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Oh, the Things You’ll Know from the Places You Go: 5 Lessons I’ve Learned in 5 Months of Travel

by Vishnu


Jammie Karlman is married to a man I refer to as the James Bond of blogging and travel, Bjorn. This international couple of mystery, salsa-dancing and helping others are chronicling their travels on both their blogs which are updated  regularly.

This international duo quit their jobs in California to travel around the world for a year doing service projects. Their plan is to spend 3 months in 4 world cities: Bangkok, Thailand; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Berlin, Germany; and Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. (They call it the B Tour.) This trip has been a dream of theirs for five years. It’s really an experiment in lifestyle redesign. An international life of do-gooding and adventure is what they want for the long-term. (That, and tasty food.)

Take it away, Jammie!

Right now, we are in Buenos Aires and have just come to the end of our fifth month of travel. The food, so far, has indeed been mind-numbingly delicious. Other experiences (e.g. humidity, taxi drivers that scam you) have been decidedly less so.

But that’s travel for ya — constantly surprising.

Through the ups-and-downs of our experiences, here are 5 things I discovered that (usually) hold true:

1.) You can live with half the stuff you have now. Take the remainder, halve it again and you’re left with what you actually use.

You need less than you think. When my husband and I decided to go on this trip, we got rid of 80-90% of our stuff. And now I can’t remember what most of that stuff was. What does remain is the memory that it was heart- and back-breaking work. A LOT of work.

And here’s the kicker: As we travel, I find I still packed too much. I actually have clothes and shoes sitting in the closet right now that I barely use. This is some kind of craziness to me, especially as I was that girl who had so many clothes she could go a month without wearing the same item twice.

But this is not a rant against consumerism and materialism. I still like pretty clothes, shoes and tchotchkes. But the experience of throwing out nearly everything we owned has made me leery of having too many possessions.

2.) Starting a new life doesn’t mean old problems disappear.

I can honestly say that I am living the life that I want and that I am happy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have pangs of insecurity and doubt about what I am doing or encounter difficulties with my character development. Just because I am traveling the world does not mean I left my baggage behind.

I had thought that by going on this trip, certain problems would resolve themselves. After all, I would no longer have to deal with particular annoying people. I would have more time to keep in contact with family and friends.

But halfway around the world from where I was, I am still having problems with people and keeping connected. How is it possible that almost all of the taxi drivers I encounter have cheated me or tried? I would like to blame all taxi drivers as being fraudulent, but I know that can not be true. If a problem is that recurrent and pervasive, it must mean that there is something I am doing that contributes to the problem. (Perhaps I lack assertiveness? Or is it self-fulfilling prophecy — I expect to be scammed and therefore I am?)

And I am STILL missing and forgetting people’s birthdays!

My real problem, I realize, is that I had wrongly ascribed the origins of my troubles to external sources (e.g. other people, overbearing schedule, etc.) when really they were internal. It’s always easier to blame “the other guy” when really you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.

3.) Traveling makes it easier to take a long, hard look at yourself.

Aside from questions of how much time I will spend on service projects and devote to sleep, I have a pretty open schedule (I ain’t gonna lie: It’s pretty awesome.) I have found that the break from the rigors and structures of a normal 8-10 hour job has created more space for me; space that I fill dissecting events/experiences that disturbed me. I can’t as easily push these thoughts away; I don’t have the same distractions.

Usually, these events are so disturbing because they reveal something disturbing about me. For example, I recently blamed a taxi driver for a fast meter. I forced him to stop and made my husband and friends jump out of the cab. Turns out that all meters in Buenos Aires cabs go faster at night and that my accusations were unfounded.

Aside from feeling embarrassed, I was mystified about why I had such a violent reaction. Instead of dismissing it with the rationalization that “most cab drivers are jerks anyway” and/or avoiding dealing with it, I thought about the experience which eventually led to the conclusions mentioned in #2 about taxi drivers, and some strategies that I will employ next time.

4.) Traveling makes it easier to change

Aside from occasional visits from family and friends, Bjorn and I have been on our own. I am freed from the expectations of others who “know” me and how they think I should deal with problems or act. I no longer have to deal with what others think I should do or perceptions of what “Jammie would do” by what I have done in the past.

I can reinvent myself.

That makes it easier to attack character flaws from a new direction, to do things that you normally wouldn’t have. Just like a kid moving to a new school can reinvent themselves from shy to fly (yes, I did just use dated slang from the ‘90s) the same holds true with traveling.

Plus, I don’t feel “rushed.” I don’t feel the need to have changed and improved myself by the next time I meet with someone. It’s been a more forgiving process.

5.) You should just do it.

No, not just travel. What I’m getting at (besides possibly incurring the wrath of Nike) is that I have found it is better to take action toward a goal. As mentioned above, my husband and I had been dreaming about this trip for 5 years.

Five years of thwarted longing is not only torturous to the soul, but also enough time to build up insecurity, doubt and fear as obstacles to this trip for another 5 years (10? 15? 20…you get my point). It is better to take charge and take action for what you want. Now.

And here’s the crucially important (at least for me) part: You don’t have to be without fear to do it.

I found a definition of courage that I really like: “the ability to do something that frightens one.”

Notice it does not say that you stop being frightened— but you can do it, nonetheless. I freaked out (read: ran around a room screaming while wind-milling my arms — many times) before we even began this trip. But not even two weeks into our trip, I realized it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made — aside from choosing Bjorn as my husband, of course (Awwww! Hugs, kisses, sweetness, gags. :D)

Now when I get tingles of anxiety about doing something, it’s usually a sure sign that I should do it. Even if mistakes are made. Actually, that should just read: Mistakes will be made. The journey toward the life you want is not a straight line but a series of readjustments.

In a way, that makes change comforting, instead of frightening to me. Even if the actions you take don’t lead exactly where you want, you can always stop and correct course (unless those previous actions lead to death. Please plan your actions carefully and wisely and avoid most things that are illegal, immoral and fattening.)

Who can know what the future will hold? But as for me, I’m looking forward to what I’ll learn in the next five months.

What exciting places you been to? And what have you learned from your travel experiences?

You can read Jammie’s entertaining and informative travel blog here: Go Karlmans.