Reflections on a Life Spent Traveling

Story & Photos by Akash Shah
Lebanon
“I was outside my comfort zone, and feeling unsure if I had made the right choice...”
Wadi Mujib hike in Jordan

Even before the alarm bell rang, I felt ready. I donned my new all-white uniform, gathered my things, and walked across campus to my new school’s auditorium. As I joined the sea of 1,200 students, I noticed a few confused glances in my direction. After our morning assembly ended, a new friend, Jonathan, tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at my shoes. The rules had mentioned nothing about shoes. So, I had put on my shiny, new black dress shoes. Everyone else was clad in white sneakers. I was outside my comfort zone, and feeling unsure if I had made the right choice.

Having grown up in India, I had visited Singapore on holiday with my family. I remember a museum exhibit I had participated in while there. I stepped into a large display cage, which was then zapped with 1,000,000,000 volts. Months later, I was ecstatic to be accepted at a high school in Singapore. This would be my chance to explore and learn more about exactly how science works. How had I emerged unharmed that day at the museum? Could I engineer cool stuff like that?

Al Ula in Saudia Arabia

Bariloche, Argentina
“I began to realize that a common language enabled us to connect on a deeper level...”
Lac Rose in Senegal
“they open the door to the unexpected…”

Moving to Singapore for high school as a thirteen year old was a new and sometimes uncomfortable adventure: finding a doctor when sick, managing a bank account, using chopsticks for the first time. It was tough at times, but my world was rapidly expanding. It took me a while to become comfortable there. Slowly, my innate desire to explore returned. In 11th grade, I applied for a study abroad program in Japan and was accepted. In Kyoto, I perceived a deep sense of respect within Japanese culture. In the classroom, we learned eight different ways to address others based on the politeness and formality required. With this vocabulary in hand, I engaged two of my Japanese instructors in discussion. Instead of simply trying to fit in, I was now able to participate in a meaningful discourse. We discussed differences in protocol when sharing food in Japan vs. India, and the subtle nuances behind each. I began to realize that a common language enabled us to connect on a deeper level.

This realization has inspired my love of travel. I visit new countries, new places, and new people every chance I get. Work regularly takes me to East Asia. A few years ago, I was able to stop over in the island nation of Palau in the South Pacific. The natives lack a modern economy, choosing instead to share possessions with one another as a community. Instead of renting out his kayaks, a local let my friend and I borrow them. He had no use for our paper money. Being in Palau helped me understand an entirely new value system and the vibrancy of their way of life. My desire to explore brought me to their country. The Palauans taught me greater empathy.

I have had the privilege of traveling amongst people very different myself, to landscapes that often seem otherworldly, and in situations that have left me nervously breathless, ecstatic, or wanting the moment to never end. Each travel experience has made me aware of how much more there is for me to learn and explore; the new perspectives I encounter not only help me learn about others’ lives but increase my own self-awareness. More, they open the door to the unexpected.

Samye Monastery in Tibet