So I finally took the plunge. Became a digital nomad. Became a backpacker. Whatever. The bottom line is that, I finally managed to move my own cheese! Meaning, I packed up and left on what I like to call #101traveldays through SE Asia in what is my grand trip before life threw another surprise.
It is true that I have always followed my heart, but lately the heart had begun to crack and break, life was turning complacent, and in general everything was beginning to grate, thanks to doing something that was strictly, “not my cup of tea”. I needed change. Familiarity was hurting the soul.
So, I decided to literally move my cheese and I am glad I did.
As I write this, I am at a hostel in Yangon, Myanmar, feeling once again like in the days of yore, when I was younger and wild, didn’t mind randomness and unpredictability and was constantly broke…
But truth be told, a lot has changed - I am not broke any more, but more cautious – it could be the result of several things – largely experience. Or perhaps, it is the growing older that has changed my perspective?
I couldn’t be so sure, because although a lot of changes has taken place, fortunately it is not so much– because through the unpreparedness and unpredictability of it all, I am quite loving it.
Why #101traveldays happened
Let me be honest here – while I was planning this trip – 101 days through SE Asia, I wasn’t sure I could do it for this length of time. Sure, I had the money, sure I had the experience but the two does not make a backpacker, does it? I had pretty much given up backpacking in favour of more luxurious holidays that definitely did not involve hostel rooms or hoisting a 15kg pack on my back every morning and walking around looking for cheap accommodations. Therefore, when planning this, I was skeptical – could I do it? 101 days was rather long – and SE Asia, although familiar and cheap, was hot and humid and crawling with backpackers. How would I do my laundry? Food? Could I readjust to the noise of the hostel? Could I share a bathroom?
Where could I sit down and work in peace?
These were important questions considering I had become a digital nomad – or simply put, I was now working from remote locations after having quit my job I had been at for exactly a decade. South East Asia was not going to break my bank, but I also loved the discipline of working – and I wanted to see if I could live through the din of new cities and focus on writing. Yes. Because that’s what I do these days – write.
All these thoughts plagued me through the days of planning this trip – in the end I decided not to over-plan and just wing it.
What was the ultimate challenge?
Not planning was the ultimate challenge. Yes. People questioned me about my choices, destinations and itineraries and the more I got asked, the less I liked the idea of planning anything. Also because I realized it was impossible to plan so I learnt to ignore suggestions and simply let things be. Agreed, SE Asia was not dangerous or unfriendly, but I refused to let the familiarity make me cocky. I wanted to rediscover everything again – but first I had to let go. Stop my mind from questioning me or telling me I knew it all. I had to stop my heart from judging me – warning me. Stop logic from telling to make charts and plans and itineraries and maintain an expense sheet. I wanted nothing of that. I wanted everything to happen as it were to happen without interference from my over-planning mind. It was hard at first, then it became the norm.
That was the hardest bit - not to fall for the domestic (and probably logical) trap of booking hostels/hotels, itineraries and such like. I tried to explain nonchalantly to friends that I’d be fine, I am sure no one believed that I had no plan – but really, I had no plan. Yes, I had a ticket to Yangon and a night booked at a hostel – but that is all. I was once again learning to depend on my instincts.
Would I succeed?
I didn’t even try to reason with myself – so I leave it to time to decide. Success is no more the completion of a self-imposed task, so the question remains unanswered.
“I have no idea,” I’d tell anyone who asked. The truth was that I had no idea. The old saying – “Give me the courage to accept things I cannot change” became real.
Budgets – yes, there was that too. But luckily, I had stopped worrying about that a long time ago – not because I inherited a fortune but because I had reached a stage in life where materials didn’t matter at all. I didn’t mind wearing the unbranded clothes or eating local or flying business class. And I trusted myself far more than I did when I was starting out as a backpacker.
As soon as I arrived in Myanmar, haggled over taxi fare and settled into the hostel, I knew I was doing something right. It felt right. It felt real. Not for a minute do I feel out of my comfort zone. I am not in a hurry to explore the city or drink through the nights. I have no agenda and no timeframe in which to finish sightseeing. I am in no hurry to photograph every little monk or chicken leg.
I am content settling in to the way of life here, at my pace. I am content to watch the world go by as I apply myself to the keyboard, hoping to finish at least one article a day so I can treat myself to a new sight in the afternoon.
As I grind a thanaka bark and apply the paste to my face like the local women, wait in line for the bathroom, cover my eyes when the dorm lights turn at midnight, walk long distances instead of getting a cab, sit on miniscule chairs by the street and haggle over prices, write through the sounds around me, do not react when the butter is hard… I am also acutely aware that growing older as a traveler has advantages. It gives you the patience – but doesn’t rob you of the zeal to do learn things all over again – and enjoy them.