(EDIT: I wrote this post about two weeks ago but never got around to posting it. If anyone’s looking for me, I’m currently in the Beijing airport on a five-hour layer before I hop on a plane back to Boston (!!!). I’ll be sure to include my thoughts and feelings on that in my next post.)
As I write this post, I sit in the Krabi Airport, approximately five hours early for my flight to Bangkok (and then onwards to Bali), exhausted and mostly just thankful to be away from Railay Beach. Don’t get me wrong, the beach and the towering limestone cliffs were awesome (in the original sense of the word). I marveled at the white sand and spent many hours floating in the turquoise sea. I splurged (in the backpacker’s sense of the word), and spent $30 a night on an adorable bungalow tucked away from civilization. In theory, Railay should have been just the getaway I had imagined, and in fact, if this had been one of my earlier Thailand experiences, or if I had just been visiting Thailand for a month-long holiday, I suspect I would be walking away with an entirely different mindset.
Here’s the truth of the situation, however (or my truth if you will): Railay was an overpriced and overcrowded experience. NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON I encountered in the service industry appeared to be willing to help (exhausted by the monotony of tourists???), the “island” was pockmarked with scars of fast-growing and uncontrollable tourism (excessive trash, low-hanging wires), and the food was mediocre at best. To add fuel to the fire, I suffered from a rather nasty bout of food poisoning after eating a kebab (shocking, I know), and spent an entire day hallucinating with my face pressed to the cool tiles on the bathroom floor. (As I later learned from the (completely disengaged) concierge, “oh yes, Railay is known for its tummy problems…”) I’m certain my experience in Railay was tainted by said food poisoning and the fact that I had just experienced the most idyllic long weekend on Koh Lanta (in addition to the fact that I know Thailand has so much more to offer), but I suppose that’s just the way life works. You experience enough things, you play witness to enough places and you learn what you like. You learn what you don’t like. You move on. You stay. Maybe you try again in a few years. Nothing is as permanent as we make it seem. In any case, it will be a long, loooooong time before I decide to make the trip back to Railay.
In a mere twelve hours, I will have landed in Bali—the penultimate leg of my travels around Southeast Asia. I will spend one week there before heading back to Bangkok to celebrate Songkran, and then I will be homeward bound. As I sit here in this airport still rather queasy and shell-shocked (even the slightest smell of food makes me feel nauseous) (I did find ginger ale!!), it’s easy to feel ready to be home. It’s easy to crave comfort and a home-base. It’s easy to feel frustrated and annoyed by everything around me (re: man who decided to sit right next to me when there are SO MANY OPEN SEATS), and it would be easy to wish the next week and a half away.
But here’s my reality, yet again: I know I’m going to miss this. I can’t claim the last six months have been easy, but I’m going to miss being able to jet-set to a new location anytime my heart desires. I might not believe it now, but I’ll miss the inescapable heat of the sun warming me to my very essence (the sweating… perhaps notsomuch). I’ll miss pad ga pao for $1.50 and fresh coconut water. I’ll miss the laidback lifestyle and the kindness and openness exemplified by just about everyone around me. I’ll miss not going a single day without feeling entirely challenged—making daily mistakes and coming away with an unmatched sense of humility and patience. I’ll miss living the life of a traveler.
To travel or to be a traveler means different things to different people. There’s no one way to be a traveler, just like there’s no one way to be human—if nothing else, that’s exactly what the past several months have taught me. But as the past six months have unraveled themselves, first slowly, slowly and then seemingly all at once, I’ve come to a few realizations about what it means to be a traveler, why I identify as a traveler, and why I value that identity so much.
To be a traveler means embracing impermanence. It means living out of a suitcase for months at a time and being okay with it. It means watching as people come and go and watching as people stay (perhaps when you least expect it). It means creating relationships with others who value what you value, and it means skipping over the small talk. It means falling madly in love with a city or a town or an entire country and having to leave the next day. It means dreaming about when you can come back while recognizing you can never experience the same country in the same way ever again.
To be a traveler means embracing everything and everyone around you. It means reaching out to someone for the sake of company and coming away with at least one thought-provoking and eye-opening conversation. It means surrounding yourself with fun and intelligent and like-minded people. It means a turn away from connecting with others through superficial lenses. To be a traveler means stripping yourself down to your very essence. It means letting your guard down in ways you never would have imagined. It means letting people in: letting people help you and hold you, carry you and lean on you. It means baring your naked soul, and it means being open to hurt.
To be a traveler means being respectful and open—to new cultures and languages and humans. It means following local rules and regulations (if they even exist *cough, cough*), and it means putting aside your assumptions and prejudices. It means trying every new thing that comes your way, and it means keeping your eyes open literally and figuratively. It means never being closed off to how you’re feeling or what you’re seeing or who you’re meeting.
To be a traveler means allowing yourself to marvel at one thing a day. It means believing in the magic of coming to know the unknown. It means allowing yourself to cry when you feel upset, and it means allowing yourself to laugh until you cry when you’ve never felt so happy. To be a traveler means listening to others’ stories and telling your own. It means speaking about your experiences and questioning the way they’ve made you feel. It means knowing what you want while still being flexible enough to learn. To be a traveler is to grow.
To be a traveler means living on $800 a month and traveling back to your home country dead broke. It means waking up at 5am to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat when your idea of “morning” is 11am. It means coming to Thailand without knowing anyone and leaving with a #squad. It means being alone for extended periods of time and making the most of it. It means thriving in new and unexpected situations. It means daring yourself to go off the beaten path.
To be a traveler means instilling a vote of confidence in yourself and your capabilities: your capabilities to adjust and adapt and create a new home; to grow and to learn and to fall madly in love (in more ways than one). It means renewing your passions and cultivating your interests, and it means being open to the wonders of this great big (big, big) world.
As my travels throughout SE Asia come to an end, I recognize and value the fact that this is not the end of my being a traveler. Rather, I recognize that this is just the beginning, and I now understand (more-so than I ever have before) that I will always identify as a traveler. Travel affords me ideas and values and perspectives that I could never find remaining at home, and as I head home in a few weeks to pursue another hot, New England summer (with a new job and in a new place), I’m already looking forward to what my future holds (plenty of adventures, I promise you).
Stay tuned! xx