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“3 Encounters That Changed My Life”: How a Corporate Employee Gained a New Perspective through Travel

This is a traveler profile. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

After enduring a life of “glamor and nonsense” (her words) for six years, Clelia Mattana decided to follow an inner calling and travel the world solo.

Here’s her story.

Dagobert D. Ruins said, “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” Isn’t that sadly true?

Imagine this typical scene on the London Underground: A business man reading a newspaper, a teenage boy damaging his eardrums listening to loud music on his headphones, a girl painting her nails while playing on her phone. They all regard conversation as a contagious disease.

When I was London, I was exactly like them — and I didn’t even know it until I started traveling. On the road, I learned that travel doesn’t necessarily make me a better person. We’ve all read touching stories on how traveling helps you find your true self, opens your mind, and changes you. This is certainly true some of the time, but I’ve learned that traveling can also bring out the worst parts of my personality.

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Once I recognized this problem, I learned to improve my attitude. Here are three encounters from my life on the road that ultimately changed my perspective on people.

1. D, the Young Australian Backpacker

I met D on a party Island in Thailand. He was the kind of guy that my friends labeled as “a drunk lame backpacker.” His cheerful manners and looks indicated that my friends were probably right.

When he asked me to take a walk on the beach, I accepted only to discover that behind that shallow appearance was a very troubled, sad yet brave, person. We just spent a few hours together, I let him do all the talking as I knew how much he needed someone who truly listened to him at that moment.

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I will never forget our conversation. From that point on, I’ve tried to avoid judging someone or placing them in a mental category based on first impressions.

2. The Homeless Kid in Cambodia

The kid was so small and skinny that it was difficult to guess his age. Barefoot and wearing worn out clothes, he approached as I was about to have dinner on a local street restaurant. His eyes resembled the ones of a puppy, waiting for a piece of food under the table. I ordered a Sprite, and the little kid asked if he could have it. I gave it to him and before I could ask him anything, he ran away, smiling.

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I assumed that Sprite was his dinner. I felt so guilty.

It was the first time I’d stared right into the eyes of poverty. I wish I could have given the poor kid something to eat as well but he was gone too fast. When I thought of him later I felt ashamed of my Western complaints. Ashamed that all I could give was a damn Sprite.

By the look in his eyes, he was no longer a kid. He’d suffered, so he knew no other way. And thus he kept smiling.

3. The Over-60, Female, Solo Backpacker

L grabbed my attention in a 10-bed dorm in Rome. She was backpacking the world solo, and over 60 years old. Her relaxed storytelling matched her aura. At first, she didn’t seem to have a single problem in her life. Turns out that wasn’t exactly like true — she was just a very strong woman. Strong people seldom complain about their problems.

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At 8pm, she said goodnight to me. I was concerned about the noises I’d make when coming back from dinner. She gave me a relaxed smile and with her calm voice told me, “Oh dear, don’t worry about me! I have my eye mask and my earplugs, you can make as much noise as you want!”

L was concrete proof that everything is possible, and that it’s never too late to do what makes you happy.

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Every person is unique. That belief is something that changed me deep inside since I took to the road. I now see people (even my neighbors back home) with different eyes. My approach to people changed because of my travels.

I just had to learn to shift my perspective.

Clelia hasn’t changed yet—she’s still traveling the world. Keep up to date with here at her blog, Keep Calm and Travel, and on Twitter, at @KeepCalmkle.

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