than the sights, it was the idea of reaching a point of complete contentedness and life satisfaction. And for a while, my wanderlust desires were satisfied.
I was lucky. My parents have always taken my family on holiday to many different places. I’ve fed kangaroos in Australia, walked on the Great Wall of China, watched Titus Andronicus at the Globe Theatre, scuba-dived in the seas of Malaysia, gone island-hopping in Thailand and learned to surf in Bali. The world grows bigger and bigger when one realizes how much more there is to explore.
In a lot of ways, I think it has become a defining part of me. It was not a singular experience—I doubt I would ever drop out of Tech and work at a hostel in the south of France no matter how tempting— rather, it changed the way I looked at people. Our backgrounds and experiences make us who we are, and everyone has a story to tell if someone has the time to listen. By default, fellow travellers have caught the same travel bug as and share that love and thrill of exploring. Talk to them, ask them about their lives. Things amusing to us might be something very ordinary to them.
I feel that in our everyday lives, we get so busy and so caught up with ourselves that we lose the art of connecting to others, of sharing ourselves with others. Everyone has something different to offer, like new insights into the ways one can look at life or a nuggets of wisdom.
Traveling makes you feel like you’re part of something more than the bubble you grew up in. When you travel, you become more mindful and receptive of the people and custom. Unhindered by familiarity and comfort, you’re ready to be transformed by your experiences. And remember, the time you spend in that country doesn’t go away when you leave so make the most out of it.
Always be open to new things, accept that you’re a novice in this new place and revel in the awkwardness of not knowing what the cultural norm is. Go without any expectations and always be ready to try something new and something different, and push yourself. I promise you won’t regret it. The best experiences I’ve had were those that were completely unexpected and I loved every minute of them.
The most amazing thing is that the more you experience and connect with other people, the more you realize that beneath of the fanciness of it, we’re all the same, in essence. Everyone has their fears, their insecurities, their hopes and dreams, the desire to become something in this world. When we’re gone, what define us are the memories we leave behind in others and there is no greater thing than having touched someone else’s life. The more we see, do and feel, the more we can lovingly appreciate the simply joys in life we take for granted in this day and age: companionship, love and home.
I’ll end this with a quote by Mark Twain that I love: “Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than by the ones you do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”