Trent Golden went to Asia to find himself, as many a traveler has done. And while this goal was a worthy one, he also wasn’t sure how it would all shake out.
Here’s what happened.
Originally from Texas, I grew up in a really conservative, ‘conform/don’t question anything’ environment. I’m a really curious person and an artist at heart, so those rigid surroundings weren’t conducive to me thriving.
I’m also passionate about finding the “truth,” learning from other cultures and people, and becoming more and more alive. I’m not a big fan of tradition for the sake of tradition, and I’ve definitely stepped on some toes questioning things that so many people just accept as fact.
Recently, I wrote a book about my experience in Asia and how to heal yourself with food called Enlightened Eating. In conjunction with that, I make and sell handcrafted gourmet chocolates that are actually good for you, do seminars and workshops on energy, food, and other valuable worldly knowledge I’ve learned. Lastly, I’m a partner in a yoga retreat business.
What inspired you to travel?
During a study abroad summer at Oxford, I became hooked on world travel. Seeing the world through a global paradigm really changed how I wanted to live. This was compounded a few years later when, while I had a successful business, I was becoming jaded by the vanity and material worship of Western cultures.
Seeing how our material-based culture caused so much of the world’s environmental and individual quality of life issues made me want to do something different. Plus, I was interested in healing myself. I’d been taking medication for anxiety and depression since the age of 11, and I wanted to make some changes.
My ultimate goal was true self discovery. I knew that if I got out of the “forest,” I would get perspective and could see things more clearly (just as studying abroad had done for me before).
What did you see more clearly about your life? How have you applied it?
My life is much more malleable than I previous thought it was. Feelings of being stuck in a job, relationship, or situation that isn’t serving us are just that – feelings. Embracing change rather than clinging to something that will eventually fade while suffering in the interim, is powerful.
I’ve applied this all by striving to give up attachment and fear. My aim is to live with the end in mind as a focus of my attention, and to live as if I already have what I wish to and am who I wish to be. That way, I can be happy without reason because my happiness isn’t dependent on external circumstances.
Did being in Asia help you heal yourself?
The irony is that six months into my stay, my health got substantially worse. I was put on eight medications for chronic bronchitis, asthma, and general flu-like malaise. Long story really short, taking all these pills led to an overdose that I barely survived. I decided that I would heal naturally, or die trying.
I was intensely motivated to read read, study, and experiment with different methods of healing. In only two weeks I had healed to the point where I was off all medications save for the occasional puff from an asthma inhaler.
Awesomely, I’ve realized knowing the basics of holistic health and natural healing are really important for travelers. Going to foreign doctors and communicating with a translator isn’t always your best option (and a lot of people fear traveling for this reason). I think if you know how to heal yourself naturally, you can stop worrying and start traveling.
Can you tell us a little more about the holistic health you learned?
Asian cultures combat stressful living conditions (like the lack of personal space) by engaging in activities that alleviate stress and promote cohesion. For example, massage is much more affordable and widespread, it’s normal to go sing and dance with you friends, and far more people are out walking than isolated in their cars. I think community like this is the root of a holistic lifestyle.
The rest is shifting your paradigm when it comes to health. Instead of addressing a problem with a pill (like taking Aspirin for headache), you look at your life and get to the root of the problem. Maybe you’re not drinking enough water, or have too much stress.
How did you pay for spending a year in Asia?
Before I left, I sold my car and most of my non-essentials. I had no need for closets, garages and storage units full of stuff. Having a garage sale was really lucrative – it allowed me to not only buy plane tickets, but pay off debt and even have some savings.
In order to live and travel in Asia, I got a job teaching English (it comes with a visa, lodging, and vacation time, which was fantastic). After my teaching contract ended, I purchased my own visa, rented an apartment, and made money playing music at parties in addition to teaching English lessons.
To keep costs down, I lived simply and made smart purchases. I cook instead of eating out, use a basic pay-as-you-go phone plan instead of a long term plans, and I buy a lot of things used instead of new.
Tell us about a memorable encounter from being in Asia.
When I first started teaching English, I was overwhelmed with the sense of everything be so different. To make things harder, the students were standoffish at that time, not like American kids would be.
Then, a 5-year old named Melody, despite not being able to speak English and dealing with a much larger, strange man, gave me a warm smile, and continued to go out of her way to make me feel welcome.
For example, I remember while waiting for the kids to line up for recess, I felt someone touch my hand. I looked down and it was Melody. She wanted to hold my hand and walk with me. She couldn’t say it English, so she just had to be brave.
She helped break the ice between the kids and me. I’m still impressed that someone so young would have the emotional intelligence to help a foreigner feel welcome, and the have the courage to act first and show warmth.
What did you learn about traveling?
To never freak out if things look they are falling apart or you are delayed. Often misadventures can lead to something better than you planned.
One time, I got horribly sick in Thailand and missed a flight because I was in the hospital. It would have been easy to freak out and worry myself sicker. Instead, I relied on help from locals to get me to Bangkok, and wound up on a train through beautiful jungle scenes, grateful to be alive. It’s one of my favorite travel memories.
Another time a friend suggested I rearrange my apartment for Feng Shui purposes. Later that day, I lost my job teaching English. I stayed calm, and the next morning while having breakfast at the local cafe, the owner approached me and booked me for five concerts I wouldn’t have been able to do had I been teaching.
The great debate: aisle or window?
Best travel tips. Go:
When in doubt, boil the water.
I almost died in a third world country from drinking the water, and feel passionately about this.
If you want to play music abroad, network with locals.
In China, relationships (called Guanxi) are critical. Building a network meant I was able to meet people to book gigs—it wouldn’t have been possible if I only hung out with foreigners.
De-stress yourself (whether abroad or at home).
Do whatever you can to keep your stress in check. Maybe it’s as simple as a weekly massage, or designing your lifestyle so you can work from home a few days a week can add years to your life.
Did we miss anything?
In China, I entered a radio music contest…and won! I had a #1 song for almost a month, on a major Chinese radio station. (Ed note: Trent recommends searching for the song on Baidu if you want to hear it.)
Where are you headed next?
Nowhere for a bit – I’m in San Diego working on my yoga retreat business. But eventually I want to go to Japan and start exploring South America.
Follow Trent’s travels and find his book on holistic health on his site, Trent Golden.