Why Travelling is Real Life Condensed: 9 Lessons

The RoadThe last months were marked by transition. Decisions and changes appeared ahead, as I redefined the road I’m choosing to travel.

At the end stands the decision to leave South Africa for Europe, to do clinical psychology training in Munich, Germany, and a masters degree in behaviour therapy at the University of Bern in Switzerland. My goal is to register as a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist in both Germany and South Africa. Expanding on my skills in coaching and facilitation, this will allow me to choose and combine the methods that promise the greatest benefit for my clients, whether they seek personal growth or deeper healing.

I will continue to work as a coach under Metathoughts and will stay part of the facilitator team of CIELARKO, supporting them in building bridges between South Africa and Germany.

I also expanded the range of topics I write about on Metathoughts.net (see “About”). In this blog, I will soon explore with you the realms and depths of human consciousness and the interplay between psychology and spirituality.

WeddingChange also happened in my private life. In December I married JC, my personal hero and partner of 6 years. We celebrated the greatest power, love, with a beautiful, fantasy-themed wedding, and I am honoured and proud to carry JC’s surname Brand from now on.

After that, we went on honeymoon. Don’t however imagine a holiday where we sip cocktails on reclining chairs of a fancy hotel. The pillars of this trip were the ambition to explore South-East-Asia, a rough time frame of 3 months, two backpacks, and an open itinerary only limited by our budget.

This kind of travelling is sometimes uncomfortable, and not always relaxing. So why not opt for a comfortable place where we could feel like “home away from home”?

Read the 9 insights I had on this trip and understand why.


Why Travelling is Real Life Condensed: 9 Lessons

(1) Travelling Means Learning

How do I get from A to B? Is the offered price a rip off or fair? Can I walk around safely here? And is friendly Mr. Z trying to take advantage or truly offering help?

Being settled somewhere often means following a routine. At home, I know my way to the usual places, how things work and the people I meet. So for the majority of time, I tend to stay in that comfort zone. IMG_2844Travelling comes down to the opposite. Moving across cities, countries and cultures means continuously seeking and meeting novel challenges. Managing pushy salesmen, eating dodgy food, getting lost in the heat or being surrounded by people whose language you don’t speak can feel intimidating, especially when you don’t know your surroundings. Over time however, you learn to deal with novel challenges and eventually master them. The result is what we call life experience.

Travelling is life in its condensed form as it accelerates this process of learning and gaining experience.

(2) Carry Your Desires

At every destination I see beautiful things in shops and markets and usually I fall in love with one or two items. A piece of hand-made jewellery or clothing, a handicraft, whatever is on offer. I get excited and anticipate using those things back at home. I think it will remind me of the trip and make me happy, somehow I will be more complete, more beautiful or interesting if I possess this item.

BackpackFor this trip, my luggage consisted of 11 kg of all that I needed, even including some things I in the end didn’t use. Having to carry it for an extended period of time meant that whatever I desired to buy, I had to carry until the end and could often use only much later. This brought up some interesting thoughts which made me question my shopping habits. I began to resist the desire to buy. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes difficult, and again, it reminded me of life. I know very well, every time I moved house, I found my new place spacious in the beginning. When it was time to move out, I realised it was filled up with stuff. Things which I thought I needed at the time of the purchase had disappeared from my mind and sight into closets. Some items stayed nice reminders of special times, but nothing of what I own ever made me happy in such a way that it removed the need to buy more. For most of us Westerners, this means moving to bigger and bigger places throughout our lifetime.

What travelling taught me about life is that the same stuff that we once so desired can wear us down. More stuff can be nice to have and provide more comfort, but ultimately, it makes us heavy and hinders us in moving on.

(3) Once In A Lifetime Is Now

While travelling, I am completely aware that time is limited and I might never come back to the particular place I am currently at. Knowing that we will leave in a few days, I am aware that I need to do what I can; and what I do not do today, might never happen.

At home, I think of many things as ordinary and repeatable. I can eat at my favourite restaurants any time, gym today or tomorrow, and visit friends and colleagues “when we find time”. This creates the illusion that there is plenty of time to do anything, and I do not particularly appreciate many of the single actions that make up my days. I cancel on opportunities or invitations regularly as there is always time “next week/month” etc. This idea that we can do things any time not only makes us lazy, it also speeds up time in hindsight: a month or even a year filled with routine activities that were not appreciated or celebrated seems like a short blur of time when I look back.

Travelling is life condensed, because the constant and sharp change in daily experiences made me realize that ultimately, there is no dichotomy of a “once-in-a-life-time” as opposed to “everyday experiences”. Wherever we are, every single moment is a once-in-a-life-time-moment that will never come back. We can never know whether we will be able to repeat it, nor will it be the same when we do.

(4) Meet Yourself Alone

beachA beautiful island. Sunshine. Palm trees. Cheap and delicious food. No problems. But there I sit and simply feel unhappy. Although my surroundings are paradise, when I am honest to myself, I don’t quite feel it.

When we feel dissatisfied or unhappy, we often blame the situation we are in. Work, money, traffic, politics, there are many things that can spoil one’s mood. Like most people, when I take a holiday, I try to ensure my happiness by eliminating those things and by spoiling myself: a nice place, dinner, wine, books and fun activities. Ideally, when I’m back home, I feel recharged as I enter my routine again.

While travelling, you might however find yourself somehow unhappy or dissatisfied, even though all the external factors are perfect. This may come as a surprise, and great lesson: While there are many things we can do to make ourselves feel good instantly, especially on a holiday, this trip showed me that their effects are superficial and limited in time. True happiness can only come from within, even in paradise.

(5) Feel The Danger

One hour after arrival in Vietnam, I find myself on the back of a scooter, driven by a Vietnamese man in his fifties. Suddenly I realize that I am separated from my husband, that I do not have a cellphone, nor any money on me. I don’t speak a word of Vietnamese, nor does the driver speak English. In fact, I do not even know the guy at all. All I have is the agreement that he will take me to a bus which will take us to another bus that will take us to Saigon. We don’t even have a ticket as proof, but it was our only option at the last minute. As we speed over a bridge the driver almost loses his helmet. I push it back on his head and think I must be crazy to find myself in such a risky situation. But at the same time, somehow I am thrilled. I feel alive.

I see myself as a person who is committed to making choices which will assure me a long, healthy and prosperous life. I make informed decisions, don’t smoke, save money, use seat belts, have insurance and so on. As a result, I believe my chances are pretty good. Most of the time, I almost forget that life is dangerous and that I am mortal after all. TarantulaTravelling on a budget outside of beaten routes however changes the game, especially in developing countries. You can not help but be aware of your vulnerability when you’re on a heavily overloaded boat without life vests, or when a tarantula appears while you’re washing yourself in the jungle. Simply put, if you travel long enough, you will be in danger sooner or later.

This means life condensed for me because it makes it more real. The true nature of being alive is to face risks and to have to deal with them. Even when we believe we are sheltered, dangers exist in any case, and the price of trying to eliminate them is that we don’t experience life fully.

 (6) Know Your Partner

While travelling, you can not hide anything from your travel partner. Bad habits, fears or dirty clothes. You have to agree on everything: the places you go to, the money you spend, the things you do. You need to make things work, in any place and setting, any weather, not only now and tomorrow, but every day without a break. Your travel companion is your friend and family abroad, while also your adversary and mirror.

Modern life, between work, commute, children, hobbies and its general management, hardly leaves any time for the development of relationships. Travelling on the other hand exposes their core: most normal tasks and routines removed, we have to constantly deal with each other. An extended journey poses such a multitude and variety of challenges to a relationship that if there are any issues, it is guaranteed that they will come out and require attention in order for the trip to become a success. This is life condensed because it cuts right through the masks we wear in daily life and forces us to deal with what defines ourselves and our relationships. Thus I believe if two people can travel together, they can do almost anything else together too. If a relationship can handle the strains of a long trip, it will arise deeply strengthened in a way that would otherwise require years of daily life. If a trip weakens or questions the bond of travel companions, then travelling might have sped up a process that needed to be dealt with in any case, and that is ultimately for the better.

Seeing life as the ultimate journey on which we embark only once: what is more important than the people we choose to travel with?

(7) Know Where You Go

Whats nextShould we stay a bit longer or move on? The next place can offer all that we could wish for, or it could be disappointing.

Finding places that stand out for their beautiful scenery, food, people or arts is the main mission of most travellers. On this trip, we usually booked two nights at a time, and made a decision every few days. When we didn’t like a place, we moved on. When we liked it, we prolonged our stay. Sometimes several times. Sometimes we moved within a town. We always asked ourselves what we were looking for, and tried to get as close as possible to that. It happened that we left a great place behind only to end up some place worse, and sometimes we left a great place because we simply wanted something else.

The lesson lies in this ongoing process, applied to life: Always know what you seek, so that you realize when it is time for you to go ahead and search for it, but also recognize when you found it.

(8) Stop the Rush

We’re sitting in an old Cambodian bus furnished with dirty, pink curtains. Although our destination is only a little more than 100 km away, the ride is predicted to take about 4 hours, due to horrific traffic and road conditions. After having forged our way through the congested roads of Phnom Penh for about one hour, we suddenly stop at the side of the road. After 20 minutes, we gather that the engine is broken. I start to feel annoyed. It is hot, and after all, we want to arrive at our destination!

While travelling, one constantly needs to investigate the road ahead, book transportation, accommodation, pack, unpack, wash clothes etc. There is a danger to mistake the constant moving and organizing for the trip itself, simply because there is always something to do in order to get on with the trip.

TravellingWhen I sat at the side of the road next to the old bus, I suddenly realized that the delay didn’t really matter at all. Wasn’t this city the place we curiously came to only two days before, to see how people live here? Why then was it great two days ago and not in this moment? And what would I do after arrival? Maybe read a book? – the same book I had with me right now, and I could enjoy reading, instead of being upset. Travelling taught me that we tend to overestimate the importance of our destinations. It is so important for us to to get things done in order to reach the next step that we enjoy the journey too little and miss its gifts, especially when it turns out differently from what we imagined. In travelling as in life, when we arrive, after all we usually face the same challenges again. And ultimately, we all move towards the last destination, which is death.

The lesson? Don’t fall for the trap of always preparing for the next moment. It can only but detract from the current one.

(9) Don’t Judge Too Early

We’re looking for a market in Bangkok which is famous for seafood. When we arrive, we are told that we’re too early. What a pity. – Maybe. We meet a guy who recommends us a boat ride, sunset being a great time for it. We follow his advice and end up enjoying ourselves. Aren’t we lucky to have met him? – Maybe. Later on we hear from someone else that we paid way too much for that boat ride. So it was bad luck after all? – Maybe.

The constant decision making and exploring while travelling brings about many immediate results and it is tempting to judge them all. Missed the train – bad thing. Meet someone nice – good thing. Losing your way – bad thing. Find a waterfall – good thing.

Follow your RoadIn fact however, we can never know whether something is ultimately good or bad. Every event is connected with the past and future in ways we can not see. Every decision opens and closes so many possible consequences that we can only fail if we try to judge based on imagination. Travelling taught me that we can only experience one route in life, and never know how it would have been to walk another. A disappointing experience can save us from a mistake years after still, or something everyone envies us for can be a problem later.

The lesson is that it does not matter. In hindsight and in the bigger picture, all is an essential and valuable part of what the journey teaches us so that we may grow and find meaning on our way.


In this sense, enjoy your life travels and let me know in the comments what lessons travelling has taught you. Here a short video with scenes from the trip.

P.S. Before we went home, we did stay at a resort for some days. It was lovely 🙂

This entry was posted in Metathoughts, Travel Thoughts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Why Travelling is Real Life Condensed: 9 Lessons

  1. Burgert says:

    Thanks for sharing this Manu, I really enjoyed reading it. Sounds like traveling is a lot like raising twin toddlers, the same life lessons apply. Except you’re just trying to keep on their nappies not their helmets.

    • masara says:

      Hey Burgert! Good to hear from you! Yes, that makes a lot of sense. I guess every process is a micro-cosm of life, and its lessons can therefore be reflected back onto the big picture? I like that idea.
      I would love to hear a story from raising children! 🙂

  2. Leonora Bentley says:

    Hi Manuela

    I’ve just watched your video and really want to get on a plane and experience what I’ve just seen. The video is excellent – well done both of you.


    • masara says:

      Thank you Leonora. It was funny, we never planned on making a video. I filmed a little for fun, playing with the camera. So we recognized that sometimes a video can capture certain scenes better than photos, and decided to put the clips together in the end. I’ll do it more from now on 🙂

  3. Christian says:

    Hi Manu,

    great article, great video.
    So much truth in your lessons. Often, we know better but still we choose to act in way that leads us down the wrong way. Judging too early, always in a rush, without a actual clue where we’re going or where we want to be.
    You know “Memento”, the movie? I should make some tattoos with all your lessons, too…

    Keep writing you blog, love it! Fantastic an inspiring stuff
    ( as always 🙂 )

    PS: When I read your article, I instantaneously thought of a poem:
    Berthold Brecht, “Der Radwechsel”

    • masara says:

      Hi Christian
      Thanks for your thoughts.
      Yes, this is exactly the thing. We usually do know these truths somehow, they are not exactly “new”. But we need to experience them and allow those experiences to make us aware or remind us, so that we can stay conscious in daily life, which is the second part of the challenge.
      Thanks for the reference to Brecht. I didn’t know the poem but I love it and post it below. Makes me think!

      Berthold Brecht, “Der Radwechsel”

      I’m sitting on the edge of the street.
      The driver is changing the wheel.
      I don’t like where I come from.
      I don’t like where I’m going to.
      Why do I watch the changing of the wheel with impatience?

      Ich sitze am Straßenhang.
      Der Fahrer wechselt das Rad.
      Ich bin nicht gern, wo ich herkomme.
      Ich bin nicht gern, wo ich hinfahre.
      Warum sehe ich den Radwechsel mit Ungeduld?

      P.S. The song is Crockett’s theme (Tom Middleton Cosmos mix) by Anjunadeep

  4. Christian says:

    Btw: Which song is it in the video?

  5. spir voul says:

    Nice meeting U2 beautiful people.Amazing bus trip we had,i will never forget it.Great video & great article Manuela,thumbs up!.See U around 😀

    • masara says:

      Thank you Spiros! Meeting amazing, inspiring people like you who live out of the box is one of the most precious things about travelling.

  6. spir voul says:

    Thank you for your kind words Manuela. When people say this about me,i’m feeling more human and my life experiment wasn’t wasted.I have no money, i don’t want any money, but i have many friends,i’m rich. All my love and adventure to U2 😀

    • masara says:

      I believe you have so many friends all over the world because they admire your life experiment, and they can feel that it is authentic and kind. Keep it up, Spiros, and until one day, maybe! 🙂

  7. Anselm says:

    Hi Manuela, wonderful post! My favorite quotes put together:
    “What travelling taught me about life is that the same stuff that we once so desired can wear us down. More stuff can be nice to have and provide more comfort, but ultimately, it makes us heavy and hinders us in moving on.
    True happiness can only come from within, even in paradise.
    Travelling taught me that we tend to overestimate the importance of our destinations.
    In hindsight and in the bigger picture, all is an essential and valuable part of what the journey teaches us so that we may grow and find meaning on our way”

    Saved all that on my google keep app for future reference 😉 and my favorite point is the 9th.

    I did however wonder if it was not easier to go through an adventure with a partner than to cope with the excruciating routine of the daily life.

    After all, in the heat of the action, the priority remain to move on and that helps deal with any rising issue to some extend. But in the day to day life, the sense of purpose can be fuzzy, and dealing with issues tend to be delayed because either we think we have time or we hope they will go away on their own. That’s another form of laziness that come with “This idea that we can do things any time” at home. So I’m not quite sure which setting is harder to handle for a relationship.

    On point 9, I wondered if our problem doesn’t start with the semantic: “life journey”. We all believe explicitly or implicitly that there is a journey and hence a destination, maybe that’s the source of the evil… If there is no journey, then no part is bad or good, it is just life, there is no big picture, no puzzle pieces which put together will reveal that picture, so yes, “Why do I watch the changing of the wheel with impatience?”.

    Anyway, thank you again for contributing in my life with your great post, got me thinking as you can see

    • Metathoughts says:

      Hi Anselme. It makes me happy that the article meant something to you, and thank you for the interesting thoughts you raised. I thought about them, and here my response:

      I definitely agree with you that travelling is usually easier than going through the routine of daily life.
      The process of constant moving and progressing however provided me with insights that somehow made life appear clearer, more understandable, and that is what I mean with “travelling is life condensed”.
      It must be said though that it is definitely a privilege that I was able to travel like this, it is a luxury to have that kind of time to think in the first place.

      Regarding relationships: I also agree there with you, and thank you for the reminder that for many people, dealing with the daily life and a struggle for survival is harder than travelling together. I was writing from a perspective where “daily life” is a life that generally goes well and is secured, hence people stop challenging themselves. But thanks for making that point.

      Yes, it is an interesting choice that we make, to believe in life either as a meaningful journey versus a random event. I can only say that I chose number one, as it makes me happier and the experience of being alive feel richer.

      Have a lovely weekend!

  8. Anselm says:

    Thanks for the clarification Manuela, you summed it up, at some point we stop challenging ourselves indeed. I have not quite gotten around the “life journey” dilemma yet, but you are giving me a great pointer, that’s what make one happier and the experience richer.

    Have a lovely weekend too!

  9. deannasallao says:

    hey there! i’m loving your recent posts!
    I also blogged about my thoughts on “traveling to escape”.
    do you think traveling is a form of escape? or the other way around?

    here’s the link of my recent post,

    would be so nice to hear from you! 🙂

    cheers! xx

    deanna( http://www.talkaboutbeauty.wordpress.com )

    • Metathoughts says:

      Hi Deanna. Thank you for your comment and your thoughts, I appreciate them!
      I think travelling can be a form of escape from life, a very valuable one, and one that helps us to grow, to develop empathy, to become wiser etc.
      Nevertheless, I think one of the points I am trying to make is that it is sad if we see “the routine” as bad and boring, and traveling as the escape from it. The ultimate goal for me would be to learn from traveling, and to apply the lessons to the routine, realizing that our whole life is actually an amazing trip and journey, and that when we look at life with those eyes of excitement, we will enrich the experience of whatever we do. We should be curious about people in our street as we are in a far-away land, we should try new things as often as we can, not only on a holiday, and so on…
      I am not at all saying this is easy, but it is definitely something I am striving towards 🙂

  10. google.com says:

    Hey! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content.
    Please let me know. Thanks

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