Skills, Thrills and Souvenirs: How Pieces of Knowledge I Gained Through Six Years of Traveling Changed My Entire Life

Knowledge might not be the first thing we would connect to traveling, however I think at the core, it’s the very reason we leave the comfort of our homes and hop on planes to places unknown.

I’ve been on a six year trip around Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, California and South Africa and what I gained apart from photos for Instagram were skills and information that have completely changed my perception of life and I’d say peeled off layers of my personality that were redundant, in order to make me see my true self.

“I am not what I think I am. I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.” – Charles Horton Cooley

It’s so hard these days to know who we are. We live in a perception of a perception of ourselves. We are so flooded and overexposed to lifestyles that look attractive and quite possibly like something we would want for ourselves, that we easily forget what actually matters to us. We try to portray our wonderfully limitless selves in filtered 2D snaps and in the process of conceptualizing our essence we not only struggle but get stuck in a self-created concept of us. This makes us feel not only powerless, due to putting ourselves in a state of dependency of outside approval, but also terribly lost at times. What it takes is an escape from all of that to get back to you and your power.

Escaping knowledge

We often hear the phrase knowledge is power. I think it’s quite harsh and it overlooks the subtle nuances of knowledge, which are located more in our heart and gut area, rather than in the brain. I’m addressing our intuition, our instinct, wisdom in general. It’s something we learn through experiences, or one could even say we know already and are just being remembered of. However I think knowledge, whether it’s something we learn or something we know deep down within ourselves, is the key to life. Knowledge determines how we see life and therefore determines how we feel about it. It affects our perspective and therefore alters our state of well-being.

I haven’t always been such an advocate for knowledge, in fact I seriously disliked gaining any of it because there was just too much of it in school. Too much that didn’t really interest me, too much that I didn’t see as valuable for my own life. Knowledge that was only gained to get a good grade and then to be forgotten. Today I realize that I was just too young to seek the little bits and pieces out of the flood of information that would have genuine value for me and my life. But regardless of that, traveling has luckily re-awakened that innate quest for knowledge which I think everybody is born with.

Escaping the flood of information and letting go of everything I learned at school, knew about myself and life in general happened when I went to Australia. Going overseas for the very first time in my life after finishing school was a big step out of my comfort zone.

Looking at the girl I was back then I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly brave or confident or exciting really. Just a simple girl pretty unsure of who she was, but also being okay with it. I wasn’t a rebel, I wasn’t the clever girl at school, I was just pretty vanilla. I had a great boyfriend, did about average at school and I guess lived a little on the weekends which got me third place in the ranking of “Alcoholic” in my last year at high school.

The Skill of Surfing

Australia was a great start of getting out of my comfort zone and unlearning what wasn’t beneficial for me but life drastically changed when I traveled with a friend from Australia to Indonesia and got in contact with surfing.

Indonesia — the land without anxiety as Gerry Lopez, a surf pioneer, calls it. This place represented the opposite of where I grew up. Germany as a face paced efficiency focused, 100% correct place and Indonesia as the genuinely content with however things work out version with a great respect of nature and a strong connection to it.

Learning how to surf in a country like this I’d say makes you feel the effects of surfing even stronger.

Just the other day, I realized the reason why I feel the way I feel about life is mostly because of surfing. You can read everything about a positive mindset and a beautifully positive life, but surfing just hits you with the experience of it. Probably like yoga or dancing in a way, or anything connecting you to yourself. But to me, the fact that all of this happens in nature, in sometimes even scary, unpredictable conditions, is the very reason why surfing is so extremely powerful and beneficial for your well-being. Surfing just opens you up (sometimes even literally) to yourself, your own courage, to the possibilities in life and to the flow of it all. It’s the most scenic short cut to your essence and the essence of life.

Close contact to corals, Mentawais, 2013

I took the route of surfing when my friend and I, stuck on a party island in Thailand for a month, followed the call of a group of Uruguayan guys, my friend knew one of from back in Australia, to join them on a surf trip to Indonesia. We had previously surfed in Byron Bay but when you rent two boards without any instructions on a stormy day with no-one out, paddling parallel to the shore not catching anything, I think it doesn’t really count as surfing. So we had never really got in touch with surfing, which made us very excited to visit a new country, learn a new skill and get out of party paradise. It wasn’t any place in Indonesia that we went to but straight to the Mentawais Islands.

Having never been in Indonesia before, it was a mind-blowing introduction to this country. We had no idea that the Mentawais were actually a place where advanced surfers go but there we were, frothing hard with our boards bought back on the mainland the night before. We didn’t find mellow waves in the Mentawais and our first attempts of surfing resulted in deep scratches on my second hand Mark Richard’s board. Luckily for us and our boards we found a beach break that wouldn’t break our boards but allow us to practice standing up on the board for a start.

We walked one hour through the jungle to get to a spot that was empty, pristine with palm trees all around. We couldn’t believe our eyes. We followed the call of a group of guys and landed in paradise, surfing. We had left our homes and found a new passion far away from where we were from and so far from what we grew up with, life seemed surreal. It just delivered what I had never imagined or thought about. Surfing had never crossed my mind pre-travel and yet I came across it in real life and it completely changed it.

This was the first time in my life where I experienced first hand that if you blindly trust life, it takes you to places that provide exactly what you need. As you can imagine, my friend and I were hooked, and funnily enough it was this time, where I met my friend Lizzie, with whom I am now working together (more at the end). Life does go full circle. Learning the skill of surfing literally changed my life forever.

One of the first waves of my life, Mentawais, 2012
Surfing at Uluwatu, Bali, 2016

Hollywood’s hang-loose high

Surfing continued to blow my mind as we went on to Bali to continue our practice and new found passion. I was on such a hang-loose high that I wanted to explore more passions of mine and see what life would deliver in return. So I decided to fly from Bali to Hollywood to explore my version of the American dream. This may sound very odd and pretty much nuts, but at that time in my life I did let go so radically of everything I knew and had ever experienced that I felt almost empty in a great way and just completely open to anything that life wanted to show me. I was ready for life to fill in the gaps and fill me in on everything so that it would finally make all the sense to me.

I always loved dancing and probably watched too many Hollywood movies but off I went to LA for three months by myself. After traveling to Australia for the very first time in my life, traveling now to America by myself was the biggest step out of my comfort zone I’ve done to date. I was pretty scared but managing to maintain that hang-loose attitude I’ve adapted from surfing, I knew that things would turn out well and that although I had no idea what was waiting for me, that it would be worth exploring this dream of mine.

As you can imagine, it was worth it. Although dancing didn’t really turn out to be as fun in Hollywood as I thought it would be, I turned to something more calming and less competitive — yoga. Having practiced a tiny bit in Bali before, I deeply fell in love with it in Los Angeles. I took the subway from Hollywood/Vine to North Hollywood every single day to practice at my favorite yoga studio. I really got into the whole philosophy of yoga, read books about it, started journaling and eating very healthily. I became aware of the flow of life, of the way the Universe would communicate with me. I felt the best I’ve ever felt in a way I’ve never felt before and wrote in my journal: ‘Life is so magical, it scares me.’

Diving deeper in Encinitas

I had about another month left in America when I decided it was time to see more of California. Reading a book in Hollywood and coming across the fact that the author was from Encinitas, which was in Southern California, I decided that that was enough of a sign for me to visit and explore Encinitas.

Funnily enough, the first day I got to Encinitas, the Airbnb owner with whom I was staying with showed me around the area and it was that afternoon, my very first day in Encinitas, when I saw the author of that very book in a car park on the beach. I couldn’t believe it and obviously was too shy to say hi but high from the experience. I sat in the car starring at him and couldn’t believe what the Universe had delivered to me yet again.

Everything about Encinitas and my time there seemed magical. It was almost like I was riding my bike through a parallel Universe. I’ve never felt this way before in my life. A way of life where life would communicate with you every hour of the day and you were open enough and had the time to listen to it.

One day my room mates at that time, shockingly found out that I had no idea who Deepak Chopra was. They couldn’t believe that I hadn’t yet heard of the New York times bestselling author and world-wide known spiritual leader from India. His centre was of course in Encinitas so they urged me to drive down there to at least explore that.

So I rode my bike along the coast to the centre. Not having any idea what I would find, I wandered around the peaceful place which offered meditation and yoga classes, books and artworks. I stepped into the library to sit down for a bit. Then the title of a certain book got my attention and I picked up the ‘Seven Spiritual Laws Of Success’ by Chopra and started to read a few lines. A few more lines into it, I suddenly felt an overwhelming connection to the author, to life, to the whole Universe. It’s hard to describe but the words that were written in this book resonated so deeply with fleeting thoughts I had but never saw articulated anywhere that it just hit me. Reading them black on white made me realize that they were legit and that I wasn’t as lost as I thought.

I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my cheeks. It was like someone had lifted a brick off my heart. A few words strung together in a sentence made me feel in a way I haven’t felt before. I finally felt understood and loved by not a person, but straight up by life itself. It sounds like a strange concept but all I felt in this moment was love. Love coming from life. It’s funny that a book caused such a reaction within me but I guess it’s been the circumstances in my life that made this message really hit home and changed my perception on life forever.

My forever souvenir

Putting my six years of traveling in a nutshell, it’s really been the close contact to nature, which I experienced through surfing, and the information that found me always at the right time, by exposing myself to life without concrete plans or set expectations, that completely changed my life. A skill and some information made me know myself. This for me is knowledge at its best.

Although invisible, the knowledge I gained while traveling holds the greatest value for my life. I no longer feel lost (I luckily do but it doesn’t alter my perspective on life in a negative way anymore), my faith in life is rooted deeply in the love I feel for it. Not every day of course but what is most important is that I know it’s there. I know that life is supposed to be working for me, that life naturally supports me and that kind of trust I have in life which I cultivated over the years of traveling has become unbreakable.

Lost in logic

It is easy though to feel lost in a society that provokes pushing instead of patience and tends to overlook the essence of people and instead sees them as machines. I pretty much always felt lost whenever I went back home to Germany to stock up my travel funds. It was like all the beautiful information I gained that made me feel so great was worth absolutely nothing. I had no chance of explaining myself because what I had to explain was inexplicable and whenever I tried it made me sound like an arrogant alien. It’s something though we all know and feel, but it’s hardly ever articulated or considered within our society. We just don’t feel like we can trust life, we are taught to control its circumstances.

What I have learned through traveling though is the opposite. Whenever I did let go of control and refrained from logically playing out every situation to the very end, life delivered to me exactly what I needed. It might not have been what I wanted in the first place, but from hindsight you realize your blessings. Let’s face it — life knows you better than you know yourself.

If I had thought logically about America, I wouldn’t have gone. If my friend and I had thought fearfully about meeting up with a bunch of random guys to go to a remote island, we wouldn’t have experienced paradise, learned how to surf in the most memorable location and made an experience that turned our lives upside down.

Nature knows

Of course, my point is not to be stupid all the time but being stupid got me a long way. Whenever I trusted life and acted upon that trust, life worked most efficiently for me. As I said before, it’s something we don’t consider daily, we don’t realize that we can trust life, that life’s mission is to support us because we’re all in this together. Life benefits from us and we benefit from life. It’s a cycle. We’re not isolated individuals randomly placed on some planet, we’re all in this together. We do not exist in isolation and separation but in co-creation with everything that is around us. We are part of something that requires no control but works naturally. We are bigger than our self-created concepts of us, and the truth of that is found in nature.

Although luckily it’s still surrounding us, nature is something we don’t take into account enough. We think we know everything about it and therefore aren’t really astonished by it anymore, but it does prove to us first hand what is going on. As the tree needs us to consume CO2 we need the tree to consume O2. We depend. We are a part of something. Without one, the other wouldn’t exist. We live in a cycle with nature, yet we don’t treat the environment accordingly.

We just had the world’s last male northern white rhino die this year and I wonder what happens to us humans when we’re down to only a few species and nature has been mostly replaced by artificial environment. I think our future generation will have a tough time being happy, I think they wouldn’t know how to live because it’s nature that guides us and influences us.

We are nature

It’s in nature where we find clarity. It’s nature that puts us back on track. When the sun is being replaced by constant artificial light, how will we know when to sleep? When the moon isn’t in sight anymore because of pollution, how will we know that there is a cycle to everything, that we are moving forward, that time is passing? When there are no birds left anymore to watch fly, who will show us that there’s techniques that redefine what has been thought possible? When we can’t float in the ocean anymore without being surrounded by plastic, how will we know that things are going to be alright?

Although future talk, to me it’s a very scary thought to imagine where I’d be without surfing, without that connecting to nature, to life, to myself. Without the ability to go into a forest and realize that as long as I can breath, it’ll all work out fine. That my worries don’t define me, but that I am a part of something larger. A system. One system that has not been created by humans. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to live without nature, without the knowledge it helps us remember.

D’Aloha

It was last year when my friend Lizzie, the friend of mine I met in the Mentawais going to Indonesia for the very first time in my life, asked me to work with her non-profit organization A Liquid Future. Of course I said yes and my view on knowledge changed again. I saw how excited people are to gain actual knowledge in form of a language. I saw how knowledge can equip them for a future of change. I realized how knowledge can enable them to communicate their understanding of life to thousands of visitors and I saw the immense value in that, for visitor and local.

A Liquid Future operates on a small island in remote Indonesia, which is currently being developed for tourism. This island provides the opportunity to introduce and develop a new model of tourism. A model where sharing knowledge and protecting nature in the midst of development is priority. That’s why English is being taught to the locals, so they can communicate their wants, needs and dreams in regards to the change tourism is bringing. They share their precious knowledge and way of seeing life, rather than it getting lost in the fast-track development of the island. A Liquid Future is working on creating Indonesia’s World’s First Surfing Reserve in collaboration with Save The Waves and Conservation International. In the process of it all, Lizzie and I are also having the most fun and mind-bending conversations designing a product that represents everything we believe in. D’Aloha.

Paradise Lost or Lost in Paradise

The world is getting closer together for a fact, but it is up to us in which way we steer this development. Another paradise lost or lost in another paradise that you have not visited yet? With your mind wandering off to places it has never been before, providing you with a change in scenery and a change in perspective that then alters the way you feel about our own life?

I think traveling is such a fun way to make the world aware that we are in fact very connected to each other and nature. We do not live in separation or are isolated from everything. What I do on a personal level affects the world because I am part of a cycle, part of nature, part of life and the Universe.

We might not be as aware of it anymore because we live mostly in cities. We live in societies that push us to become the best and use our elbows in doing so. However, I think fundamentally we realize that there is more to us, more to life than our daily routined existence. Something of a bigger picture. That we are bigger than the pictures of ourselves we put up on Instagram. I think traveling really wonderfully makes you aware of that and that is something I see as extremely valuable in a fast technologically developing world.

Connecting not only to the Internet but more so to people and their stories and perspectives, their essence, our essence, the world’s essence, is something I believe we need to focus on. We are a mystery in the making and protecting the places that make us realize that is a first-world privilege. It is a process that provides us with further knowledge and skills that are of great, if not essential, advantage for the future of humanity.

Curious to know more about A Liquid Future’s activities in isolated coastal communities? Check out their Facebook page for more and support their initiative by following their updates!

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    By: Janine Ritterrath

    Brainwashed by saltwater in 2012, surfing has become one of my favorite ways to live life. I’m currently studying psychological astrology because I want people to see their uniqueness on paper and then believe in themselves for the rest of their lives. Dancing and writing keeps me sane. For me, traveling is a wonderful opportunity of getting to know life and yourself in it. I work with A Liquid Future, an NGO operating in isolated island communities in Indonesia that are being developed for tourism, using tourism and surfing as a means of knowledge sharing and ocean conservancy.

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