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The Ultimate Freedom – Reflections, thoughts, and learnings after six months of independent travel

Exploring Patagonia

Exploring Patagonia


Imagine a world where you have the freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want.  Feel like staying up all night partying on a Tuesday?  How about learning to surf in a small beach town where the motto is “always summer”?  Maybe you wake up and decide you want to climb a volcano and then bike down it.  Do you want to escape to a Zen temple in the mountains so can you think clearly?  You could just decide to play a video game all day or read that book you’ve always wanted to read.  What would you do?
Now imagine having all this freedom while experiencing the world’s wonders like Jerusalem, Petra, Machu Picchu, the highest tower in the world, new friends, new food, new people, new cultures.
When many people think about traveling alone for months at a time, it can sometimes engender strong feelings of fear and isolation.  You might even discount extended solo travel as something ridiculous, only reserved for crazy and risky people.  Questions that come to mind include: Isn’t it dangerous to travel alone?  What if something happens?  Won’t I get lonely traveling alone?  How do I get around if I can’t speak the language?
When I initially considered leaving my job in order to travel independently for 15 months, I not only had many of these fears and questions, but I was reminded of them by my parents, friends, and family.  At the time, I even thought I may be a little crazy (though aren’t we all?).
After traveling now for over 6 months, my perspective has changed completely.  Instead of fearing independent travel, I now view it as THE ultimate freedom.  When you travel solo, you have the freedom to do what you want when you want.  You have the power to experience new things when you’re eager, rest when you’re tired, engage in the rich travel community when you crave social interaction, and venture out on your own when you want to be alone.  Indeed you never have to be isolated and you never have to be alone.  Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, you can tailor you independent travel to whatever you want.

Social Freedom

I consider myself an introvert.  I feel comfortable alone with my own thoughts, and I do think a lot about life, philosophy, and personal development.  However, I do crave deep, one on one relationships and enjoy being with small groups of people.  Usually when I’m in highly social situations or with large groups of people for extended periods of time, I get tired and overwhelmed and may withdraw.
As I look back at my past six months of travel, I see times where I have chosen to be highly social and times when I have chosen to be with myself.

  • My first 10 days in Israel were extremely social with a group of 39 peers in a jam packed Birthright tour.  I slowed down the next 15 days, CouchSurfing for 5 days in Tel-Aviv and then enjoying time to myself on the beautiful beaches in Eilat and taking a side trip to Petra.
  • In South America, my first month involved CouchSurfing in Chile and studying Spanish in Argentina where I spent much of my time in small groups.  I explored Bolivia the second month mostly on my own.  The third month, I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with my parents and brother, and then continued traveling with my brother and a friend, indulging in the social nightlife in the mountains and beaches of Peru and Ecuador.
  • For three weeks in Japan, entered a contemplative and introspective state, observing and experience things mostly on my own.
  • As soon as I arrived in South Korea from Japan, I was back to being social with other travelers and English teachers.

The beauty of traveling alone is that “being alone” is just a choice, not a necessary outcome. People and travelers are just about everywhere.  If you’re feeling lonely, a hostel is a great way to meet very open people.  You could also look for locals interested in meet you on CouchSurfing.org.  When you travel with someone or in a group, you don’t have much of a choice.

Freedom of Time

When was the last time you traveled on vacation?  Was it jam packed with activities every day?  Was it tiring and stressful?  How much time did you have?  A week, two weeks?
Many people think of travel as “difficult” or “stressful”.  It’s no wonder when all you have is a week or two to explore a whole country and you need to stay on top of everything – waking up early, going to bed late, and dealing with jet lag.
With extended travel, time is on your side.  Travel becomes completely different – it’s no longer difficult or stressful.  When you slow things down and stop worrying about time, your mind and body open up to the experiences around you because it’s no longer cluttered with countless tasks and questions of what you “have to” do next.
One of the most important things I realized over the past six months is that my extended travels are not really about traveling.  It’s about these 15 months I have given back to myself to learn, experience, reflect, and grow.

Freedom from Material Belongings

RTW Packing LIst

All of my belongings for 14 months fit on 1 table


It’s a scary thought at first effectively reducing all of your material possessions to only one backpack.  What you are left with is not much more than the bare essentials.  You may think this will limit you:
“But I can’t do this without that, I can’t live without this, that is definitely necessary”.
Bullshit! In the past six months, I’ve been to three different continents.  I’ve climbed a 19,000 foot mountain, I’ve gone out to clubs, I’ve surfed and scuba dived, I’ve been working on my startup company, I’m currently taking a course at Stanford University, I’ve ridden trains, planes, busses, and boats, I’ve been in the rain, wind, sleet, and hail, I’ve biked, hiked, and repelled down waterfalls.  All I’ve ever needed was one backpack.  Check out what’s inside here.
Have you ever heard that keeping your room or workplace clean and tidy helps you think better?  That when you’re physical space is cluttered, so are your thoughts?  Well it works the same with possessions.  When you have so many clothes to wear, so many devices, so many things, your mind has to keep track of all of them.  Free yourself from these and you free you mind from the heaviness of keeping track of them.
Now here’s the kicker, once you realize that everything you need to live just about anywhere in the world is on your back, you completely open yourself up to new possibilities.  Limit you?  I laugh at that.  It gives you power, which leads me to the next freedom.

Freedom of Location

Once you have time on your side and everything you need is on your back, you can go wherever you want, anywhere in the world.
Imagine you’ve been traveling for a while, say six months.  You’ve experienced so many amazing things and amazing people.  You have a rough plan for where you’ll be when, but on the road you hear of something amazing that you can’t miss.  You can totally change your plans and leave tomorrow.
Or maybe you meet someone special and want to spend an extra month in one place.  No problem.
But what about travel costs?  Aren’t plane tickets very expensive?  What if I want to fly halfway across the world?
Travel costs can be expensive, but they don’t have to be.   I flew from Lima to New Orleans for $100.  I booked my flights from New Orleans to Tokyo and then Istanbul to New York for $42.50.  How is this possible?  Travel hacking (I’ll post on this later).
Well that mitigates your single biggest financial barrier to extended independent travel.  Aside from planes, busses and trains are cheap enough (except maybe trains in Japan).
So go ahead, visit that place you’ve always wanted.  It wasn’t what you expected?  Ok, onto the next place!  You’re free to be anywhere.

Freedom of Thought

Inca Trail Thinking

Free thinking on the Inca Trail


Ok, so now you are free to be with others or be alone, you have time to do anything, your mind isn’t bogged down by material possessions, and you can be anywhere.  Wow! That’s a whole lot of brain power you just freed up!
What are you going to do with all of that brain power?  How about actually looking back at your life from a different perspective and seeing what you like and don’t like?  Maybe you want to just spend some time to “not think”.
When I was working in San Francisco, I always had something I “had” to think about.  Between work, my social life, my startup company, my meetup running group, exercise, diet, watching TV, and trying to get enough sleep to feel rested, my mind sometimes struggled just to survive and keep track of everything.  My thoughts raced from one thing to the next from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep.  My mind was hardly ever quiet.
When I started traveling, I definitely spent some time unwinding my head and rebooting.  After quieting my mind,  I began to think about things I wanted to, not because I had to.  I did some reflecting and thinking about what I want.  I wrote in a journal about my travels and about myself.  This experience of free thought was quite profound and I learned a lot about myself, what is important to me, and what I really want.

Freedom of Choice

So where is this all heading?  What is this freedom all about?  Now that you’re free to be anywhere with anyone, do anything, and think about anything, what’s next?
Well now it’s your choice.
You’re a little child and your mom and dad are asking you, what do you want?  What do you want to be?  What do you want to do?
You can be anything, you can do anything.
Your free choice is your power, and you get to experience this profoundly when you travel independently for an extended period of time.  This is the most important thing I’ve learned over the past six months.

Free Yourself

Now I’d like to pose a couple questions:
Did I always have these freedoms?
Do you have these freedoms?

THE WORLD IS YOURS

Atop Mt. Misti

On top of Mt Misti (19,101 ft), Arequipa, Peru


Please leave your comments and responses here.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Patrick September 13, 2012, 1:45 pm

    Dan,
    What an amazing post! My brain is still trying to unravel all the meaning and understanding I can gain from it. I am only a month into my trip now and each week I feel myself slowing down and being able to hear my own thoughts more clearerly. I am looking forward to what’s ahead.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Patrick

  • Kyle Rockefeller September 14, 2012, 8:43 pm

    Cuz,
    I am so inspired by you! Ah, the quiet mind.
    Are you interested in doing this with me April 13-14, 2013? http://toughmudder.com/ It’s a team event. You have to get all your people to the finish line.
    Kyle

  • Kim December 21, 2012, 7:34 pm

    Please post on travel hacking! How did you get those tickets so cheap?

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