Solo-Travel Thoughts

Solo-Travel Thoughts

Whew, it’s been a while. Here are some updates for ya:

First of all, I’ve decided to stay another semester at my school in Ubon Ratchathani, a decision I somewhat surprised myself with making. I had an extremely tough transition here, culture shock hit me like a boulder, and things were changing too fast in my life for me to adjust, which caused me to blame my unhappiness on where I was and what I was doing. After those feelings subsided and I began to feel more comfortable here, I started to really form connections with the kids and embraced the new, everyday experiences instead of resisting them. A few weeks ago I was watching my kids eat lunch at school and as I observed 5 year olds attempt to put noodles on a spoon and get that spoon to their mouth without the noodles falling off (it takes about 10 minutes per spoonful, if you’re wondering), I realized that I couldn’t leave these kids in a few months time. Just like that, I did a complete 180 and decided to stay and you know when you make a decision and immediately feel in your gut whether it was right or wrong? Well it felt really right.

Also in Mickey Tennis life news: my lifelong battle with clumsiness finally caught up with me about two months ago as we were celebrating New Years in Chiang Mai when I stepped off a curb while walking back to our hostel, rolled my ankle and subsequently broke my foot, putting me on crutches for 4-6 weeks. That’s right, by stepping off a curb. Yikes. Everyone asked me if it was a motorbike accident and I started just saying yes because that seemed like a more exciting story. I even tried telling my kids that I got stepped on by an elephant but sadly they didn’t believe me.

As if being a westerner didn’t already garner constant stares on the streets of non-touristy Thailand, I was now a westerner on crutches so my zoo animal status had officially peaked.

The worst part of all this was not the fact that I would surely miss the half marathon I had been excited for, nor the fact that I now had to scoot up and down the stairs of our apartment on my butt, but the reality of becoming slightly dependent on other people. I am fiercely independent and will not admit I need someone’s help unless absolutely necessary, you know, like if I can’t open a jar of pickles or something (a true emergency). In Thailand you cannot drink from the tap, so I had to nag my roommates to go refill the water jugs and get me groceries if they went to the store, to hold my crutches, to do my laundry, to please pass me that thing over there that I can’t reach without ungracefully hobbling over to it. One weekend both my roommates went out of town and they had to stock the house with water and food like we were preparing for the apocalypse.

Through this whole ordeal I’ve learned why I’m independent and it’s for a very simple reason: Because depending on other people really blows.

I think this idea can be expanded into every area of life: travel, for example. Since I’ve decided to stay teaching in Thailand it means I have two whole months between March and May in which to travel around Southeast Asia and I’m extremely excited about it. As of right now the plans are Laos for 1 week, back to Thailand for 2 weeks to travel with my sister and dad (!), then to Myanmar for 2 weeks and lastly, Cambodia for 2 weeks. I had made travels plans by myself, expecting to be alone but my roommate has decided to join me which makes me feel much more comfortable, but I still feel extremely passionate about independent travel and strongly believe in the benefits of traveling on one’s own.

I think there’s a stigma or rather, a fear, of traveling alone, especially at my age.

There’s the idea that traveling is first and foremost about partying, meeting new people, and getting away from the restrictions and responsibilities of “home”. There also exists the idea that traveling can only be enjoyable with other people when there is safety in numbers, comfort, and people to fill those otherwise lonely minutes lying on a hostel bed in a foreign country. These are all valid reasons because, hey, we’re all human.

But traveling with people is, at least in my opinion, sometimes more restricting.

Traveling solo has so many perks that I think people fail to realize. First and foremost, you can do anything YOU want to do and for however long you want to do it. What you do in a day is 100% up to you and no one else. That’s liberating and refreshing, isn’t it? For example, I’m a fast walker but I go through art museums at a glacial pace. For most people I’ve traveled with, that’s not the case.

You also are more open to meeting new people along the way. I’ve traveled alone before, stayed in 20 bed hostel dorm rooms by myself and it’s incredibly hard as a primarily introverted person to approach someone and try to make a friend out of thin air.

Traveling alone also forces you to be more confident and fearless. When traveling with other people, there’s the nice comfort in the safety in numbers idea, which may breed carelessness. When alone you don’t have a choice but to make decisions on your own with your own best judgment. This in itself breeds confidence in travel as well as other areas of your life.

Over the past few months I’ve further understood quite a few things about myself, including my willingness to travel alone. One thing I’ve struggled for quite a few years is my apprehension to make deep connections with people. I love being close to people but I feel this weird inward urge that causes me to resist it. It’s actually quite complicated and I’m only beginning to understand it. I’m not shy or antisocial but I think I’m learning that I’m just idealistic. I want the best life possible for myself. But who doesn’t?

But the problem is that I mistake the best life possible for being automatically different than the life I’m living. I’m here but I want to be there, I’m sitting having coffee with this person but it could be someone more interesting, I’m happy with my hairstyle but eh, it would look better some other way. It goes on and on until being content seems a loftier and loftier goal.

I think herein lies two different views that I find myself constantly conflicted over: On one hand is the view that we come into this world alone and we leave it alone and therefore we need no one but ourselves to live the life we want. I believe this is largely true and I have full confidence in every individual’s ability to do whatever they want given they are determined to do so. I think that’s a very freeing thought.

But every since I read “Into the Wild” a few years back, I’ve started to alter my views a bit.

Happiness is only real when shared.

Now I don’t think this is true by any means, but I do think it introduces an important counter view. I think as humans we’re often scared of being alone, especially if we think long term like marriage and kids. I think sometimes these are things people do because they’re frightful of being alone, being lonely. But then we also risk unhappiness if we find we don’t enjoy marriage or we regret having kids.

Is there, then, a happy medium? A life lived by our own terms, independently, but one which we can share with others at the same time. I think it’s a hard line to tread and one I’ve been resisting for a while but that what travel does to you. It changes you and alters the way you think about the world as well as your own personal life.

Well, I’m off for two months of traveling through Southeast Asia before I head back to reunite with my kiddies in May for another semester of boogers and failed noodle-eating.

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