Saturday, May 19, 2012

Travel challenge

One of my go-to travel websites is Bootsnall. It’s a great website full of practical information on places, RTW planning, and various articles on travel. I enjoy their site for many reasons, one being that their Indie Travel Manifesto really jives with me (yep, I said jives).  One afternoon I was perusing their website and came across the Indie Travel Challenge 2012, where they will be posting weekly questions about different aspects of travel. Since I want this site to be about more than cooking, which lately feels like all I talk about here, I thought it might be fun to reply to some of the questions.
Here is my response to this week’s question.
For week 20 of the Indie Travel Challenge, we’d like you to talk about something you saw or experienced during a trip that was particularly challenging or difficult for you. What did you learn from that, and how has it impacted your life since then?
My challenge isn’t an obvious one. It didn’t involve missing a train, getting stranded in a little town, getting lost (well, at least not physically), or seeing something horrific. My struggle and challenge that first comes to mind when I think about the various challenges I faced during my RTW trip was when I first landed in SE Asia, Thailand specifically. I had spent 2 amazing months in Africa and was now embarking on my SE Asia portion of my journey. When planning for my trip I spent hours researching places and routes and every conceivable aspect that I could think of. In all my research everyone said the same thing about long-term trip planning; DON’T OVER PLAN! This was difficult for me because I am an organizer by nature. I like to plan. I am a girl with plan. After hemming and hawing I decided to take their advice. I left SE Asia fairly open. Sure, I had a vague idea of what and where I wanted to go, but no hotels arranged, tours planned, or designated route chosen. It was just me and my Lonely Planet.
I flew overnight from Tanzania and arrived in Bangkok in a haze of flying-weariness. I fumbled around the airport trying to figure out transportation and ended up taking a very expensive cab (later I learned where the Skybus terminal actually was). My initial plan was 3-4 days in Bangkok enjoying the pleasures of hot water showers and AC and to map out my first 3-4 weeks in Thailand and Laos. I became paralyzed, literally, by the endless choices in front of me. I could go anywhere and do anything. I had to consult no one. And I couldn’t make a decision! I would arrange an itinerary and then 2 hours later chuck it and start all over. I just couldn’t decide.
After several days of this, dealing with culture shock, and a loss at home I finally broke down one night on Skype with my dad in a corner of the hostel bawling that I didn’t know what to do with myself. My father, being the great dad that he is, patiently put his work aside for a few hours and emailed me back and forth until I came up with a 3 day itinerary I was happy with. I made most of the plans, but I simply needed someone else to say, Yes, do that, go there!

Monk with a video camera, umm...sure, it's Thailand!

Off I went to Ayuthaya for a few days of temple spotting. I survived, but barely. While I was happy that I had made a plan and executed it with relative ease I was being to get lonely. I hadn’t figured out how to make friends with my fellow travelers. Ridiculous, I know! I’m not a naturally super outgoing person. It takes me time to open up and be myself around people. After eating every meal by myself for almost a week I was starting to feel like a freak.

Yet, I continued on, I went to Lop Buri for a night before heading off to Chiang Mia. My night in Lop Buri was not good. I was barely hanging on, my emotions a raw thread of homesickness, loneliness, and frustration. I wanted to go home. What was I thinking? That traveling for this long, ALONE, was a good idea? Was I crazy? Then came the infamous Chiang Mia train incident. I seriously wanted to go home after that. But I held on, decided that I would wait until I got to Chiang Mai and re-evaluate. If things were still bad, I was still miserable, then I would tuck my tail between my legs, and go home.

I arrived in Chiang Mia unsure about my place in the traveling world and somehow things just…worked out…I’m not sure how, but I made friends. I did things. I talked to people. And the world all of the sudden shifted. And I wasn't a loner travel freak anymore. Sure, there continued to be occasional low points, there were times when I didn't talk to anyone for days. Yet, it didn't bother me as much. I learned to be at peace in the silence. I learned some new facts about myself, which is always a bumpy revelation and journey. I've become more outgoing and at ease with people and, more importantly, myself.
So, in the end, I stayed on the road. I took the lessons that I learned during those first hard weeks in Thailand and applied to them to the remainder of my journey.
Me, sipping on some amazing passion fruit juice at the Chiang Mia Sunday night market.

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