On New Year’s Eve of 2016, I flew the 10,000 hours (okay, it was probably like 16) from Seattle, WA to Queenstown, NZ with just enough hiking and camping gear to fit in one pack. For the next 3 months, my boyfriend at the time and I, hitchhiked and backpacked our way from Queenstown, NZ on the South Island all the way to Auckland, NZ on the North Island. From here, we flew to Kuala Lumpur and spent another month travelling all over Malaysia. Our last stop was a wild 12-hour layover in Seoul, South Korea that included a ton of walking, a ton of noodle eating, and almost missing our flight back to Seattle. While traveling can be stressful, challenging, and expensive, it is one of the most incredible things one can do with their life – here are some lessons I learned along the way:
1. “Stuff” is a luxury (and a distraction), but not a necessity.
For those 4 months, I wore the same 4 outfits over and over and over again. I was SO sick of those clothes by the time I got back home, but it really did put into perspective how much stuff we all have that we don’t need. When I only had a few items, I took better care of those items, I had to turn my focus more inwards instead of distracting myself with new “stuff”, and I had to get creative sometimes. I’m not saying I became a full minimalist after the fact, but I do think it made me see physical possessions in a new light.
2. You never know who you’ll meet.
No doubt, you’ve heard some iteration of “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” This is very true, and I would add: “be kind, for you never know what magic can come from that kindness.” I was blessed to meet some of the most INCREDIBLE people over those 4 months, many of whom went out of their way to be hospitable and generous to 2 strangers, and many of whom I still have contact with. I could write a whole book on those people alone, but instead I will just say: you won’t click with everyone you meet while traveling, but everyone has a story to tell and wisdom to pass on; find gratitude for even the briefest of connections.
3. Be open to the new and unknown.
Because we were hitchhiking, we had to learn how to be flexible and get good at saying “yes”. I will preface by saying always be smart, safe and ALWAYS trust your gut; but if you feel safe, lean into going with the flow because it can take you amazing places. For instance, we caught a ride with 2 English guys who asked if we wouldn’t mind a detour on the way to Dunedin. We said yes and ended up traveling with them for days because we all got along so well – we are still friends today. Later in the trip, a Kiwi guy offered a ride but said he needed to take a detour as well. What was initial silent annoyance at a multi-hour travel delay led us to a sanctuary high up on a mountain with the most gorgeous view. Coincidentally, this turned out to be the same sanctuary where 2 other people who later gave us a ride had fallen in love. Surrendering to “the flow” if you will, led to some of the best memories from the journey.
4. Write your information down, and always carry thread.
In a nutshell, I left my camera in the trunk of one of our rides, and somehow, through the goodness of others, I managed to get it back. Another time, my pack (with all my belongings) was run over by a truck…luckily, I had an emergency sewing kit and was able to sew it back up. This little bit of wisdom: take the extra few minutes to write your contact information on the important stuff, plan for precautions, and try your best to keep things in perspective when they go “wrong” – again, sometimes good things or at least good stories can come from it.
Written by GUADS staff member Kate