Save years of mindless searching for it
It was June 25th 2015. Almost 3 years ago now. It was the day that would change my life forever. I never nervous, but not too much. The biggest emotion I was feeling during that day was excitement.
My flight was at 2pm, flying to Paris for a friend’s wedding. Finally the day had come. My wife and I had been planning that for a while. Unofficially for 3 years by that time.
June 25th was the day we officially left Toronto to travel the world for up to a year, with no real plan to ever come back.
A lot of people asked us what the purpose of our travels was.
Frankly, the thought of “purpose” had not crossed our minds.
We decided to do that simply because we loved traveling, meeting new people, living new experiences, trying new foods, and just generally become more open-minded individuals.
There was no real sense of higher purpose. We were not trying to “find ourselves” or anything.
Over the years, we had traveled about twice a year to new places. It just wasn’t enough for us anymore. We had mapped out the places we wanted to visit on a really cool Pinworld map.
The night of the 25th, I can’t say I didn’t sleep because of over-excitement, because well, I pretty much always fall asleep before the flight takes off… But Audrey probably didn’t sleep. It doesn’t help that we stopped in Reykjavik, Iceland at midnight in June. For those who don’t know, the sun doesn’t really set there at that time of the year.
We arrived in Paris during a massive heat wave taking place all over Western Europe. I’m sure we spent half our daily budget on water bottles during our two weeks in France and Germany!
The only thing we had booked in advance was our flight to Paris and our volunteering experience in Bangalore, India, taking place in October. Between that time, it was up to us, on a daily basis, to decide what to do next. It was a great way of living.
We ended up traveling all across Western Europe, Morocco, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Jordan and the UAE before flying to Bangalore. We hung some of the photos from those moments on the photo I shared above.
We met the most incredible people and did amazing things. As expected.
But the greatest experience we had during this whole trip was when we started our volunteering experience with Reaching Hand in Bangalore.
After our great experience working on meaningful projects and having an impact in other parts of the world, that’s when we started thinking about a greater purpose.
The funny thing is, up to that point, I had enjoyed Spain so much that after our travels, I wanted to buy a mini-van and become a tour guide there. What a change coming from a professional software engineer!
It had only been 4 months at that point, and I was thinking to myself: “if my trip would end now, I would be satisfied”. I hadn’t told Audrey at the time.
But we pressed on east. The idea was to do a round-the-world trip, going from west to east, landing back in Toronto after a year. We continued our travels north of India, Nepal, SE Asia, East Asia, USA and finally back to Canada.
The more we continued, the more we realized that traveling long-term is not about the sights you see, but the experiences you live, and who you live them with.
I was starting to be biased and not appreciate the marvels I would see before my eyes as much as I really should have.
That experience we had in Bangalore with Reaching Hand changed our perspective on traveling, and the world really.
As we continued traveling, we stopped paying much attention to sights, but rather finding more meaningful experiences. A few of those below:
Needless to say, we had blast. We volunteered twice more. Once in Siem Reap, and once in Busan, South Korea.
We left Asia from Seoul, going to California to meet some friends and do the best road trip of our lives along the California coast, starting in San Francisco.
And then we went back to Canada, where we were received with mixed reactions. Most were happy to see us again, but not everyone shared our enthusiasm about the experiences we lived. Some people didn’t even ask a single question, as if nothing ever happened. Some stopped talking to us for a while, and we were even thrown out of a house because of our open-mindedness.
I’m not one to take things personally, but it was hard to have lived this incredible experience, only to realize that a lot of people we cared about didn’t care for it.
When we got back to Toronto in early June, we ended up taking back our jobs. I didn’t mention it before, but they had actually given us a leave of absence, so it was an easy option, and a good way to make back the money we had spent during our travels.
But it didn’t take us long before we needed to do something meaningful again.
Audrey had started volunteering with Sundara and they needed help in Uganda in October 2016. I volunteered to take photos for them.
The 4,000 people of Bukompe had no access to clean water. They were sick from drinking from the only, strongly contaminated, source of water they had. And that source was pretty much completely dried out during summer.
We managed to help secure funding to build a borehole well with the help of a local NGO, Drink Local Drink Tap. That was extremely satisfying and meaningful for that community in dire need.
Then we went back to Canada. It was only a week-long trip.
That’s when we truly realized that our travels did exactly the opposite of what people seek: find their true calling.
We were lost. Almost completely.
We had discovered that there are much greater needs abroad, and we couldn’t fill those needs back home.
Back in Spain, I wanted to become a tour guide. Back in India, I wanted to do humanitarian work. Back in Thailand, I missed programming and finished my first game. Back home, I missed doing truly meaningful work.
We sat at our favourite Irish pub back in November 11th 2016, and I said to Audrey, half serious: “Do you want us to just leave again?”. To my surprise, she agreed. We were pumped.
You see, we didn’t find our true calling while traveling. In fact, we probably never will.
The greatest pleasure in life is exactly that, not knowing what’s going to happen.
We learned we had skills way beyond what we knew back home. We adapted to different cultures and became more open-minded. We met incredible people and learned from each one of them. Poor, rich. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. Men, women. Children, elders. It didn’t matter. We learned from everyone.
And that led to so much confusion. We learned we can do so much more. So many options opened (or was already there but we were blind to them) that choosing what we really wanted to do was extremely difficult.
Audrey applied for Doctors Without Borders two months after and got the job. We were set to be nomads, leaving in June 2017.
We took a vacation and traveled in East Europe and Portugal before Audrey left for her first mission in Central African Republic for six months. She completely loved it.
I went to Siem Reap back at AngkorHUB for about two months. It was an incredibly productive time. I was working 70+ hours per week and going out to dinner with friends pretty much every day. I became quite more social during that time.
It is during that time I came up with my 3-new-skills-a-month approach, which completely changed my life.
Then I went to Malaga, Spain for 3 months.
There, I took up the skill of writing, storytelling, public speaking, and more. On January 2nd, I published my first “real” story in Medium.com. On January 5th, The Startup approached me to write for them. On January 23rd, I become a Top Writer in 3 different categories. And then I gave talks on productivity.
I published my first book a month after. I started Viking Boutique, launched my second game, wrote my second book, and started another company, Bad Parrot in the following 3 months.
I’m now working on expanding my 3 companies, co-authoring a book with a new friend I met on Medium, releasing a Kickstarter campaign, etc.
What I’m getting at is this:
If it wasn’t for my travels, I would not have known that there was a world of possibilities for me out there. I would have stuck to my 9–5 job, not realizing my full potential.
I was confused coming back. I still am. So is Audrey. So is most people I know who traveled long-term.
I have not found my greater purpose. I probably never will. And I realize now that it’s pointless to even try.
Living new experiences, learning and meeting new people is what it’s all about. Who cares if you have or find an “ultimate destination” or not. As Steve Jobs said:
“The journey is the reward” — Steve Jobs
Cherish that quote.
Looking back, I have no regrets for what I’ve done. I may be confused still — probably even more so — but I’m happier and more “successful” for it.
So travel not for finding your greater purpose, but for living new experiences, learning many things, meeting new people and becoming more open-minded.
You can do this!
Thanks for reading and sharing! :)
First published here: https://medium.com/@danny_forest/you-will-not-find-your-greater-purpose-from-traveling-94510c90edb8