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Soon after I moved to Thailand, I spent three months backpacking through India and Southeast Asia. It was my first time traveling through the region and for Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos I was completely on my own.
I didn’t know the areas, languages, customs, where I was or what was going on around me. I booked things without doing too much research, rarely had a room reserved when I arrived in a new town and didn’t know the average value of things between moving around so much and dealing with different currencies every other week.
And…it worked. I didn’t have any big mishaps or get stuck in the middle of the night by myself somewhere instead managing to get back safe and sound to Chiang Mai and start the process of finding a place to live and work.
I wasn’t what I would call an experienced traveler. I had briefly lived abroad before and traveled a bit through Western Europe. Not only was it my first time traveling in Southeast Asia, but my first time really backpacking – and for an extended period of time at that. In short, I didn’t really know what I was doing. And though part of it was luck – I still have never really been robbed, been terribly sick or scammed (except in Italy) – most of it all came to down to practical common sense.
And trusting my gut.
A skill that I honed while backpacking alone and that, somehow, I seem to have lost over time…or at least seem to not trust in as much.
While I was on my own I made snap (but smart) decisions on where to go, who to go with, who to trust with my transportation, and not to freak out when things didn’t go as planned trusting that it would all work out. And it always did.
However a week ago, as I was desperately trying to plan a quick island getaway last minute, I kept on pushing against what my gut and common sense was telling me. I needed to get out of Chiang Mai. I needed to get away from the haze and high temperatures, a job and relationship that all of the sudden decided to not want to work at all. But instead of just going with the flow and letting plans fall into place I pushed. And kept on pushing until I was even more annoyed, frustrated and impatient to get out of town.
For some reason I’ve had it stuck in my head that I want to visit Koh Tao, a southern Thai island in the Andaman Sea. After three years in the country I’ve never been and that’s where I wanted to escape to…never mind that it would take me more than 24 hours to get there just to stay for four or five days. So I started researching and planning, trying to figure out the best/cheapest/quickest way down combining buses, flights, taxis and ferries. I tried buying a flight promotion, but the site wouldn’t let me (Air Asia almost always has the cheapest offerings…but their website is awful. Awful.) and the three customer service numbers I called were dead ends. So I drove across town to the actual Air Asia office before it closed just to be told all the promotional fares were already sold out. I then drove back to my apartment, found different flights and proceeded to call a ferry company to organize a transfer – I didn’t want to buy the plane ticket until I knew I had transportation from the airport to the island. I was hung up on after being told I had to book through a travel agency, even though I was speaking with the company directly. At that point I had spent nearly six hours looking up and trying to organize rooms and transportation for day from then (plus several days of thinking about my plans and wanting to go to Koh Tao). I gave up and went to bed.
In the morning I looked up information for another island, Koh Chang, figured out how to get there easily (and more quickly) on my own and called a guest house that immediately answered and said they’d reserve a room for me for the next night – no problem. I also booked a flight back up to Chiang Mai and confirmed I could stay with a friend for one night in Bangkok. Total, it probably took me 20 minutes and I have now spent the past week enjoying one of the best island guest houses I’ve ever stayed in, good weather and plenty of beachside beers.
I had known from the beginning that trying to get down to Koh Tao from Chiang Mai for just a few days wasn’t really practical and yet struggled through trying to get it sorted even though it didn’t make sense time-wise, transportation-wise or financially. Everything was pointing me in the direction of NOT going yet I still spent more time attempting to make it work when I would have saved time and headache if I had just quit and changed direction early on.
When you’re traveling long term you realize how you can get by with surprisingly little, what things are actually important and live more in the moment trusting things will work out. Yet when you have a more set routine, schedule, life and direction it’s easy to slip into the feeling that you have control – that you can plan things and that they’ll happen as you expect them to. It’s also so ingrained in us that ‘quitting’ is bad – whether it’s a job, a relationship or simply saying no to something you said you’d do but afterward realize you don’t want to. Never give up! Just push through! You can make it work! Of course, it’s good and important to push yourself through certain experiences, situations and to meet goals, but at the same time, it’s okay to stop and change plans when something really isn’t working for you, step away and reevaluate what you actually need to or want to do. I had felt like if I tried a little harder for work – for making travel plans – it would work out. But actually stopping and giving up trying to control things was much more useful and productive – when I gave up on my initial travel plans new ones quickly and easily fell into their place. Quitting allows you to change course and find a different way.
I need to get back to listening to my gut. To following my instinct more, not trying to force things and to take a step back when something’s not working. Sometimes situations need some room to breathe and grow or change on their own – you don’t have control over everything and can’t force it.
(Sometimes it also helps if you can run away to an island, which I’ll be sharing more about later this week.)