Just got back last night from a LONG trip, arguably the longest trip I went on over years. There’s a lot that I saw, both of the nature and people, so I decide to write a reflection post about it.
First of all, some background would be helpful. I went on a 9-day road trip around the southwest of China, across the mountainy area, both valleys and snow mountains over 4000m of altitude, and even a few places mainly occupied by Tibetans. Most of the way we drove, with me doing around 20% of the driving. Things went with and against plans, as I will talk about in the coming paragraphs. To help you rad and understand things, and also easier for me to write, this post is split into two sections: positive and negative. In the end I sum things up and give a few overall thoughts.
What went well?
Going off the grid
Undoubtedly, the fact I got away from my computer for a few days is considered good. Even in the holidays, my schedule is still packed with private projects, my internship stuff, my upcoming job hunting, and many other business. “I will rest when these are dealt with.” Most of the time I use this line to put off resting, and especially trips which bring me away from my computer. However, as the past six months went, it stuck me that these “things” are never going to be totally gone, at least not in my early 20s. Relentlessly prolonging working periods does not get tasks done quicker, it usually does the opposite because of burnout and productivity drops.
And as it turns out, going off grid isn’t as scary as I thought. I still miss my computer and wish I had brought it, but mostly it is because of entertainment and not really work. Only in the last two days I started worrying a little bit, because I wouldn’t have a long time to rest and pack before I leave for London again. But those are not really work related issues either. A tip for other software engineers, and people getting overwhelmed by work, consider taking a break and leave for a trip, preferably away from the city you live. I completely understands the feeling when staring at a wall of post-it notes of todos and realizing you literally cannot leave the desk, but please try to squeeze some time out and go for a trip; even a day trip is fine. And most importantly, do not bring work with you, both physically and mentally.
The “Earth Forret”. Have to say this sweeps away my worries.
Life lessons learned
I am also glad to have gone on this trip for another reason: I learned a lot of life lessons during it. I won’t list them all, but there’s one I want to elaborate. Quite coincidentally, I was reading about the fundamental psychology about doing a task, and it says with every task we undertake, we first set a goal, then we make a plan, execute each step, observe what happens, understand it, and compare it with our expectation. There’s one sentence that I find particularly reflecting during the trip:
“Goal and expectation setting is critical: setting expectations too low leads to apathy and boredom, and setting them too high leads to frustration and anger.”
One reason I say this is reflecting during the trip was when we got to a high altitude, most of us will get uncomfortable because of the lack of oxygen in the air. So, it is vital to carefully set your activity levels. Trying to run or jump too much will only leave you gulping for air for minutes, with pain in your chest. I learned this the hard way. The following day, I started not walking too fast, and save my energy to essential jobs and tasks.
What went wrong
I once read this line from an article: The best way to truly know a person is to travel with them. At first this seems preposterous, but I saw it clearly in the few days. A quick example, one of my co-traveller snapped and shouted in the car when we couldn’t find the hotel on the map, after about 4 hours of driving. The same person sometimes is very rude to others in the group, not to me fortunately. Nevertheless, personally I believe in treating people nice as possible, so there lies a sharp difference between two people.
What this taught me is to make compromises. Try to steady the mood and morale when someone freaked out, and try to point out to that person their behavior is rude and disrespectful later in private. Running a team is not easy, professional one or not, and I certainly have much to learn. But this trip turned out to be a perfect example to practice it.
Plans don’t always work
The snow mountain, as mentioned before, was actually an accident. None of us thought it was going to snow at the end of May. But it did. To make matters worse, our car had a flat while climbing up, and therefore could not make it across the mountain. In the end, we were stuffed in a motel hallway with some blankets to pass the night, which was absolutely horrible. Sheer cold, constant headache, and frequent gulping of air. I barely slept that night. The headache didn’t go away for another day and a half, and I caught a cold along the way as well.
Stuck here for a night. This was taken the following morning, which was still snowing :(
Obviously the people who made the plan weren’t to blame completely, but I think they are not totally free either. As a software engineer, I did a post-mortem after the fact. We could have taken another path, one that would take us to the same destination without ever going up that high. Also, as soon as we saw the snow, we should probably turn back and get out of the mountain area ASAP. Of course these are all after the fact reasoning, but a lesson is to be learned: make a plan, always have a plan B when the first one fails.
Last few thoughts
In all, I consider this trip to be a bittersweet experience, but to be precise, at this point it seems like the bitter is taking the lead. If I were to estimate, probably 40% of my waking time is spent unhappily, due to different views of the world and values. To me, traveling is never about the scenery; it is always about people: who I am traveling with, who I will meet or re-meet during the trip, and who I talk about the trip with afterwards. Luckily, the fact I can put up this post summarizing the trip is intrinsically rewarding to me, because a) I am sharing my experience and feelings, and b) maybe my experience can help others in some way. If taking that into account too, the odds will turn and these 9 days would be a worthwhile effort, and I am happy what I did it.
What’s your last traveling experience like? Do you like it or not? Which place do you want to visit the next time? These are all interesting questions to ask yourself have some good thinking. Hope this post interests you in some way.
Summer is coming, are you excited for it?
See you all soon.