My parents tell me that when I was little, I was the only kid they knew that operated on a schedule. I woke up and went to sleep at the exact same time every day without fail, save for one night.
As the story goes, I was a year old, standing in my crib in the middle of the night, sobbing my eyes out and pointing at my dresser. After trying the usual baby soothing methods, my Mom followed the path my finger was on to find one of the dresser handles flipped upwards, instead of downwards like all the other handles. A simple flick to change the handle direction, and their clockwork baby was back.
As I’ve grown older, my desire for order remains largely unchanged. Those who know me well understand that I love to be impeccably organized, have things meticulously planned (with an additional plan B,C, and D) and complete tasks with checkboxes on a set timeline. They may also describe my less stellar qualities as impatient or controlling.
Over the years I’ve learned that frustrating as it may be, I can’t force the world to operate on my schedule. Not everyone has the same sense of urgency that I do, and crying until someone flips a dresser handle just doesn’t have the same effect when you’re an adult.
Realizing a fault and changing a fault are two different challenges. After getting frustrated for the umpteenth time on our backpacking trip, I realized that life would be much easier if I could learn to be more flexible.
So, I imposed upon myself the most logical, time effective solution: 3 months of budget backpacking through one of the world’s most notoriously frustrating countries: India.
I figured that if I wanted to live life more flexibly, I should just get on with it already and learn the necessary lessons. So, off to India we flew.
Upon arrival in New Delhi, I was instantly overwhelmed.
Just outside the airport, several of my top frustrations greeted me with enthusiasm. There were bugs everywhere, and they were crawling on me no matter how hard I swatted. The smoggy air felt dirty to walk in. The blazing horns every five seconds set my irritation levels skyrocketing, and the sluggish data speeds prevented me from having control over our navigation in a new country.
It was then and there that I knew coming to India was the right decision.
Over the course of our first week I overcame issues that in any other country would have had me filing a complaint or calling the Better Business Bureau.
Our first Airbnb had not one, but two lizards roaming around. Slimy, green, creepy lizards that are meant to live outdoors. Not to mention the cockroaches who’s home was our bathroom, the lack of accessible, clean drinking water, and the smog that freely seeped into the house through poorly insulated drywall.
It wasn’t by any means easy, but I made a huge amount of progress during that first week in India. Forced to handle frustrations like insects indoors, loud noises, not feeling clean, and not having access to the usual creature comforts of western countries, I slowly started to become more flexible, and less irritable. When you can’t change your situation, what’s the point in getting upset anyways?
As time went on and we traveled further into the depths of India, both Greg and I were consistently tested with challenges.
The utter lack of disrespect for the environment is astounding in India, and the smells that accompany it can make one want to vomit.
The idea that it’s okay to keep the change, no matter the bill size, without asking, can be maddening coming from a society that pays back every small favor.
And the sheer decrease in standards for accommodation, food, and cleanliness took longer to adjust to than we care to admit.
In India, we learned how to not let a lack of soap, towels, and toilets ruin our day. When lack of basic necessities doesn’t stress you out, not much else does either.
We learned how to sleep through the honking that never ends in this country. The skill of quieting your mind before bed, regardless of your surroundings is incredibly valuable anywhere in the world.
We learned how to brush our teeth with bottled water, identify when we were being scammed, and deal with “Aunt Flo” in a country that largely lacks basic sanitary products. By taking away familiarity and comfort, a whole new opportunity opened to reshape our thinking and processing patterns.
I wasn’t entirely sure what I would find in India. My only hope was that it was a place that would push me to change in ways that Europe and the U.S. hadn’t.
In the past three months I’ve experienced growth in myself, my closest relationships, and my overall worldview. My initial goal of becoming a more patient, less irritable person was met, and I’ll leave India with so much more than that.
When you fling yourself into an environment entirely different than what you’re used to, new perspectives present themselves. Those perspectives allow us to consider problems from a fresh lens, and discover solutions outside the realm of what we thought possible.
For all its hassles and imperfections, traveling through India is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.