Story published on
March 18, 2019
It’s weird how people come across one another in this huge world. That’s what I was thinking while I was talking to Naomi, a 22 year-old over-achiever from The Netherlands who was 4 and a half months into a trip around Asia and was telling me how her days on the road taught her to be more relaxed and to redefine her notion of happiness. There we were, in the middle of Sri Lankan Hill Country, two transitioning control freaks, talking about Happiness Stories and travelling the world in order to rediscover it and ourselves. I was just beginning my journey, she was half way through.
Her father was the one who told her to follow that urge within herself and go travel the world. He, by the way, has an awesome life story and reinvented himself time and time again – which I found out while we were on a beer quest in a village, but that’s for another time
Naomi had worked for less than 2 years as a primary teacher. She was/is (still doesn’t know what tense to use) a perfectionist. “I like planning a lot”, she says. But, as it so often happens, life doesn’t FEEL the way you plan it. She didn’t love teaching. Not the way she thought she would.
She went to Thailand on vacation and an urge crept in. She wanted more. Finally, she left. Her father told me Naomi’s school said she would welcome her back, should she decide to return to teaching.
If you’re interested in the hip literature about how to travel the world, here are three books I’ve read that are considered a beginner’s Bible:
- “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day”, by Matthew Kepnes (whom the Internet knows as Nomadic Matt)
- “Vagabonding. An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term Travel”, by Rolf Potts
- “The 4-Hour Workweek”, by Tim Ferriss
Soon, her notion of happiness and joy changed: “For me, happiness is now way less than it was before. I thought you needed a good job, a lot of friends, but now, it is important that your health is good and that you just enjoy”.
That’s the thing when you come from a rich country and spend a lot of time in poorer, developing places: you see how people appreciate life even when it gives them less than it gave you, that you can’t help but reasess where you stand. And you come to feel it’s all about your expectations. A lot of times, that’s what makes you unhappy.
“People here have nothing. They’re so happy. We have way more in Europe and everyone is always so stressy. You get to appreciate the small things, even a hot shower.” Or a family that has only some coconut flatbreads to give you, but warmly welcomes you into its home. And smiles. Smiles are something that you get easily addicted to in Asia.
By 2020, 320 million international trips are expected to be made by youth travellers each year, a staggering 47% increase from 217 million in 2013.
– Millennial Traveller Report, via Forbes
Life after the road
The thing with life on the road and this transformation from a perfectionist Westerner into a laid back person immersed in Asian culture is that, at some point, you go back into your developed country with cultures that seem to reward stress and burnout.
What about Naomi? Once her 10 month trip to discover Asia and rediscover herself is over, will the planner creep back in? She hopes she’ll be able to keep as much of the new self once she goes back. She is aware, though, that it will be a struggle.
It is one thing to tame the control freak when you’re surrounded by calm, smiling and relaxed people in lovely tropical settings and have no job, no routine to stick to. It is a different thing altogether when you’re back home, surrounded by stressful career goals and life boxes to tick.