Occasionally my mind wanders back to the two Christmases I spent at Bottle Beach, where I met a man named Jason. A British man in his mid-50s, he had lived for nine years in a simple beach bungalow with no electricity. Jason had begun traveling the world in search of a new home after his brother died, leaving behind a large house, Italian sports cars, and an idle retirement fund. The experience was a wake-up call for Jason, who decided to stop chasing money and instead seek peace. He found it in Bottle Beach and decided to stay.
Although I’m not Jason, I also left behind a “normal” life to seek peace and try to find my own way. I don’t have all the answers, but I think that’s because life is full of questions.
Many writers who travel for a long time share the things they’ve learned along the way. But for me, my travels have produced more questions than answers. Over the past two years, I’ve traveled outward and inward, disrupting my perceptions and challenging everything I thought I knew. As a result, here are ten important questions I believe we should ask ourselves more often, based solely on my travels:
1. Why don’t I realize how rich I am?
Many people don’t have the luxuries I take for granted, such as a house, food, water, technology, a car, a bank account, and a passport that allows me to travel to most countries. Every day I am exposed to the culture of rich celebrities, the obsession with beauty and appearance, the feeling of inadequacy because of someone else’s possessions, or the importance of a brand name.
When I visit places where people live in poverty, with no clean water, no hope of escape, and no variety in their daily work, I realize how different their lives are from mine. They don’t have to worry about things like weight loss or fashion. Even the poorest of my friends (which could be me right now) is unimaginably rich compared to most people in the world.
2. Why aren’t qualities like generosity, openness, and compassion valued more than money and beauty?
I used to believe that the most important things in life were money, beauty, and power. However, I’ve come to realize that these things are fleeting and superficial. My definition of success has changed.
Now, I admire those who help others selflessly without seeking recognition or thanks. Those who manage to smile and be kind most of the time while remaining open to new customs. These are the people I want to spend my time with, regardless of their financial status.
3. Why do I always think it’s about me?
When traveling to a new country where I don’t understand the language or customs, it’s easy to feel frustrated and out of place. When I encounter aggressive touts or feel like I’ve been cheated, I feel targeted. But in reality, it’s not about me.
People are just trying to find happiness and avoid suffering. Sometimes that means taking advantage of me or brushing me off if helping me is too much trouble. Taking it personally is the wrong approach. I believe that what you put out into the world comes back to you, but the way people treat me randomly is generally not about me.
4. Why do I forget that happiness is a choice?
On difficult days, I have to remind myself that I am in control of my thoughts and emotions. If I’m feeling sad, it’s because I’ve allowed negative thoughts to take over. If I’m at peace, it’s because I’ve chosen to focus on positive thoughts.
It’s important to be mindful of where we direct our energy because our subconscious thoughts and beliefs shape our daily lives in ways we often don’t realize until it’s too late.
I used to think that traveling would solve all my problems, but no single choice can do that. Every decision has its positives and negatives. Once I accepted this and learned to let go of negative thoughts, life became much smoother.
5. Can having less really lead to more happiness?
Since simplifying my life and owning fewer possessions, I’ve found it easier to enjoy each moment. For a while, I lived on just 20% of the income I made as an investment banker. This meant eating street food, staying in inexpensive countries, and taking public transportation. But it also meant experiencing more local culture, eating better food, and having more love and laughter in my daily life.
6. Can love truly last forever?
A friend once told me that all relationships come and go. I realized the truth of this when I started traveling and left behind some of my closest friends and romantic partners. But the best friends who have always been there for me are still there. Our friendships have evolved over time, but our continued effort to stay connected is what keeps us together.
Change is the natural state of things. It’s okay if relationships change because that’s what life and people do. Accepting this has made my life less stressful and taken the pressure off my relationships.
7. How real are our perceptions?
Photoshopped images, carefully curated social media posts, and acquaintances who seem to have it all can sometimes make me feel like a failure. But there’s often so much going on behind the scenes that we don’t see. Everyone has their struggles and challenges, no matter how perfect their lives may appear. Comparing myself to an unrealistic ideal is a recipe for unhappiness. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
8. Why don’t I appreciate my accomplishments more?
As a child, I dreamed of attending the college I eventually went to. As a teenager, I imagined living in Newport Beach and climbing the corporate ladder, which I did six years later. Then I dreamed of buying a one-way ticket and traveling the world, starting a travel blog with a real readership. All of these things happened, yet I still find ways to be dissatisfied with the present moment and always want more.
Now I realize that happiness isn’t about achieving one specific goal. It’s about acknowledging and being proud of my accomplishments while continuing to dream and set new goals. When I stop and appreciate all that I’ve achieved, I feel much better about what’s still to come.
9. Why am I so afraid of growing old?
Mark Twain said, “Don’t complain about growing old; it’s a privilege denied to many.”
I can’t help it. Growing up in Southern California, appearance and others’ perceptions were very important. It took me a long time to realize that my body is just a vessel and it’s my soul that makes me who I am. Appreciating my health and the incredible experiences life has to offer helps me overcome my fear of aging.
10. Why do I take everything I do so seriously?
One night, while stargazing on a boat in Komodo, I was struck by how small and insignificant I felt in the vastness of the universe. I am just a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things. This realization was incredibly liberating. Any mistakes I make won’t matter in the long run and no one really cares anyway.
Once I understood that others spend far less time thinking about me than I imagined, I felt free. I can do whatever I want because my actions, as long as they don’t harm others, have a little long-term impact. In a few centuries, it will be as if I never existed.
This isn’t depressing; it’s liberating! Small things aren’t a big deal and mistakes are meant to be made.
In conclusion, traveling for two years has taught me many things, like becoming my own boss and spending most of the year in unfamiliar places. The most important lesson is to never stop asking questions, wondering, and wandering.