In 2012 I went travelling on my own for 3 months in south-east Asia. Writing about my adventures is what started this journey into self-discovery, in particular this post. Enjoy 🙂
Some of you will remember a post I wrote near the beginning of my trip about my desire to settle down. This is still something I want and can’t imagine not doing but I can’t pretend that since this experience, that my idea of how I would like to settle down hasn’t changed somewhat.
Travelling what is a very very small part of the World has really opened my eyes. Not just to the sheer scale and size of it, but to myself. I have been travelling for two months now and I can’t believe I thought I was going to see so much! I’ve barely touched on what there is out there, and now that I have had a taste for it, I want more! I feel incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity because for the first time in a long time, life excites me, and not for what personal life goal posts I can achieve, but for the possibilities of what there is to experience and discover. There is so so much more than I could have imagined, and not just geographically.
I feel like I have been living with my eyes closed shut, but with so much still to see, I feel they have been barely opened. Like a newborn baby, I have just caught my very first glimpse of the World and now I want to see everything there is!
Obviously I have been thinking about what I will do when I get home. For most of us travellers, this is just a cut scene, an interval, before we return to our ‘real lives’. There is a kind of bond and understanding between travellers; we know we’re lucky, we’re special, because we have escaped and what we are experiencing is extraordinary, but at some point, most of us anyway, will have to return to the cages of our 9-5 lives. What strikes me the most about these happy hippies, of who I am now one, is that we have fewer possessions, amenities and luxuries than we were born with, yet I don’t think I have ever seen more happy, relaxed, enthusiastic and energetic people in all my life.
Who knew that Princess Dani would find answers in a hostel dorm, wearing the same sweaty t-shirt from yesterday and eating from a street vendor on a red plastic chair?
Most travellers I’ve met come from the Western world where we are used to loo roll instead of a hose, traffic lights being adhered to and hot showers. But travelling does funny things to you. Plonk us in the middle of a modern city such as Singapore after a few months of living out of a backpack, and we feel like a wild goose in an aquarium! Who cares if you can drink the tap water, eat with a knife and fork and don’t have to squat in a hole to pee! We want something with soul! Give us culture, authenticity and grubby chopsticks! Give us pharmacies without needing prescriptions and motorcycles we can ride without licenses. Give us back a time where not every little thing we do is so heavily monitored, that when you email a friend about recycling your 80s rocker vest, the police don’t come round knocking at your door asking where you’re planning the next suicide bombing! (Is it safe to use that phrase? Are they on their way?)
Now I’m not saying it’s all charm with locals waving at us gaily from their huts. The cockroaches and rats are still vermin, sharing your meal with yet another cat isn’t always cute and spritzing your fanny with a hose isn’t as much fun as it sounds! Being hassled to buy a fake Gucci watch which is ‘same same, but different’, to sharing another dilapidated bus seat with a chicken, and trying to figure out what bug has been feasting on your arse this time, do take their toll eventually. But it makes you feel alive, and incredibly free.
Not always knowing where you’ll be tomorrow, whom you’ll be there with, is the most liberating feeling in the world. Because not only could it be the best place you’ve ever been to, with people who you’ll befriend for life, it could also be the worst! And that builds an enormous amount of character.
I have on this trip gone through very low moods, always when I have been alone (and usually when the curse is upon me – Jilly Cooper readers, you know what I mean). But ultimately there is nothing like travelling out of every comfort zone you didn’t even know existed, that makes you into a more confident, open-minded, positive and determined person. When you go from being so lonely that you look at the next flight home, to sitting round a fire, listening to the waves and a guitar with 5 people you’ve known for less than 24 hours, you get an increasing amount of self-worth and respect. Because there is no one there but you to pull you out and offer you comfort. Somewhere, somehow it has to come from within you and you become the only person you’ll ever need. And the more you travel on, the more you realise that every day you spend alone won’t last long; the next Facebook friend and travel companion is just round that palm tree. You grow quietly confident as you realise you are no longer the new girl, you’re a ‘proper traveller’ and you start finding yourself imparting knowledge and wisdom to the new kids.
But as with the World, I feel I have barely touched the tip of the iceberg that is me. I too am a largely unexplored entity and there’s still so much to discover!
Inevitably I know this freedom must end, that I will have to go back to my cage made of gold; that is how it is starting to feel. Modern life where you have everything you could ever want at your fingertips, is a life full of restrictions and compromises to a free-spirited person. But it is up to me to live my life as I see fit and worthwhile and I am resolved to continue to have my eyes opened. Travel will be something I will prioritise as part of my future. I will most probably not get an opportunity of travelling for such a length of time again, but I fully intend to see as much of the world as possible, slowly and in short bursts of granted time off if I have to. I still want to settle down, but for me that no longer means the same thing it did a few short months ago.
- Does it mean a house, a family and a career? Definitely, yes.
- Does it mean mortgages, gas bills, nappies, routine? Inevitably, sometimes.
- Does it mean staying in one place for the rest of my life and getting stuck in that inevitable rut? I hope not!
I want to be able to share the joys of travelling with my family. I want my children to see the World, not a new pool in a new location, or a villa in some expat community in which nothing of the local culture is preserved. I want them to see the advances of Singapore and Hong Kong (which out way anything we consider as advanced and modern in the West), the architecture of Rome and Peru (two places at the top my to-do list), the cuisines of Thailand and Vietnam, the poverty of Africa and India, and the incredibly beauty and varied culture that all these remarkable countries offer.
To stop trying to see more of the world would be to start closing my eyes again, to never really explore all of who I am and can be, and that would be like locking the cage with me inside, and throwing away the key. But a golden cage only becomes a prison if you don’t know how to get out.