Five years ago I was like the typical 23-year old from a middle class Asian family living in Los Angeles. I had just finished my bachelor’s degree at UCLA and was starting graduate school when one night I had this dream of me backpacking in Amsterdam. I had never been to Europe nor seen a picture of Amsterdam, but the images from my dream were very vivid. I woke up and obsessively searched the internet for pictures and information, and felt so excited at the prospect of embarking on a trip like this. A year later, I spent the whole summer backpacking through Europe.
I can’t say that the dream was the single event that changed my view on life. Before it happened, my aspirations were the same as countless 23 year olds: finish grad school, find a secure job, buy a house, get married, have kids, etc. It seemed like the right thing to do since all my life my parents and society has told me that that’s the path to follow. But I looked around and realized that most people who follow this standard are not generally happy, not because having a job and a family leads to unhappiness, but because they didn’t follow their true dreams, whatever they might be. Many of them were lead to believe that typical path of high school to college to grad school to job to marriage to kids to retirement was the ultimate dream. So they do it without questioning themselves what is it that makes them really happy.
The dream I had back then might seem like a pretty insignificant event now, but it got me really curious about this whole other world that is out there. It made me realize that my world does not just consist of my family, friends, and school. I started reading books that really inspired me. One thing in common among all the great writers in history is that they have traveled and have had amazing life experiences that made them really understand human emotions. I don’t aspire to become a great writer but I do want to see and experience as much as possible of this world.
Later on I realized that it isn’t really just about traveling, but life philosophy in general. What really made me want to travel is that I didn’t want live the average life. Average is boring. I don’t want to get up to an alarm everyday. I don’t want fixed schedules. I don’t want to work 60 hours a week and have no free time to read books and enjoy my hobbies. I don’t want to have only 2 weeks of vacation time per year. I don’t want to have 2.5 kids and have a 50% chance of having a divorce. I don’t want to go to school for the first 25 years of my life, work for the next 40, and only be able to really enjoy life when I’m already old and tired.
I’m really lucky to be living in a country and be in a position where I could truly realize my dreams. I could never dream of traveling around the world if I was working in a sweatshop in Thailand making cents per day, but I am lucky enough to have parents who have been very supportive all my life, and I don’t plan wasting this unique opportunity by living an average life. I always say that when we are about to die, the things we will remember are the people we’ve met and the experiences we’ve had, and not the college degrees we got, or the countless hours we spent slaving at a job he hated, or how much money we have in our bank account.
A friend told the other day, after finding out that I speak 3 languages, that she thinks I’m wasting my talent by not working in a field that could take advantage of me being trilingual, such as sales in a cosmopolitan city like LA. I explained to her that it would be a real waste if I did something that I didn’t enjoy just because I’m qualified for it and could make a lot of money. She seemed to understand some of it but not all.
With all this realization also comes a sense of urgency. I am 28 right now, and while still considered young, if I am to travel extensively, I need to start soon. I don’t know yet if I want to form a family, but I want to leave that option open. I consider the period between age 20 and 40 the best time for a journey like this, a main reason why I’m not willing to wait until I retire to travel the world. Besides, who can guarantee any of us will live that long?
So what is it that I really want to do with my life after having this so called great enlightenment? My immediate goal is to go on a 2-year trip around the world. For that I plan on saving $100,000 first. How I plan to do this is a topic for a later entry. By my calculations the 2-year trip should cost about $50,000, so why the extra money saved? Well, first of all I’m a big believer of having an open mind while traveling: no fixed schedules, no preset path, etc. In case I decide to make this a 4-year trip once I’m on the road, I could do it. On top of that, I believe that having some extra money saved will really give me the piece of mind to truly enjoy the experience.
I know I might come off as preachy. The truth is that I’m really happy to have realized what I realized at this young age and to still have the time and opportunities to live the life that I want. I talk to my friends about this all the time. Many of them work their butts off and make barely enough to pay the bills. Despite having all the comforts of living in a developed country, they seemed unhappy and frustrated with life. Many of them talk about how would love to travel, but do very little to actually make it happen. I always try to show them how taking a trip is not as impossible as it seems.
Thanks for reading this, and I hope I was able to open inspire you to go out there and fulfill your dreams, whatever they might be. It doesn’t have to be traveling, it could be anything. Just don’t do something because it’s what you are supposed to do. Don’t waste the prime years of your life at a dead end job or studying something you hate. If I could convince just one of you to do this, it would make me very happy.