By Vegard Haugen
I can only speak for myself, but I have met many other travelers who also confirm that traveling has a huge impact on one’s personality. I know that I changed a lot during the year I hitchhiked from Norway to Morocco and back. It was a gradual change in perception, priorities and values. I realized it when I came home, when I saw that the people I knew at home had changed—in my new perspective—shockingly little.
In my travels I encountered a lot of situations I had never experienced before; in fact every moment was entirely unfamiliar. I launched myself into a completely different world. Not that every country is entirely different, they are very similar actually, but rather that most of my routines, daily habits, and comfort zones were becoming irrelevant to my new life. It was a kind of shock at first, but with time I got used to it. During an entire year on the road, you will encounter many weird situations! And it was only when I came home and saw my old friends and family, and how little had changed and how little curiosity they showed for the outside world, that I realized how open I had become to new experiences.
“I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.” – George Bernard Shaw
I’m excited about experiencing new things, trying new foods, listening to new music, taking some risks, meeting new women, and learning new things. Rather than focusing on limitations, I focus on the possibilities.
I came to Morocco right before Christmas of 2012. By this time I had been hitchhiking and walking in Europe for almost six months, and had already gotten a lifetime of unfamiliar experiences. But Morocco was different. Arriving in Tanger late on a Saturday evening was like getting a good punch right in the face! All the people, the street sellers, beggars, and people praying on the streets. All the animals, the music and noise, the smell of spices, and the chaotic traffic. I was excited and afraid.
It was a totally new world to me. I had to really watch my back wherever I went. I’m not saying that Morocco is an unsafe country, in fact I think it’s much safer than any other country I’ve ever been to. But it is the craziness of it that just forces you to set your own personal limits, and if you haven’t developed your personal limits you will be thrown around like a little rag doll. It was during the six months I lived in Morocco that I developed a much stronger sense of self-respect and assertiveness. I needed this to not get hustled and tricked by clever street sellers or faux guides. This ability is also very good to have in the Western world.
I spent incredibly little money on my journey. During one year I didn’t spend more than the average Norwegian spends in a typical month. The main reason was that I didn’t have much money; the other reason was that I didn’t need much money! My budget was a maximum of 1 euro every day, and I could not feed my self on just one euro. But I quickly learned how to get free, healthy food without having to steal it. I learned that supermarkets, restaurants and bakeries throw out ridiculous amounts of food every day. All I needed to do was ask, and they gave me bread, fruit and expensive restaurant meals for free.
I also saw how Moroccans valued their belongings, and their family and friends. They have less money, but I think most of them have very happy family and social lives. This made me realize how wasteful most of us are in the West. We live in a use-and-throw-away society, and we often value our IPhones, TV’s and our expensive clothes more than we value the planet and ourselves. We think that having “more” will make us happier. That if we make more money and buy a lot of stuff to distract ourselves, it will solve the problems we have. I think that most travelers can see this more clearly when they come home. They think about how much they missed their family and friends while they were traveling, but when they come home they realize that most people are preoccupied with an unfulfilling job or a computer screen.
When I came home I started living very frugally. I now only spend money on the most necessary things, and I value them. I also feel a much deeper love for my friends and family, traveling made me realize how important they actually were to me.
Coming Back to “Reality”
When coming home after adventuring in distant countries and unfamiliar cultures, a traveler might find it challenging to adapt to “reality” again. Many of us are not very motivated to settle down and find a job after getting a taste of what the world has to offer. For many of us this can be very frustrating, and for some it can be inspiring. Either you need to find joy in a life of routine, or you need to work to find ways to continue living this unconventional life.
When I came home I went through a period of depression, I was not motivated to start living “normally” again, and I realized that I had to find a way to continue the lifestyle I had. And this is what I’m doing today. I’m venturing into a life of self-employment where if I work hard enough, I will have enough freedom to live on my own terms. I value my freedom, my right to build a life of my own, and my right to travel. And I can say that if I had not traveled in the first place, my life would have been completely different now and in the future.
Vegard Haugen is a full-time traveler, writer and musician. He calls Bagn, Norway home. firstname.lastname@example.org