It’s 8pm on a Saturday night. Nursing our bellies, full of $2 Pad Thai, we open the heavy, black gate of our guesthouse. Triple J’s ‘Like a Version’ is singing to us from an old desktop on the messy bench. A scatter of tour brochures surrounds the area.
“Hey girls!” one of the Australian guys yells, welcoming us back home. “What’s on the cards for tonight?”
Without even having to even look at my friend for the answer, I reply: “Ah, not much. A night in I think.”
“You girls sure know how to relax. We’re going for beers at Stamps. Come and join us, if you feel like it,” he says. “Yeah, maybe!” my friend says. I know what we both feel like doing – absolutely nothing. And this is completely fine.
This is one of the biggest things that has surprised me. Most of the time, on most nights, all we love to do is tuck ourselves under a doona and watch Netflix. It’s what we find comfort in. At the moment, Pretty Little Liars is our guilty pleasure.
This is the first time we’ve both lived abroad. It’s an entirely different way of travel. From quick, jam-packed itineraries, early in your travel years… slow travel, as I’m feeling tonight, is a lot like home.
Two girls… single … you must be out every night, people think. We get this all the time. Seriously, it’s like clockwork. But it’s quite the opposite. We’re not out drinking every night at home, so why would we, just because we’re living in another country? Going out with a group of tourists on a pub crawl? Um, sorry. That’s the last thing we want to do.
We’re living this life for as long as possible, and sometimes that means saying no. We’re not going to please a bunch of strangers just to feel good for a night. If we don’t want to go, we don’t go. We don’t need to validate ourselves through others.
Happiness to me is simplicity. Fresh sheets, a familiar face, and being recognised by someone you met weeks ago. It’s that first day of feeling good after being sick. It’s getting a message from someone from home, a good sleep, a sunrise, a sunset, and that first morning coffee that tastes even sweeter because it’s free.
It’s finding moisturiser that’s not whitened, laughing at Bob Marley remixes, and a smile from a local walking past you. It’s going to the same restaurant every night and the staff remembering you. It’s all of those supposed “small” things that really don’t seem little at all. They’re big things, but we forget this.
Some people travel to lose themselves, but not us. I know exactly who I am. I’m not running from life, but rather I’m dancing with it. I’m on this quest to dig even deeper. I know my values, but what I really want to learn is who I am without the TV, without society’s expectations, without the pressure of how I should look or act, and without all the 1,500 ad messages I’m subliminally absorbing.
When you look at the bigger picture of life, it frees you. And your freedom is as boundless as you accept it to be. Humans by nature are playful, but somewhere along the way we’re taught to be functional. Basically we’re denying ourselves from a human right by losing our playfulness. This road is long, but it’s short too. I have my own dreams, like all of us, but I’m using this experience to ‘get’ them.
I already know what I want for my life. I’m living it. But more about exploring what I want in the people around me, the things I chose to invest my money in, and what happiness really looks like to me. I look at my journey as an opportunity to sharpen my moral compass.
Travelling grounds me. Opens me up. It helps me peel off those layers that build up over time. A lot of the time our emotion is based on our past and this changes our future, without us even knowing it.
We’re distracted by our fear, our hate, and our regret. We live life in our own shadow. But this isn’t life. Somewhere along the way, we expect too much. We don’t give enough. And I’ve found that travelling is the best way to bring you back down to earth, taking you out of your own little world. Our minds change. Our perspectives change. We grow.
Living in Asia, I’m constantly challenged. We get hassled. We struggle with the currency. We get ripped off. But we also see a lot of greatness. These people have nothing, really nothing. They’re living below the poverty line, yet they’re the happiest people you’ll ever meet.
My friend and I did this social experiment, to see how many people (mostly tourists) looked up and say hello as they pass us. Probably 20% of people did. They’re on holiday and still, they can’t manage to simply greet a stranger. We found this baffling. And heartbreaking.
I truly believe people are scared to show enough emotion anymore. It’s seen as “weak.” I’ve always believed that your insides should match your outside. If you’re upset, be upset. If you’re happy, be happy. Don’t fake it, just to please others. Let yourself feel.
Use travel as an opportunity to get to know yourself. Life doesn’t have to wait. Reality doesn’t have to be something different than life. Take the time to work out what you want for your life – and go get it, unapologetically.
Just like airports are a place to say hello and goodbye. I see travel as much the same. You can lose yourself, but heck, can you find yourself too. It’s not some big discovery, like a pot of gold under the rainbow. But day-by-day, experience-by-experience, you’ll get to know yourself – truly know who you are.
What you like, what you don’t like, what drives you, and what challenges you. You’ll learn it in cultures, in countries, in friends, in strangers. You will become your own best friend.
Earlier this week I was sitting on a bus. I was travelling from Chiang Mai to Pai, up to the mountains. Watching the Thai countryside flicker by outside. I’m happy. This is enough. It’s all I’ll ever need.
There are dozens of power lines grouped together in the most ingenious of ways. Back home, this would be deemed as dangerous. It would probably make the news. Here, it’s just part of life.
There were three girls on the bus who were on our flight from Bali to Bangkok. Now that’s got to mean something. My mind wanders. It’s good to let your mind be for a while. Keep it company with some music, but just sit. This is important.
I run a writing business, so I’m working every day here. Working and travelling has always been the end goal for me. Freedom was the thing I valued the most. It’s all I’ve ever wanted. This is my life now.
But I’ve noticed I carry a lot of those western expectations with me. Taking a day off, always being available… It doesn’t leave enough room to just be.
This has also surprised me. A change of location doesn’t mean much if you’re not giving your mind freedom either.
Life isn’t a linear path. Let go of what you think you should or shouldn’t be doing. Follow what makes your heart feel full. Happiness looks different for everyone. Your purpose on this earth isn’t to conform to society’s game. Your purpose is to play your own game.
For me, it’s travel. And I’m just starting out. Four months in, eternity to go. I’ll come home when it feels right. Maybe, I’m already home…