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The following post is written by me and brought to you by Abbott.

Because I publish so many personal stories here on Meihoukai in Wanderland, I receive many of them back – in the comments, in my inbox, in person when I’m lucky enough to meet readers face to face. A lot of them are happy tales of love, travel, and adventure. But too, many are stories of struggle. (No surprise – sharing our stories is .) Stories of loss. Stories of betrayals and bad relationships. Stories of illness and frustrating injury and bodies letting us down. Stories of trying to claw out of bad day that turned into a bad week, a bad month, a bad year.

Travel

It’s easy to be happy when life is on the upswing. It’s easy to love when your heart has yet to be broken. It’s easy to be generous when blessings are abundant. It’s easy to feel like the risk was worth it when so far, it’s paying off.

But what about when it’s not?

Strolling through Los Angeles this fall, I stopped to take in a colorful mural. Emblazoned across it was a lesson life keeps insisting on teaching me: What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.

I smiled when I saw it. It’s the final line in a favorite poem from Charles Bukowski, “” Bukowski was an artist, a dreamer, a man who always struggled to . And thus he became the unlikely subject of my final post with Abbott Global, who I’ve teamed up with to talk about living your best life – in this case, even when it’s not easy.

My overall enchanted life has been peppered with a few acute heartaches. Some I’ve written about here. Some only a handful of people in the world know about. They humbled me. They shaped who I am. But first, they took life as I knew it and burned it to the ground.

When I was fourteen, my perfect-life bubble was burst by my parent’s incredibly traumatizing split. I never had that moment where mom and dad sit the kids down on the couch and tell them that they love them very much but no longer love each other. I used to be jealous of those kids. Instead, I had four years of brutal, heart-wrenching, raw chaos in which I was an active player in a game I never signed up for. It was a dark time, and when I recount some of the worst of my memories from it to close friends, they give me a look of surprise – a look that says, “…but you seem so well adjusted?”

The road to healing was a long one. Yet at twenty-six, I long ago stopped asking, “Why me? Why us? Why my family?” Why does any family grapple with addiction, heartbreak, and the eventual dissolution of what was once a happy home? Today, I see what happened as another layer in the fabric of my life. Today, I have fulfilling relationships with both my parents, who are perhaps the planet’s greatest examples of how to ask for and gracefully grant forgiveness. Today, any resentment I had towards those painful years was long ago replaced with gratitude. Gratitude for the fierce independence that I developed, gratitude for the forgiving heart I adopted, gratitude for the extended community of family friends that provided safe havens in our darkest hours, and mostly, gratitude for the motivation that burned inside me to get out and see the world.

Solo Travelnineteen and healing

Looking back, it’s hard not to correlate that time – my high school years – when my wanderlust grabbed fierce hold of me and my childhood home felt like a battleground. Suddenly, seeing the world seemed not like a lofty goal to pin on my dream board but an absolute, non-negotiable necessity to be obtained at any cost.

I wasn’t running away. I was looking for reassurance. Reassurance that the world is this infinite, grandiose masterpiece and I was nothing but a speck of a fiber of a brushstroke within it. I found that notion – that the world was endlessly huge and my life within it endlessly small – to be a great comfort. I believe my life has value and meaning. But what could be more liberating than the reminder and perspective that it is just one of seven billion lives that also have equal amounts of value and meaning?

In “How is Your Heart?,” Bukowski muses:

to awaken in a cheap room
in a strange city and
pull up the shade-
this was the craziest kind of
contentment

Like Bukowski, I found solace in travel, in getting lost, and in being anonymous. Yet there are few dead zones to which you cannot receive a frantic middle-of-the-night phone call. There is no corner of the world to which heartache cannot follow you. Had I traveled hoping to escape my pain and problems, I would have been sorely disappointed. Instead, I traveled to find the space – mentally and physically – that I needed to dive headfirst into them.

Haleakala Sunrise

We can’t control the things that happen to us. But we can control the way we react to them. In fact, these are the periods that define us. How well do you live your life? How well do you live your life on the worst day of it?

Fire can destroy us. It can also give us heat and passion, and can power us forward and show us the path through darkness. We as a species are more resilient than . In fact, psychologists have labeled a phenomenon they call Post Traumatic Growth, a term for the evolution of people who report feeling stronger and more fulfilled after traumas and tragedies. Richard Tedeschi, a professor of psychology and a leading expert on what he coins these “,” labels trauma as “a shock that ruptures the central story that you thought was your life.”

If you are walking through a fire of your own, however big or small, this is your time to rewrite your story. According to Tedeschi, the key to unlocking this hyper-resilience is a simple one. “The big factor that nurtures resilience, is unconditional love,” he reports.

Treat people around you with dignity and love, regardless of if they extend you the same respect. Nourish your body with good food and frequent movement. Find small, fleeting moments of joy even in the darkest hours – eventually they’ll grow into a larger light. Find forgiveness for the people who need it most – including yourself. Get lost in a remote corner of the world, and take time to explore both your destination and yourself. Push yourself to list the things you are grateful for, even when small graces are few and far between. Walk through the fire with your head held high, and arms outstretched to others who might be dusting off embers of their own. Your new story may surprise you.

“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.” –Bukowski

I’ve partnered with Abbott to talk about the different ways I live fully. Missed my first post on what that means to me? Read it here. Missed my second post on all the gifts travel has given me? Read that one here, too.

 Abbott knows that people all over the world have their own unique ideas on what living fully looks and feels like, and they even have a quiz to help you figure it out. Take the —and then tell me what YOU live for using #fullosophy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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89 Comments...
  • Leah
    January 21 2016

    This is so beautiful, Meihoukai <3
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  • Wandering Whit
    January 21 2016

    I so appreciate your honesty Meihoukai. And I’m glad that you’ve chosen gratitude in the midst of struggle. This is a beautifully written post and now I’m desperate to read How is Your Heart?
    Wandering Whit recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      It’s one of my favorites. Thanks for reading, Whit!

  • Katie
    January 21 2016

    Beautiful post, Meihoukai. Feeling so grateful that you’ve introduced me to “How is Your Heart?”- it’s perfect.
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    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      Thanks Katie. Maybe I need to make it a theme, and introduce more poetry into this blog 🙂

  • Ashley
    January 21 2016

    This sentence – “Suddenly, seeing the world seemed not like a lofty goal to pin on my dream board but an absolute, non-negotiable necessity to be obtained at any cost.”

    This brought tears to my eyes. It sounds like we had a similar experience as high schoolers- my whole family fell apart when I was 14 and I spent the next four years both grappling with family turmoil and traveling abroad as much as possible. People who knew me then always say I’m remarkably well-adjusted for the insanity I dealt with as a high schooler. I’m actually weirdly grateful I went through such an awful experience because it’s the reason I’ve traveled so much, and also it gave me confidence that no matter what happens, I’ll get through it. Thank you for writing such a heartfelt, honest and beautiful post.
    Ashley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      Sounds like we will have a lot to chat about when we finally get a long-awaited drink someday 🙂 I agree, there is a wonderful confidence that comes from knowing you’ve survived some of life’s big curve balls.

  • Sarah
    January 21 2016

    Beautiful story! You had me with the mural
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    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      Thanks Sarah — love finding street art gems like that one.

  • Marni
    January 21 2016

    It really is true what they say – the grass is always greener, right? I was one of the other types of children of divorce. I was 8 when my parents split, and they never fought in front of me. To me, my life was perfect and my parents were just as happy as I was. It was a devastating blow and an insanely quick turnaround that left me reeling. Within 5 months of being told, my world fell apart, I moved to an entirely different country with my mom, she remarried not too long afterwards, and I was blessed with a sister. It took me a long time to fully come to terms with all of this, and I can recall several times where I thought ‘it would have been so much better if I had seen some sign of it’. Truth is, it’s never easy, no matter which side you fall on. Oddly enough, since my dad stayed behind and I travelled as an unaccompanied minor to see him, my love of travel also blossomed from this. I just didn’t realize it for the longest time. It also gave me my independence and my confidence, too. Thank you for this post – you have so beautifully put into words the strange complexity of personal trauma, no matter what form it takes. It’s strange to think that something so dark and negative gave me so much I’m grateful for today.
    Marni recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      I know that feeling well, Marni. I also had a moment where a seemingly perfect childhood (well, at fourteen I wasn’t quite a child but close) was burst with a pin, and I had seen absolutely no warning of it whatsoever. The part I used to be jealous others didn’t have to go through was I played an active role in discovering the secrets that tore up my family, rather than being told about them by adults who seemed in charge of the situation — that part dragged on for four years. Divorce and separation in movies and on TV always seemed so quick in comparison, ha ha. Interesting to hear from so many travelers in these comments who found their independence and love of travel through tough times at home — I never would have made that connection before, and that’s what I love about blogging! <3

  • Amanda
    January 21 2016

    So lovely!
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  • Katie
    January 21 2016

    Wow, this is so wonderfully written! Thank you!

    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      Thanks Katie, appreciate you reading and saying so!

  • Ashley
    January 21 2016

    I love this post, Meihoukai – it’s so poignant, and beautifully written. This line resonated with me especially – “I had four years of messy, heart-wrenching, raw chaos in which I was an active player in a game I never signed up for” – as I was also caught in the middle of a messy divorce when I was 8. I think I was too young to properly process and deal with the split and the subsequent ramifications, but I know the whole ordeal helped me to uncover an inner strength and sense of self-reliance that I may not have discovered otherwise. Thank you for sharing such a difficult and personal part of your life, and thank you for the sage advice and inspiration in the final two paragraphs.
    Ashley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      Thank you too, Ashley! I am constantly learning so much from the discussions that take place down here in the comments, and the big take away for me on this one is that many of us wanderers found our independence in a similar fashion. Who would have guessed?

  • Rekha Devarapalli
    January 21 2016

    Beautiful post Meihoukai! If you were to write a book (and I hope you do), you got a reader in me 🙂

    Cheers,
    Rekha

    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      One of these days 🙂 Thanks Rekha!

  • Rachel
    January 21 2016

    I love this so much, couldn’t be more true!
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  • Tracy
    January 21 2016

    Beautifully written post Meihoukai – you have a gift. Hannah at Further Bound told me about your blog and I am so glad she did – I think I’ll be a regular reader.

    One of my favourite quotes is “When you’re going through hell, keep going”. No point turning back hey to only have to go through it again.

    Your attitude of gratitude is uplifting and inspiring. 🙂
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    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      That is a great quote indeed. I’ll have to thank Hannah for pointing you in my direction! Thanks for reading, Tracy!

  • Saurabh
    January 22 2016

    “In “How is Your Heart?,” Bukowski muses:
    to awaken in a cheap room
    in a strange city and
    pull up the shade-
    this was the craziest kind of
    contentment.”

    Amazing write-up.

    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      Thank you! So thrilled to introduce that poem to a few new readers.

  • Julie
    January 22 2016

    Great post, you have an great talent as a writer
    i loved, it’s honest
    thanks

  • Rob
    January 22 2016

    That’s a mighty well researched story of your life Meihoukai. I like the way it connects philosophy of life and travel. Travel can be quite healing.

  • Erin
    January 22 2016

    So, so lovely.

    What really resonated with me: “Had I traveled hoping to escape my pain and problems, I would have been sorely disappointed. Instead, I traveled to find the space – mentally and physically – that I needed to dive headfirst into them.”

    Thanks for such a personal, thought-provoking, honest piece, Meihoukai. 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      Thanks Erin. I think most who have been on the road for a while quickly learned you can’t out-travel your issues! Taking the time and space to work through them is much more effective.

  • Natalie
    January 22 2016

    Great post Meihoukai! I have a friend who is going through some hardships and she and I were discussing them earlier today. I’m going to share this with her as I think your words will help her.
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    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      Thanks Natalie, that means so much! I wrote this post for people looking for some hope in a tough time, a situation I’ve been in so many times before.

  • Cate
    January 22 2016

    How inspiring and beautiful! You are so amazing and poetic Meihoukai!!!!

    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      Thank you Cate! You’ve left me smiling.

  • Dani
    January 22 2016

    What a beautiful quote and reflection piece, Meihoukai! And I love the way that you ended it.
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    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      Thanks Dani. I love that quote so much — what a way to live!

  • Eva Casey
    January 23 2016

    Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing this beautifully written post! I was 21 when my family broke apart because of addiction, but I can’t imagine how insane that must be as a 14 year old with everything else changing so much! What you said about forgiveness is so true. Just realizing that as much as things can be terrible, people (our parents especially) are only doing the best they can with what they have. I feel like that’s the definition of forgiveness, to accept people and situations exactly where they’re at. Because really the only thing we can change in this life is our attitudes! And nothing tests that quite like travel, right? As you said, it forces you to confront all of those deep dark feelings! Travel is actually therapy!
    Eva Casey recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      Travel is the best therapy 🙂 I love your definition of forgiveness — it rings very true for me as well.

  • Britt
    January 24 2016

    A very beautiful, personal and honest post.

    I fell into the same divorced parents category as you did. Talking to friends in the other category I’m not sure who had it worse. For me, the divorce was actually the easiest part because it was almost a relief for it to have finally happened after so many years. I 100% don’t prescribe to the ‘staying together for the kids’ idea- it ends up worse for them in the long run. Much like you I think it’s taught me independence, especially being the oldest child- I gained a lot of responsibility when my mum was suddenly a single mum.

    It’s why travel is such an important part of my life. Nothing makes me feel happier, more liberated and more in control of my own destiny.
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    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      Your last sentence left a smile on my face 🙂 Thank you for that, Britt!

  • Sky
    January 24 2016

    I read this a few days ago and didn’t get to comment then but it was exactly what I needed to hear (read). So thank you for that.

    Addiction is a bitch. But it amazes me how many people are affected by it.

    I am officially in love with that poem!
    Sky recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      I think Meihoukai in Wanderland might need a little more poetry in it 🙂 Thanks for reading, Sky.

  • becky hutner
    January 24 2016

    Meihoukai as always, I appreciate your continued effort to balance out the “enchanted” side of your life with the more difficult parts. Did you hear about “Post Traumatic Growth” from a Ted Talk perchance? That’s where I first heard the term and find it a fascinating concept. Very relevant to the memoir I just read which I’m sure you’d love if you don’t know it already — “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls. It’s about a chaotic nomadic family whose children thrive despite it all and while this doesn’t speak to your exact situation, I do see a lot of similarities between yourself and the author, a hardworking, scrappy gal who set sail as soon as she could and made her own luck.
    becky hutner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 25 2016

      No, I had no idea there was a TED talk about it… but I know what I’m googling right after this! I first learned about PTG from an Oprah magazine article — ha! Thank you so much for both suggestions though. I’ll absolutely be checking them out.

    • Silvia
      January 26 2016

      Was just reading through all the (really quite moving) comments on this post and was so excited to see a mention of The Glass Castle! One of my favorite books, ever ever. I read it years ago but still think about it all the time.
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      • Meihoukai
        January 28 2016

        Sounds like it’s a must for the Kindle 🙂

  • Meghan
    January 25 2016

    Love. Thanks for sharing and going a bit deeper. ((I also have similar love affair with this poem – and keep the “…so that Death will tremble to take us” posted in my office))

    One of the things I’ve noticed is when I start to develop patterns of behaviors (routines), my life starts to feel quite stale.

    So even though I don’t travel as much as I used to, I still push myself to do something different every single day – even if it’s just taking a different route to walk from my car to my office! Different staircase, push my lunch back 30 minutes, dig a scarf out I have not worn in a while. Little simple things like that – in between the big adventures – I feel like add up to a much more full life.

    Onward,
    Meghan

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2016

      I love that Meghan. As someone who is currently pretty stationary — at least as much as I have been in the past five years — I really appreciate this comment and am nodding along to it! There is beauty in routine — and also in breaking it!

  • Ijana
    January 25 2016

    This has always been tough for me; pushing on instead of running away. Having been extremely sheltered the first time I had to “walk through fire” I freaked out and up and left. This post was a beautiful reminder that life isn’t always perfect but sometimes that’s okay 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2016

      Thanks for sharing Ijana. I’m loving the comments section on this post — you guys are the best.

  • Angie Away
    January 26 2016

    Beautifully written, friend. You ARE well adjusted, you DO live a great life and you are a shining star for sharing what got you to this point. Never stop doing what you do!
    Angie Away recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2016

      To send a compliment right back to you — you are the wind beneath my wings 🙂 Love you! <3

  • Alison
    January 26 2016

    Thank you Meihoukai, this is exactly what I needed to read today <3

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2016

      Thanks for reading Alison — it was just what I needed to write 🙂

  • Emma
    January 26 2016

    Love love love this!

    • Meihoukai
      January 30 2016

      Thanks Emma, appreciate you reading.

  • Chantel
    January 26 2016

    Way to make a girl cry, or should I say sob uncontrollably! This post really touched home with me, and helped remind me of all that i am greatful. THANKS!

    • Meihoukai
      January 30 2016

      I once had a yoga teacher tell me it was her goal to make students cry in class, and maybe I should make the same goal for blogging, ha. It means a lot to know that this touched you, Chantel. Thank you for reading! <3

  • Laura
    January 28 2016

    This post is so beautiful, Meihoukai. Thank you so much for sharing. Your writing is inspiring!
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    • Meihoukai
      February 1 2016

      Thank you Laura — that means so much to me!

  • Kelly
    January 29 2016

    “Treat people around you with dignity and love, regardless of if they extend you the same respect.”

    I feel like this is so, so important. I’ve been reading/learning a lot about unconditional love lately, and I really agree with you that it’s the key to happiness.

    I met a really interesting girl in Guatemala recently who shared a written piece with me about it (about how we need to love unconditionally and without attachment–that way, we give love to whatever is presented to us, because it’s the act of loving that makes us most happy) and I can’t stop thinking about it. Hard to execute, but worth it when you do!
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    • Meihoukai
      February 1 2016

      That sounds beautiful Kelly. Worth it indeed. What a noble goal!

  • Heather Howe
    January 29 2016

    I love “that the world was endlessly huge and my life within it endlessly small”. That puts into words one of my favorite things travel gives you. Perspective and context. Thank you for sharing your voice on the endlessly huge internet.

    • Meihoukai
      February 1 2016

      Perspective and context — what beautiful gifts travel gives us! Thanks, Heather.

  • Pauline
    January 31 2016

    Beauty in words! I´m grateful for the good and the bad, in the end it all shaped it to be me.I´m grateful for that. I Know it´s bit down hill for me now.. When you are at the bottom it can´t go further down only upwards, that is a light in the tunnel. This is important to remember.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Meihoukai
      February 1 2016

      Thank you for sharing back, Pauline! Wishing you lots of light pulling out of that tunnel <3

  • Janice Stringer
    January 31 2016

    Hi Meihoukai,
    What a fabulously written post.
    Thank you for sharing a little more about your life and what set you on the path you walk. Life throws us in many directions I’ve found and for different reasons and it seems you have already had many challenges!

    I experienced the breakdown of my marriage – which ended up with my husband and I getting back together exactly at the moment it ended. I needed to travel to heal me, we needed to put our relationship back together and our family had been hurt and that needed dedicated time and attention which couldn’t happen at home, in community in the UK.
    My heart had been closed, which I’d never thought possible. But spending time in the world, allowed me to slowly, very slowly open it again whilst taking care of my children at the same time I took care of myself. It connected me with many happy memories of my childhood and the love and care I was given by my parents. It connected me to me and I was humbled by the experience and what I learnt.
    This set me on a new path, which is still challenging but I hope leads me where I want to be.

    I think life and relationships have so much to teach us and thank you for allowing us to learn through yours. 🙂
    Janice Stringer recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 1 2016

      Thank you so much for sharing your story Janice — it’s so beautiful! I found myself smiling while I read it. So glad you are a part of this community here!

  • Love this! I agree that so much of what happened to you in your teens sculpted how independent you are and also made you a bit of a go-getter, and I’m so happy that your family is super close now and also that I GET TO MEET THEM THIS SUMMER.

    ♥♥♥♥♥
    Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 1 2016

      Me too and they are just going to eat you up! I loved meeting the Lunas — so glad it’s my turn to introduce you to my crazy people 🙂

  • Maddy
    January 31 2016

    Dear god this post couldn’t have come at a better time! Without going into too many details, let’s just say it’s been a rough week at work (the work that pays all of my bills and gives me like, sustenance and stuff) and I dearly needed this more-eloquent reminder that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Oof.

    But, I’m still about to head home from work (on a Sunday) and buy ice cream. 😛

    Thanks for this lovely post!
    Maddy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 1 2016

      Oh man Maddy, sounds like a rough week indeed. Sending you lots and lots of good vibes from Thailand <3

      • Maddy
        February 1 2016

        Thank you! <3 the ice cream helped. #mintchipfordayyyysssss

  • I love this post Meihoukai but most importantly, I love the fact that you bare all, and put things out there. Your life experience has made you strong, determined and independent.

    We can’t choose our childhood or our youth, but we can certainly make things better and choose to live the life we want, the way we want, and look forward with happiness and strength together. And you’ve done that in abundance. The way that you write about your parents and your siblings, shows how much love is shared by the ones who care about you most.
    [email protected] The British Berliner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 6 2016

      Thanks Victoria. It means a lot that you say that, and that my love for my family shines through above everything.

  • Justin
    February 4 2016

    This is so beautiful post Meihoukai. Thanks for sharing.

  • Irena
    February 9 2016

    Love your blog! 🙂 I’ve stumbled upon it while I was looking for some practical tips about Vietnam, but found so mamy things other than travel tips!

    • Meihoukai
      February 9 2016

      Thanks Irena! Glad you found me, and found a reason to stick around x

  • Abby
    February 10 2016

    this post is really meaningful. i enjoy reading posts like these! :)) awesome as always 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      February 11 2016

      Thanks Abby. Appreciate you reading and commenting!

  • Emily Hammond
    February 13 2016

    As someone who first put on a backpack straight after a major bereavement, this post really strikes a cord. Moving from travelling as a form of escape to travelling as a way to grow stronger has been a long time coming – but I’m getting there! Thanks so much for sharing.
    Emily Hammond recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 16 2016

      Hey Emily, thanks for commenting. Travel is a natural response to pain for me, and I agree that finding a way to make it a healing journey can be difficult. Sending you good vibes!

  • Sandy
    May 2 2017

    This was so beautiful, thank-you for sharing. I’ll try the quiz as I can’t say I know what living life to the fullest means to me.

    • Meihoukai
      May 12 2017

      Thanks, Sandy. Appreciate you reading. Loved writing this post.

  • Lauren
    June 23 2017

    Meihoukai – this is such a beautiful and thought-provoking read. It really inspired me and made me think about how I’m living my life! I work seasonally and move around a lot, which I love, but it does get exhausting. Originally I think I fell in love with travel because it gave me an escape from expectations and societal pressure – now it fuels me and allows me to think more clearly about what it is that I want. It didn’t end up being a way to run away – it was a way to distance myself enough to look at my decisions and life objectively. Thank you for this!

    • Meihoukai
      June 24 2017

      Ah, I know how you feel Lauren. Having just got back from an intense six week trip, I’m feeling the exhaustion myself at the moment. I love the way you describe your motivations to travel. Hope I see more of you down here in the comments 🙂