My time spent in Vietnam was interspersed with moments of sadness, loneliness, frustration and anxiety punctured by extreme happiness exploring nature, dancing with backpackers, eating street food and finding courage to climb mountains and push my limits. I didn’t realize I was unhappy until I had $100 USD stolen in Dalat. That same night, the power suddenly went out to the city, which dwells in the mountains, for what would turn into 45 minutes. I broke down and started sobbing for the first time in months.

My constant frustration of getting charged “tourist price” for food unless I negotiated, paired with the recently missing travel funds, turned into a wave of emotion. It wasn’t exclusively about the money. I was yearning for home and the kindness of my friends and not being able to care for them during the tough times they are encountering — having parents pass away, being diagnosed with cancer. The battery-operated lighting in the hostel’s lobby flicked on. Some of the hostel guests gave me hugs and warmth flowed back into my body.

I needed to make it to Saigon still. I dreaded the traffic I heard plagued the city and would hinder my progress on a bike. Yet, it was part of my route and a destination most tourists in Vietnam traveling from north to south, or south to north, visit.

Society always has expectations for us. Moving beyond expectation can make us happy. We don’t actually have to go to Saigon. We don’t have to have kids (my friends have cats instead). We don’t have to have a career path we follow straight as an arrow. We don’t have to work long, difficult days with no vacation that leave us yearning for more time with our loved ones, or more time traveling the world.

Instead of going to Saigon, I moved on. I changed my plans without changing my goals. I crossed the border earlier, and further north, than anticipated into Cambodia. Spending more time than planned in Laos and Cambodia were the best decisions I made during my “circle” tour of Southeast Asia.

I ran out of time. I took a bus back to Bangkok. So what? We need to be flexible enough in life to know when to take opportunities that can alter our path and improve our wellbeing and happiness. If I have learned anything from being surrounded by content Buddhists, it is this…

Life is a balance between accepting your current circumstances, and striving to change them.

If you are always looking for change, you will never be happy. If you are always accepting your current life, you will never be happy either.

My vacation has transitioned into a journey somewhere along the way. When I return to America in two months, I will be a changed person as my friend back home told me I would. I lightheartedly took in her statement when I met up with her and her husband before leaving the USA, but now I know she is entirely correct.

I turn 27 soon, however, I am reminded that you can find inner peace within yourself at any age. You don’t have to be on some grand adventure either. Surround yourself with grateful people who are happy to be alive and it will be like traveling to a Buddhist temple, heads bowed deeply, finding contentment within and being happy to be who we are, where we are, when we are.