I had the good fortune of meeting Vito back in college, and it has been quite a ride since. We rendezvoused in Paris summer of 2016, and what started as a 3 month Euro trip turned into an 18 month journey of adventures and self discoveries. More than just a travel companion, VIto is a caring friend, a patient listener, and most of all, VIto is family. He is one of the deepest and kindest souls I have ever encountered. I hope this gives you a little glimpse of who he is, and a little window into his experience on the road. (check out his IG for more amazing stories and photos)
Written by Gianvito Grieco
I booked a one-way ticket to Europe in August of 2016. I had just graduated from law school, taken the bar exam, and I knew that the moment was perfect–life would only get busier, I would only have more responsibilities, both professionally and, most importantly, personally. It was my once-in-a-lifetime moment to seize something that I had always wanted. So I did it with the intensity and commitment owed to the pursuit of one’s dream.
That meant a journey spanning 18 months, 29 countries in Europe, the Middle East, and West Africa, hitchhiking almost 3,000 miles, train-hopping, chasing the Northern Lights, camping in some of the highest mountains in Africa, sleeping in the homes of countless generous strangers, parks, petrol stations, eating so many bizarre foods, and meeting hundreds of inspiring people.
I find myself regularly being asked “What have you learned traveling?” both during my travel and now that I’m back. When I get asked, I usually draw a blank. It’s a combination of having so many things to say, and the fact that it’s truly an unanswerable question. No, the secret to life was not revealed to me and, if it was, it can’t be summed up casually. My best and most honest answer is probably “I don’t think I learned anything because of traveling.”
Buying a ticket, packing your bags, and coming back in one piece from a foreign land where you don’t know anyone or even speak the language is definitely an act of courage worthy of praise. But it ends there. I didn’t learn anything else because I traveled. I did, however, learn so much while I was traveling and realize it now thanks to the mental peace and clarity that comes from stepping out of my comfort zone.
I don’t think I am splitting hairs here. We are all different. We all learn differently and choose to live our lives in a way that best suits us. At least that’s the goal, right?
The people that ask me about what I learned during my travel are always genuinely curious and well-meaning. Perhaps they have always wanted to do the same thing. Sometimes I get into a philosophical discussion with them about it, other times I don’t. I do always mention what I wanted to learn by traveling: 1) to become comfortable living a lifestyle characterized by a constant state of unpredictability because life is so unpredictable, and 2) to become comfortable being by myself, because ultimately you can’t depend on anyone but yourself for your own happiness and well-being.
I explain to them that I felt that the best way to learn this lesson, for me, was through extreme budget backpacking because of my experiential learning tendencies. This involved not relying on money, a lot of hitchhiking, camping, staying with strangers, being open to all that life has to give, and then reflecting on it. This certainly isn’t the best approach for everyone. If I were different, perhaps I could have learned what I wanted to by reading an impactful book or changing my life in another way.
Having said all that, there are a few things that happened to me that can be summed up and explained. I believe that if I offered this list without any context it wouldn’t sound travel related. Travel is, after all, not the only way to learn what traveling teaches.
- There are very kind and generous people everywhere and they all have a way of finding each other. After meeting just one kind and generous person, I was always introduced into their friend circle which, unsurprisingly, was filled with more incredibly kind and generous people. This is not a coincidence. This truth can be applied to friends, business partners, doctors, the handyman that comes to repair something at home, absolutely everyone. It’s important to focus on identifying these people, work on building a closer and better relationship with them, and then let go and trust them. Positive people will find their way to you if you are positive.
- Everything that is important, can and should fit into a backpack. Everything else is clutter. If I do not control clutter, it will own me. If you max out, implement a “one-in/one-out” rule.
- Ask “why” every day. Answer honestly. Be disciplined about it. Why am I doing what I am doing? There are no right or wrong answers. Really. It’s just about starting a conversation with myself. Perhaps an answer may be “I was afraid to fail.” Once I start the conversation with myself, I can start the process of improving what I feel I need to change.
- Be fearlessly optimistic. Things always have a way of working out. Not only that, but they also have a way of working out for the best. Every so-called “mistake” or missed train, or ferry that I arrived too late for, or wrong turn that I took, led to a lesson learned or a person met that has added something remarkable to my life. If I weren’t optimistic and didn’t make myself open to learning from every opportunity, it would actually just end up being a “mistake.” There also is no such thing as failure if I pull something from it. It’s not easy, and failure is an acquired taste. Once I have made it a habit to learn from failure, I will no longer feel its sting and will begin to crave reflection. This is my choice.
- Choose “patience and empathy” to be your richness. I’m paid when I am open to other people, when I listen to them and their needs and dreams. Other similarly rich people see when I “spend” my patience and empathy and in turn spend theirs with me, which ultimately continues a cycle. I may have accumulated a lot of wealth while traveling, but the earning potential is even greater “back home.” An easy way of implementing this truth is by opening my home to strangers. By clearing my schedule for someone that I just met. You never know what they need me to listen to and how I can help them.
- There is always a way. Always remember that it’s not a matter of possibility, just a matter of difficulty. The harder something is, the greater the required emotional intelligence, deep knowledge of how people work, and strong awareness of your personal strength and skills you must have. Internalize the fact that there is always the possibility for something to happen and go from there.
- Regularly take one minute to be silent, take several deep breaths, and internalize how fortunate I am to be under a strong roof and in full control. Doing this is a choice. Write it down and read it often because in the future, it’s possible that I will become too busy, or convince myself that this is less important than it really is. If I do, I risk having to relearn the lesson, and go through all the difficulty and pain it took to get there in the first place.
So…did I answer your question?