To travel the world for a year seems like a dream and an impossible one at that, that is until you actually do it. Yes, you need to have some savings. Yes, you need to consider location, location, location. And yes, you need to inform your dearest ones of this crazy decision of yours.
To cut a long story short, I did it. I have been on the road for a year since I left Singapore. I am writing this from a little corner of Rwanda, Africa.
All that aside, here are eight of the most important things I’ve learnt so far in the past year.
1. Time passes so slowly, and then so quickly
Once I reached my first destination, the pre-trip jitters slowly settled and the realisation that I am actually on a year-long trip set in. Along with the fact that I’m alone and disconnected with all this adventure ahead of me, it’s almost overwhelming.
The first two weeks of travel felt painfully long. Perhaps it was the sleepless nights fighting jet lag. Or the awkwardness of making my first friend. There were moments where I checked the calendar and realised only a few days had passed since I left home. Simultaneously I was wondering how I would last a year abroad if three days feels like three months.
That feeling would soon pass. I grew quickly into my travelling skin and before I knew it, weeks and months flew by. One fine day, I rolled in my hotel bed and wondered how it has already been six months into my trip.
2. You will become an expert in saying goodbye
Making friends with complete strangers might scare the daylights out of you, but it will become second nature with daily practice when you are on the road. But with making friends also comes parting ways and saying countless goodbyes. With the connectivity we have nowadays, staying in touch is easier but the in-person goodbyes never cease to be easy.
3. Food will make you think of home more often than people
Coming from Singapore, food is a big part of home. Sorry, my friends and family, but you take second place after my favourite Hokkien prawn mee. The worst thing about hailing from a place with amazing food is that you cannot find a decent replacement or substitute for good Singaporean food anywhere else in the world. Trying to cook it yourself will just bring about more misery when you are unable to find sesame oil or Asian spices in the supermarket. Looking at an old photo of food in your phone will have to suffice and satisfy the food craving for now. (I’m convincing myself this is why I took countless photos of my food.)
4. You will learn that less is indeed more
You don’t need that exfoliator, that extra grey T-shirt or that extra pair of shoes, or even that second towel! The things that seem so important to me back at home all seem so unnecessary now. When I realised I keep reaching for the same two shirts and ratty pair of jeans, I begin to wonder why I had lugged around all the other clothes. Oh, and the day you realise your hair doesn’t actually require conditioning is definitely one to toast to your new minimalist travel life!
5. Be prepared to be a proud ambassador of your country
I am by no means the most patriotic Singaporean. However, when a complete stranger thinks my country is in China, I get all sorts of irate. If I had a dollar for every time I corrected a stranger, I would be rolling in dough now. As I seek to educate the ignoramuses on our country’s 50-year history and our people’s fluency in the English language, I feel weirdly patriotic.
6. Embracing loneliness will be a part of your new skill set
“What if I feel lonely?”
Embracing loneliness is I would consider a life skill. Living in the moment without the need for constant validation or perpetual connectivity is definitely one of my greatest takeaways.
Granted, you will definitely feel lonely at some point while travelling alone. But that’s okay. Learning to deal with loneliness and even embracing it has allowed me to grow tremendously as a person. The world is such a noisy place. Sometimes, all we need is a little quiet and perspective for all our problems to trivialise.
7. You might extend your trip beyond a year
I only know this because I am speaking from experience. I vividly remembering waking up one morning and realising it has indeed been 10 months into my year abroad. I have grown accustomed to this life, living out of my beloved backpack and meeting like-minded travellers. There is so much of the world to see! My bucket list has grown longer and is still growing, despite the places I have checked off.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you, but leave off booking that ticket home till the ninth or tenth month. You’re welcome.
8. A part of your heart will be lost to the world
You may return home after a year, but a part of your heart will always be left in out in the world.
It might be a place you fell in love with, a person, or a particular moment of epiphany that will always stay with you. And that part of you will always be somewhere out there.