I remember the warm rays of the early morning sun caressing my face through the windows of a large and rickety sleeper coach, which groaned and shook with every bump along the haphazard roads of SE Asia. The roller coaster of a ride assured me that I could not completely fall asleep unless I consumed several valium pills that are so readily available in the pharmaceutical shops of Thailand and Cambodia. The charged atmosphere of dozing travelers in cramped spaces on the coach becomes more aware of the slowing of speeds, and approaching of our destination; until the final halt of the vehicle jerks everyone aboard awake.
The hot humid heat greets hit my senses all at once as I leave the air-conditioned comfort of the coach, and I swear to myself that if I had a knife, I could literally slice the heat and humidity like a cake. I became dimly aware of the sleepy voices of 12 different languages all speaking at once, the putrid smell of the rubbish bins heaped in the alley five feet from where I was standing. My eyes are met with a sea of multicolored patch-stitched backpacks being chucked from the coach, and the cries of a girl who foolishly packed a pricey hair straightener shriek as her bag hits the concrete with a fatal thud.
I grabbed my bag and prepared myself for the agonizing wait of standing on tired bones bantering back and forth with tuk-tuk drivers for a fairly priced ride in the wee hours of the am. In this precise moment, I begin to understand the term “travel-worn”, as my body begins to re-circulate the blood back to parts of my body that had to stay stationary during my 9-hour overnight trip. In that moment, I feel the giddy triumphant that I endured such a cringe-worthy ride, and the undercurrent of excitement numbs me from my current realities to what adventures are yet to come.
I just completed one step of my journey, but now I enter into another set of realities. Feelings of excitement to see new treasures of sight, smells and emotions I become immersed in from foreign environments, mixed with fear of not knowing where I will sleep tonight, what possible scams I should have researched before coming, or foods to avoid. My mind’s eye laughs at my past hungry efforts to absorb as much “solo travel advice” as possible before I set off on my own adventure, only to come to the realization that you only really learn how to keep it real in the moment in a way that works best for you.
I used to spend hours pouring over articles with convincing sparkly encrusted tag-lines of which went something like "Why you should quit your Job to Travel”. This was before I had set out on my travels, and had no other way to know what to expect on my adventures. There’s no denying that there are some truths to these articles, I can't deny that I have spent most of my time traveling raging it out on the ski slopes, or kicking it on a beach with a frozen drink, or learning about amazing cultures, or attempting to expand my views on the world. But in the back of my mind, I had to remember to distinguish the sense of perspective here as well; the author makes it seems that everyone should get out there and solo travel, but in reality, solo travel isn’t for everyone. The lifestyle works for me, but actually experiencing it with other travelers, I’ve come to see how they became hoodwinked into thinking they could handle the unforeseen negatives that intertwine with solo travel. If you are set on living this lifestyle, you can not approach it by means of running away from your everyday problems, but in fact approach it free of " baggage". You must prepare yourself against your number one obstacle while traveling: you, and all of your gloriously bad and good lifestyle habits. I’ve experienced a lot of meltdowns during travels, which bring you right back into the real world of humanity. It's everywhere and inescapable; whether you are at home working in your concrete colored walled cubicle, or hiking the alps of Chile, or trekking a lonely and desolate plain in Mongolia.
My participation in the act of solo travel has forced me to make some of my hardest times in my life have been abroad. Making decisions on the spot, being completely responsible for yourself, and sometimes for those who travel with you. Sometimes you I get lost in translation with the locals, or have come close to losing my wallet, or I've been the victim of delayed flights. Sometimes I was exposed to some seriously gut-wrenching scenes of poverty or animal cruelty. Waves of resistance would well up inside of me, and wanted so desperately rise up against those heartbreaking scenes, but then reality would tap in, and remind me that I am just a visitor here, in this different world and lifestyle. You begin to understand that the world is much bigger than you and that you are just a very small part of it. Once that realization hits, you have one of two choices, either you stress about it and resist, or you accept it with bliss.
I began to understand that the world is much bigger than me and that I am just a very small part of it. Once that realization hit, I knew I had one of two choices, I could stress about it and resist, or you embrace it with acceptance.
I'll be completely honest; after my time in Cambodia and in Thailand, I was so overwhelmed with the amount of travel I did in just two months time, I became a bit of a grump in my final SE Asia destination of Bali. My body ached from the bus and tuk-tuk rides, “aha moments” and inner battles of keeping my cool in difficult situations. I walked around Kuta and walked around with a poker face... merely taking in what I saw, appreciating the culture and the beauty, but not with the enthusiasm I had when I first started my travels a month earlier.
Luckily, for me, my favorite traveling companion, my mother, came halfway across the world to vacation with me in Balinese paradise. She hired a Balinese driver named Putra to take us to Uluwatu, temples, and Ubud. We discussed many topics that separated our culture from his; but in one drive, we landed on the topic of my wellbeing throughout my SE Asia trip. Putra said, "I feel like you forget to smile, it's so important to smile”. I usually detest it when people say “you need to smile more”, but coming from Putra was different. In that moment, Putra, a simple but wise man, changed my life a bit. I knew prior to his comment that to smile is perhaps the most important gift you can give back to the world, but after all of the inner conflicts I was enduring within, I selfishly forgot how I affect the people I come across day-to-day. I was so caught up in worrying about what I'll do when I get back to Australia, or my career path, or how my photos turned out, that I was simply not living in the present.
They say Thailand is the land of smiles, but I actually believe that Bali is the champion of that trait. Indonesia in general practices Hindu; one of the various attributes to this religion is the belief in Karma. You can see Karma everywhere you go in Bali; whether it's the daily peace offerings, the gorgeous architecture, temples or the friendly population. The Balinese genuinely smile and welcome all to their country. They are a beautiful people, largely due to the fact that they do in fact, smile more than anywhere else I've been in this world. Smiling is their "go to" as a culture and undeniably the best therapy you can find.
So what do travel and smiling have in common? Often times when you travel, you get so caught up in planning for the future; the next site, the next meal the next ride… But when you take the time to realize that what you are doing in that moment in your life is a temporary plus in your life, you will smile, which brings you right back to reality, to your moment in travel.
I always wonder what I'll learn in each country I travel to... but Bali taught me to smile again... perhaps the best souvenir I could ever gain from all of my travels.
x Y E L L O W B I R D x
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Published by Chelsea Michelle Hird