7 Things Travel Taught Me

7 Things Travel Taught Me

There are many lessons that only travelling can teach you. See if you can relate to Aziera's realisations after her backpacking and budget travel experiences.


Like any other trips I’ve been on, each journey brings about its own life-changing lessons. Ticking countries, cities, and UNESCO sites off my list is only half of what that is essential. The other half is the experiences I gain out of it. Each day I wake up in a different country, it makes me feel like I am a better person than the day before. Heaven on earth is a choice you must make, not a place you must find.

I am so glad to have done this trip albeit its unique set of challenges. Given a choice, I would do this all over again — maybe alone — and see what other kind of challenges it’ll bring me. Having said that, I would definitely like to thank my friend for agreeing to join me on this, not knowing exactly what I had in store for her. The only thing I told her was to trust me on this. She did, and the rest is history.

I bullied her a lot (sorry!) and I think I’ve really pushed her to her limits but we both learnt something out of this. Because honestly, like Amelia Earhart once said, “Who wants a life imprisoned in safety?”

1. You grow up

Freedom is exciting but it is also a responsibility. At first it feels like you can take on anything that comes your way — you’re indestructible. Then reality sets in. You’re in a foreign country with people who can barely speak English, no contacts, nobody you can trust and you have to constantly look out for yourself.

Because I am a girl, people always think I’m vulnerable or can be easily taken advantage of. People care enough about my well-being and happiness to voice their concerns as to understand why I want to see the world (shouldn’t I be married or settled down with kids by now?) or go jungle trekking alone in a forest I’m barely familiar of.

Also read: Travel Preferences That Show You’ve Become an Adult

The important quality of being a grown-up is to have a balance between your head and your heart. You don’t follow others blindly or simply because someone else is doing it, you feel the need to do it. You need to be aware of your own capacity and be mindful of everything . For me, I always trust my instincts.

Growing up means cherishing the quiet moments as much as the thrills. I learnt to have the confidence and the capacity for self-assertion, the ability to laugh and to laugh at myself, to take risks and do things that might be hard or embarrassing, to be independent, to not follow the crowd or require someone to make decisions for me.

2. You no longer speak one particular language

And after a while you lose grasp on speaking proper English or in complete sentences. So I managed to hook up with some local words. When I was in Myanmar, everyone greeted me with “Min ga lar ba” and thanked me with “Kyeizu tin ba de”. Eventually, I got so used to saying it because I was using it on every one I see as well. Then when we got to Laos, everyone was greeting me with “Sabaidee” and thanking me with “Khawp jai”. Then there were times when I wanted to greet the Laotian in Burmese and remembered I was in Laos.

Also read: Asia’s Best Kept Secret You Need to Visit: Laos

I met this British guy in Phonsavan who was heading to Cambodia and we both agreed that after a while, your English starts to become ‘localised’. You cannot speak in complete sentences because chances are you are going to confuse the local even more. So I got by with saying very little and straight to the point, without compromising my smiles and hand signals, that the conversation became even more enjoyable and laughable.

Also read: 5 Reasons Why Cambodia Should Be On Your Bucket List

When we got to Bangkok, Thailand, people started greeting us in aggressive “Hello”s. “Hello! Hello! Where are you going!?” “Hello! Where are you from!?” I started missing the “Sabaidee”s and “Min ga lar ba”s instantly. People say that Thailand is the land of smiles, but I beg to differ. It has gotten so commercialized with tourism that sometimes, people forget to even smile. It is starting to lose its charm, but that doesn’t mean they are not friendly.

Also read: 8 Reactions When Visiting Bangkok For The First Time

We were in the cab with this really talkative driver once. His English was barely understandable, but he was still determined to get a conversation out of us. An orange truck pulled up next to us, and he started saying, “Thai Sohm! Thai Sohm! (pointing to the truck) English?” My friend just nodded in agreement, but he continued repeating the sentences a few times more. I was totally puzzled. I stared out the window onto the insane traffic jam and realised we were going to be stuck with him for a while. Then it hit me — he was asking what oranges are called in English. So I finally responded to his query, and he laughed looking extremely contented with my answer.

As we got caught in traffic a few more times on the way to our hotel, he continued his mini tour and kept telling us what this and that buildings were. He seemed to be having a good time, and we just entertained him. We told him to stop us at Swensens, and his immediate respond was, “English Swensens! Thai Swenn-sen!” We all started laughing. A guy like that is a gem in your travels.

Afterwards, I found out that “Sabaidee” in Thai means “I am well” used in response to “Sabai dee mai” (How are you). I did say “Sabaidee” out loud a few times but nobody responded.

3. Never underestimate the power of the human will to survive

Backpacking means I have to survive on limited budget. Although my stay at Bagan Thiripyitsaya was not cheap, it was the only splurge I couldn’t resist on. I learned how to prioritise and live on a budget, sometimes in the most painful and excruciating way. I have learned to be poor but rich in culture and experiences.

Also read: How Backpacking Will Change Your Life

I say the most painful and excruciating way because sometimes it means surviving on $4-$5 a day when you are low in finances. I went from spending USD20 (approx. SGD26) on a meal in Myanmar to budgeting myself to spend LAK30,000 (approx. SGD4.8) in Laos and THB50 (approx. SGD2) on a meal in Thailand because cash was running low fast. And when you have that limited budget left, food doesn’t always taste so good. It means street food (with rats scurrying by) or snacks that don’t fill your stomach. You see people dining in restaurants and wish you have that unlimited cash to spend for the month.

Then you see that little something that is too pretty not to buy, but you have to resist it, or a tour you cannot go on, or an impromptu destination you wish you can go to because it is so close but yet so far, all that adds up to the pain. You have to resort to taking the cheapest mode of transport available, or walking, even if it means spending hours on it and risk getting lost.

Of course there is always the temptation of withdrawing cash from the ATM machines and swiping that credit card of yours, but from my experiences, nothing good ever come out of it. You only have to come home facing bills to pay instead of reminiscing on the crazy things you did to survive.

I’m not saying I starved myself the entire time, but there were good times and there were hardships. The hardest being in the bus from Phonsavan to Vientiane. I was extremely hungry but was extremely low in cash so I had to starve myself until my friend took pity on me and bought us snacks, which still made me hungry afterwards. That might sound pathetic but know that it is all a norm when backpacking. That taught me many things about living below the line.

4. Doing manual laundry is a pain

Because I was controlling my finances, I had to minimise sending my dirty clothes for laundry services. I have only got it done twice — one in Laos and one in Thailand. It was ridiculously expensive in Myanmar. The hotels there charge it per clothing based on type and size. I wish they have laundromats in Southeast Asia because all the other times, I had to do it manually.

You’ll have a new-found sympathy for the ladies washing their clothes by the river (especially knowing that after all those hard work it will somehow still stink because it’s the same river they poo, pee and discard their trash in anyway.) The height of the sinks in Southeast Asia is definitely not catered to Asians like me. Even at home I keep telling my mom that the sink is too low. To adjust myself, I had to bend forward and it was not comfortable at all. I got back pains, sore arms, sore fingers and my skin started shrivelling.

I remember doing my laundry while my friend was just starting to watch a movie on Star Movies and by the time the movie ended, I was still busy in the toilet with my laundry. So if you want to torture tall people, get them to do laundry in tiny Asian sinks.

Also read: 11 Reasons Why I Never Want To Stop Backpacking

5. Make friends, do crazy things and laugh about it later

Time is measured in tiny little moments. You have to seize that tiny little moments and make it count. I have met many strange, funny, cocky, annoying and charming individuals, not only on this trip but throughout my travels. I have made many friends as well, although not all of them goes into my Facebook account, they are kept dearly in my heart and in my fond memories of them.

I might not remember their names, but I remember their smiles, their hospitality and the adventure they gave me. Some helped me in times of need, some just provided me with the conversation I was yearning for, while some accompanied me on my daring (sometimes stupid) exploits.

I was exploring Bagan on my own one late afternoon, and it was the best feeling in the world. I was on my e-bike riding like the wind — even though the other motorists on the road were honking like mad at me — when I came upon an isolated temple. I decided to drop by. There were a few locals so I befriended them, and in returned, they show me with a beautiful sunset over the Irrawaddy River. The best thing was there were no other tourists around but me.

Also read: Baring My Soles in Bagan, Myanmar

They could have robbed me, killed me even (because I’m Muslim) but that didn’t happen. In that quiet, precious moment, I was there — on top of an ancient temple — with three other locals, and we were all admiring the beauty of the sun in silence as equals. I could hear the cowbells ringing from the livestock below, I could hear the birds chirping, I thought I even heard the sun fizzing out in the Irrawaddy River, but the most beautiful sound of all was to hear the sound of my breathing. That was when I knew I was living instead of just existing.

So make friends. Not just with other travellers because the best friends you’ll gain out of your travels are with the locals, trust me.

6. You start missing home

A lot of people I know get out of the country because they despise home. They’ll jump at every opportunity that will take them anywhere but here (heck, me too sometimes.) You think you will never miss home but you are wrong. Nostalgia strikes when you least expect it. I believe that you have not travelled until you have missed home.

A food, a smell, an accent, a certain conversation or the littlest habit can overwhelm you with homesickness. You miss those little things you never thought you’d miss, and you’d give anything to go back to that place, even if it were just for an instant.

The entire month, I felt somewhat malnourished. I wasn’t eating right and skipping meals due to the tight itineraries and budget so I was missing Singaporean food the most. We were at Xieng Khouang when we stumbled upon an Indian restaurant. At that point of time, it was magical. It felt as if we have found an oasis. I couldn’t have cared less what they served me as long as it was Indian food (the tikka masala was awesome!) Then they started speaking in Indian — that was like music to my ears. I knew for that short moment, I was at home.

Also read: Dinner Time! 15 Delicious Singapore Local Food You Cannot Afford to Miss

7. You change and there’s no turning back

I’m one country away now from completing Southeast Asia. I will be moving up to the whole of Asia next (I already did some of the countries meanwhile). After all those trips, I know that I’m not the same person when I first started. I’ve been an adventure addict my whole life with no regard for cost. I made sacrifices to be able to marvel at the world, and I am extremely satisfied with the person I become. However, I hold on to one simple principle: don’t let the best you have achieved so far be the standard for the rest of your lives. And it being such a huge, endless world, how could you choose not to keep travelling and discovering it?

Also read: 19 Tell-Tale Signs You’re Addicted to Travelling

Contributed by Why She Travels.

About Author


Aziera loves two things in the world: scuba diving and the world itself. An adventure-seeking hedonist, she backpacks frequently to satisfy her insatiable need for the exhilaration and the exotic. Having met the weirdest people, encountering the strangest things and pulling off the craziest (sometimes silly) stunts along the way, she finds joy in sharing them on her site “whyshetravels”.


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