I’ve been traveling my whole life. By my 25th birthday, I had moved 15 times, lived in 10 countries, and visited countless more. We like to set the bar high when it comes to travel tales, expecting them to be filled with wild adventures like hitchhiking and skydiving. I’m no hitchhiker or skydiver. But traveling for me has been a lesson in enjoying the little things in life such as a good cup of coffee or a hearty meal. After a while, you begin to realize that there’s a certain sense of universality as well as uniqueness to the entire experience.
I’ve found that the narrative of “finding yourself” also holds true. Despite the difficulties of constantly adapting to new environments, it was through blending influences from various cultures and encapsulating them into my own mantra that I’ve learned to embrace the fact that I’ll never fit one particular mold. I’m a city girl who loves the beach. I’m a geek who’s a fashion addict. From Cambodia to the Czech Republic, here is a smattering of the cultures, cuisines and customs from 10 places around the world that have taught me a thing or two about embracing the simple pleasures of life:
South Korea: Stay Caffeinated
Cute coffee houses and themed cafes around university districts in South Korea made me appreciate how a good cup of coffee can really brighten up your day—especially if you’re enjoying your cappuccino in a room filled with zoo animals or decorated with retro-style bookshelves. I learned how to ditch the whole concept of coffee on-the-go, and to embrace coffee consumption as a leisurely activity instead. You’ll be amazed at how big of a difference it makes to spend 30 minutes each day in a cozy coffee shop.
Taiwan: Rock On!
From indie rock concerts in artist villages and eco parks to admiring rock formations on beaches, my 7 years in Taiwan taught me how to find happiness in the odd and peculiar. While the words “wealth” and “materialism” are often times associated with big cities in Asia, Taiwan prides itself on being different, especially in terms of promoting indie music and being environmentally conscious. In Taiwan, humble rock stars serenade beach goers and recycling laws are enforced by a singing garbage truck. It seemed odd at first, but the quirkiness grows on you!
Hong Kong: Brunch Breaks: Breathe!
Life in Hong Kong can be busy and hectic so I’ve always cherished Saturday morning yum cha, which is the Hong Kong version of brunch but with delicious dim sum. Yum cha restaurants are usually very crowded, but the boisterous atmosphere makes up for it. It’s easy to feel alienated in a big city, and every girl needs a support network. These brunch breaks were rare moments to chat and catch up with family and friends. Yum cha gatherings essentially reminded me to breathe and to cultivate relationships with people.
Cambodia: Creating Positivity
During my first trip to Cambodia in high school, I took a picture at the Cheong Ek Killing Fields in Phnom Penh of three little children smiling and laughing behind a barbed wire fence. A few feet away there was a sign on a tree which read “Chankiri Tree against Which Executioners Beat Children.” This is the strongest memory that I have of Cambodia—the friendliness of the people and positive vibe of their culture despite the history of genocide. Although I have never experienced anything as harrowing, staying positive in the face of tragedy was the most important life lesson I learned there.
Germany: Everyone is Your Friend
Especially during Oktoberfest. The commonly held perception of this yearly festival is one of utter drunken debauchery. Of course there are elements of truth in that view, but more importantly it’s the camaraderie behind it all. In restaurants, bars, and on street corners, people will stop to chat with you. Strangers will clink glasses and cheers together. Basically, everyone is your friend and it’s a communal celebration. As children, we’re told to not talk to strangers, but celebrating with nice folks you just met also tends to restore your faith in humanity a little bit.
United Kingdom: House Parties are so Hipster
The gloomy weather in the UK is no secret, neither is the fact that a night out can burn a hole in your wallet. This is why Londoners love cooking and house parties. From pot lucks and home-made cupcakes to secret Santa bashes, house parties made me cherish all the wonderful friendships I had formed there. Staying in was usually more fun than going out. It provided great bonding time, especially the after-hours girl talk once all the guys had left. Good food, good friends and chit-chat can seriously help with combatting the winter weather blues.
Malaysia: Keeping it Casual
Ever wanted to show up to a wedding in flip-flops and board shorts? Well, you can certainly do that in Malaysia. One time, the receptionist at a Penang restaurant thought I was attending the wedding banquet being held there—and I had literally climbed off my jet ski and walked into the restaurant. This casual beach attitude seemed to prevail even in bigger cities like Kuala Lumpur where shorts and flip flops were the prevailing choice of wardrobe in malls and bars. Sometimes keeping it casual and low-key can be so much more fun than following dress codes and rules of conduct.
Hawaii, U.S.A.: Nothing but Sunshine
The “aloha spirit” starts the minute you step off the plane and breathe in the tantalizing ocean air. Hawaii has a way of slowing you down and making you take in the beauty of its nature, not just its beaches, but also mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls and pastures—something that’s easily overlooked by a city girl like myself. Nature helps to de-stress you and smiles can be infectious. Hawaii will make you wonder why you’re rushing so much because the reality is that our time on this earth is fleeting. It’s important to relax and enjoy it.
Czech Republic: Unleash Your Inner Art Nerd
As a writer, looking at art simply makes me feel more creative and inspired. Prague is a story beckoning to be told. Modern art museums and graffiti murals juxtaposed with the country’s ancient architecture made me appreciate the beauty of the art world and its contribution to the evolution of culture and history. Finding time to admire art, both in its old glory and modern contours, is good for the soul. The Czech Republic showed me that art is not just a passive experience, but it’s also about understanding the story behind it and reflecting upon our own stories.
New York City, U.S.A.: Stand Out From the Crowd
Call it a “concrete jungle” but I love my current “home” because I can be who I want to be and not be judged for it. New York City is certainly a fashion mecca, but each neighborhood still has its own personality. I love that you can don a different style every day, being hipster one day and classy the next. NYC has taught me to stand out from the crowd, fashion wise or otherwise, and to not be afraid if you don’t conform to a particular category or stereotype either. Individuality is beautiful and badass!
From rocking out in Taiwan to dining in while in the UK, traveling has the effect of making you realize that there is a universe out there bigger than yourself. Throughout my trek, I’ve learned to keep an open mind, to enjoy the simple pleasures and not take life too seriously either. Plans can rip apart and evolve as you constantly meet new people, experience new cultures, and are introduced to new ideas. Your ability to cope with all these twists and turns not only builds inner-strength, but starts to define who you are as a person. For that reason, traveling is also a deeply introspective journey, and I’ve come to love myself in all my oddities—my Korean-brewed coffee addict, Czech art-enthusiast, Taiwanese indie music obsessed self.