Everyone has a different reason behind why or how they start backpacking, and each person’s experience is unique. Although I didn’t sell all my belongings and go nomad style, I want to share how solo backpacking happened to me, and how it shaped my transformation as a traveller and a musician.
Note that some pictures below were taken at a time when digital technology wasn’t as advanced as of today 😉
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So, how did I start backpacking?
Let’s go all the way back to my childhood.
I began to travel since I was a child. My parents took me to summer and sometimes winter trips in south-east Asia. Before the age of 14, I’ve visited Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and the United States many times. (Apparently, I was a good baby traveller!) My first trip abroad without my parents was performing with my school’s orchestra in Penang, Malaysia at the age of 12! Also, thanks to a pair of expat grandparents, I had the fortune to visit the Philippines 7 times(!) before the age of 7. A big chunk of my childhood memories was sitting in a jeepney! (The Filipino version of a tuk-tuk.)
That being said, travel has always been a big part of me, and it only magnified when classical music took a permanent spot in my life. Also, as a kid, I read A LOT. I dived into the life stories of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, and other composers. I learned about how travel enriched them as musicians. All the different cultures fascinated me!
August 14, 2003, I embarked the first grand journey on my own, which was to study piano in New York. I was 14 years old, and I went without my parents! It was my own choice. I had terrible English writing skill and could barely hold a conversation in English. (So, if English is not your mother tongue, don’t be discouraged! See how far I’ve come!)
A dream started to form in my imagination
After spending 4 years of high school in Troy, NY, I moved to NYC in 2007 for my undergraduate studies. NYC is a melting pot, which gave me the opportunity to meet friends from all over the world. In 2008, my old Russian piano professor Dr Aronov was teaching at an international summer festival in Spain. He invited me to come with him, but since I was still relying on my parents financially, it was difficult for me to say “yes” immediately. He convinced me with his thick accent:
“You must visit Europe if you are a musician.”
And that just lit my childhood dream on fire! All the composer stories I read as a kid flushed back into my mind. Thanks to my incredibly kind parents, they sponsored me to take my very first trip to Europe. During the 2 weeks there, I visited four cities in Spain (namely Burgos, Madrid, San Sebastian, and Bilbao) and Amsterdam! The taste of Europe truly opened up my appetite. I began to crave for more.
During my 10 years of living, studying, and working in New York, I travelled extensively within the states. For pleasure and for performing in concerts as well as participating in festivals and workshops. I got very caught up in pursuing a performing career but only to learn that the path wasn’t right for me. In fact, the kind of lifestyle got me into a depression. For a long time, I was waiting for a chance that would take me on trips. I was hoping if I become a pianist in demand, I would eventually have countless opportunities to travel as a performer.
I completely forgot I could just go.
But 8 months of counselling sessions tilted me to another path. My counsellor suggested me to look into people who brought music and travel together. Those who don’t concertize but still managed to travel as musicians. Through them I found inspiration. I began to see other possibilities.
Quitting the US changed my life.
I always thought I would stay in the states after I completed my study. Well, everyone else thought so, too. But I was on an F1 student visa throughout my time in the States, so I needed to get a working visa or O1 (outstanding artist visa) to extend my stay. That is particularly challenging for music majors! (That’s a whole ‘other topic, so I’ll save it for another post.) Plus, what’s the point if I am not even interested in becoming a US citizen? So, after months of intensive research, I decided that it wasn’t worth it. Being stuck in the States solely for the purpose of staying was far less attractive than travelling the world. (FYI: I actually had a boyfriend who offered to marry me for citizenship, but I guess I just wasn’t that crazy in love with him. Haha.)
I got my very first backpack in 2014, and I’ve been using it whenever I can! It’s a 65L one. So far, we’ve been to England, Belgium, France, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Canada, the U.S., Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Denmark, Thailand, and China! That’s 19 countries all together! And a few months ago, I bought a smaller one (40L) for shorter travels! You can check out where else’s I’ve been here.
I’m grateful to the universe for giving me that final push to say goodbye to the life I’ve built in New York. Letting go was a hard thing to do, but I don’t regret a bit. The decision has opened up many doors for me, and it brought me to places I didn’t picture myself to go. After I had left the US, I gained more flexibility to travel in the past 4 years, and I met many wonderful people on my journey. I even fetched myself a life partner on the road (!)
Start backpacking was one of the best steps I took in my life. What I learned was not to be afraid of giving up something you believe you worked very hard for. What you’re struggling with may not even be the right path for you! Let go of all the resistance, listen to your intuition, and follow your heart. Eventually, It will lead you onto your life path!
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.
This is pretty much an English version of the 18 minutes TEDx talk I gave in Taichung, Taiwan in 2015. If you are interested, it’s on youtube: The Art of Giving Up. It’s all in Mandarin tho!
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Also published on Medium.