Throughout my life I’ve had the privilege of experiencing different cultures. Since before I can remember, my family and I have traveled across state and country borders alike to vacation in exotic and unique locations. As people asked about these trips and what experiences I had, I always would respond with such enthusiasm about the fun, tourist filled attractions that I had partaken in. Last spring, I traveled without my family to Spain and France each for a week. I considered that to be a life changing trip which started my interest in international culture. However, not until my last trip did I truly learn what cultural differences are.
In late August and early September 2009 I backpacked throughout South East Asia for three weeks. The trip was nowhere near the experience I was expecting. Several factors made it far more unique and educational than any other. One such difference was the style in which I traveled. For the first time, I traveled like a local. Dramatic changes included sharing sleeping compartments on overnight trains with five people who spoke five different languages, walking everywhere and driving nowhere, and eating food which tasted better than American meals…yet were prepared and stored below “healthy” standards. However, the travel itself was not what made this trip memorable.
While backpacking I passed through three countries: Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. A goal of mine during this trip was to visit the least westernized cities; I wanted to experience traditional Asian culture and not the Americanized version. I saw poverty on a level that most Americans would be incapable of grasping. I traveled through towns and met Vietnamese people who were still devastated by the American “War of Aggression” and I played the role of an audience member as I listened to the hate filled words towards our country because of its malicious acts. The word “necessity” was completely altered in my dictionary; Toilet paper, sit down toilets, soap and clean sheets or clothes are all luxuries in my eyes now.
Travel and vacation have two completely different meanings. After experiencing Asia, I learned that all I had done before was vacation. My backpacking trip was the first time I had ever truly traveled. Although I still enjoyed the time I spent while exploring the three countries, I consider the trip to have been a learning experience more than a fun-filled adventure. I came back to the states with a new outlook on life. It’s actually hard to be home after seeing the way people live on the other side of the world. I look around at all the materialism of America, and I no longer want to be a part of a society that is so enveloped within itself. I strongly wish that I could open the eyes of all my friends and show them how exceptional their lives are and how much they truly have to be thankful for. Sadly, I know that the only way anyone can truly appreciate the life they have is to see for themselves the lives of those less fortunate.
I now am home in America and am starting my senior year at Central Valley High School. I have set several goals for myself this year: I am going to volunteer twice a week at a local soup kitchen, I will take full advantage of my education by striving for a 4.0 GPA, and I am going to appreciate every moment of my life and never forget the experiences or the people that touched my mind and heart while I backpacked through SE Asia.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.