"I was astounded to discover these people who had so little, expressed so much joy. I grew up in a society where material possessions were meant to equal happiness."
On top of Observatory Hill in the midst of the Himalayan Mountains, I found myself in tears. Happy tears. I couldn’t stop smiling and giggling to myself as this indescribable emotion of elation took over my body. Above me a million, brightly colored prayer flags waved in the wind, bells and chanting filled the air as I embraced a type of euphoria that filled my soul, that connected me to this deeply spirited, ancient land.
I sat there surrounded by monks at a holy sacred site for both Buddhists and Hindus trying to hold on to that feeling for as long as possible. Then, a young Indian boy stepped in front of me wearing a sweatshirt that read “YOUR HEART IS FREE JUST FOLLOW IT.” How perfect, I thought. Here I was in India, a country never on my radar, but the first country I ever traveled to, and I knew it was exactly where I was meant to be.
Traveling, wandering, backpacking, whatever you want to call it, is truly a life-altering experience that I believe everyone should do at least once in their life. Not only does it bring you out of your comfort zone, but it challenges you in a way that will make you stronger, wiser, and more understanding of the world around you. While backpacking across India, I allowed my heart to be free. To open up to a foreign world I knew so little about, and I left wanting more. I yearned to discover and explore the cities and countrysides, but also the locals and their ways of life. I was astounded to discover these people who had so little, expressed so much joy. I grew up in a society where material possessions were meant to equal happiness. Passing strangers on the streets of Chicago who looked more miserable in their high-end suits than the thousands of limbless beggars in India. In these people, I saw true happiness and it's where I found it for myself.
Waking up with no plans for the day can be a little unnerving, but once you are out the door getting lost in a new city, soaking up an unfamiliar culture, you’ll realize the greatness of the gift of travel. Making friends with people from across the globe and creating moments no amount of money can buy. I learned more in five months of traveling through India than in four years at a University. I’m kinder. I love more and fall in love with not only the many incredible people I encounter, but this insanely beautiful planet we are truly blessed to call home. I grew patience, acceptance, and awareness. I realized that I am in control of my life, not some office job who won’t remember me in a year's time nor society who says I must settle down, start a retirement plan, and buy into a mortgage. I am in control and I’ve never felt happier.
If traveling is truly what your heart craves, don’t hold back. Give in and take chances. I promise if you do, the world will open its arms to you and you will find your truest self.
Author - Viktoria Steinhaus
Born and raised in Chicago, Viktoria Steinhaus fell in love with traveling five years ago when backpacking through India and hasn't stopped since. She is now enjoying the laid-back Kiwi life in New Zealand and spends her time road-tripping in her campervan with future plans always on her mind.
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