Lesson 23: You are who you are

Our thoughts, cognitions, beliefs, values, experiences influence us and shape us up. As I travelled, I also used the time to explore myself, using the tools of self-reflection and introspection.

I asked myself:

Who am I?

Who is the real me?

The same questions apply to every single person in this world. All the experiences have made you the person you are today but

  1. Is that person you or
  2. Are you transformed into someone else?

There are more profound questions one needs to ask oneself. Sometimes a lot of personal work is required.

When I explored, I used the opportunity to explore myself.

As I worked on peeling through my mental model of the world, I began to connect to the world from a very different perspective – through the lens of understanding, acceptance and compassion. It is a work in progress.

One of the core principles of my travel philosophy is to respect others without any bias and prejudice. In reality, I fell short of my standards. I met travellers who only wanted to drink and party. I judged them as terrible travellers (though not awful human beings).

Why would they fly across the world to do the same activities as they would in their home countries?

I met travellers who were hardly interested in local history and culture. They had a bucket list of places to see, and all they cared about was getting through the checklists. The local culture was not as crucial as the beaches to get a suntan.

Why would they not care about the locals? How can you visit other places and not be curious about their culture?

The whole influencer culture is something I struggle to be on board. I love exploring because it gets me closer to new experiences. I see many influencers who only care about likes, followers, endorsements and posting beautiful pictures.

There is a famous swing in Ecuador when photographed correctly, looks like one is swinging off a cliff. It is quite a neat photography trick. La Casa del Arbol, also known as The Swing At The End Of The World is one of the most iconic attractions to visit in Baños, Ecuador. However, due to its popularity, you queue up to an hour for a two-minute photo shoot. From my perspective, it doesn’t make any sense, but many travellers love doing it for their Instagram and Facebook profiles. It feels quite silly to be in line for a photograph.

But then, I am not immune to the idea of staying in a line for something I love. I have my weakness too, and for me, it is usually delicious cuisine, unique to a place or at a restaurant very well known and highly recommended by food lovers. I queued up in London for an hour at a restaurant called Meat Liquor for their delicious burgers. I will gladly travel for miles to eat at a specific restaurant. In a small village in Peru, near the Colcha Valley, a restaurant served volcanic soup – Corn-based soup with hot volcano stones slowly heating the broth. I, with a few more, travelled for an hour or so just for the soup. Luckily we did not queue that day, but usually one has to do the same. I have done the same in Hoi An in Vietnam, San Sebastian in Spain and many other places. I remember waiting patiently for about forty-five minutes to get into Churascarrio Palace, a restaurant famous for their meats, in Rio. You can call me silly for queuing up for food.

Judging the Instagrammers feels quite hypocritical. After all, they are there to make an incredible memory. Not all the influencers and travellers are superficial. Some of the influencers also genuinely engage with the locals. I met many travellers who worked in hostels for weeks to months, to immerse themselves in the local culture. Many in South America and Central America took up Spanish lessons to fit in and be part of the community. Many of these tourists, for whom I have a lot of respect, integrate themselves from a sense of appreciation and learning.

However, the commercialisation of travel, seen through social media vanity is entirely alien to my values and ethics. I want to be part of the social media community, but I do not want to be consumed by social engagement, likes, shares, endorsements etc.

The conflict tears me apart at times.

Many explorers inspired me to travel, including historical figures such as Marco Polo and Ibn Buttatah. Che Guevera’s Motorcycle diaries played a crucial role in helping me frame my perspective on travels. His interactions in the leper colony, his experience about the injustice of the workers, transformed him. During my preparation for these travels, I knew that I did not want my journey to be fun and games. That is not me. I always look for something deeper and meaningful. Sometimes this has meant overthinking and not enjoying myself. Sometimes this has meant getting more out of something mundane and boring.

While there were times, I shunned socializing because I wanted to take a break and deal with my ruminations and intrusive thoughts, there were other times when I felt I had outgrown the conversations and banter over beers. The same type of conversation every evening would not do it for me. I completely understand that most people are there to have fun when you travel in groups for a couple of weeks and make the most of their vacations. Having been on the road for a long time, I couldn’t keep on doing this. For me, it became mundane and boring. It also meant that I did not socialise or participate in activities because I was bored. Not a great thing to admit, but it was what I felt at times.

After a few years on the road, I am learning to accept myself for who I am – not accepting my deep flaws, my biases, my prejudices, my judgements of others but instead accepting that I have them. It is the same with ‘lost time’ due to periods when I was in survival mode dealing with mental health concerns.

I have a long way to go, but a better future lies ahead. It begins by accepting your current self, starting with dealing with your past and being in the present. You can change your future. You can transform yourself to someone else with hard work and determination. But it requires accepting the principle, which is core to every individual: “You are who you are.”

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