“It’s a real shame, I feel, in life, to wait until you are ready. In my opinion there is no such thing as ready, there is only now.” – Hugh Laurey
So many people asked me if I felt ready to go traveling over the months leading up to our departure date. The honest answer was “no.” Actually it was more like “NO!!!”. I sat somewhere between excited and terrified. But the only thing that seemed more impossible than going was not to.
It felt like a bit of a crazy time in life to go, we turn 30 later in 2018. Alex and I talked about all the other life changing choices our friends and family of a similar age are making or have made; to buy a house, get a dog, have a baby, marry, move forward with their careers or even buy a real nice car (or van)….
Don’t get me wrong, I want a lot of these things… but I want to travel more. I went travelling on my own aged 18. I made a promise to myself then to get a work visa and use it before 30. The last 10 years haven’t been easy. It hasn’t happened as quickly as I thought it would, however, it’s happening now and I’m entirely grateful for that.
The first few days of our travels really shone a few truths back at me. It made me question my preconceived ideas of a country I had previously had a very negative experience in and made me look at how to trust my intuition and break down barriers. The sheer enormity of our decision to leave the comfort of our Bristol life came crashing down around me and I had to wade through all the fear to find the truth in our circumstances: this was absolutely the right path for me to be taking in in my life right now.
My Preconceived Ideas
I had a lot of preconceived ideas about Thailand. We booked our flights there mainly out of necessity, they were cheap and Bangkok would be a great launching point for other countries in South East Asia.
I harboured a lot of fear about Thailand. I’d arrived there, 10 years ago, as a solo traveller on the end of a three month trip to Australia and I was ready to come home. My original plans to meet a family friend’s family had fallen through and I knew nobody there. This was the first time I had visited a country where I didn’t speak the language and had nobody to meet or stay with who I trusted. I was 18, I was terrified and I would have not admitted this at the time.
The first bad move I made was booking a private bus south via a travel agency on the Khaosan road. This was at a time where I wasn’t technically savvy enough to use TripAdvisor! I didn’t know it but these buses had a notorious reputation, they still do. Most stories result in items being stolen. Fortunately, I was extremely careful with my valuables and arrived at my destination with all my belongings safely. However, others on my bus were not so lucky and had items stolen out of their hold bags.
This experience left me with a residual prejudice when we arrived in Thailand that most people would be out to scam us in some way. Our experience when we arrived in Bangkok (click here to read this post) couldn’t have been more different from my preconceived ideas and slowly my perceptions shifted.
Trusting in People
Humanity is fundamentally good and people are not out to get you. This is what I’ve come to realise the longer I travel for. It was true when we arrived in Bangkok and it is true now, where we are currently on a small Thai island. People are kind, helpful and friendly or just indifferent and want to be left alone. Yes there are places you have to be more careful, especially in busy cities, at night and in tourist hot spots. It always pays to be streetwise and follow a few simple rules.
Be aware of your surroundings
Know where you’re going
Be mindful of where your valuables are
Trust your gut feelings, don’t be afraid to say no or walk away
Relaxing About Food
I’ve also become way more relaxed about food the longer we’ve been away. I had gastroenteritis on Koh Phangan ten years ago and was convinced it was from some prawns, but in reality it could have been anything from ice to ketchup. It took me a while to eat prawns on this trip, but I am and I’m fine.
My general rule of thumb is local food is probably safer as restaurants are used to cooking it safely. I’ve had one bout of sickness since we’ve been away and Alex hasn’t had anything.
Trusting ice in our drinks and tap water to brush teeth has made life a whole lot easier too. Having ice in my drink in a new country can bring on a little Delhi belly, but after a day or so all is fine again.
Putting up Barriers
With my attitude relaxing and this perspective shift, I’ve come to realise that the only barriers are the ones we put in front of ourselves.
Skipping back to our first few days travelling, this is an example of how I put barriers up around me, which hold me back-
19/10/2017, our third day in Bangkok: We got a local scooter taxi to a swimming pool which was recommended by our wonderful Airbandb host, Nitiya. We arrived a 11.30, however, the pool opened at 1pm.
I started to come up with so many excuses about why I shouldn’t wait to swim – I only have bikini, culturally will it be okay to wear this? What if it’s mainly men, will I feel comfortable? But it’s lane swimming… I just wanted to lounge by the pool. Will there be somewhere safe to leave my stuff? – Without knowing any of the answers to these questions I was willing to walk away because it was easier than breaking down these barriers.
I sat for a moment. Took a breath. Looked around at the beautiful day and found myself deciding to trust this. Sometimes we spend all our energy wishing for something or looking for signs that we forget to just enjoy the current moment or trust our gut instinct.
At that moment on day three of our travels, I started to feel lighter and enlightened.
Breaking Down Barriers
Breaking down barriers is something that is a constant practice for me now. With every step into the unknown one arises and whilst travelling, steps into the unknown are frequent. Therefore, breaking down a barrier by facing an unknown fear is a mindful practice everyday. Looking head on at what is holding me back and addressing this is scary. It can often mean admitting I am wrong or changing my perspective.
Booking our tickets to go travelling, I realise now, broke down some pretty big barriers and I know I have lots of friends who wish they could ‘take the plunge’.
It took three things for me to manifest where I am now:
Saving…sacrifices were made: saying no to events and not shopping had to become a priority.
Planning…as well as planning our travel itinerary it was putting stuff in storage, asking family and friends to look after plants and getting organised.
Booking…committing, after all that research actually buying a rucksack, booking that flight. This bit was the hardest part as it meant we were committing to a big life changing decision.
Trusting in Signs
Another huge part of booking our adventure was to trust the signs.
It might be a place that intrigues, that keeps popping up. It might be the feeling you are just in the flow or it might be seeing a sign again and again. These things are often easier to dismiss than follow, but if we choose to follow our intuition I believe great things start to unfold.
An example of this for me was a woman and her son I met in Thailand in those first few days. Firstly the fact she was travelling with her teenage son really inspired me that you can travel with children. Secondly, she mentioned her intention to go to Myanmar. We had initially wanted to go to Myanmar then wrote the idea off, mainly out of fear and uncertainty as there is unrest in the country.
However, after meeting Maggie something shifted and I thought of all the people I knew who have been there and loved it. There had been lots of signs already, I just hadn’t felt brave enough to see them. However, all of a sudden those reasons not to go didn’t seem valid any more. My perception of what seemed scary had shifted. After all, the thing that had seemed most scary (getting on that plane and arriving in Bangkok) had happened and not only had I survived, I fully felt like I had landed exactly where I needed to be, so Myanmar… sure, why not?
I also started to arrive at a place where I felt completely content. I was grateful for the shift in my perception. I began to see how blessed I was to have the experiences I was having. I had read an article on the plane about Jeff Goldblum, in it he states “practice attention to gratitude, everyday.” – click here to read.
So I did. And I have been doing. We are now nearly 3 months into this journey and there have been ups and downs. There have been hard days, homesick days and also just plain sick days but, remembering to acknowledge my gratitude and to focus on what I have, not to what I lack, is a great way to cultivate contentment. Also if I miss somebody or am missing a certain food I just add it to my gratitude list, as missing things makes me see that I am grateful for it.
Gratitude is Happiness
I’d like to leave you with something I wrote in those first few days in Bangkok –
“Just enjoying this moment and knowing it is enough is happiness.”
So, with an open mind and heart may I continue to learn from those I meet on my adventure. I am grateful for this.
Heat rises from my face. Sweat drips and trickles past my temples. We deliberate, shall we turn back?
For hours we had been looking for the waterfall we trekked to two days earlier. After an epic two hours of rough terrain we stumbled into the next village. What has taken us the best part of the morning is an easy 20 minute walk along the main road.
We sat and ordered lunch in a simple local restaurant. After we felt rested, conversation turned back to the elusive waterfall. The temptation to plunge into cool mountain water was a hunger that could not be satisfied as easily as our empty bellies. It was hot and we wanted release. Our decision made, we decided to go just a little further up the only main road we hadn’t been down yet.
After another 20 minutes we found a higher river. My heart skipped. With a new found energy I bounded up the path and walked quickly along the precarious edge of a rice paddy, one foot out of place would mean tumbling over a precipice into the river one side or sinking into knee deep mud the other.
Following the narrow path over boulders and onto a ledge, I found it; a patch of river higher than the village. Down stream women washed clothes. Up stream two boys played at fishing. Peeling my muddy shoes and socks off, I could not wait a second longer. I was in. The water was so refreshing on my feet. I waded further, climbing boulders until I found a pool wide enough and deep enough to swim in.
As I lay on my back and let the current gently pull me further into the pool I felt it: One of those moments when life is perfect. I looked up and could tell Alex felt it to. This is it – in this moment – this is why we seek. This is what keeps the wanderlust alive in our veins. We wander to seek. To seek places like this. And in seeking we wonder. And in this moment I wondered at just how wonderful life can be. And how blessed I was to be. Just be.