I had just gotten back from a twelve month, 28 country trip around the world and yet I felt like I was missing something. I had the opportunity of a lifetime and had just completed a huge goal of mine but within weeks of being back into the daily life in the US, I was already planning my next trip. Now don’t get me wrong, I was super appreciative of the trip I had just come back from and for my company supporting me (and keeping me employed) along the way. Even with all of this, there was a still a frontier I needed to cross and this frontier was Asia. Even though I had been to so many places (34 countries), Asia was still a mystical place to me and I felt I really needed to travel to the Far East to really complete my trip around the world.
Part of the reason I wanted to go was simply because it was another continent to check off the list and one that was so different than my own. The biggest reason was much more important than that. It was important for me to travel to Asia because I wanted to be completely uncomfortable while traveling for the first time and test if what I had experienced and learned over the past year could be put into action. I wanted to know if I had truly developed the skills necessary to be dropped into any part of any country in the world and not only survive but also thrive, Even though I had never been to Europe before I took the plunge to live there for 6 months, it was still a relatively easy adjustment and a comfortable experience for the most part. Sure I didn’t know a word of Croatian when I got there but most people speak English and the food is at least somewhat familiar. Even Eastern European countries like Bulgaria and Serbia, that I knew nothing about or could even place on a map, were easy to get around, easy to order food at restaurants and easy to find any kind of service or information I needed.
I think there are two reasons why Europe, in general, is easy to adapt to even though you have thirty different countries crammed into a space smaller than the US. The first is that since almost all of these countries speak their own unique languages, everyone grows up speaking English as it was become the default common denominator. If someone from Spain meets someone from Germany, they can more than likely communicate in English if they can’t speak the other person’s native language. Even if people you talk to are shy and claim they don’t speak English, they all do and are all very good at it – much better than the twenty Spanish words you learned in High School. The second reason is that Europe is such a tourist destination, with every major city designed to cater to tourists. These tourists don’t all come from the US, UK or Australia either. A Portuguese tourist in Greece doesn’t speak Greek so locals are used to communicating with English with people from all nationalities. This makes it a fairly easy continent to navigate. As soon as you get off the plane, everyone is catering to you since many countries, especially Greece, rely on heavy tourism to boost their economies.
For me, Europe was the perfect place to start because it got me acclimated to the traveling lifestyle in foreign countries. The next six months in South America was more difficult and while very difficult for some of the people I was traveling with, it was again relatively easy to travel around the different countries I visited. It is certainly more difficult than Europe because it is equipped with less infrastructure, public transport, people that speak English, familiar food and tourism. The reason it was easier for me was my background in Spanish. Having minored in Spanish in college, I was far from fluent but could communicate with anyone I needed to. I could have a fifteen minute conversation with anyone I needed to and I felt like you could drop me in the middle of nowhere and I’d be able to figure it out. So, after a twelve month journey around Europe, parts of Africa, South and Central America, I still felt like I hadn’t pushed my travel boundaries yet. That is where Asia would come in.
To me, Asia was the last frontier because it would be the most challenging region to travel to, especially solo. Not only do I not speak a word of Korean, Japanese, Chinese, etc. but I also can’t read one single character. On top of this, Asian countries are relatively homogenous and are not extremely touristy, especially in the winter time when I was going to be visiting. Also, many of the apps we are accustomed to using back home (Uber, Google Maps offline mode, etc) simply do not work there so you don’t always have the option to fall-back on technology like you do other places. These three reasons are why I was so anxious and motivated to get to Asia and do a solo trip. I felt I needed to expand my travel boundaries and check off the last thing on my travel skill list – explore the most unfamiliar and challenging region I can think of.
Now that I had my next destination set, I began to brainstorm ways of how I could travel there for an extended period of time. I had just dove back into the office life after twelve months abroad so it wasn’t going to be easy but I was motivated and figured I could make it happen. Much to my surprise, within nine months, I was back on a plane embarking on a three-week tour around Asia. How’d I do pull it off? Find out on my next blog.