At this point, I’d consider a three hour bus ride a short bus ride. Seriously. I've taken so many 10+ hour rides by now, that I don’t think I’ll feel annoyed by transit times, ever again. Also, after repeatedly trying to get directions out of people who don’t speak English, I don’t think I will ever be nervous about getting lost again.
While I've always had a strong sense of independence, traveling pushed me to that next level. I've had to figure out how to save money, and make that money stretch. I've had to book hundreds of flights, trains, buses, and guesthouses: often through people who don’t speak any English. Although I have learned to depend on the kindness of strangers, I've also learned a tough lesson. Nobody is going to make my plans for me.
I've slept in some of the most disgusting rooms you can imagine. We're talking: stains on the walls and bed, bugs, freezing showers, etc. I've ridden some of the most crowded buses and trains in the world. We're talking about sitting on luggage racks, no fans or A/C, sardine-tight crowds, etc. No more will dirt and grime and bugs and cold showers faze me. Nevermore.
It’s hard to see thousands of people living in little shacks (or worse), then hear someone complain about their house being “too small.” With all due respect to the thousands of struggling American families, our notion of “poverty” in the United States (and most Western countries) comes nowhere near the realities of a country like India. I’m sure you've seen homeless people in (insert generic large city). Now imagine a situation 50 times worse. 180 million people in India live below the national poverty line (less than $1.25 per day), and nearly half of children under the age of five are malnourished. A similar situation is present in Cambodia.
My realization is this: almost everyone in the USA (even middle and lower class people) is living in luxury. It’s one thing to read about it, but it’s another to actually see it before your eyes.
I left this one as a bonus, because it is an exception to the article’s title.
Before traveling, I probably couldn't even point out China on a map. Seriously, I was never taught geography in school. Now that I've caught the travel bug, my options have widened. I can now probably point out most of the world’s countries on a map.