(This is the last of the series of diary entries I wrote during my solo backpacking trip to Europe back in 2013.)
July 29th, 2013 - London Heathrow Airport
I traveled around Europe. Yes, the fabled “Eurotrip” that everybody talks about. The one I was supposed to go on three years ago. The one that’s been on the back of my mind since my original plans fell through. The one that made me cringe in jealousy every time another one of my friends uploaded a photo album entitled “Eurotrip.” Well, I made it a reality and, despite all the hesitation and second thoughts I had prior to this trip, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.
13 countries, 32 cities, 19 planes, 8 trains, 12 buses, 2 rental cars, 3 hitched rides, and too many hostels, beds, couches, and floors slept on to count. A lost pair of swimming trunks, and a damaged pair of sunglasses, but hey, no stomach aches!
It’s crazy how fast time has gone by. A year ago today, I was in SOHO, NYC, living a life that strangely resembled “The Devil Wears Prada” with all the glitz and glamour of the fashion photography industry. I remember feeling doubtful about leaving even after putting in my two-week’s notice. Fortunately, before I began my journey, I had the rare chance of having a one-on-one chat with my boss and received these encouraging words:
“It’s really annoying that you’re leaving us. It’s not good for me, and it’s not good for the company, but by all means, go and travel. You’re young and you’ve been doing great work with us, but this isn’t the life for you. You must travel. I would say the same to my son, and I did the same when I was your age. Look at me now, we work with the biggest clients, magazines, and ad agencies in the world, but I’m old. I’m stuck in this office all day, constantly stressed out, I can’t go anywhere. You. You’re young. No responsibilities. You have to travel.”
I wasn’t looking for a vacation; I wanted to travel. I wanted to open my eyes. I wanted to have time for myself to really look at my life up to this point. A self-examination and a complete recalibration if necessary. What were my values, beliefs and priorities? What do I like? What do I not like? I was feeling stuck and I knew I had to do something different to grow.
Imagine if we were kids in a classroom and our teacher just handed our tests back with corrections. Not only did I want to look over my results in comparison to the teacher’s corrections, but I also wanted to check against my classmates. How did they approach the test? What were their answers? What was their reasoning behind the answers? How did they feel about the teacher’s corrections? I wanted to take my entire life and the way I’ve been brought up and put it under the spotlight, naked, and for everyone to examine. I was blatantly myself. I asked too many questions, openly admitted that I didn’t know certain things and pushed forward anyway in hopes that I could gain some sort of clarity. That’s all I wanted. Clarity.
I went through many moments of sheer happiness, but also many moments of loneliness. Sometimes I just wanted to catch the next flight home, but I understood that the emotional roller coaster was part of solo travel, and that I needed to embrace it. Stepping foot into a foreign country is very much like your first day at school. Remember that day? When you didn’t know anybody? And you didn’t know where you were to supposed to go when the bell rang? When you didn’t know where to get lunch? Or where to sit? Or who to talk to? When things simply didn’t really make much sense? People hear of my trip and talk about how lucky I am, able to just chill and travel, but in reality, I wasn’t chilling at all. I was doing immense mental work. Work on my character. Work that can’t be seen with the naked eye. This was me purposely stepping foot into a new school, a school that I created for myself.
"It is finding out what something is not that one comes closest to understanding what it is."
I wanted to be someone who has seen the world. I wanted to be a person of character, someone with experience of life outside of what he is accustomed to, someone who doesn’t fear the unknown. I wanted to set aside superfluous and unnecessary clutter in my life and hold onto the things that really mattered. I wanted to be able to look back at my life and be completely content because I’ll know that I laughed, I danced, I loved — that I lived life to the fullest. Am I there yet? No, but I am closer, and I will never stop trying.
by Jason Lam