The first time I held a man’s hand was on the streets of Siem Reap, Cambodia. I was 25, a new wanderer, and it was a new experience. I had been warned that it might happen, but the reality of it took a moment to sink in. We were on our way to dinner and as we dodged tuk-tuks in the street, the man grabbed my hand, like it was normal. I was uncomfortable but knew that I couldn’t let go. We walked, hand-in-hand to a restaurant where the group ordered a feast of local fare. We ate and laughed until the conversation turned to more serious topics.
A few months before arriving in Cambodia, I was sitting in a church service when a man I hardly knew turned around and asked me if I would go with him on the trip. I said, “Sure,” without thinking that it would ever actually materialize. The plane tickets came in the mail a few days later and I realized then that he was serious.
The group he volunteered with, sent money to churches in Cambodia. The money was getting lost in the mail. For months, none of the funds had actually made it to the churches. Our mission was to bring cash, a lot of cash, directly to the church leaders. It was a pretty simple undertaking. We would fly into the country, spend 14 days visiting remote villages, and supplying the much needed funds. During our stay we would take a few side-trips to visit some of the scenery.
”Simply put, beginner’s mind is the art of trying to experience that which you’ve experienced before, as if it were the first time. The goal is to put on hold your preconceptions and all-knowing attitude so you can journey through the world from a place of openness.” -Stephen Wickhem from tinybuddah.com
A major difference between travelers and wanderers is the beginner’s mind. When we arrive at a place we have never been before, when we don’t speak the language or know the customs, when we eat food and meet friends that we don’t understand, we become like children seeing the world for the first time. Answers aren’t presupposed. That is when we have the beginner’s mind.
“To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions.” – Sam Keen
The thing about children, that eludes most adults, is their ability to ask questions without fear of looking foolish. The thought doesn’t even enter their mind. Foolishness is a construct of adulthood. It is a learned behavior. Unlearn it and waken your soul to all the answers that you have never before considered.
“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” – G. K. Chesterton
Don’t be a tourist. Be a traveler. Be a wanderer. See what is, not what you have come to see. Bring nothing to the experience but an open heart and you will experience so much more than you ever imagined. Come and see what you came to see and that is all you will take back with you. Wandering with an open heart is the best way to travel.
I never expected to hold a man’s hand while walking the streets of Siem Reap, but an open heart allowed me to take meaning and joy away from the trip. That would never have happened if I was a tourist.
”He who would travel happily must travel light.” -Antoine de Saint Exupéry
Tourists anchor themselves to home with piles of luggage. They bring their world with them. If you want to experience a place, travel light. The lighter the better.
On a recent trip to England, my wife and I travel with 18L of gear, clothing, toiletries, etc.. 18L packs are about two-thirds the size of a child’s school backpack—and probably less than half the weight. We were able to pass customs in minutes, skip the bag check, and walk around London all day before checking into our hotel. We had everything we needed and a few things that we wanted. The rest was easy to find. When you travel light, you learn how little you truly need.
If you’re a gear nerd, like me, you can see our packing lists from that trip here.
Wanderers are lucky to live in this time. There are so many options to lose the weight of gear and travel lighter and more compact than ever before. Of course there are tricks. Would you like to know some?
- No one needs more than 3 pair of underwear…ever. Wear one. Wash one. And have one ready to go.
- Shoes are the enemy. Find a pair that allows you to dress up or down and that are comfortable to be in for hours on end. They exist. Trust me.
- Learn to love Wool. Wool clothing can go forever without a wash and still not smell. It is warm in the cold and cool in the heat. I know one girl who wore a single wool shirt for 600 days straight. Yes, you read that right.
- Would you like some more travel hacks? Sign up here for my top 20!
Check Expectations at the Border
”When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
”When you are somewhere, you are everywhere” -Rumi
There are no two places alike. You will never experience the same thing in any two places. Philosophically, this is an interesting concept, because in reality, you will never experience the same thing ever, anywhere. Perceptions change and added experience changes perception. So, check your expectations at the border, they should be as unwelcome as a knife in your carry-on.
A Beginner’s mind and and Open Heart cannot breathe if you hold on to expectations. This is the ultimate paradox of the wanderer: You have to be willing to not know what to expect, while expecting the amazing.
Expect the Amazing, but Nothing Else
”If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results.” -George S. Patton
If you expect trouble, you’ll find it. If you expect the amazing, it will find you. That’s the way the universe works.
The Stoic Philosopher, Seneca, said it this way:
“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today.” -Seneca
He goes on to say that we worry about what only fate can decide. He’s onto something. None of us know what lies around the next bend in the road. If we go around that bend worried, it may not be anything. If we expect whatever lies on the other side to be an amazing experience and if we have the eyes to see that, no matter what lies there will be just that. We may turn the bend and find ourselves faced with any number of things, but, as Marcus Aurelius says:
”If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.” -Marcus Aurelius
W cannot control what happens to us, in the long run. We can only control our perception and “judgement” of it. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and author, adds to this idea:
”The last of human freedoms—the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” -Viktor Frankl
The best way to wander is to realize that the only thing you can control is your attitude, your judgement, and your reaction. Once you realize this and learn to live with it, you will experience freedom rarely found by most people.
Becoming a wanderer is, like life itself, a road crossed by other paths. The wanderer cannot be told the way. S/he must know where to go without knowing how to get there. S/he must develop and beginner’s mind, open her/his heart, travel light, check expectations at the border, but expect the amazing. This is a life-long conquest and one that will never be fully realized. Then again, perhaps there is peace in that too.