Luke Armstrong | Jun 27, 2017
When you start out on a path, you never know where it's going to lead. Even if know where the road goes, there's no guarantee that's where you'll end up.
10 years ago, I flew to Chile to finish my last semester of university. I had a return flight, so I didn't know then that I wouldn't be flying home after the semester.
I didn't know that I would ditch the ticket and hitchhike north. I didn't foresee that I would stop for four years in Guatemala and work for a charity doing some of the most rewarding, formative work of my life. I didn't know from there that I'd end up living and traveling across the world.
All I knew then, was that I had this ache in my heart to get out and see the world. I followed that inner heart tug and am still following that today. I've done some reflecting recently on the most important lessons I've learned along the way and here's what I came up with.
1. Raccoons are Dangerous. And mean. And They Want to Bite You (seriously, run away!).
Six years ago, I was taking a weeklong trip to The Caribbean coast in Livingston, Guatemala. I was having a great time, meeting new friends, playing music with the hostels jammers, and was closing off a wonderful day by washing my face (just as my mother taught me to do before bed).
That's when all hell broke loose. An animal jumped up on my legs. I thought it was the hostel's dog. Then it bit me in the knee. It was a raccoon.
The scene from the rest of the night played out like a horror movie. I woke one of the staff members and we walked through the dining room to the kitchen to get first aid.
The dining room was where the second, more vicious attack took place. The raccoon charged me. I jumped up on a table. The raccoon flew to the table to continue his attack. When I say this, people sometimes interrupt me to say that raccoons can't fly. But you weren't there, so you don't know what happened! He flew!
I finally rid myself of the raccoon by pulling myself up into the rafters of the thatched roof structure. Other guests and staff members came from their rooms when they heard my war cry. The owner said he heard a girl screaming. A guest said she heard the sound of a pig being slaughtered.
The next day I raced to find civilization where I could begin my course of rabies vaccinations. If you wonder why I am such an advocate for traveling with travel insurance, know that a raccoon had something to do with it.
And Seriously! If you think raccoons are cute, you're crazier than the coon who bit me. When you see a raccoon it should strike fear in your heart. Do not feed it. Run away. Find a secure shelter, preferably a bunker, and wait till morning.
2. One of the Best Ways to Make it as a Travel Writer is to be Attacked by an Animal.
Some travel writers make it through to the big markets because they've fostered a healthy relationship with an editor. Others, wrote something brilliant and deservedly had it published by a major publication.
A few writers, like me, got attacked by an animal, wrote about it, and had the article syndicated by USA Today Travel.
Six years since being attacked by a raccoon, this is my most memorable piece. No one seems to remember anything else I've come up with. So in a way, getting attacked by a raccoon was the best thing to ever happen for my career.
3. There's a Difference Between Advice and Discouragement
As it is with dreams, there are those who will encourage you to reach for them, and those who will tell you it can't be done, or that you should do it a different way—their way.
It's not always easy to know the difference between discouragement and advice.
In my own experience, there were those friends and family who told me that I should get a "normal job," make as much money as I could, and from a position of financial security then reach for my dreams of supporting myself as a writer.
Ten years later, I see that many of my friends who opted to put off their dreams for a later date are still far away from them, or have given up on them.
Take all the advice offered to you in life graciously. But in the end, connect with that inner voice in your heart, and follow it. That voice knows what you need, and knows where to source your highest purpose that will lead to your greatest happiness.
4. Life's A Celebration, Not a Party
I don't have that many regrets in life. But when I look back at my travels, all of the parties in bars and hostels that seemed so eminent at the time have now faded into the background of unimportance.
The real lasting friendships I've made, the real important people who have impacted me, the really important moments that have changed my outlook in indescribably wonderful ways, all happened without a drink in hand.
5. Outside of Our Comfort Zone is Where the Real Fun Happens
"Do you want to dance la cueca?" Someone asked in Chile. I didn't know how to, but off I went to the dance floor where everyone laughed at me. So I laughed too.
If you laugh too when everyone is laughing at you, then everyone laughs with you. Take this lesson off the dance floor, apply at the life, and you have a recipe for a life freed from worrying about what everyone else is thinking.
6. Move Towards, Not Away From
As much as in travel, this applies to life. On the road, you meet two types of nomads—those running towards places and those running away from them.
When the latter arrives somewhere new, things are good for a while. But eventually the feeling of, "I gotta get out of here returns," and so they run somewhere new and the cycle repeats.
Travel can help illuminate much about the world and self, but the work of discovery is an inner journey.
7. We Change the World By How We View It
Is the world a wonderful place or a horrible place? Is life a joy or a chore? Are people generally good or bad? Is a country good or bad?
We change the world by how we view it. By changing our own perspective, we change the world around us.
A positive outlook leads to positive outcomes. A negative outlook leads the negative outcomes. Both are self-affirming cycles.
Sometimes our joy is a reason for our smile, other times our smile brings about our happiness. What comes first, the smile or the joy? Spend the next hour smiling, and you'll have the answer.
8. We May Eat Different Foods with Different Forks, But We All Love From the Same Heart
Traveling the world, you see so many differences about how humans exist. But when you get to the heart of the matter, you see that all of us essentially are after the same thing – we all have this need to love and be loved.
Most all the major religions may use different words, but they lead us on a similar path—a path that asks us not to harm others, to look less at what we want and need in order to see how we can help others with what they need.