They say travel changes you (“they” say a lot of things), and in this instance, they’re right. Travel humbles you. It grounds you. It shows you how big the world is, and how small you (and your problems) are.
I learned this valuable lesson on my excursion from Thailand to Cambodia. I was ready and eager to check Angkor Wat off my travel bucketlist. I had a weekend break from teaching, a few dollars saved up, and a festering bite from the infamous travel bug itching to see a new country.
I had a plan, but as travel will have it, my plan had another plan. And within this change of course, came a change of mindset; and ultimately, a change of heart.
My trip to Cambodia changed me. It humbled me. And it all began (unexpectedly), with a bus ride.
Traveling in Southeast Asia can be accomplished through various methods of transportation.
Flying is the most obvious (and can be cheap if you play your cards right). Trains, busses, and minivans are also another way of hopping borders, and are cheaper than a flight (but take a lot longer of course).
They say time is money; and I had a lot of time, but not a lot of money. Therefore, the method of transportation for my weekend getaway to see Angkor Wat was in the form of a bus ride—a 13-hour bus ride.
Time is money, honey.
Not only was I trying to travel cheap, I wanted the ‘backpacker’ experience of traveling from country to country on a bus. It’s sort of a backpacker’s right of passage if you will, and I was on a mission to earn my brownie points in the department of transportation.
For those of you that have taken a long bus ride in Southeast Asia, you may have an idea of the unexpected things that can pop up on this slow ride. For those of you that haven’t, let’s just say I got more than I bargained for.
The situation basically went like this: 13-hour bus ride, middle of the day in the humid Thai heat, air con blasting chills to my core…and then the air con breaks.
But the bus keeps going, the heat keeps blazing, and the discomfort begins to arise (as well as some unpleasant smells) from the several other backpackers on this bus ride from hell.
Below is an excerpt of my exact thoughts in this exact moment:
It’s hour six on the bus. My ass is numb from sitting for so long. The air con broke three hours ago. I’m dozing in and out of sleep, waking up in hot flashes.
We’re in Cambodia now. I look out the window and begin to take everything in. There are wide open plains—greens of the Earth meet the blues of the sky. We bump along a red clay dirt road, passing by motorbikes and cars; we’re driving on the right side of the road now.
I see French-Colonial style homes, short in face-width, that stretch out in length. This style is fascinating to me, I’ve never seen anything like it. Next to them I see shacks, made of wood and bamboo; hammocks hanging in them. The polarity between the two is extreme.
I see Cambodian people sitting in open fields, blankets down, sharing meals. Sharing the sun. Sharing each other’s company. Sharing smiles. Sharing life.
I revert back to my current situation—hot bus, numb butt, bumping along the road—and this is all okay.
A situation that would have irritated me months ago, sulked me into a bad mood, and ruined my whole day—was all okay.
So here I am, sweaty, uncomfortable, and aware of the discomfort of every other person on this sauna-bus. I am gazing out the window at Cambodia for the first time. The excitement of laying my eyes on a new country overrides the underboob sweat and pothole dips every few minutes.
Looking out at Cambodia and its people as I pass along on this bus, I am humbled.
I am witnessing life in its simplest form.
These people are sitting in the dirt, in the heat (just like me), no shoes, no phones…just living. They’re smiling. They’re enjoying the presence of each other. My heart is truly humbled by what my eyes are taking in.
Just like that, I begin to contemplate what my eyes are seeing compared to what my body is feeling.
Who am I to complain about my current situation?
Yes, it’s hot as a tea pot right before it screeches for you to pull it off the stove, but I’m in Southeast Asia—of course it’s hot!
Yes, I paid for a bus that would have air con, but things break—and I’m on a bus to go see one of the old ancient world wonders. And I have money to do this, more money than the people I am seeing as I bump and sweat along this soil road.
Money that comes from a job I get to do—teaching English to children—a job that I chose to do, unlike the Cambodian farm workers who have no other option and must work long days in the sun to put a meal on a blanket for their family to eat that night.
These sights that I am taking in through my eyes, through the window, pass right past my mind and pierce straight into my heart. My mind (who’s instinct is to focus on the negative) is being overridden by my heart’s desire to focus on the positive.
I am humbled.
Third-world countries humble you. They show you how big people’s lives can be with so little. They show you how life is possible without materialistic things. They show you a different way of life, completely opposite of your own.
Living in Thailand and traveling its surrounding countries for one year put me in the epicenter of third-world living.
Coming from a girl who lived in the first-world United States her whole life, this was a complete culture shock. But instead of looking at it from a place of scarcity, I couldn’t help but look at it from a place of abundance.
In America, there’s straight paved cement roads. In Cambodia, there’s dirt paths that are only wide enough for one car, but somehow there are two lanes of cars getting by.
In America, there’s cookie-cutter homes with white picket fences and neatly groomed lawns with Edward Scissorhands bush animals lining them. In Cambodia, there’s homes with no walls, just a roof made from Earthly elements; and the dirt isn’t something they try and sweep out with a broom.
In America, there’s laptops and 60-inch TV screens and Alexas and iPhones. In Cambodia, the sun is the lightbulb, the sound of motorbike engines mixed with animal calls is the music, and the outdoors is the entertainment.
Who has more?
In this moment of comparison, I am flushed with gratitude.
Gratitude for the broken air con, for the lengthy 13-hour bus ride, for the money that I have to travel, for the eyes that I have to witness another way of life, and for the heart I have that allows me to feel such a response to this place.
I always learn something new from every country I visit (and the road to getting there).
Sometimes the journey is quick and 30,000 feet in the sky with bags of free pretzels. Sometimes its long and clammy with local fresh fruit purchased from a cart on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.
I am grateful for both circumstances, and for the opportunity to even experience these things in the first place.
Travel brings with it many emotions and eye-opening incidences—and for me humbleness always takes precedence, then gratitude follows. Together, these two states of being are powerful.
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life and travel leaves marks on you.”
Be humble, sit down, and let travel change you.
Grow with the flow,