Traveling the world playing music was one of my life goals as a teenager. I did a lot of music in highschool. I played in many bands and musicals and enjoyed traveling for performances - I just loved it. I knew when I graduated I didn't want to do anything else, and just wanted to play music and travel and have fun adventures. I was born in Los Angeles but my family moved a couple of hours away to Palm Springs when I was little. It's in the Coachella Valley, where it's popular for Coachella Fest now, the big music festival. When I was there; before I moved; there was virtually no music scene. It's a big dry desert and at that time there was not much happening there for entertainment. Virtually nothing at all. Anyway, I was lucky to audition for an organization my senior year and got a full music scholarship to college and I was ready to go. So when I graduated high school I just wanted to leave the valley and see the world.
I'm happy to say that I did it and looking back always gives me some of my best memories. Making new friends and spending time abroad will enrich your life. I loved traveling and I look back on my time doing it as some of the best times of my life. This I know is true. I would also like to discuss some of false misconceptions most people have about traveling though - or things that might surprise you; things like "finding yourself, or whatever." Like somehow going away from your problems is going to solve your problems. It could maybe for some people; but I think it's the wrong outlook to have. Traveling is about experiencing and immersing yourself in other cultures. Otherwise you can miss out. You know did I suddenly realize some big life purpose or have a major epiphany? Not really... I've always been a pretty grounded person and already knew who I was.
" I can tell you that it definitely shaped me though"
In terms of perspective; my values, my beliefs, I already knew who I was for the most part at my core. For me, this wasn't a mission to find myself. This was about fun and exploration. You don't need to travel the world to figure out who you are. If you got problems in your head, I guarantee those problems will stay with you no matter where you go. You're not suddenly a different person because you were dropped in a new time zone.
Also, it might surprise some people, but traveling can't be all fun and party party all the time. Sometimes it's upsetting. Sometimes it's surprising. Sometimes it's really challenging. Sometimes you realize things you don't like about yourself, or even the world. Interestingly enough I brought a journal with me so that I could keep a record of everything that I was feeling and thinking so I wouldn't forget anything - because I assumed like most people do, traveling completely changes you. After almost 5 years I came back without writing one page..... Sounds weird, right? Well, as I was doing it I made a firm decision to just be more present, and I couldn't do it sitting around writing all the time. I just wanted to take it all in and get out there.
To quote Henry Thoreau:
How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.
Well, this was my time..
In 2010 I was a broke musician living in Los Angeles. I had some pretty cool opportunities, like working with the Grammys and doing recording sessions and shows. But nothing yet that made me feel really alive - to get that dream of playing and traveling I so badly wanted as a kid. I was lucky enough to be working full-time as a musician, but I felt like I wasn't really living my potential. Then, an accident happened and I broke my wrist. Right as I was really making progress with my career. I had to have pins put in my hand and wrist and had physical therapy for 6 months. I relied on teaching and was not happy at all. Like I said I was appreciative enough to still be teaching as a musician, but I thought to myself constantly "is this it?" This is not what I planned for my future. The doctor told me I should probably change careers. I wasn't having it tho. I intensified training on my own and had a full recovery.. I practiced and a got my chops back pretty fast. Then in less than a few weeks after my recovery, I got a call from a guy in L.A. who put me in touch with a music agent, and before I knew it..... I was off. I got my dream. My big adventure was finally happening.
The first trip abroad they flew me to Venice - Italy - where I never actually believed I would ever go in my life, let alone my first trip. I've spent weeks there now and I absolutely love it there. Within a week I went around the Mediterranean in Egypt and Greece and Italy and Turkey, France. I couldn't believe it. I felt like I was living in a dream. This brings me to my first realization.
#1) Traveling helped me be more present
When I was traveling and following an itinerary, the next day was always a new adventure and something different to explore. I actually also brought travel books with me wherever I went so that I had historical data of the area, facts about the cities, monuments, etc. - I wanted to know everything. I totally geek out on history. I love it.
That curiosity I had when I was a kid came flooding back. I wanted to know everything about where I was and what I could learn. I wanted to see the museums and national treasures. As an adult, we can easily get into a mundane routine of work, pay bills, work, pay bills, repeat... We kind of just settle and lose a bit of that curiosity and adventure in our lives from when we were kids. Every other day I was traveling to another city and I loved it. It awoke that sense of adventure again for me and I was much more present each and every day.
#2) I started being less judgemental, mostly about myself
So, an interesting experience I had that was quite emotional was in Greece. I was driving on a 4 wheel ATV around the island of Santorini and I had a moment.
It was a beautiful sunny day in the Mediterranean. It was around midday, not a cloud in the sky, and was driving a four-wheel ATV around the Greek island of Santorini. Nice breeze, blue skies; just very serene. The mountains of Santorini can get up to above 1500 ft., so from this height, the Aegean Sea looked just as smooth as glass. As I steered around a bend on the south side of the island, I suddenly broke out in what can only be described as a maniacal laughing fit.
I was like Heath Ledger playing the Joker in The Dark Knight. Hahahahahaha. Waaaaaaah… Hahahahaaaaah! It was really insane. It just came out of nowhere. My friend Jon, a singer from Los Angeles was right behind me on his own four-wheeler about 30 feet back. I’m not even sure if he knew what was happening. But, I didn’t even care. I just started laughing. My body and head with my big helmet on gyrating back and forth from the front of the bike to the back as I looked up and just kind of laughed at the universe, and this crazy moment.
It was like my mind suddenly left my body and I could see my life from an entirely different perspective. I felt like a bystander, witnessing this moment as it was happening, like a movie or something - remembering all the pain, fight, and torment that I use to unleash on myself. My mind's eye vision was suddenly clear, and I got a fresh perspective on how ridiculously hard I’ve been on myself over all these years. It was… liberating! Less than a week ago I was in Los Angeles, pretty broken and unhappy. Then in a moment, BOOM!
So, fast forward and now I’m suddenly blazing down this small two-lane highway on this ancient mountain pass halfway across the world. I couldn’t believe it. It was a moment of pure bliss. All the hard work I did was finally paying off. Finally! The overwhelm of the moment hit me like a lightning bolt and tears fell down my cheeks. I was so appreciative. You know, these weren’t sad tears.
They were happy tears. The kind you get when you feel like you can feel again. It was an inspired cry. That was the moment that everything changed for me. I pulled over and wiped the tears from my face. I just stood and looked out over the island. Jon snapped a photo of me and we just stood there for a moment of quiet reflection. I felt happier than I’ve felt in a long time. I finally felt that validation I was looking for in my career. Then, the words just fell out of my mouth quietly.
“Believe in yourself you dumbass…”
From that day forward I started being less judgmental about myself as well as others. It improved my travel experience as well. People around the world everywhere welcomed us to their countries with open arms. Assumptions about places that I might have had were completely false. Pre-conceived notions about how people might react to me in a certain area were completely false. You know; judgment, expectations, and attachment to outcomes ruin personal happiness. Judging less widens your humanity as well as your happiness.
#3) I Lost my nationalism idealogy
So, having been to over 40 countries, I was able to experience not only the beauty of so many different places but the beauty of the people. I was lucky enough to make many friends and have some really great conversations that I will always hold dear to me.
Most countries tend to always raise their citizens I think with a good amount of nationalist fervor and ideologies, but especially in the United States. We talk like we're the liberators of the world because no one else is free like us. This couldn't be further from the truth. Over 160 countries around the world enjoy the same freedoms as we do. We're not even the most "free" in terms of personal and economic freedoms.
The Human Freedom Index Report released findings about the freest countries in the world. The country with the highest rank for the personal freedom index was the Netherlands, followed closely by Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Hong Kong had the highest economic freedom index, followed closely by Singapore. For overall human freedom, New Zealand came in first, closely followed by Switzerland and Hong Kong.
In fact, the 2020 world report released that America was 53rd on the list! Having lived outside the United States I can confirm this. In the UK where I live now, the personal benefits and freedoms largely outweigh much of what I experienced in America. From the drinking age being 18 to free healthcare, to better childcare benefits for parents, there is a stark difference that has quite enlightened me.
One of the things America has that the UK does not is freedom of guns. They're largely outlawed here. But because of this, there are 160 times more gun deaths in America compared to the UK. Uk average is 50 to 60 gun-related deaths annually where in the US they are over 18,000 deaths a year due to gun violence. I could give a shit about guns, so, little things like this have had a big impression on me as well. Capitalism has its limits I think - and America still does not address the gun control issue well, with mass shootings happening every other week. But, I digress.
Let's just say many examples like this have made me lose my "our country is the greatest" ideology. I love America and I will always be proud to be an American. That will never change. However, being in other countries and living abroad will open your eyes more to different perspectives.
#4) We worry too much about things that don't really matter
This might sound a bit trite, but if you've ever spent time in a country where there is a lot of poverty, it is deeply upsetting. Maybe it sounds like 1st world privileged issues, but seeing poorer countries hits you to your core. There's no way it can't. You absolutely gain more gratitude for the opportunities you have. You gain more perspective and humility when you see it right in front of you.
Seeing kids and families living in scrap housing on dirt or cement right off a major street is heartbreaking. I saw a lot of it in the slums of India to the favelas in Brazil, to Northern Africa. Seeing how others live and work is challenging. Many young kids don't get an education because they're forced to work for their families.
So, if you're worried about your 1st world problems like owning a house or not being able to go to the university you wanted, then get over it. The world is big and we are so lucky to have the opportunities we do. Living in your gratitude centers you and allows you more joy in your life. You learn to "smell the roses" more and stop being such a self-defeating ignoramus.
We seriously worry about things that don't really matter in the grand scheme of things.
#5) Happiness has more to do with your community, family, friends, and relationships.
Having spent so much time in different places with different people, it has shown me time and time again that money does not bring you happiness. I've spent time with people who have a lot of money and I've spent time with people who don't. I've spent time with entertainers who have been on television that have their heads so far up their ass, they could give a shit about anyone else. I've also spent time with lower-income people who are the most generous people I have ever met.
The most time I've spent in any other country besides the UK and United States is Brazil. I absolutely love it there. I spent time there during college because I went to study music, and then have returned a few times. Brazil is like a drummer and percussionist paradise, and I had the great opportunity to march through the streets for parades playing music, going to festivals and shows; I just had the best time there. I hang glided off this huge mountain near the Christ statue and landed on Ipanema beach; and just spent so much time in the city at night. I have so much respect for Brazil and the people. They absolutely love their culture.
One of the most striking memories that hit me was meeting a kid on the beach who sold chicklets and cheese in a pan. Yes, cheese in a pan. He would take a rectangular piece of Mozzarella, put it on a stick, melt it with a torch, and sell it to beachgoers sitting around. He was quite the little entrepreneur. Anyway, the kid was really friendly. He just sat there with me and talked to me. He wore a smile the entire time. He asked me questions about why I was there and told me how much he loved music. He would dance and sing - he was just so full of passion. At the time I felt like I would pay large amounts of money to feel an ounce of the happiness and joy that this kid had. Anyway, long story short this had a large effect on me. Time and time again the people of Brazil were some of the happiest, most care-free, giving, and kindest people I've ever met. I had the chance to work professionally with some bands from there and they were such great people and amazing musicians.
The more countries I visited, the more I started to see what happiness means to most. To me at least, it seems; the proudest and happiest people love their country, love their traditions, and have people around them who care for them. Community shapes culture. The people who surround you will shape you.
#6) You don't travel to "find yourself." You travel to enrich your life.
Somewhere along my journey, I started to wonder, "well what have I learned so far?" I kept getting messages from friends how it's going and what I've learned, how I've changed. In fact, my good friend Mike asked me when I got home after my first big trip abroad, "how did traveling change you?" For a moment I truly didn't know what to say. I almost felt embarrassed. I thought I should've had some clear answers. But the truth is, and this is the main truth.
Traveling is an amazing experience that I think everyone needs to do in their lifetime. What traveling does is open your mind and give you more perspective and appreciation.
Going traveling to find yourself however I feel is a fools' errand. The journey for self-discovery is an internal one. Will you have experiences traveling that shape you? Absolutely. And, you may have a few realizations about yourself as I did. But, my point was to live and experience. By having this outlook I was able to absorb and laugh and really live presently in those moments. I wasn't like an investigator searching under every rock around the world for the meaning of life. I wasn't searching for answers. I was just experiencing. In essence, that kind of sums up life for me.
I wasn't living in my head. I wasn't anywhere else. I was just present. We can spend our lives planning for the future. We can spend our lives living in the past. What doesn't change however is the present moment right now where you can just sit and enjoy. You always have the choice at every moment to just enjoy yourself; not focus on outcomes. You can "count your blessings" and think of all the beauty, just sit in your gratitude, and just appreciate being a part of the experience called life. That was traveling for me.
To quote Alan Watts on this idea, he said:
“We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end, success or whatever it is, maybe heaven after you're dead. But we missed the point the whole way along
So, what he taught was that life should not be thought of as a journey. It should be thought of more like a dance. Just appreciate the time you have now and find the joy in it. If we place our happiness into some place in the future, or that car, or that house, chances are we're going to be very let down once we actually get them. You always have the option right now to just live and be content, realizing you probably already have everything you already need.
I hope this has helped give you some good perspective today. Please leave your comments or questions below. Wishing you all love and peace.
About the Author
Matt Jones is a writer and entrepreneur with multiple businesses who enjoys inspiring others. He is also a professional musician who has been to over 40 different countries on all 7 continents. His personal mission is to create and inspire. He is from Los Angeles but is now based in Greater London. His latest book "Life 2.0" is available on Amazon.