Erica and Matt Chua: He Said/She Said: Travel Lessons Revisited

lmost a year ago we wrote about the lessons we’ve learned from travel.  After five more countries as diverse as Australia and Nepal here are the things we think we know.


Arriving in India from the developed world highlighted the contrasts and taught me more than if I had arrived from another developing culture.  Moving from some of the most functional democracies in the world, Australia and Singapore, to arguably the world’s least, India and Nepal, showed me that good governance is the difference.  These are the most important lessons I’ve learned in the past year.

  • Government services and infrastructure matter. I said this last year after enjoying the epic infrastructure of China, Japan and South Korea.  Seeing perfectly functioning societies with huge infrastructure investment isn’t nearly as powerful as seeing countries without it.  India and Nepal don’t have trash collection, reliable electricity, water or roads.  Without focusing on providing these services and projects the countries will never advance.


A Chinese bullet train station above versus an Indian train station below.  China’s investment in transportation will pay dividends for generations…

  • Justice must be blind. Laws and legal decisions must be made in the name of justice, not family name, bribes, or to gain favor.  If everyone doesn’t have to play by the same rules, a country cannot fully develop as those that are disenfranchised have no incentive to innovate and create.  While the riches will accrue to the few that aren’t bound by laws, the society as a whole won’t benefit.  You can see this in Mexico and India, home to some of the world’s richest people, surrounded by some of the poorest.
  • It’s a big world out there. Entering our third year of consecutive travel we have barely scratched the surface of seeing how people live, interact and make a life.  While there are PhD’s that have super-specialized knowledge on cultures and people, traveling is still the best way to get a sampling of what makes us all different and similar at the same time.



Now seems like the perfect time to revisit lessons from the road (LINK) as we prepare to leave India, a country that has taught me more than I could have ever imagined.  In fact surviving four months in India is among my life’s greatest accomplishments.  After days on long train journeys, more than a week spent in silent meditation and many agonizing hours spent in dirty bathrooms here are my epiphanies:

  • If you’re going to sweat anyway, you better sweat the small stuff, I’ve come to realize that’s all that matters.Perfection is doing a lot of small things right, because it’s the small stuff that makes a big difference.  When you’re traveling on a budget the places you stay at and dine at don’t really pay attention to the details.  Therefore, when we stayed at a place that delivered a complimentary newspaper each morning we were thrilled.  Reinforcing my belief that it’s the little things that count.
  • We may share the same values, but we all express them differently. One of the lessons we have often shared from the road is that we all want the same things.  Regardless of what country you live in or what language you speak you want a better future for your children and a safe home for your family.  The way we each go about securing those things is very different and leads to many misunderstandings.  But the underlying message is still how much we have in common instead of what makes us unique.  Along those same lines we all appreciate good customer service, but that means different things to different people.

Children shouldn’t have to spend their time begging.  These boys’ future depends on education.

  • Education is so important, never stop learning. Knowledge is power and as soon as you stop pursuing it you become powerless.  The number one lesson that I’ve learned in India is that if you don’t value education you can’t move forward, not as a person and definitely not as a country.  Traveling is one of the best educations I’ve ever received and I can’t wait to see what other lessons are in store for us.


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