Category Archives: Mountain Inspiration

Are You Brave Enough? Summiting a Peak That Almost Killed You

I can see IT, touch IT, smell IT.  

“THIS”

The summit, that is.  In just a matter of days I will once again come face to face with a mountain or a volcano rather that has instilled this lingering fear in me.  Her name is Kilimanjaro.

A few years back, I made an ambitious attempt to summit Kilimanjaro via the shortest route – Marangu.  By shortest, I mean 2.5 days to go up the summit.  Sounds intense?  It’s more than intense. I almost died from the onset of symptoms of pulmonary edema.  By the time I hit the last hut, Kibo, on the night I was scheduled to summit, I barely could lift a fork to feed myself pasta.  To be frank, that was one of the scariest night of my life.  A German doctor who happened to be at the hut that night looked me over and said rather bluntly, “You know you’re not making it right?  You’d die if you continue on.  Well, that is if you can even walk at this stage.”

She was right. I couldn’t walk anymore.  My lungs were starting to fill up with fluids and my breathing was significantly limited.  As the night progressed, I started coughing and fever set in.  The minimal amount of oxygen left me devoid of any ability to even fully comprehend my surroundings.  Unbeknownst to her, in silence, I cried that night while the hikers and I made our attempt to get some sleep before the midnight start time for the summit.  My younger self then was consumed with a sense of “failure” – one that I dreaded on the trek.  After all, I came to Kilimanjaro to conquer the peak.  Being only 6-8 hours away from the goal was heart-wrenching.  I was that close to possessing the prize.  But I knew I had no choice except to quietly lay on that top bunk bed struggling to keep myself conscious and awake.  Minutes before midnight, I could hear the noises coming from the adrenaline-fueled hikers that were hastily preparing their gear for the ultimate hike up the summit.  Their day of hiking would take anywhere between 10 and 14 hours to complete whereas my activity for that day took a different shape, one in which I have to be transported down the mountain as soon as daylight arrived.

As they left the room, I felt a sense of disappointment at myself. I could barely stand the thought that I allowed the journey to lead me to this –a distraught, debilitated and hardly functioning version of myself – fully surrendering to the defeat.  I recalled laying in silence for a long time while fearing that if I closed my eyes, I may never open them up again.  Never.  In other words, it dawned on me that quite possibly I might die tonight. 

I thought about my family and friends, how far away they were and without a clue of the predicament that I was in.  Fear mixed with despair wasn’t something I ever conjured in my mind until that night. My only goal at that moment was to survive.  I preoccupied my mind with thoughts, no matter how random they maybe just to avoid the allure of sleep. I reflected on how events unfolded leading up to that point.  Perhaps I became too overly confident that I can conquer any peak I so desire in light of the fact that I successfully trekked up Thorung La Pass on Annapurna Circuit in Nepal just months prior.  Now, as fate intended, I was learning the hard way that being overly confident in Kilimanjaro worked against me.  The decision to hike up over the shortest amount of time worked against me. Now, I myself was against me for making such reckless decisions that led me to this unwanted fate.  I was angry at the situation and myself while placing most of the blame on me.  What was supposed to be an ordeal with summiting had turned into one dealing with survival.

As daylight came the next morning, I was notified of the porters’ arrival at the hut to lift and carry me back down the mountain as a means for me to survive.  The plan was to transport me back to the lower hut where I was expected to reunite with my hiking companions.  To add insult to injury, the transport down via a homemade stretcher was quite a bumpy ride as the porters, my saviors, hurried down the rocky trail as if I was as light as a feather.  Speeding down the mountain did mean a quicker recovery, however.   In fact, within minutes of arriving at the lower hut, I felt completely functional again without a hint of any of the symptoms I endured earlier at higher altitudes.  I survived physically.  But then I wondered, “Would I survive the feeling of failure?”

This all happened in 2009.  Eight years went by and the experience continued to haunt me. I reflected on the sense of defeat while the passage of time which carved out the space I needed to detach from the horrific experience allowed me to grow as a person.  That process of growth afforded me the chance to see the incident from a more mature view point.  Over time, I found a way to release my pent-up frustration and fears that caused me to question myself as a hiker.  I hated every second that I felt this way.  I was scared that if I ever make a second attempt to reach the mighty peak of Kilimanjaro that I will be forced to bare the utmost sense of failure yet again.  Eventually, I learned to forgive myself which proceeded to restore my sense of self-worth.  This process then led me to realize that the power of fear to deter our ability to function to our fullest potential was in essence merely an illusion.

And so, years went by.  Life moved on.  I continued to hike and trek other parts of the world.  But, still, I continued to debate in my head the ultimate question – will I ever make a second attempt?  I promised myself that if I ever decide to do so, it will be for the right reasons.  For 7 years, I hardly considered renewing any commitment to returning to Kilimanjaro and even decided at some point, “Hell no, I will never go back.”  

However, from out of nowhere, I found myself inspired to return.  An epiphany unexpectedly entered my psyche dictating that I should go and make a second attempt.  This time around it’s not so much about proving to myself that I can summit.  Instead, it’s more about proving to myself that I’m fearless and that no matter what the outcome maybe, my self-love is strong enough to resist the pull of the ego to define my inability to summit as “failure.”  Since the fiasco, I’ve been sheltering my heart and mind from the lingering frustrations of the experience.  Eventually, this constant denial left me feeling weary of this baseless fear and my constant subconscious effort to shield myself from it, so much so that one day I decided, “what the hell, it’s time to go back to conquer this fear once and for all.”

As you can see, it took 8 years to finally muster the courage to revisit this unfortunate circumstance.  Whatever reluctance I might have had in the beginning have all dissipated at this point.  Now, I’m genuinely looking forward to the moment I set foot on Kilimanjaro’s trails again armed with my new sense of self – scared but courageous enough to conquer that very same fear.

I am of course returning to Kilimanjaro equipped with lessons from the first attempt.  The lessons include devoting some serious mental preparation for it in addition to the physical training to ensure that my body is at its best shape to overcome the challenge that lies ahead.  From running a half marathon to walking 30 miles in one day with my usual intense hot yoga and cardio workout in between, I am facing this personal fear of Kilimanjaro with the best mindset and physical capabilities that I can possibly have.  I have been diligently preparing for this moment including my extensive research on the best route that will guarantee a higher level of success.  I also added at least 4 more days to the ascent to ensure proper acclimatization to the altitude.  I even wrote notes to myself about how best to prepare for the altitude from a mental standpoint.  Finally, my trekking gear has been upgraded and replenished to withstand cold and windy conditions, which should make the experience less excruciating.

Completing the Charleston half marathon to prepare mentally and physically.

In a few days I’ll be en route to the summit of Kilimanjaro.  As I do so, I intend to remind myself of a meaningful conversation with a random unnamed fellow hiker who shared with me some wonderful wisdom – “what makes one courageous is not the first time experience of successfully climbing a peak; rather, it’s failing at it the first time and yet making a second attempt at it despite the fear of failing yet again.”

If he’s right about that notion, then this only means one thing – that I was courageous then, but more courageous now for facing the same challenge the second time around after a failed attempt.  With that in mind, I forge ahead with my head up high. Trekking Kilimanjaro or any mountain peak for that matter has taught me first and foremost to face my fears. Second, success is defined not by what we do in a physical sense but rather what we tell ourselves regardless of the direction the journey takes us.  Hence, no matter the outcome  the second attempt of Kilimanjaro yields, one thing is for sure this time around – either way, there is no defeat but only life lessons and gratitude for the experience.

So, are you brave enough to go back and tackle that mountain that you didn’t summit?  You are.  You will.

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

 

The Mountain Speaks

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How powerful are mountains?  You might ask.

It can make you yearn for that long lost love

And yet fate won’t allow you to get anywhere to be with her

The fraction of a glimpse of that peak

Just makes you crumble until you fall down your feet

Did you hear that?

The avalanche right in front of you

It instills fear and joy at the same time

And yet you struggle to appreciate the now

So tell me

How many times must the rain fall down on you?

Before you dance in it?

How much more thunder do you need to hear

Blasting in your ear

Before you hear the mighty roar of life?

Don’t refrain from opening your senses

Not when you are walking those trails

Because any moment that you miss a sign

You miss the pathway to where you need to be

That summit is always waiting for you, you see

But you won’t get there ever

If you’re in a rush

It wants you to take slower steps

And touch every element that soothes your soul

And then, when you least expect it

You will be there

On top of the world

You already are

Before your eyes

The mountain speaks

An Open Letter From The Girl Behind Brown Gal Trekker

Dear Reader,

This can easily be a 2016 in review note but it’s not.  It’s just that my alter ego, Brown Gal Trekker, has taken over much of the time recently and I finally feel compelled to comment and express my views as “me.”

Hi, I’m Marinel, the girl behind Brown Gal Trekker.

If you have been following my blog, you may get a sense how preoccupied my life has been with writing and marketing via social media.  First off, I apologize to my Facebook friends who have to witness the crazy amounts of social media networking from my end via Facebook.  I’m sure you’re devoid of enjoyment seeing me clog up your feed.  Trust me, I do feel a bit old for such things.

Brown Gal’s mission and pursuits have taken over the spotlight.  I had taken a back seat and witnessed every move she’s made to push forward with her agenda – one that constitutes inspiring others (albeit at times preachy) to hike up mountains, promote diversity, women, solo hiking/traveling and offbeat topics such as blood types, aging and menstrual flow.

The blog launched in September of 2016 and since then I’ve seen the possibilities emerge for someone like Brown Gal Trekker who all these years held doubts about her place in the world of outdoors and traveling.  Sure, no doubt, she’s been traveling for almost two decades and spending time in the outdoors half that amount of time.  But, Brown Gal Trekker had doubts about how she fit in all these for the simple fact that she is a conundrum in many ways.  She’s a world traveler who happens to be obsessed with mountain trekking.  That’s quite expansive in terms of coverage.  While many travel bloggers talk about spending days in Rome, she’ll only talk about Rome as a stopover to get to the Dolomites.  While most outdoors bloggers have a specific niche and location for their hiking adventures, Brown Gal Trekker tends to cast a wider net and trek all over the world.  She has no loyalty to a specific trekking region or country for that matter.  So, that begs the question, where does Brown Gal Trekker fit in?

I was afraid for her to be honest.  

Afraid for her to be disappointed to find out that the world may not be welcoming of her eccentricities.  The fact that she talks about places that no one has heard of such as Zhangjiajie, Yading, Ausangate or Prokletije.  The fact that she wants to talk more about the meaning of life as it relates to the experiences on the mountain trails than talking about the logistics of the trek itself.  The fact that she constantly needs innovative ideas pouring out of her senses to tell a story about an adventure she’s had in popular places like the Inca Trail or Kilimanjaro.  Darn it! Why can’t she just relay the story like everyone else?  Why be so difficult?

Hence, I wondered – is there room for someone who doesn’t follow the crowd?

I watched my alter ego go at it, every moment she gets outside her 9 to 5 job.  I watched her unleash her poetic side and bravely write a heartfelt piece about being a girl who treks but feeling misunderstood oftentimes for her passion and yearning to find other women who can relate.  I watched her agonize at her lawyer job for feeling out of place among a herd of ambitious lawyers who all aspire to become judges when she could care less about being the next one in line.  I watched her in deep thoughts as she debated in her mind the nuances of gaining wisdom from formal education versus traveling and feeling more in tune with the latter.  I watched her criticize traveling for its imperfections knowing she’s so imperfect herself.  I watched her feel overjoyed from the fact that despite reluctantly opening up through her writing, that level of vulnerability actually led to some like-minded humans out there to reply back to her and say, “Hey, we hear you!”  Truthfully, these were some amazing forms of validation to be had.  Naturally, Brown Gal Trekker experienced immense feeling of appreciation from it.

Then, at some point, she faced the realization as to the significant amount of work involved to follow such a unique path.  

Her building an empire via Peak Explorations in which she gets to share with others the experience of mountain trekking requires enormous amount of effort and time, after all – one that goes beyond what she initially thought. There were also issues along the way from the usual hurdles of launching a business to learning how to accept that her specific niche of marketing trekking tours can be the riskiest thing she’ll ever get herself into.  Not to mention the sense of isolation inherent in the world of trekking business as a female founder where men dominate the field almost entirely.   “What can you  (who’s a woman and a person of color) contribute differently of value with your enterprise?”  This was the question Brown Gal Trekker had to constantly deal with from the business world which is how the external world demands in a subtle manner that she prove herself to those who don’t totally embrace her being a person of color and a female in a entrepreneurial capacity.  So, why do it?

Based on all of that, fear pops up every so often, uninvited nonetheless.  I’ve seen her tell fear to take a hike verbally and in writing.  She trudges on and I continue to watch to see how much she can handle the pressures, the rejections, and challenges that came by along the way.  One thing that seems to instill fervor in her determination to succeed is this sense of freedom that she firmly believes she’ll acquire at the end of it all.  For the sake of freedom, she’s learned expeditiously to be unwavering and decisive.  I get exhausted just watching her trudge on the uphills of her endeavors; and yet at awe at every second that she’s still at it with no end in sight.

But so many wonderful things happened in the 3 months Brown Gal Trekker has been in existence.  

She’s now connected with leading entities in the outdoors and is thrilled to work side by side with them in various projects such as this one in the past and this one that is currently underway.  She’s more inspired than ever by fellow bloggers who she met along the way to continue assuming the role of an advocate for women, for those seeking freedom by becoming their own boss and inclusiveness in the world of mountain trekking or in the media.  She’s strengthened her relationship with local trek operators globally to market trekking tours of great value to avid mountain trekkers.  She discovered her allies outnumber the critics.  As such, she forges ahead without a single ounce of energy wasted on those who doubt her dreams.   She learned to trust that when one’s intentions are pure, the world conspires to lead you to the right door way and even unlock closed doors as needed to pave the way to your goals.

As Brown Gal Trekker and I venture into 2017, I anticipate more challenges and setbacks for her to endure.  2016 was just the start -the warm up and the prep for the big year coming up.  For one, there’s Brown Gal’s determination to bring a group of American hikers to Pakistan to trek up to K2 base camp to be amazed by nature’s beauty in that part of the world despite the hurdles of obtaining visas and the constant need to monitor safety.  It’ll also be a curious endeavor to lead a group to trek in Pakistan as a female because the country is male dominated in many aspects of life.  But, I can assure you, at least for now, the negotiations and dealings are going well with utmost respect emanating from both ends.  This rare pursuit is all being done as part of the mission of her social enterprise, Peak Explorations.  On a lighter note, alongside all these challenges are more innovative ideas, treks, collaborations, friendships, partnerships, growth and abundance in the work she does, both with her blog and social enterprise.

In closing, I had a ridiculously busy and yet magical year with Brown Gal Trekker.  Despite the confusion that greeted her in the beginning, I believe that she managed to carve her own space amidst the vast landscape of the blogging world.

In it, she effectively found her own voice, and to her that, in and of itself, is success.

Somewhere between the world of travelers and the hiking world, you’ll find Brown Gal Trekker.  She hovers over both worlds the same way she did at the very start of this journey except at this juncture she’s fully learned to embrace the uniqueness of her purpose of bridging the gap between the two worlds.   She realized that both worlds have welcomed her ideas with open arms, be it conventional or otherwise.  For that, she’s eternally grateful.  Finding her voice is akin to finding a sense of eternal belonging, and in her mind, no longer would there be a moment in which she would succumb to the senseless allure of self-doubt.

Knowing her, she never started her pursuits of becoming a blogger and a founder of a social enterprise just for the sake of fame or popularity.  She values privacy; hence, it took her years to decide to make her blog public which is in all honesty a reflection of her own inner journey to fully accept and love her authentic self.  From the start, Brown Gal only wanted to pursue blogging and her enterprise for the purpose of leaving a positive impact in the world, which is the same idealism that she holds in her role as a public servant on her day job.  After all, Peak Explorations was born out of her passion for trekking in the mountains, at the urging of local operators who she met along the way to promote local tourism and due to the need to create treks to encourage solo travelers to take their passion on mountain trails outside of the U.S.

To her, these were the underlying motivations from the start.  Likewise, Brown Gal would have easily dropped the idea of blogging if there was no gap or need for her to fill and serve a purpose for, and instead pursue a different dream such as starting a hostel or anything to that effect.   She adamantly opposes filling the role of a carbon copy.  If others have touched upon a topic, then she would rather not write anything that will merely be a repetition of the same idea devoid of any sense of creativity.  As a promise to herself, she will not write for the sake of producing content as quality over quantity has been her mantra.

In the three months of actively writing, Brown Gal Trekker quickly learned to adapt the best way she could to the ultimate shift – from being guarded to accepting the beautiful connections she has developed out of allowing herself to be raw and and vulnerable.  So far, she feels no regrets about such a personal decision and the manner in which she has learned to write and share her hiking or travel stories as unapologetically herself.

As for me, I’m in it for the ride.  I’m still doing the 9 to 5 job to support my alter ego but frankly I can’t wait for Brown Gal Trekker to  get to where she needs to be so I can take a back seat forever and simply be Brown Gal Trekker’s alter ego.  Until then, I will continue to encourage her to take the much deserved break as called upon by her spirit to meditate and enjoy life apart from her being Brown Gal Trekker.

If you managed to read up to this point, thanks.  I figured you also realized by now that this was essentially a year in review of the Brown Gal Trekker blog  (more 3 months in review, to be exact), if only in disguise.

Sincerely,

Marinel

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Aging Well: The Perks of Traveling

You know the deal.  We’re not going to be in our 20s forever.  Not even in our 30s.  Once you hit 40s, the nagging feeling of “aging” starts to enter front stage.  Fear not.  Aging has its perks.  Presumably, we learn from our mistakes and we know better what we want in life.  This is especially true if for the past decades you managed to spread your wings and throw yourself into countless adventures.

For travelers, traveling can bring us so many different lessons, experiences, and moments. Of course, it also expands our circle of friends and our views of the world. But, when you get enough time on the road or trail by yourself, you get to treat yourself to daydreaming, fantasizing, self-introspection, and most importantly, pondering life’s toughest questions. As one gets older, the meaning behind traveling evolves and we are gifted some level of wisdom every step of the way.  Accordingly, everyone of us holds a unique view on traveling based on our experiences, both on and off the road.

Here are some of the ideas, epiphanies and lessons that came by my way in a very random order over the years I’ve been traveling and trekking up mountains, and by the time I have reached the lovely age of “40.”  Luckily, the list will keep growing as time goes by, which I find to be the most valuable natural side effect of “aging.”  It turns out that aging as one continues to travel and hike up mountains will only become more enlightening from hereon.   Hence,

We should embrace the process and love every minute of it.

1. Once upon a time my goal was to get married.  Now, my goal is to be happy. I raised the standard.

2. I’d rather see you rise and shine when you’re most afraid than when you are at your bravest moment.

3. Our lives are defined by moments, not people.  That’s why you should never take people’s words or actions personally.  Neither should you get 100% attached to someone.

4. It’s good to know if you’re afraid of love.  It’s better to know the reason why.

5. Love is blind oftentimes; self-love is there to give you eyesight.

heart
Heart rock on the trail to Mt. Whitney.

6. I’d rather be imperfect and be loved as opposed to being perfect without love.

7. Never lose two things when you get into a new romance: yourself and your friends, as they will save you when your new romance ends.

8. I don’t go for the fastest, the highest or the hardest.  I go where my heart is moved the most for it’s how we felt at the moment, not what we accomplished, that will live with us for the rest of our lives.

9. We can make a choice to turn our lives into an adventure.  The starting point is to find the inspiration to do so.

10. We are all waiting for something or someone.  Don’t let the waiting period drag you down.  It’s the suffering that makes the prize much sweeter.

11. There is no better gift to your romantic partner than loving yourself first.

12. The more you master letting go and saying goodbye, the easier it is to open your heart to others and experience each moment with a fellow human wholeheartedly.  So, don’t fear saying goodbye even if it requires shedding tears and feeling enormous pain.

13. People come and go as you turn the chapters of your life.  Staying permanently is merely an option so be grateful if some do stick around.

14. We attract what we put out there.  Hence, keep your soul beautiful.

15. Ego is the worse motivation for any endeavor.

16. A fellow human is a tool for personal growth.  Use him to learn but never force him to be someone he’s not.

17. Find a partner who complements and inspires you; not one that simply fills the void.  Filling the void is your job, not his/hers.

18. A person’s character is the cornerstone of real beauty.

19. Happiness comes easy when you remind yourself of the good things you have in life.

20. Living is a privilege, not an entitlement.

21. Find “your” peeps and never let them go.

22. I don’t aim for perfection; I’d rather aim to learn.

23. Get rid of expectations as best as you can so you can see more of what a person is truly made of.

24. My spirit died once, but never again.

25. Some humans enter our lives temporarily to show a reflection of ourselves at that very moment in time.   Don’t ever pass up that opportunity to glance at the mirror to see how your soul is doing.

26. The biggest experiment is yourself.  You dissect it, analyze it, mold it, change it and in the end hopefully you come up with a better theory of what you’re about.

27. It’s relevant in life to learn to respect boundaries, be it physical or emotional in nature for oftentimes lack of boundary can ruin significant personal ties.

28. I would prefer to be alone than feel lonely with a significant other.

29. What we believe, we achieve.

30. Don’t base my courage on the amount and frequency of my tears; but rather pay attention to the number of times I keep moving forward and making something magical out of an experience that is so extraordinarily painful.

31. I haven’t given up on love.  It’s just that a goodhearted man who has found true love with himself is a rare kind of soul.

32. You don’t dive into a relationship to change each other.  You enter a relationship because all the work has already been done by both parties to be the best versions of themselves.

33. Indeed, my parents taught me significant life lessons, both good and bad, but I take it from here how I define my own happiness.

34. We long for adventures because they fill our soul with meaning through lessons we learn along the way.

35. There is no such thing as a “goodbye.” Any ending is part of the flow of life so there is always something gained, not lost.

36. Self actualization happens faster when you’re unattached to anything or anyone; hence, the more reason to appreciate solitude and singlehood.

37. Timing is everything. Patience will you get you there.

38. The complexity of life is at times finding value in simplicity.

39. The challenge of being human is gaining insight beyond the physicality of ourselves and our surroundings so we can discover the power we have as creators.

40. Traveling is timeless, be it in the physical, emotional and mental sense.  Even with limited physical capacity in my old age, I will easily revisit the places I’ve been through so-called memories just to find myself falling in love with them all over again.

For more inspiration, read Top Motivational Travel Quotes That Will Fuel Your Wanderlust!

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A Trekker’s Manifesto

I am the author of my own story

I follow the path according to my heart’s desire

Time does not dictate when it’s game over

I can start anew anytime

I embrace my whole being, the good and the bad

I love myself unconditionally

I trust life

The world delivers at my will

I live to be free

Love is my guiding light

I live to expand and grow

I choose happiness

There is never a moment I take for granted

Because life is a privilege

I appreciate every second

of my existence

I rid myself of unnecessary  material possessions

To appreciate that LESS is MORE

Fear resides only in my imagination

Without hesitation I climb every peak before me

Life is “the adventure”

Now happening as we speak

I’m the author of my story

It’s beautiful and surreal

Life stands before me with arms open wide

I’m love.  I’m joy.

I’m free.

What is a Trekker?

If you walk on the city streets, you’re a trekker.  If you hike up mountains, you’re a trekker.  If you travel by foot on any path of your choosing, you are a trekker.  We are all trekkers by heart!

A Trekker’s  Manifesto is meant to be shared with those who connect with its message.  So, please feel free to add the image below to your blog, website and share with others via social media.  A back link to Brown Gal Trekker’s site is appreciated, of course!

VERSION I

A Trekker’s Manifesto

VERSION 2

manifesto
A Trekker’s Manifesto

Is there anything else you’d add from your own personal journey?  Comment below.

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Saying I DO is Not the Only Thing to Celebrate On the Trails


Source: MC Travel

Today I had a bit of time to browse through my Facebook wall and by chance came upon a video that caught my attention. It was a video depicting the famous Machu Picchu, a place that I have visited twice.  The first time was to do a one day hike and the second time was when I organized a group of 30 people to hike the Inca Trail.   But this video happens to be about  not only the ancient ruins, but also about men proposing to the ladies in their lives.  The women as expected were ecstatic as evidenced by their tears of joy and smiles.  The video gained over 4 million viewers, 65, 000 shares, 54, 000 likes and 12, 000 comments.  If you asked me 10-15 years ago whether I would “like” the video, my answer would have been a “yes.”

But fast forward to now, looking at this clip I’m perplexed by how much society celebrates the dramatic flair of marriage proposals as if it’s the ultimate goal in life.  I’ll confess one thing – I’m beyond the age that most women get married. I have never been married.  It’s not my ultimate goal even though the majority in our society sets that as a goal for me.

You see, when you spend tons of time alone on travels which I had over a decade, you realize there’s so much more to celebrate beyond marriages and partnerships.  Women are advancing in their careers at a much higher rate and breaking down glass ceilings more than ever before.  Women are expanding their horizons as they travel the world with others or solo.  Women athletes are on the rise, be it on the mountain trails or in the more traditional sense.  Women are turning towards entrepreneurship to answer their calling and define their own freedom.  There are so many aspects of being a woman that warrant a celebration beyond a piece of paper that says you’re legally committed to one person.

Don’t get me wrong. I still believe in the value of having a loving partner in one’s life. Sharing moments on any and every hike would be amazing.  But as we age, we need to be more mindful of the sources from which we receive love.  If it’s from the outside world or our partners that we find the flow of love, then what happens when we lose him or her?  Oftentimes, when we don’t have a good grasp of loving ourselves, once he or she disappears, we end up easily losing ourselves.  That’s a pity.  I’d like to think that love can be more enduring and everlasting than that, at least for as long as I’m living on this planet.

This brings me to the thought – wouldn’t it be nice if one day our society places more value in learning to love ourselves and stop looking down on women who walk the trails alone?  Trust me, I get questions about my being a solo hiker along with the curious looks and wondering minds that question the whereabouts of my partner.  If this video depicted me instead with my looking into the camera directly, hence, looking at the viewers themselves, would they even have the ability to see the happiness within me the same way they did with the couple they saw kissing and hugging?

Perhaps, not. Perhaps they’ll assume the wrong things and disregard that genuine sense of joy on my face so they can instead feel sorry for me for standing alone in that photo.  Or better yet, they’ll wonder where my prince charming was in such a beautiful mountain backdrop.  If I may be blunt, as I watched this video, I felt more concerned than joyous towards the couples as I wondered if they were making the right decision for both parties.  After all, commitment on paper entails tons of hassles, both emotional and financial.  It’s a step that most people take based on societal norms even though unnecessary at times.

But then, what do I know?  I’m just a mountain fanatic who barely has time for relationships, and who, for now, is simply happy to commit to nature  because it always provides me the ability to align with my innate sense of joy.  I know it would be unrealistic of me to expect millions of viewers and thousands of people to like my videos that merely depict a lone female frolicking on the trails, but I’ll continue sharing them, nonetheless.  Maybe one day society will warm up to the idea that we can celebrate other crucial life moments besides the notion of marriage atop mountain peaks.  If it’s truly meant to be, then I’ll patiently wait like any hiker at heart.

For more, read She Becomes a Judge and I Become a Mountain Nomad.

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10 Things To Be Thankful For As A Trekker

Gratitude is  a must when it comes to creating a life fueled by positivity.  In the world of mountain trekking, I quickly learned the benefits of maintaining a grateful existence, be it on the trails or in my everyday life.  I know some maybe skeptical about this but over the years I have grown to believe in the notion of attracting whatever vibration we put out there.  Hardly do we meet people for no reason.  Oftentimes, people  and experiences enter our lives to serve a unique purpose.  When we’re grateful and acknowledge the good things happening to us, the more we are likely to attract abundance in our lives.

As a hiker who eventually returns from days of adventuring in the outdoors, I get a little sad at the idea of no longer seeing the vast beauty of nature.  However, being at home also reminds me of the things I’m grateful for.  When not on the trails, I remind myself of how trekking entails some sacrifices which then compels me to feel grateful for the things I do have when I’m home.  Here are some of them:

1. Clean clothes.

Days in the outdoors without access to clean clothes require getting used to.  The good news is that oftentimes when you’re with a group, you hardly notice the smell of anyone or yourself because you are all experiencing the same level of hygiene or lack thereof.  I know!  It still sounds gross but trust me.  When you’re in it, you won’t even notice it unless you somehow managed to shower and clean up – then that’s when you’ll notice that everyone else, but you, stinks.   So a good tip here: Have your group agree to be ALL IN with the level of uncleanliness.  Don’t shower unless everyone else does too!

2.  Hot showers.  

Oftentimes, after a day of hiking or days of trekking, the first questions is – do you shower or eat first?  I guess it all depends.  If you’ve been gone for days galavanting in the middle of nowhere, you’re either famished or too filthy.  Whichever you wish to do first, it doesn’t matter.  Either way, it’ll feel like bliss!

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Those smiles meant we didn’t have a shower for 4 days. Happy to be in the hot springs of Aguas Caliente after the Classic Inca Trail.

3.  A variety of freshly prepared meals.  

In the wilderness, you’ll hardly find variety in terms of meals.  Typically, you’re stuck with dehydrated food, trail snacks and cold meals.  If you wish to eat better, you will either have to sign up for a guided tour that provides hot meals or you carry a gourmet of food for you to cook every night which means a heavier pack.  When I think of all the things I miss when I’m out in the wild, the food has to be near the top for me.  Also, I’m a coffeeholic so unless I’m trekking in the Dolomites where coffee is simply amazing, my favorite foods are the ones I long for the most.

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Good food is like love. Can’t live without it.
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This waits for you.

4.  The coziness of heat and warmth.

My trek in the Gokyo Lakes area of Nepal’s Himalayas and Ausangate in the Andes mountains of Peru were both some of the coldest moments in my trekking life.  In Peru, I had three sleeping bags.  Even with that, every morning, my water bottle couldn’t keep my water from freezing.  The same goes for the cold nights in the Gokyo Lakes region of Nepal.  Once you return to civilization, having more control over the heat in your environment is not something you’ll ever take for granted again.

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Comfortable in the sun but at night it’s freezing cold in the Gokyo region of Nepal.

5.  Oxygen.  

For me, it’s a tie between food and oxygen.  And at times, oxygen has become the first on my list.  As I almost died climbing up Kilimanjaro, I can’t tell you how thankful I was to be able to descend to lower elevations to breathe a good amount of oxygen again.  I’ve trekked at high altitude for almost a month in China and learned much more about the effects of it.  The symptoms from altitude mountain sickness can come in various forms such as sleepiness, headache, insomnia, but can also be much worse as you get higher.  (For ways to prepare for high altitude, see Kilimanjaro Kills: Here Are 13 Ways to Survive).  Although your body eventually gets used to high altitude, it’s still worth noting how amazing it feels to go back to the normal level of oxygen.  Always!

6.  Toilets

I’m stating the obvious… but it has to be noted.  The digging a hole on the ground is too much work.  Same goes for burning that toilet paper and trying to find the right place with enough privacy to do your business.  And you would never really want to step into that group toilet tent again…ever!  All you can think of is your toilet back home.  Some treks will truly make you dream about your toilet like it’s your soulmate.  Don’t feel bad.  This is all normal.

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Yes, you’ll miss it.

7.  Beds.  

Luckily, I’m able to get decent sleep without an actual bed.  But that doesn’t negate the immense joy I feel from walking back into a hostel room to find myself a nice comfy bed with pillows!  The longer the trek, the more you’ll miss this luxury.  Be rest assured that no matter how long the trek maybe, there’s always going to be a bed and a set of pillows waiting for you at the end of the tunnel.

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Bed with a living cat heater? Nice way to be welcomed back.

8.  Family and friends.  

They may drive you nuts in your daily life but after a while of being in the wilderness, you’ll start missing the annoyances that they bring  to your life.  You’ll realize they matter to you more than you think and care to admit.  You’ll long to see them again.  The thought of the next time you meet them just excites you the longer you trudge on the trail.   You can’t wait to tell them about the trek and the adventure you just had.

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You’ll miss your non-hiking friends – the yogis and yoginis. A different kind of adventure.

9.  Solitude.  

Imagine being with a group for days on a trekking trip.  It may be fun for the first few days but getting away from them starts becoming more appealing.  You’ll soon find out that you need alone time away from your fellow trekkers.  But getting that alone time is elusive.  It isn’t easy to get when you’re huddled together to share that heat from the dung-fire to fight off the below freezing temperatures every night.  Soon enough, you’ll be looking forward to your solo walks near your house and the time you spend reading a good book at home without anyone interrupting you.

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A moment on your own can be a much needed space…in South Africa’s Drakensberg.

10.  Unforgettable memories.  

So, your trek is over.  You miss the mountains and that favorite trail of yours.  Is there really a reason to sulk? Ah, no!  Not really.  Go to your laptop and open up that memory card. Voila!  There you’ll see the photos you took to capture the moments you had on that mountain peak.  Those memories are part of you now.  Be grateful for the experience. And, when you do, the more you appreciate what you had, the more you’ll have similar amazing experiences in the future.

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A day hike to Fitz Roy in Argentina meant braving the winds for the sake of this beauty.

Oh, and by the way, be grateful you’re alive and had lived through the adventure, only to do more of it!  Until the next time you trek, say ‘thank you’ every day.  Soon enough you’ll be back on the trail eating leftover dehydrated spaghetti from the night before for breakfast and begrudgingly using the toilet tent.

Anything you wish to add?

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

Why You Should Hire Mountain Fanatics

While majority of the workforce spends the weekends relaxing in front of the television or reading a book or watching a movie, there’s a sector of the population that religiously go through the ritual of doing a long drive to the mountains, spending an entire day hiking or even hanging out in the vast wilderness the entire weekend from the moment the clock hits 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon until the late hours of Sunday night. The hardcore ones would even go so far as venture out of state, drive the entire night and get to the office directly at 9 a.m. on a Monday.

In my case, I have gone so far as to catch a flight from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with two layovers before getting to Dulles Airport in the D.C. metro area and going directly to my first court hearing at 9 a.m. before a judge. What was in Tanzania? Kilimanjaro. Shamelessly, I will admit that I didn’t have a shower since I left Dar es Salaam the 20 plus hours prior. I managed, however, to freshen up with baby wipes and traded my hiking clothes with a clean suit that’s appropriate for a courtroom proceeding. Thankfully, after five minutes into the hearing, my brain shifted back to legal-minded mode and was able to turn off the mantra in my head, “pole-pole”, which is Swahili for “slowly, slowly.” No more mountains to go slow for, after all. Sadly, that is. Yes, I know, it’s crazy.

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Meeting a fellow 9 to 5-er who loves the mountains on my long weekend solo trek in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Some of your office colleagues, unbeknownst to you, are mountain fanatics. The hardcore ones will be the last of the batch to tell you that for fear of being labeled as being nonchalant about their jobs. Truth be told, mountain fanatics which include hikers, climbers, trekkers, and backpackers are some of the best employees you will encounter. Hire them. As one of them, I would.

Not convinced yet? Here’s why you should hire mountain fanatics:

  1. Mountain fanatics know what it means to chill. And that’s not a bad thing. One of the major perks of being out in the wild for a while is coming back to civilization all refreshed and ready to dive into the chaos of the work world. Detaching one’s self from work by being in nature is one of the most effective ways of rebooting. Next time you noticed someone on a Monday morning looking extra cheerful and exuding a vibrant persona, consider the thought that he or she might have spent an ample amount of time in the mountains. Then, notice if the person gives off some kind of a burnt smell — that’s compelling evidence of someone who was around a campfire. Congrats! You spotted a mountain fanatic. He or she smiled at you in the elevator and engaged in a brief overview of how the weekend went. And, without admitting it openly, you liked the encounter because, you know, that’s rare these days! Then you note to yourself, “there’s no better way to start a Monday.”
  2. Mountain fanatics are goal-minded. After all, why else would we go out there in the wilderness? There’s always a goal. That can range from spending time in the wild camping, doing a leisurely hike, socializing over a campfire, peak-bagging, breaking personal records, or climbing one of the 7 summits. As you can see, we are not devoid of goals. Therefore, come work time, meaningful work to us would require having a road map towards attaining a specific goal. We’re up for the challenge for sure. So, don’t worry about us slacking. We’ll see you at the top!
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On the trails of Kilimanjaro, just like at the office, we have to follow protocols… for safety!
  1. Mountain fanatics are team players. We go in groups usually. So, we are forced to learn how to get along. After all, we need to survive the experience in one piece. Hence, we have to be a team player. You see, one must be in charge of navigation. Another is in charge of planning, and so on and so forth. Decisions are made along the way which prompt the group members to compromise for the sake of everyone’s welfare, as needed. We can’t always get our way if that leads to the demise of the entire group. We know the meaning of give and take. We’re ready to make sacrifices. You’d want us on your team when it comes to do or die mentality.
  2. Of course, there are exceptions to point #3 — the “soloists” who prefer to do mountain endeavors on their own. That’s okay too as there are benefits to that — this means he or she is independent, resourceful, and self-sufficient. Sounds like a winner, too, right? Whether we go solo or not in the wilderness, we’re all inherently resourceful, independent and self-sufficient. The conditioning starts with how to pack our backpacks to carrying our own maps and learning the trails. You can’t go wrong either way with hiring a soloist or a groupie type.
  3. Mountain lovers are resilient. You know how we all complain about stress? Well, in the wild, we tend to deal with critical issues with major consequences such as where to get water for drinking when you’re on the verge of dehydration, how to keep warm in below freezing conditions, how to deal with injury or illness, how to maneuver around boulders next to a cliff, how to deal with symptoms of altitude sickness above 15,000 feet, how to summit at 2 am in the morning with no sleep beforehand, or how to get ourselves unlost. Trust me. After we go through some of these ordeals, dealing with a difficult task is nothing. We’ll gladly say “yes” to the work at hand with a smile. It’s about putting things in perspective in our minds — surviving nature’s challenges makes us untouchable by the stressors in our daily work life.
  4. Mountain fanatics are positive thinkers. We climb peaks to see the best views. But even in the rain or snow, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, we have the tendency to see the beauty in the experience. That can’t be said as to the majority of the workforce. After conquering a peak, usually we are happy just to be alive, and despite the imperfections within our work world, we hardly care because there are so many other things to be grateful for. In my case, I was ecstatic to be back at my job and breathe in an enormous amount of oxygen again after Kilimanjaro. No nasty remarks by the opposing counsel or judge could possibly hurt me after a trek like that!
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Scrambling and avoiding a bad fall on the edges of Alta Via 2 in the Dolomites require serious focus.
  1. Mountain fanatics are highly determined, efficient and focused individuals. Again, this goes back to being goal-oriented. If we set the goal to climb a summit, there’s no plan B. The summit is the goal. In some instances, we spend tons of money to trek up mountains. Such is the case in my world where I typically go away for two to three weeks to Asia, Latina America, Europe or Africa. The trips come at a price tag. Hence, there’s no room for negotiation when it comes to accomplishing the goal set for the trip. Likewise, on the job, it’s easy to apply that same mentality. You don’t want any time or effort wasted. If I have to win a case at my job as a lawyer, I prepare the best trial strategy and give it my all. It’s all or nothing. It’s conquering the summit or nothing. With mountain lovers, you’ll get someone who will go all the way to the top with you, figuratively.
  2. Mountain fanatics are never boring. Why not? Because they have amazing adventures to tell. Just ask them. They have the most entertaining stories at your work party. I’m sure they will tell you how their weekend went in the wild with some stories you’ll never hear from anyone else. When it comes to the future, they’re imaginative and dreamy. Ask them about what they’re doing next weekend or their next vacation, and be amazed at the ideas of adventure they come up with. Sooner or later, you’d want to have them as friends, not just employees, and join their adventures. Or, you may even want to marry one!
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Ask a trekker where he’s been.  He may say Bromo in Indonesia.  Better yet, ask about the photos – and be amazed.
  1. Mountain fanatics are a source of inspiration. Their passion and adventurous spirit are contagious. Inspiration is essential for any organization or business to thrive, so much so, that it’s so common now for companies to hire outside speakers to motivate their employees. Some of these speakers happen to be mountain fanatics themselves. So, why not save your company the extra expense, and instead, host luncheons for your employees who happen to be mountain fanatics? We will do the talking for free to inspire one another. As an added bonus, we are used to basic camping or dehydrated meals. No need for fancy food, but if you do decide to feed us well, then know that you just earned points for loyalty. We won’t quit anytime soon and head to the mountains.
  2. Mountain fanatics are an energetic bunch. You want movers and shakers to advance your organization. You don’t want someone who’s complacent. With us, you get creativity and enthusiasm for new ideas. Along with that comes the drive and the passion that we are known to have as we pursue our love for the outdoors. An active employee inside and outside the office is a rare asset. We thrive on productivity and sense of accomplishment the same way we work hard to complete a two or three week trek in the middle of nowhere. Plus, with so much energy and exposure to nature, trekking keeps us young. Who doesn’t want a workforce that’s full of vitality? You get the wisdom that comes with age for the decision-making aspects of the job and the youthful energy that will get the tasks done.
  3. As a bonus, mountain fanatics are some of the healthiest employees you’ll ever have. We take care of ourselves physically and mentally. After all, mountaineering is a serious endeavor that involves a lot of risks. Hiring our kind would mean less people going on short-term or long-term medical leave and having shortage in staff. Sure, we will definitely use up the annual leave to the max but given the first 10 reasons above, I think this aspect can easily be overlooked. I never said we’re perfect…but close enough to it!

So, there you have it. Next time you conduct an interview, ask the person his or her hobbies. If we tell you we hike, trek, climb, backpack or play in the mountains, don’t roll those eyes or give us that confused look. Instead, get excited! Now that you know we’re dead serious about work as much as we’re crazy about the outdoors, you’ll be ready to hire the next mountain fanatic that comes your way.

One caveat: Don’t worry about the campfire smell. It fades away eventually. But, you better start getting used to it.

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Diversity on the Trails is a Gift & Here’s Why

(As published on HUFFINGTON POST and NEWS CAME)

I have had the privilege to organize numerous hiking, backpacking and trekking trips in the Washington, DC area, the U.S. and worldwide for the past 10 years.  In that capacity, I have learned tremendously from the experience about group dynamics in the outdoors.  In any scenario outdoors, it’s important to learn to respect and understand one another and even more so when you have a diverse group of individuals who come from all walks of life.  As the organizer, the diversity I have encountered in my groups has afforded me some of the most enlightening experiences on the trails.

Roraima, Venezuela
Roraima Trek, Venezuela.

Nature is a place for comfort and peace for anyone, regardless of race,  gender, sexual orientation and whatever else.  It is there for us when the current state of our lives lacks the ability to provide us a safe and joyful space.

Today, and on any other day for that matter, as mountain enthusiasts, let’s celebrate the reasons why diversity is such a beautiful addition on the trails.

Diversity is never boring.  

Our varied viewpoints on any subject under the sky will range from a simple one to a complex dissertation of the meaning of life.  It can never get boring when at times people’s opinions clash and we strive to understand the experience that propels the other to think the way he or she does.  It’s just never boring when you have a variety of people from every corner of the world, of different races, and of any ages.  Differences add spice.  Enjoy the process of finding the commonalities amidst the disagreements.  Don’t be surprised if in the end you become friends.

Death Valley
Death Valley National Park, USA.

Diversity is the entry point to learning about ourselves.  

Do you hold prejudices about a certain group? That’s okay.  We can talk about it.  Or, do you feel uncomfortable talking about racism or sexism?  Let’s discuss not just one or the other, but both.  Are you comfortable with your faith or do you have endless questions about religion?  That’s a good topic.  Let’s dive in.  As you sit around a campfire, the scenario can evolve into a place of challenging our own views on various topics in life.  Take this as an opportunity to learn your stance on things as you also gain courage to discuss such controversial topics in the process.  Even better, take this as a way to learn how to treat others who hold views that are different from yours with kindness.  From there, we can go back to our daily lives with a much deeper understanding of the world around us and the people who have a different set of experiences.

Ausangate
Ausangate trail in Peru.

Here’s the amazing tangible benefit of diversity: Sharing and enjoying a diverse array of cuisine!

I have had camping trips where food from far away countries like Iran or Burma have made their way to the camping tables.  Not only that, but the food itself often becomes a great starting point for people to converse.  “Oh, what is this dish?” “It’s the national dish from the Philippines – adobo.”  “Oh, wow.  It’s great. I never had it…so, you’re Filipina?”  “Yes.”  “Are there mountains to hike in the Philippines?”“In fact, there are lots of mountain trails, yes….”  You get the idea.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon rim to rim, USA.

Diversity on the trails teaches us a thing or two about being worldly.

If you expose yourself enough to hiking with people from various backgrounds, you’ll then realize at some point how much knowledge you’ve gained about world events and different cultures among all other things that our world holds that we know nothing much about.  The experience renders us to become more knowledgeable.  Imagine impressing your co-workers with your knowledge on eagle hunters in Mongolia or the sky funeral in the Sichuan Province of China.  And, you didn’t even have to spend money, not even a penny, to be this world-savvy of a person at the office.  You’re cool, alright, plus you educate others with what you learned.

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Yes, eagle hunters. They exist in the western part of Mongolia, near the Altai mountains.
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Glacier trek, Iceland.

Diversity on the trails teaches us cultural sensitivity.

You will learn to inquire of others about their backgrounds without being offensive.  You will be a better communicator overall, which most of us need to begin with.  You will learn that we can strive for respect and understanding versus mere tolerance as we co-exist with others who don’t look like us or approach life the way we do.  You become open-minded and appreciative of the exponential growth we gain collectively as a group from seeing the value that diversity brings in our lives.

Mt. Whitney
Mt. Whitney, USA.

Diversity on the trails can lead to meaningful friendships or even romantic partnerships.  

Don’t underestimate the power of love.  In my work as an organizer, I have had several partnerships that blossomed over time, not to mention the unique friendships that developed along the way.  Both scenarios depict how humans can overcome differences in a major fashion.  Either way, you’re one lucky hiker because you’ll forever have an invite to dinners and enjoy that special dish from Turkey that most of us only dream of.

As you can tell, diversity is an extra bonus that nature gives us as mountains attract people from various walks of life.  Personally, no matter how time consuming organizing can get, the above noted list of benefits of having a diverse group is what keeps me going as an organizer because frankly, without diversity, life can be a little bit of a snooze.   Now, every trek or hike I go on affords me to discover new things and ideas within the safe space we call “nature,” which leads me to this:

Diversity is a gift.  Don’t fear it.  Embrace it.

Shenandoah
Shenandoah National Park, USA.

Is there anything you would add to the list? Share your ideas below.

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If You Want Wisdom, Ditch College and Travel Instead

Outdoor students facing their fears and pushing their limits in the Himalayas.
Outdoor students facing their fears and pushing their limits in the Himalayas.

 

I maybe a hypocrite in saying what I’m about to say because I have four degrees under my belt and owe thousands of dollars in student loans. And maybe I’m just bitter as I write this because after over a decade of working at my decent paying career, I’m still significantly in debt. It almost feels as if the debt will erase me and not the other way around.

Going to college and more so obtaining your graduate degree are both appealing on paper. But, in reality, why is it that when you get into the career that you thought you chose, the longing for freedom suddenly taps you on the shoulder? With a heavy heart, you trudge on with your 9 to 5 job believing that by doing so, you will erase the feeling of being tricked to thinking you made the right decision.

In my case, despite the traditional stable career, I have managed to travel to far flung places and have at least over 50 passport stamps accumulated over the years. The travel experience only made me realize more and more that the source of meaning in life doesn’t depend on the status or money or power that we gain.

It’s the experience. The people. And the unique stories we end up telling as we sit in our favorite rocking chair during our golden years.

So, the conundrum goes like this:

A stable career gives you no time to pursue those endeavors that feed your soul. But traveling as a lifestyle would require money.

If I am able to choose as my younger self, I would have skipped college completely. I would have spent more time traveling in my younger years as a way to learn to thrive on my own. I would have read books of my own choosing and immersed myself in their content delightfully. I would have thoroughly taken advantage of the interactions with others as the platform for gathering data on life’s purpose. Any challenges along the way would have been the tests needed to evaluate my strengths and areas of improvement.

Being in college is a forced experience in many ways. The lack of freedom to think what we want and express how we think in our own unique ways cripples the process towards us being self-made individuals. The classes you take are taken because you need to in order to get that darn degree that society expects you to have so you can become this or that.

Being in college lacks freedom — the kind that you have when you travel as you learn. That, in and of itself, is reason to question society’s constant pressure for young people to attend such institution.

Think about it. How much freedom did you really have to think as an individual when you were in college? The experience is filled with social norms that every aspiring college graduate is certainly expected to follow. Not to mention you are constantly being observed, evaluated and graded. Where is the freedom in that which would allow you to think freely the way you choose? God forbid you sit in a chemistry or calculus class, your answers better be right. There’s no room for errors. If you don’t give the answers as noted on the professor’s answer key, then you fail. And then you have to repeat the class all over again while you see your colleagues advance to the next level. The whole experience just crushes your ego and leaves you constantly comparing yourself to others — a habit that you will carryover to your future career.

Meanwhile, in the world of traveling, there’s no such thing as failing. There’s only the different paths you can take. And, if ever you make a choice that happens to be in disagreement with your desires and goals, then the world allows you to backtrack and redo things but without being graded or chastised by the outside world.

You become your own teacher, mentor and coach all at the same time.

Definitely, there’s freedom in that process. In it lies the beauty of making mistakes and yet learning from them without the self-imposed feelings of shame, embarrassment, insecurity or guilt. There are no fellow students to compare yourself with. No one is judging you, but yourself.

Lessons on the road teach you to be your own critic which lends itself to the lesson of your daily life or YOUR ENTIRE LIFE for that matter: i.e., SELF-LOVE.

Being a student on the road quickly teaches us to be more in tune with ourselves and build a healthy sense of competition with ourselves, and not others.

In contrast, classrooms render us to focus more on the external comparisons- our fellow students, that A+ student next to us or that athlete who seems to be guaranteed a college degree because of his star status. Not to mention your parents who check up on you every now and then. If they’re paying for your tuition, then that’s added guilt on your part. And what about the elephant in the room which you’ll carry with you for decades? Student loans.

Before you can even secure your very first job as a doctor or a lawyer, you have already reached a six-figure debt, not salary. Can you honestly think of a worse way of starting your career fresh from graduating? I can’t. Even now, I’m still in debt because I happen to have chosen to become a lawyer. Go figure!

Yeah, I know. I shouldn’t complain. I have the status. I have the six digit figure of a salary. But then if I deduct the student loan debt and the daily expenses, something tells me a world nomad who’s been on the road all this time maybe financially wealthier than me, in addition to being abundantly filled with life experiences.

That thought alone makes me insanely jealous. Maybe I’m just realizing I was meant to be a traveler. Yet, majority of the time, I’m now only a dreamer behind my desk.

The fact in my case is I missed out on being a student on the road and the freedom of learning that comes with it. I’m smart alright. And I earned my degrees, no doubt. But I could be wiser and wealthier in many ways by now, if only I chose to hit the road then. Now, as a typical 9 to 5-er, I struggle to fit in traveling in my schedule knowing the lessons are not the same had I hit the road in my younger years.

So, learn from my biggest lesson:

Don’t hesitate to travel for a while and enjoy the unique teachings of the world. Gain wisdom now, and you’ll then realize the degree can wait if you desire to pursue it later on. Don’t worry. You’ll be wise enough then to know it’s never too late to start over.

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