How do you measure the success of a life? Is it based off of material possessions, financial wealth, intelligence or experience? Does having the archetypical nuclear lifestyle automatically mean a person is happy? Blogger and author of My Exile Lifestyle, Colin Wright, tells us how he found true happiness through the extreme and unusual.
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that success is measured in tangible ways: material possessions, a comfortable well-furnished home, updated technology, money, solid relationships, etc. Most people want to surround themselves with signs that they’ve made it, reminders that they have managed to ‘build’ a life and have cemented a place for themselves in the world. To many, the unknown or undiscovered is a symbol of fear, something to avoid and shun. I, on the other hand, have embraced it.
I always wanted to travel. I think traveling was there in the back of my mind as something I knew I would do, something I had to do. I like to know things and I never want to stop learning. Learning things through secondhand means can only get you so far. To really experience a place you have to go there.
After finishing school, I ventured out on the expected path toward success and happiness. I started a business and lived in a comfortable apartment, which my girlfriend and I filled with numerous material things. It was nice, but something was missing. I wasn’t as truly happy as I knew I had the potential to be. Achieving conventional success is in some ways quite satisfying. From the outside it often seems like the perfect life, desired and envied by many. I found myself really tied down though. I was young, twenty-four to be exact, and accomplished professionally with a whole lot going right for me when I realized the missing link.
I wasn’t in a place or position to just go out and travel, but I wanted to see more of the world. I started making changes, freeing myself from the life I had worked to create. I gave myself four months.
You never realize how much stuff you actually own until you start trying to leave it behind. You also never realize how little stuff you really need until you don’t have it anymore.
Watching my worldly possessions go was an oddly freeing experience, so I kept going. Once you start getting rid of excess things, it becomes easier and feels better and better. I thought my computers (I had a lot of computers) would be the hardest thing to let go of, but it turned out they weren’t. I sold or gave away mostly everything I had until I was down to just the bare essentials: a few important things I was able to fit in a carry-on-sized bag.
Since I had accomplished the preparation and transition process in the predetermined four months, I decided to stay in each country I visited for the same amount of time for a couple reasons. First, I’ve never wanted to make things too easy on myself, and as an American citizen getting a three-month visitation permit to a country is usually fairly simple, so I thought, ‘why not aim for more?’ Second, I thought that if I was able to transition my life from settled, stable, routine and tied down in four months, then four months would also be enough to really get to know a county and feel as though I lived there.
Having never left the United States at that point, I couldn’t possibly have chosen which country to have gone to first, at least not on my own. There are so many places in the world, all of which I wanted, and still want, to see. I started up a blog and put trust in my readers’ hands. The voters spoke. Majority ruled. Argentina it would be. Off I went.
Since that first trip, it has been more than four years. I’m twenty-eight now, and I’ve learned a whole lot through the process. Leaving the life you’ve built and going of to discover the world alone really forces you to rely on you, and only you. When you only have yourself, you can finally begin to get to know yourself. My journeys, through the ups and downs, have taught me so much about my own abilities, physically and mentally. I now, more than ever, know what I truly want out of the one life I have and I know what I need to get there. I know, through all of the experiences I’ve had, on and off the road, that I crave the freedom traveling brings me. I can choose to do what I want, when I want, with whom, how and where I want to do it. As a creative person, I value the opportunities constant change and stimulation provide me. In a way there are times, yes, when I miss the regularity and routine part of a stationary life, but I’m definitely not ready to give up the excitement and variety I’ve found, and grown fond of, while on the road.
Traveling has taught me a few simple, universal truths when it comes to other people. I believe that people are mostly, inherently good. No matter where you go, the vast majority of people there will not be out to get you or aim to do you harm. In fact, they usually want to help you. Most people are proud of their countries, heritage and cultures and want to ensure that you have the best and most fulfilling experience you possibly can while visiting their homeland. Obviously, there are some places that have been harder to adjust to coming from the US—Kolkata, India, for example. The culture was extremely different from anywhere else I had been and the vast poverty was hard to handle. It just sucked seeing people suffer and not being able to help. I met some awesome people there though, just like I have everywhere else.
I’ve learned that people—wherever, whenever—are also a lot more alike than it sometimes seems. When it really boils down to it, the basics of being human are all pretty standard and we’ve definitely got a lot more commonalities than we do differences. In every place I’ve traveled or lived, I’ve found something fun, interesting and new. There are so many places to go, and there will never be enough time, but I’m not going to stop traveling unless I find something even more interesting to me, whatever it may be. Why would I?