Let me begin by saying that check-in and security for an international flight took only 26 minutes AND I got two free checked bags with my ticket (in addition to my carry on and personal bag). Now I even have time to enjoy a beer before my flight (goodbye IPAs, I’ll miss you dearly). I’d say this trip is getting started on the right foot!
It is still completely absurd that I’m beginning my 4-month exploration of Southeast Asia. It feels like just last week I was frolicking through snow fields to immense Icelandic waterfalls and learning the art of bracelet making (and failing miserably) from a Peruvian woman named Raphaela. Although it feels like yesterday, it somehow also feels like a lifetime ago. Seriously, it’s June? Are we sure that’s correct? In any case, 2016 has literally flown by and thus far it has proven itself to possess some of the best times of my life and also some of the most challenging. I was fortunate to be able to see beautiful places and take off on unforgettable adventures where I experienced moments of sheer, unparalleled happiness. I was also able to regroup and relax at home for a bit while I reunited with friends, family and my little furry ball of greatness.
But the universe was also sure to kindly remind me that no one is invincible and that I am no exception to the raw nature of the human experience, and well, sometimes shit happens. The past few months have been an entanglement of very high highs and really low lows and I found myself coming face to face with emotions and situations that were completely foreign to me and was forced to process them in the best way I could (read: poorly). I mean, I just did what any other normal person would do; I near-completely withdrew, worked 60+ hours a week for 3 months straight and took off a grand total of 3 days in that same time period. Okay, so I may have a bad habit of internalizing… who doesn’t? Luckily, I have the best support system that is there when I need them most, and need them I did even when I wouldn’t fully admit it to myself. But the experiences I had- the good and the bad- have allowed me to grow and mature in small, albeit significant, ways and I am proud of the new habits I’ve created and I have come out with a greater sense of self-awareness. That’s gotta count for something, right?
So where is all this serious talk coming from and why am I sharing it? The other day I was reminded of something I had read awhile ago that really resonated with me then and even more so now that I am taking off again. I also think it’s easily forgotten and so I’d like to remind you too.
“Ask yourself what is really important and have the courage to build your life around that answer.”
Simple, right? Step one: decide what you want. Step two: do it. But it’s funny how such a simple idea isn’t always fully acknowledged and embraced. So many of us feel stuck in our jobs, our leases, our commitments and we have so many dreams but believe they are out of reach and don’t always push ourselves to grab them. But we are in charge of our lives and must be proactive in our own happiness; We just need to be brave enough to reach a little further than is comfortable to get there. Now I’m not claiming to be an expert here and, just to be clear, I certainly don’t have all my shit together, far from it actually, but I do claim to have wonderful people in my life, a head full of ambition, a need to see the world and the desire to make it happen and I’d like to think that’s a pretty good start. Sure, my dreams extend past travelling and one day I would love to design and build my own home, maybe get my Master’s degree, even possibly start a family, but as of now I am content to not be fully content. With no one depending on me and a brazen sense of youthfulness (a deadly combination for a free-spirit such as myself) I want nothing more than to see the world and that’s exactly what I plan on doing. This whole “happiness” thing is something I’ve struggled with in the past and I always thought that I would one day just sort of stumble upon it, as if it’s as easy as spotting a dollar on the ground or running into an old friend at the grocery store, but I am finally finding the courage to do exactly what I want and taking the steps to get there. I have chosen to place experience over money on my importance list and that is something that I am proud of.
There is this burning desire in me to see how others live, to volunteer and support causes I am passionate about, to meet people I may never see again but who will leave a lasting impact nonetheless. I can’t bear the thought of sitting stagnant knowing how much is out there and not being near enough to touch it for myself. Travelling makes me happy and I intend to chase that happiness to the ends of the earth (literally) because it is so much more than sightseeing and pretty pictures on Instagram. It’s delayed flights and rickety buses to completely wrong places and late nights with strangers sipping wine and laughing. It’s days without showers and accidently using aloe vera as shampoo. Its camping in fields of llama poop and waking up to puppies outside your tent begging to be pet. It’s taking off to the beaches of Panama because it’s Thursday and why not. These moments shape me by instilling new perspectives and views of living that I wouldn’t otherwise have, and I am happy to not be quite as naive or ignorant as I once was. Sure, ignorance can be bliss but remaining ignorant is something that is pretty terrifying. Now I’m not suggesting that packing up a couple times a year is the answer to ignorance, maybe that’s an ignorant solution in itself, but this journey works for me and I plan on continuing on it.
Quick story: When I was younger my Mom and I would always get calendars a few days after the New Year when they are all marked down before they became too useless to sell. We would stroll through Barnes & Noble or Borders Bookstore (R.I.P.) in search of the best ones with the prettiest pictures to gawk at for the rest of the year. She would get a nice porch calendar and I loved the black and white ones with pictures depicting Parisian streets and London’s finest sights. (And cats and dogs, I can’t deny I got those too.) But I loved the pictures of cafes along cobblestone roads and iconic European monuments most and I wanted to see those places with my own eyes. I had no desire to go to dirty places like Latin America or even learn Spanish. There was no bone in my body that had an interest in Asian cultures (despite being of the Asian persuasion myself) with all their busy cities and confusing languages. None of that was for me; I wanted to see clean, crisp, beautiful Europe. And then I finally did. I stood beneath the Eiffel Tower and gazed at Big Ben from across the Thames and in those moments I felt nothing. Maybe not nothing, but definitely not something, or at least nothing of great significance. I’m not saying they are not amazing places to be admired by many, because that they are, and I am grateful to have seen them, however, for me they were just more big buildings in more big places with more big crowds.
Fast forward a few years to when I bought a ticket to Central and South America, a continent full of places that are easily ignored, aside from soccer and Brazilian and Argentinian models, of course (and if you see a drop-dead gorgeous person, there is a 98.9% chance they are from one of those two places). And so I went to Latin America not expecting to like it all that much and yet I found that I felt completely fulfilled. More than that actually, I fell in love. I became enthralled and utterly amazed by the places I had once thought so low of and never wanted to see and they were the most incredible, beautiful and inspiring places with the kindest people and most unique cultures. Now I want nothing more than to go back to Latin America and explore it even more!
It is my past ignorances that push me to travel to different kinds of places- the tough places, the uncomfortable places, the ones that prompt people to say, “oh, interesting choice” or ask “but, why?” Well, because I might just fall in love with those places, too! So I embark on my journey to SE Asia seeking to debunk my childhood indifference to it and I am fully prepared to be filled with moments of jollies and embrace all of its quirks and uniqueness. I will volunteer at a cat shelter in Vietnam, bike and trek across Myanmar, teach English in Indonesia, eat my weight in Cambodian curries and frolic across Thailand’s various terrains with my best friend at my side.
I have a few goals for myself going into this whole thing, too. The following reads kind of like a how-to-be-a-decent-human to do list, but it’s a way to hold myself accountable I suppose.
1. Hurry less and listen more. I mean really listen to others without thinking about where I need to be in an hour or if I should get those noodles I’ve been craving all day.
2. Cool it down on automatic judgements and take time to get to know people. I don’t intend on having an inspirational moment with every street vendor I meet or to get along with each person I cross paths with because let’s be real, even Mother Theresa probably didn’t want to be BFFs with everyone, but I’ll at least be open to it and that counts in my book.
3. Be present. As in, focus less on seeing the world through the camera screen of my iPhone and more on actually being in a place. Less documenting, more experiencing!
But mostly I am absolutely thrilled to see another side of the world and have experiences that will blow my socks off! I will update this soon, but until then I’ll cheers to all of life’s little adventures (and misadventures) and to the anticipation of new experiences and memories!