Recently, I found a box of old photos and letters from the early days of my international adventures. Those were such crazy times. No village was too remote, no sea too shark infested, no meal too meager. As backpackers, my husband and I really loved to rough it. One of our favorite tasks was to see how long we could go on as little money as possible. We were disdainful of tour groups, convenience and any mode of transportation that gave you your own private seat or didn’t include caged (or free roaming) chickens.
While we’ve long-since left behind the backpacker lifestyle, I’m often reminded of the competitive edge that this type of experience implies. It is, in a sense, the “Go Native!” philosophy of travel. It’s the idea that if you don’t strip yourself down and challenge yourself to some predetermined standard of awesomeness, you’re not really living at all and that the experience is without merit or value.
For the record, I’d like us to do away with that notion. Here are my top five reasons why:
- Life is not a competition! Yes, life is to be fully lived, but you can only know what full living is when you ask yourself how you want to live. Wanna’ go climb Mt. Everest? Go for it! Prefer to climb the small hill outside town to get a better view of the countryside? That’s fine too. No one person lives the expat life better simply by doing more, having “bigger” adventures or taking on more risk. It just doesn’t work that way. So stop comparing yourself to others and pack your suitcase just how you like it.
- You like what you like. I’m all for trying new things. In fact, I love to try new things. But, I wonder why we so often force ourselves to keep doing things we don’t really like. You might move to Japan one day and you might really, really hate sushi. That is fine. Be kind to yourself. Own up to it. Move on.
- Your priorities and interests change. We all know this is true, but so many of us feel like if we trade a sleeping bag on the floor of a random person we met on a train for a comfy bed in an actual hotel that somehow we’re selling out. This is not a sell out. This is you deciding that you want a good night’s sleep – nothing more. The same goes for transportation, food, and the amount you’re willing to spend for comfort, ease and safety. It doesn’t mean you’re old or boring or uncool, it means you have preferences. That’s all.
- You can’t actually Go Native. This is true. To the extent that any of us are native to any particular place on Earth, we are all unique. We can strive to understand others and help others better understand us. That’s the best we can do. We can always do better to be present in whatever place we seem to have landed, but the minute we think we have arrived is the minute we cease to continue to get to know the new things we see.
- You’re evolving and so is everything around you. Life is in a constant state of flux and this is even truer when you get out of your element. There is so much that is unpredictable in the great big world out there. And – look at you! You’re adapting to every twist and turn and always doing the best you can with the information you have available. What more can you hope for? I say cut yourself some slack and enjoy the twisty ride!
So – adventure on! Near or far, here or there. In all ways, exactly as you are now, with an eye on how you hope to be tomorrow.