Lessons from the road / by Jessica Lee



From what I’ve learned these past seven months away from home, I’ve found that the road teaches you far more practical life lessons than anything learned at University.

I am writing this sitting on the Greyhound bus from Montreal back to Toronto.

The obvious lesson for me would be to pack lighter.

No one really needs 40+ t-shirts on any trip. What happened was I packed 20 t-shirts originally, then little by little added more and more, rationalizing that t-shirts take up really little space. Things add up, and soon without realizing it, I was carrying 40 t-shirts to Australia.

I have spent way too much money posting things back home. I wince about the money amount, but I don’t regret it because it’s a lesson learnt.

I also spent way too much upgrading baggage or renting lockers or not walking places and taking cabs to hostels because I couldn’t carry all my stuff.

In the process, I have become stronger because I soldiered up and carried everything during the short walks from the bus stops to the hostels, but I wouldn’t backpack anywhere again with all the things I’ve been carrying around for the past month or so.

In reality, once one item in your backpack starts smelling like smoke or sweat, everything else starts to develop the same smell. Despite growing up and living in a very clean household all my life and being raised to be concerned about hygiene, during the past couple of weeks while backpacking throughout Australia and Indonesia; I’ve gotten used to not minding stale clothing. Doing laundry while traveling is always an option too.

Being on the road has also taught me about people’s motivations. In Toronto, people help you out of kindness because it’s a nice thing to do and it’s common courtesy. If I saw someone with their hands full, I would offer to help carry things for them. The same principle applies in Australia. Two strangers kindly helped me carry my 7 piece luggage from the bus stop to the bus station in Melbourne.

In Indonesia however, I once had a lot of luggage and had just boarded a train. I had avoided using the porters who would have helped me carry the luggage on the train. I made it onto the train without their help, carrying all of my things. Once on the train, I needed to store my luggage in the racks above the seats. A man dressed in a train uniform motioned for me to hand him my luggage and he put the luggage on the rack for me. I figured he was working for the train company and he would help me out because I had booked an executive business class ticket, so I expected this sort of service somewhat.

I found out later he wasn't employed by the train company, and he was a porter working for himself. He asked me for $1 for helping me lift 4 bags!

I have spent $1 in better ways. Like when I paid $1 for 18 bananas at Paddy's Market in Sydney. Or when I paid 50 cents for a motorcycle ride in Jakarta (still have to blog about that one). Spending a dollar to have someone lift four things for me is not an economical use of money.

It's okay though. It's only a dollar.

And it's a learning experience. That's what matters. I pay attention more to people's motivations more now.

Better to learn a lesson and lose a dollar than not learn a lesson and lose $50 later.