It’s uncomfortable, dangerous, and it costs money. But it will take you under the seas, over the mountains, and through yourself. To travel is the best decision I’ve ever made and I’ll make it a thousand times more. Because of travel, I’ve managed to cram about a hundred mini lives into my given one.
When I left Canada to travel years ago I’d never been outside of North America. I didn’t go because I had a dying urge to see new places and learn about new cultures, though that was a definite bonus. I wanted to test myself, challenge myself, get to know who I am in in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to learn how to unchain myself from my silly ideas about how life is supposed to go because other people think that is how life is supposed to go. I wanted to slow time down rather than be dragged down by handfuls of indistinguishable days.
My reasons for continuing such a lifestyle, call it Gypsy, Drifter, Nomad, Escape Artist, whatever term helps it make sense, are plenty. Many of them are evident in my past stories. All of them are present in my continuous movement forward to the next place, the next experience. Five amazing months in Chiang Mai has brought all my reasons for travelling to the surface. This city has a way of making me feel like I’m eight years old again, riding my bike to the playground on a warm summer evening to meet up with my friends. Climbing trees and jumping down into soft grass. Skipping rocks across puddles. Watching the light change as the sun makes its descent. I may never have had such child-like fun as a grown-up. And I don’t want to leave but I don’t want to stay either. I want to continue exploring, to try on new shades of challenge, discover new types of electrical sockets and showers, get lost in new streets instead of the same old ones.
So I’ve made a bit of a summary here of my reasons for continuing to travel. Perhaps it is about finding the right kind of familiar as I wrote about in Part One*, or maybe it is just a collection of random things that make me feel really happy.
Travelling makes me realize that there is time for everything in this life. There is time to love and time to grieve weeks of your life away. There is time to have a second breakfast. There is time to contemplate all the colours in the sky as you wait for the traffic light to let you on your way. There is time to hike enough mountains to make you feel like you’ve finally overcome one. And there is time enough afterwards to soak your feet in coconut oil and your heart in whiskey while you watch one more sunset because at the end of the day that certainty is the most beautiful thing we get in life. There is time to kill time. There is always time to indulge in life because if we can’t do that, what the hell else are we living for? Even the Tao Te Ching states, “those who enjoy life are wiser than those who employ life.”
I never spent hours of my time in a book store in my old life. But travelling gives me a lot of time alone, which I can use to indulge in such activities that unfold my brain and open it up. This is a tricky thing to do if there is always someone there, if the distractions of friends, family, work, and school abound. I used to go into the bookshop in Surabaya next to my grocery store. There was an unwrapped book in there titled, “The Book of Answers”. Gold. I felt like I’d found the Philosopher’s Stone. It’s like a bible. You rest your hand on the cover for ten seconds whilst thinking about your question and then open it up randomly and there’s your ambiguous-as-fuck answer. I searched regularly for answers that would make my time there easier to tolerate. And I simply killed time. I once asked the book if I should do my ironing that night because I really, really didn’t feel like it. It told me, “there is a time for everything,” meaning–no ironing! Damn right there is a time for everything: for ironing (once a year), for peanut-butter bacon sandwiches (also once a year), for asking stupid questions and taking chances (daily), for debauchery (asap), for loneliness (with each new moon), for life and death (every minute).
Travelling teaches me that there is time for balance. My sister asked me the other day what my plans are for after Chiang Mai. “I’m going to Sri Lanka for a couple of months,” I explained. “But what are you going to DO?” She asked. I felt a niggle of irresponsibility and guilt for my reply. “Um, write, do yoga, practice massage, go to the beach, read, explore the area by motorbike… exist.” Was there something else I was supposed to do? Ahhhh, work. But if I don’t have to earn money to support myself at the moment, must I make myself work anyways? There are many ways to “work”, aka, keep myself busy, feel productive, meet personal goals, that don’t need a monetary value attached to them. Having a job is just one of those ways but one that takes up most of our time because we get addicted to having more and more money. Or we’ve chosen a lifestyle that demands we work our lives away to make enough money to support it. I worked two years in a city I didn’t like and now I am enjoying the fruits of my labour. This is balance, albeit spread out over years instead of throughout the week to culminate at the weekend, but balance nonetheless.
I enjoying meeting people and travelling is a great way to do that. People are generally more open and responsive to chatting with strangers when they travel because many are on a quest, a journey, an epic mind-blowing spin across the world and that makes us receptive to experiences we’d never consider at home. What I really love is the smorgasbord of people that travelling presents. It is uncommon for my evening’s social group to consist only of 30-something Canadian women, which is typical at home. On any given night out there are at least three or four countries or continents represented at the table, a mix of ages, lifestyles, sexualities, languages, professions.
I take more notice of people when I travel, when the day’s objective is just to observe where I am. Who are the ones eating alone, contentedly or lonely. They’re usually the people I notice when I feel alone. Who are the ones who rush past, towards a goal, a date, through a traffic light. I notice them when I feel lazy, unproductive. Just a glimpse of all these people show me where I am on a given day and how much I accept myself. If I feel alone or included, strong or insecure, settled or in total disarray.
Travelling puts me constantly in touch with things that piss me off, test my patience, challenge my standard of personal hygiene. Travelling teaches me to chill out. To choose my battles. To learn how to not give a fuck about things that don’t deserve a fuck. And because I am less concerned with the small and unimportant details I can take more risks towards the things that help me create happiness, peace, and good vibrations. This is more difficult to achieve when I am at home or surrounded by the familiar.
I learn about my limitations because I am regularly in situations that challenge my comfort. They introduce me to different sides of myself all the time. The one that makes me want to slither out of my own skin or the one I wish to wrap more tightly around myself. I learn about what I can and can’t handle. I learn about what I want to handle and what I don’t ever want to learn how to handle because my actions are my character and my character is my choice. And my limitations teach me compassion, not just for myself but for other people whose limitations are often much more evident than mine. And where there are limitations strength is necessary to continue on appreciating every single little thing that life gives us.
I think it’s about gratitude in the end. Travelling teaches me not just to FEEL grateful, but how to BE grateful. Instead of feeling guilty (a habitual past time) for living with such freedom at the moment I am grateful for every encounter I have every day, whether it be a shitty, uncomfortable moment or one that makes those shitty uncomfortable moments worth it. And for everything there is an answer, whether it’s truth or a lie, from a book or from your gut, today or years down the road.
There will definitely be a part three coming!
Photo: Tha Phae Gate, Chiang Mai