I was born in ’94, grew up with replays of the Teletubbies, Pokémon and the soundtrack of Titanic on the radio in my living room.
When I was 7, I learned how to type on our 50-pound office computer. When I was 14, MSN was the only way to hold late night group conversations. Scene became the ultimate fashion trend and my first few regrettable Facebook posts publicized my love-hate relationship with friends and foes.
I listened to Westlife and Britney then Fall Out Boy and MCR, Daft Punk and Pink Floyd and like my change in music, the 2000s became a fast-paced period streamlining happenings as if attempting to accompany the turn of the century
Suddenly, iPhones became an everyday object for 10-year-olds, contouring became a makeup technique for teens. Mid Snapchats and Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and Youtube, computerized drones visited homes of our neighbors.
Grew up on the Road
At three months, my parents packed me up and moved across China. This was just after China’s Open Door Policy, so the contrast between ancient Xi’an and modern Shenzhen was huge. Up till 6, I breathed the air of sea and salt, happy and sandy.
When I was 6, we moved to Toronto. As with most little kids in a foreign country, the year after was a hella roller-coaster of emotions for me. I’d run home crying every evening because I couldn’t understand the blabbing coming out of my classmates’ mouth. But quickly enough, I fell in love with the blue skies and maple trees and school that ended at 3:30 pm.
As fast as Canada happened, I was sent back to China, straight to boarding school. Now, my three years in Canada was filled with rigorous English learning. While I spoke Chinese at home, joining a Grade 4 Chinese class in China was a nightmare. I could barely speak the language fluently, let alone mastering these little box symbols that appeared on our bi-weekly tests.
But somehow, I survived.
Between 2 countries, 5 cities and 13 schools, I also developed a huge appreciation for travel and culture.
First Major Trip
Right after our high school graduation, my friend and I decided to take on China. At 18, we grabbed our bags and went on a 2-month journey across 9 cities in my homeland.
University was the only time that I somehow, had a home for more than 2 years. After moving around for oh so long, we finally settled down in a city near Toronto.
Yet, my travels were mostly completed during these few years.
During sophomore year, I applied for a semester abroad in Paris. However, despite a crazy four months, my time in Paris was not what I imagined it to be.
When April hit and school was out, I called up my friend and we began a barely-planned Euro-trip. Three weeks and a lot of events after, she went home to rest while I crossed Europe into Turkey. This was when I started my solo Couchsurfing /backpacking venture.
Till this day, Turkey remains one of my favorite countries. I loved the people, the culture, and the food so much so that I wrote my senior thesis on the Ottoman Empire.
Graduating Western was happy times for my family. There was a time when they didn’t even think I’d be accepted to college.
But I decided to skip convocation and backpack across California instead. With a fund I received from a conference, I was able to do this on $15 a day. Then, I flew to China for my grandparents’ 80th birthday, only to hit the road again for a 4-month Indian trip.
With a considerable amount of debt from school, I was still able to repay the loan AND travel some 20 countries in the past two years. It is possible and it has been amazing.
For those like myself, traveling doesn’t have to be budget unfriendly. There are so many people who are willing to lend a hand and so many ways to navigate around our world.
In the past couple of years, I’ve slept in teepees, bungalows, apartments, beach houses, and cave rooms, on floors, couches, and unwashed mattresses. I was hosted by lawyers, professors, hippies, bikers and many more. I’ve cracked my head in France, twisted my foot in Hungary, got chikungunya in India while my best friend was drugged and robbed in Paris. Yet I’ve witnessed hot air balloons in Cappadocia during sunrise, invited to an air traffic control tower in Beauvais, rode a motorcycle up into the Himalayas, slurped fresh oysters by the harbor of Santa Barbara and would not change my experiences for the world.
For me, traveling is not just about the tourist sights. It is a learning process comprising cultural differences, overcoming language barriers and a never-ending curiosity for an adventurous life. It is the act of overcoming physical borders, the mental frontier and embracing the unknown.