I like to joke that I know a little bit about retirement, even though I’m in my mid-thirties and definitely not retired. Five years ago, at the age of thirty, I left my 9-5 job, sold all my stuff, and dragged my husband on an open-ended trip around the world with me. I think back on those days now with an incredible amount of fondness. Not only did we reap all of the expected gifts of travel—cultural insights, exposure to beautiful locations, introductions to new friends and places—but we also learned about the lesser known gifts travel offers, like experiencing the kindness of people around the world first-hand.
Our nearly 3-year trip around the world bestowed us with many gifts, but the most unexpected gift was the one that we received before we even left. On the eve of our departure, friends of ours gave us a yellow envelope containing a check and instructions to give the money away to those we encountered on our journey. There were three simple rules: 1- Don’t overthink it, 2- Share our experiences if we want to, 3- Don’t feel pressured to give it all away.
At first glance, the idea of giving money away around the world sounds really easy. But upon closer inspection one finds that it’s actually pretty hard. As a traveler, you’re in a new country and unaware of the cultural norms around giving. Plus, you don’t speak the language, so it’s hard to explain your intent. On top of it all, if you are, like me, the kind of person that usually just keeps her head down, giving money away to random strangers shines a big bright spotlight on your own insecurities. It takes a lot of bravery to walk up to someone and offer a gift without any idea how that gift will be received.
And yet, even though we set out into the world with this yellow envelope gift to give away, we ended up being the recipient of gifts much more often than the giver of them. This lesson, above all else, is the one that lingers. Whether it was the family that stopped to give us directions, the stranger that welcomed us into his home when we had nowhere to sleep, or the dozes of people that simply took the time to ask us about our lives, we’d have needed a dozen yellow envelopes to pay back all of the goodness we received.
People everywhere are good. That’s the gift I brought home with me, my most precious souvenir. It’s why, despite the complications of juggling a job, a family, and a life of travel, I continue to set out into the world. It’s for shorter periods of time now, at least until I can retire once again.
Bio: Kim Dinan is a freelance writer, blogger and author. Her travel memoir, The Yellow Envelope, hits shelves 4/4/17.