Hello dear readers,
it’s been quite a while since I published my last post. 4 months already. Time flies so fast…
I know some of you were longing so much for this last article. I am sure some of you might even have felt betrayed and thought: “That’s it, he already moved on to the next chapter and will never write the last post he promised…”
Guys, sorry for that! But don’t forget, nothing in life is free and the price for this post was a little bit of patience 🙂
During this trip, starting a new post has always been the most difficult task of my blogger’s life. Mmmh, or maybe fighting with the WordPress platform to store photos 🙂
There is so much to say and you readers have so much different expectations. I can’t really make up my mind about what I want to share with you. So I decided to start by answering first the most common questions I was asked when I came back and then see where inspiration takes me 🙂
1) What was your favorite country and why?
This is actually such a difficult question… I visited in total 25 countries. Every country is different and I actually enjoyed all of them for different reasons. However if I had to chose the countries I remember the most, I would say this:
The best surprise I had during this trip was Colombia. This country was not in my initial list, because I had a lot of prejudice about it, principally about my safety there, and I added it to my route only after having met 3 crazy people on a diving boat in Thailand.
I loved this country first because of the beautiful landscape but also because of the friendliness of the people there. It might sound strange, but I really had the feeling that people there were nice to me because they were nice and not because they saw me as a customer for the tourist industry or because of any honor code.
Other countries where I also enjoyed nature and people are New Zealand…
…and South Africa.
Places I also loved for the beautiful nature on land, mmh, Patagonia…
…and the national parks in South West USA.
and my favorite spots under water, Raja Ampat in Indonesia…
…and the Galapagos islands.
The most interesting country in terms of culture was Japan. It was so different from everything I’ve seen so far and it took me some time to go beyond the culture shock and fully enjoy the experience.
Finally, for me at a personal level, I enjoyed Laos a lot as I got to meet my family for the first time in my life and I learned a lot about my roots and the history of my family.
2) How does it feel to end such an adventure?
This is another difficult question 🙂 Actually I didn’t realize that the adventure was over until I boarded the plane in Nairobi to come back to Europe. I did prepare the end of my trip by reading other travelers experience and how they coped with the shock of the return flight and even if I was expecting a hard time, it still was an intense moment. The first 2 weeks were a real emotional roller coaster and I was happy to spend Christmas and New Year in my family and with friends to make me feel better. I was torn between the sadness to see this amazing adventure end and the excitement to start a new chapter. It took me quite some time to stabilize emotionally.
Some people compare the negative emotional state of mind at the end of a time spent abroad to a mourning. I don’t know if it is that strong for everybody but I can confirm that it requires some energy to accept that something is over and to focus on the present and the next chapter.
3) Do you regret having done it?
This question is an easy one. No I don’t regret anything. My life was not fulfilling and all the conditions were here to initiate a change. So I did it. It was a round the world trip but it could have been anything else.
I think the most important thing was not the travel itself but the decision to make the first step to bring back balance in my life. By bringing back balance, I mean for example bringing back balance between working hard to earn money and experience and enjoying the fruits of it or bringing back balance between emotionality and rationality, which could translate into stop fearing everything with no reason and start managing risks.
This brings me to the most difficult but from my point of view the most interesting question I was asked when I came back.
Indeed it would be sad that the only thing I came back with from my trip is some travel recommendation and nothing deeper. There are already many travel blogs or travel agents that can do that better than me.
4) What did you learn during your trip?
To be honest, there are so many things and stories I could tell that I could write a book. Some of you already suggested that to me 🙂 Actually it’s quite tempting but it’s not yet at the top of my priorities list.
However, I selected 5 “philosophy/psychology” topics where I think I evolved a lot thanks to the people I met and thanks to the experience I gained during the trip.
Here are my thoughts. I don’t pretend at all that they represent the absolute truth but they represent the actual base of my reflection.
A) Nothing is permanent
Nothing is permanent, things are only temporary and some of them are also cyclic.
This abstract concept can be applied to nearly everything. Obviously life and death. Or if you take a look at history, you will see some powerful empires rising and then disappearing all around the world to make place for others. The most striking examples for me during the trip was Cambodia. The Khmer empire was once very powerful and had a great influence in South East Asia but Cambodia is today one of the poorest country in the world. If you take a look at the world through an economic eye, you will also see an alternation of time of crisis and time of prosperity. The weather is also following the season cycle and sun and rain are following each other.
On a more personal level, the big learning for me was to be aware of the up and down cycle in life and so to enjoy life when everything is fine and keep the head up when everything seems against you.
B) Everything is linked
This point is pretty intangible and I will try to explain it in 2 particular contexts: environment and society.
In the environment context, the best example is waste management. Most people are not aware of the impact on nature or the pollution linked to their lifestyle. You just go to shops to buy stuff and you don’t care about the resources that were needed to produce what you’re buying and you don’t care about what happens after you put things to the waste. In developed countries it’s very difficult to realize how the big picture looks like as the production usually takes place elsewhere and when you put things to the waste, there’s a waste management company that makes it “disappear”. However in developing countries, the reality is different. For example, a lot of people consider Bali in Indonesia as a good place to go scuba diving. I agree with that but I also remember swimming up at the end of some dives between loads of empty plastic bottles. The waste management system there is very bad and people just throw things away over their shoulders thinking that they will just disappear and it’s not their problem anymore. However, impacting the environment, positively or negatively has a direct impact on the quality of your life. Nothing is perfect, it’s difficult to live without any negative impact on the environment at all but my learning here is that at least when we see improvement opportunities, we should lessen our impact for example but reducing our amount of waste.
In the society context, my opinion is that you can’t ignore that the world is now global. There are flows of money, idea, people all around the world at any time. Everyone or everything has a role in a global process whether you want it or not. Finding your place and integrating in the global world is not easy. However, you can’t just close borders, be it at personal or nation level, and believe that it will spare you problems as doing that will have an impact on the outside world that will impact you back in a way or another afterwards. During my trip, I often read the quote “Think global, act local” on the walls of the hostels where I stayed and I really like it. My interpretation of it is that you should always do things at your level for the greater good of the global world because if the global world is doing good, it will have a positive impact on you. The opposite, “Think locally, act globally” would mean that you try to shape the global world to have a positive effect on you locally. The problem is that everything is linked so if your global action induces a negative impact somewhere, it will have a negative impact back on you in one way or another.
C) Fixed vs Growth mindset
The idea of Fixed versus Growth mindset or the psychology of success can be linked to Stanford professor Carol Dweck. The concept is quite easy to understand.
On the one hand, people with the fixed mindset think that abilities and intelligence are fixed parameters. People are born with a defined level of abilities or intelligence in defined fields and you get a label “good” or “bad” in those fields for life. People with this mindset will try to avoid fields where they are labeled “bad” or any situation where they could be seen as “bad”. A side-effect of this is that they don’t like to explore or try new things. Failure is seen as very negative and is equivalent to getting a “bad” tag. For example, people with the fixed mindset will say “I can’t learn to play the guitar because I’m bad in music”.
On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that abilities and intelligence are dynamic. They have a certain level at a certain time but this can be improved for example with learning or training, or get worse if not trained enough. Failure is not seen as something negative but as an opportunity to learn and grow. It is a feedback of the present state.
I came across this concept during my stay in South East Asia after I asked myself after a couple of beers the question “Why are poor countries poor?”. I still didn’t find the perfect answer but I had 2 ideas in my head that i knew were linked together but I didn’t know how.
First I had the feeling that poor countries had the same level of development as my home country France for example 20 or 30 years ago. Second, I discussed this topic with one fellow traveler in Indonesia in the speedboat to the Gili islands and the guy’s answer was “They are poor because they are stupid”. This answer was not only rude and stupid but I also couldn’t understand how the guy could come to this idea. And then, my Flipboard app recommended me this article and everything became clear:
Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives
Well ok, it doesn’t answer my initial question but by adopting the growth mindset, I understand now that poor countries are developing and won’t stay poor forever and my fellow traveler had a typical fixed mindset and for me him people are poor because they are stupid, this is in the DNA and this can’t be changed.
D) Soul-searching travel
One of my main goal during this travel was to learn a bit more about myself and to study a bit the human mind. Indeed, I think it is important to know who we are but it is also interesting to know where we come from and understand why we are who we are.
Visiting my family in Laos was an unforgettable experience. It not only allowed me to experience a complete cultural immersion and see the Lao culture through the eyes of a local and not through the eyes of a tourist, but it also gave me some keys to understand my parents’ past. Growing up in a develop country, where basic needs are easily fulfilled gives a false sense that everything is due. Learning my family’s past made me realize how lucky I was to have been given the chance to grow up in a stimulating environment and to have been offered high level education. If my parents didn’t choose to leave their home country, I surely wouldn’t have had the chance to choose the life path I followed that led me among other things to make this trip. I feel now really grateful for that.
Another thing that kept me busy during this trip was to try to understand what really defines someone. When you start interacting with people from different countries, when you travel or for your work, you see that people tend to define others by their nationality, like this guy is French so he must think this way and behave that way or this girl is American so she must think this way and behave that way. However, coming from a family of Asian immigrants, and even if I was born and grew up in France, I never felt 100% French, especially after having lived 10 years in Germany and when I was in Laos, I didn’t feel Lao either. Before my trip, being European was maybe the thing that would have best described me. So what am I? 🙂
I got a nice answer to this question during an intercultural training when I was working in Switzerland a few years ago. After a test where I had to describe how I would react to different situation, the consultant told me that I was neither French, nor German, nor Lao nor anything. The only thing I was 100% was me, which is a bit of every culture I had been in contact with. This was an important learning for me as I realized that nationality doesn’t define a whole individual but only gives a tendency of behavior. This theory was illustrated many times during my trip. I met many people from different countries and sometimes people from the same country were so different.
What also changed during this trip is my idea of the prerequisites so that 2 people get along with each other. We often label people according to their age, Generation X vs Generation Y vs Generation Z, etc… and I always thought that it would be easier for me to become friend with someone with the same age or the same social background or with the same job. However I met people with more or less the same age and the same background that I couldn’t stand anymore after only 10 min. Ahah yes, I already hear some of you saying that anyway there are only weird people in the IT world. This is not totally wrong 🙂 On the other hand, I got along very well and stayed in touch with people from totally different horizons and far younger or far older than me. It’s like there are some aspects of your personality that makes you more compatible with certain people than others and those aspects are totally independent from variables like age, gender, country or social background.
E) Emotion vs Rationality
Finally, one last thing where I improved during my trip is the way how I see or assess things.
In my mind, there are 2 channels through which we see things. The emotional channel or how we feel things and the rational channel or how things are really are or more precisely how we think they really are. The main difficulty is to find the right balance inside those 2 channels and between those 2 channels.
If you rely only on the emotional channel, you might not see what things really are because you perceive them as too good or too bad. Marketing people are playing very well with that. If you rely exclusively on the rational channel, you might make a wrong judgment of a situation because you don’t have enough information or knowledge to assess it correctly and… life would be boring :). So by combining both channels, you take advantage of the best analysis you can make with the information and knowledge you have and add your gut feelings to manage risks. This is the method I used when I decided to start my trip. On the one hand, I was scared to leave my situation, go on a trip and not know what I would do after. On the other hand, a rational analysis showed me that the risks were very low. I was financially safe, with my profile I wouldn’t have difficulties to find a new job. Moreover I wasn’t happy with my previous job so the new job could be -worst case- as unsatisfying as the previous or -best case- much more interesting.
I say that I improved because I think that at the beginning of my trip my emotional side was dominating my rational side way too much. This is very bad when you travel because you get in contact with different cultures with different behaviors or values and you can misjudge situations if you don’t take time to analyze them rationally. I remember my first days in Japan. I felt very weird because everything was so different. There were things I couldn’t understand because of the culture shock and language barrier. I didn’t like my environment until I started reading in internet forums why people loved Japan. With some cultural explanations I could put words on feelings and at the end Japan became one of my favorite country.
If you start applying this to religion, I promise you long sleepless nights 🙂
Well well, I am now almost done with this last post 🙂 Such a strange feeling 🙂 I hope I wasn’t too boring with my philosophical stuff 🙂 One last thing before I close this adventure with some thanks: I noted all my expenses during the trip and sorted them in different categories (food, accommodation, transport, etc…) and per country.
If anybody needs some financial inputs to prepare his or her own trip, I will be happy to share this data with you. Just contact me on the blog email firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, to finish, I would like to thank first my family for the moral and logistic support during and after this adventure. Thanks to the people and who helped me plan and prepare everything. Thanks to all the fellow travelers, fellow bloggers, locals, plants and animals I met during those 13,5 months, and finally thanks to all of my readers for your support and comments. That really helped me find the motivation to keep writing.
I hope you all enjoyed reading my blog. I wish you all a good rest of your life and I hope to get the opportunity to write a travel blog again very soon 🙂