The past year gave me a lot of new experiences. I had to step out of my comfort zone and find new zones I’m comfortable with. A major part of it came from my trip to the US. It was an official trip that taught me more than official stuff.
Even before the actual travel, every bit of preparation was a new journey by itself. From filling up the visa application, biometrics, and visa interview, to planning, packing, clothing, and embarking the boeing, every moment felt special.
From the moment I landed, everything I looked at awed me. Having lived all my life in a third world country, I can’t explain my wonderment at walking through wide roads, observing paved sidewalks, reserved bicycle paths, and moving traffic. India is famous for its clogged streets—not only do we have unmoving vehicles honking in impatience but we also inhale the smoke from out-dated vehicles that should’ve lost their licenses 20 years ago. With the absence of everything I’d become used to at home, my trip abroad showed me the other side of the world. It showed me an alternate reality I couldn’t have imagined.
As a bonus, the trip included my first solo adventure. For the first time in my life, I chose my destinations, decoded city codes, made purchases, and arranged accommodation. The experience revealed a side of myself I didn’t know I had. I learnt to plan, to organise, and to communicate with other people to get my work done. It taught me survival skills and negotiating skills.
Not only did I discover my own boldness, but I also discovered I could socialise without feeling bad about myself. Having always shunned away from social interactions, I saw myself initiating conversations, instead—with Uber drivers, restaurant waiters, event caterers, hotel receptionists, kitchen staff, fellow backpackers, and even an 88 year old grandma who headed to the Portland Museum sporting rain boots, a raincoat, and a confident stride. I laughed more than I had all year because intense pleasure seeped through my veins cleansing my soul.
As much as the grandeur of the US of A thrilled me, its subtle faults also stood out. Homelessness, unemployment, drugs, gun violence, homophobia, Islamophobia, inequality, and the over-indulgence of food, all shoved their ugly faces at me. Despite the wonderful people I met, despite the glorious sunrises and sunsets, and regardless of the advanced public transportation systems, I realised that first world countries have their pitfalls too. No matter which part of the earth humans live in, humans will be humans nevertheless. We do good to each other, but we also harm each other. For every thankful moment, there was also a moment I could’ve lived without.
My greatest takeaway from 2017 is the lessons from my trip. Most of the world’s population looks up to the US and to other western countries, expecting them to guide from experience. However, during my time there, I figured the US is as clueless as the rest of the world. Sure, they have nice cars, bigger roads, more money, and less population but when it comes to everyday life matters like equal pay, gender biases, and tipping at restaurants, the first world isn’t too far ahead of third world countries. Yes, the US is a wonderful country, the people of the west are kind and welcoming. Their embrace is warm, their laughter is contagious, and their thoughts are genuine. But even there, unhappiness and dissatisfaction prevails. Alas, no place is perfect.
And with that realisation I headed back home, knowing that the best way to live is to make yourself happy in spite of your physical surroundings. It’s not easy. But hey, if a place gets too dull, you can always get away. One solo trip is all you need to catch the bug forever.