At first she was just another cool girl I met on a trip: full of life and excited to be out living it. She was always hatching a plan in the hostel bar to go on some adventure, and, for a couple of days, I was happy to tag along. We tore up Amsterdam, found every little forgotten corner and local haunt we could. We’d walk into bars and strike up friendships that would lead to other bars, other houses, other stories. In those two days I learned most of what I know about being an outgoing traveller. I learned how to pursue experiences, how to chase adventures and interesting people with nothing but your gut instinct. I learned what it meant to set priorities for your life rather than allowing them to be set for you. I’ll explain.

She was a forest firefighter, stationed for the duration of the fire season, about half the year, in various cabins in small Canadian backwoods towns, waiting to be deployed to a fire. The work was strenuous, she told me, but it paid well, and for half the year, you had no way of spending it. So, when the fire season ended, she returned to civilization with a decent savings and caught a plane, spending the other half of the year travelling. She’d spent six months in Australia, six months in Southeast Asia, and other places I don’t remember. But I do remember thinking that it must be wonderful to live the way you want to live, to chase the things that inspire you. I’ve remembered that lesson to this day.

Our time together ended in another lesson for me. It was late at night, outside of the hostel bar, and she had finagled a bike ride for us (on handlebars) across the city, to a party in the suburbs. I was 20 feet from my bed, tired, and a little apprehensive about the journey, so I declined. She rode off on handlebars into the night, and I never saw her again. It’s one of the bigger regrets of my travels: I let that opportunity go. Sure, it could have been dangerous, but probably not. Probably, it would’ve just made for another good story. But that’s what I learned. That’s what the firefighter taught me: be in it for yourself, be in it for the experiences, be in it for the stories. Nothing else matters.