What is important to me in life? Where do I want life to take me? How do I make sustainable decisions? All these questions were buzzing around in my head after I graduated from high school. Lost as I felt, I decided to rely on what I had always enjoyed: Traveling. How it can help to find a direction in life – a personal view.
My headmaster calls me, I get up, walk past my classmates and take my high school diploma. 12 years of school are over. 12 years languages, calculating equations and reading innumerable books. But how much did we really learn, I ask myself as I go back to my place. We now know the midnight formula by heart or can explain exactly how photosynthesis works, but we still don’t know how taxes or contracts work.
School did not teach us that much about life. School does not show us how to find our purpose. After I graduated from high school, I felt lost in the world of unlimited possibilities. In all the confusion, traveling seemed to be the right thing to rely on. I wanted to learn what I had missed at school. I wanted to learn how life works. So in August 2019 I packed my backpack for the first time and started travelling. Now, one year later, I have gained some experiences and above all personal insights that I would like to share:
You don’t need much to be happy
I travelled with my backpack through half of Europe, slept without tent and mattress on the dune and waited 50 minutes every evening until the camping cooker finally cooked my noodles soft. And you know what? It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I felt much lighter when I had very little stuff for weeks. Now I live a much more minimalistic lifestyle, I feel crushed in department stores by the immense abundance of consumption, I no longer worry about getting the new pants before they are sold out.
Everything materialistic that we possess can be gone overnight. At the end of our lives, we do not remember how great it was to drive our Porsche, or how many different jackets we owned, but we remember those special moments spent with good friends and good music. We remember the moments when we felt free and alive, when we laughed until our stomachs hurt and our hearts felt light.
Traveling teaches you to enjoy the present moment
Everyone who has travelled at least once in his life knows the feeling of being brought completely into the present moment by travelling. For example, when you watch the sun setting, when you see the whole sky and the sea turn reddish-orange, you don’t think about what was yesterday or what will be tomorrow. You are just there. You are yourself a part of the setting sun, the sky, the sea, you are part of everything.
In Zen practice, this state of complete presence is often described as a state of “no-mind”. So a state that goes much deeper than the mind level. Travelling has often, in fact almost always put me in this state and I have taken something with me for my whole life: We have nothing but the present moment. The first time I really understood this was during my time in Iceland and it was a very memorable moment when I saw the northern lights for the first time with friends.
I wrote in my diary: Never before I have felt the present moment as I did tonight. The streets are still wet as we drive out of Akureyri and leave the lights of the city behind us. When I press my forehead against the car window to see as much of the sky as possible, I observe a slightly green, elongated cloud. At first it is very pale, then it starts to become stronger and stronger until it finally glows with all its power. As fast as I can, I roll down my window, stretch my arms out into the winter cold.
But I’m not cold. On the contrary, my heart almost seems to explode with so much happiness. We scream all our joy, all our gratitude out into the night. To the stars, to the northern lights. We stop, hug, dance, laugh, rejoice. We lie down next to each other on a blanket and look at the sky. I’m speechless. I’ve never seen something as beautiful as that. Green, purple, red lights dancing in the sky. They revolve around themselves, around the others, around the stars. I just lie there knowing that I am supposed to be right here, right now.
Nature is a precious gift
When I once went on a hike with friends in France, we walked on a cliff, surrounded by the deep blue, seemingly endless sea. We saw green wide meadows, with colourful flowers that stretched their heads to the sky. The branches of the tree behind us cast shadows on the ground and danced in the wind. I looked out at the wide sea, felt all its depth, all its secrets. I watched the waves and felt as free as the birds playing with the wind above us.
Once again I felt so much appreciation, so much gratitude for the nature that always surrounds us. I realized how important it is to deal with this nature in a sustainable and conscious way. Even more than before, I learned this year to see nature as a gift. And only when you see something as a gift, you treat it with kindness. During this year I developed a much more conscious and sustainable lifestyle.
The world belongs to the curious
Some people live their whole lives with a fixed mindset. This means that they are not really interested in shifting their perspective, they prefer to stay in their safe shelter, shy away from challenges and even fear change. They plan their whole life through and thus take away the space for the spontaneous miracles that life holds for each one of us. Traveling, on the other hand, helps you develop a growth mindset. What I mean by this is that traveling sometimes presents us with a lot of challenges.
Especially when we are traveling alone, we constantly have to leave our comfort zone, have to get used to a new environment, find our way in places where we have never been before and sometimes we don’t even speak the language spoken there. These are all challenges that are incredibly helping us to develop our personality and expand our minds. People who have a growth mindset always strive for new learning opportunities, embrace challenges and start to see failure as a chance. At the same time they do not take life so hard anymore and become more courageous in realizing their dreams.
Now, one year after I graduated from high school I still don’t know where I want life to take me. But I’ve learned that I don’t need to know that now. The most important thing that traveling has helped me to understand, is that sometimes it is easier to just let life go. Be brave, be curious and have a bit faith in the universe.