Reflections on Southeast Asia
A friend commented that it seemed like the beginning of the trip wasn’t going well. I thought back on it and it’s true, that was probably the roughest part besides losing my ATM card. But overall doing this trip was one of those “best decisions ever”.
What went right?
The #1 thing that went really well was NOT booking much of anything ahead of time. Only a few times I reserved a room somewhere before showing up. Otherwise, winging it was winning it! Haha. I never came close to getting stuck somewhere without a place, and with the exception of the one night on Ko Phi Phi, I didn’t stay in too many dumpy places. I loved making the game time decisions on places to stay, and being able to negotiate the rates at some places.
The food. I would go through weeks without having a bad meal. In fact, I don’t even remember many bad meals. There were a couple of bus stops that offered pretty questionable food for lunch, but even those weren’t BAD per se, just kind of boring. And, I never got sick even in the slightest (in terms of stomach stuff). My iron-clad stomachs stayed true to form! The only thing that was tough was that I wasn’t eating enough, but I got used to that. Problem was I was skin and bones when I returned! I’m happy to say that I’ve gained back around 3 of the 8 pounds that I lost there. On my way to winning Mr. Universe, no question.
Packing. I did it pretty well. I was pretty light, my only complaint being that my bag was a little on the big side…but overall it felt pretty easy, just handing over a bag of laundry to a place every week or so for like $1.25. Plus when it’s that hot, you don’t want to wear nice clothes so I got really used to shorts and tank tops and flip flops every day. Wait, I was already used to that in San Diego!
Meeting people. That went well. There were times when it was just me. And, I was usually okay with that. But then I would meet someone, or a group, or a couple, and hang out for a day or two. It’s pretty easy to make friends on the road, because everyone is kind of looking to connect with other travelers. One thing that I noticed was that most people travel as a couple when they’re my age. Most people I hung out with thought I was like 10 years younger than I am so yeah, I hung out with 17 year olds. Haha.
Dealing with the heat. This wasn’t 100% “good” by any means. Bali was totally doable, even though it was pretty hot, and sometimes the humidity would be a little much. But I really got used to Bali. Thailand was another story. There were times when I was used to it, and other times when I would literally be daydreaming about cool San Diego breezes (as I was nearly passing out in Ko Phi Phi!). When the rain came, it helped cool things off a lot. But even with the insane heat, I still appreciated the nice balmy nights, something we don’t get a lot of here in Southern California summers.
Money. It was cheap to do these 9 weeks in Asia. I’m still surprised that I saved even more money there than I would have by staying home.
I learned SO much…about the people and the way they live in these places, about how it is to travel on my own for 2 months, about SO many travelers I met along the way who opened my mind to new perspectives…and about myself. I’m much more content now with what I have. I strive for more now but I don’t NEED things to make me happy (not that I did before, but it’s really sunk in now). I also learned a little about history, particularly in Cambodia- and what a tragic past they have had to overcome to get where they are today. I feel pretty lucky and grateful that by “accident of birth” I didn’t have to experience some of the poverty I witnessed in many areas.
What went wrong?
I split with my travel partner in Bali, which was a little rough at the time, but it quickly felt normal to travel solo.
My camera broke temporarily for a week.
I lost my ATM card, you can read about that here. But I recovered in a few days.
I got screwed out of small amounts of money a few times, from taxi drivers, and a hawker or two. But most of that was just me not having my head screwed on properly that day (I’m still mad about the Bangkok driver that took me 2 blocks that I paid $6.50!!)
I got screwed on a hotel room once.
It was too hot for my tastes in much of Thailand, but the north wasn’t bad at all. Besides my day in Bangkok, the heat never stopped me from doing things.
The internet in Bali sucked. I wasn’t able to do as much work as I wanted to. But that was the case in Thailand and Cambodia too. Next time I do a trip (or mini-retirement!) like this, I’m staying in one place longer.
I ran out of my favorite eye drops and they don’t sell them anywhere there. Kind of a first world problem!
What did I learn?
Besides what I listed, I learned a few things:
1. Asian airlines are paradise compared with American airlines.
2. It’s not dangerous in any of the places I traveled. Not once did I feel scared or in danger. Even in San Diego I occasionally see some sketchy characters that might be violent (hell, last year I chased a mugger away from a girl right here in downtown!)
3. Always do a thorough job screening of who you’re going to travel with.
4. Coming back to a FURNISHED apartment is 1000x better than having to move millions of boxes and furniture.
5. I prefer carpets over tiled floors.
6. I need to bring avocado juice smoothies to the US
7. The rest of the world is NOT a police state. Many places in SE Asia, I hardly saw any cops! Yet, I’m back here in the land of the free, and there are cops everywhere you turn. It’s pretty shocking and saddening, but right now it’s the tradeoff I’m making to live in a really paradisiacal place. Hopefully, my friend Dan Andrews is right and someday renouncing US citizenship will become business as usual.
8. We have far too many stoplights in the US. It seems crazy at first how they do things in SE Asia, but once you’re there and “get it”, it makes more sense in most cases than what we have.
9. If you want to get somewhere, you can get there. No excuses. After some of the people I met (like the Mexican girl who traveled through Syria, and the Canadian guy who had no money and was traveling the world), I see no limitations in travel- if you really want it.
10. Seeing new places trumps doing new things for me. I’m not opposed to doing new things at all, I love new experiences and challenges. But there were lots of tradeoffs for me on this trip- and I always chose going to the new place over doing the scuba adventures, or mountain biking, or tubing down a river. Or partying all night and getting hammered vs. cruising around an island in the morning the next day. Easy!
11. When people tell you they will send you pictures, sometimes they don’t. Hopefully those people are reading this blog post and sent me some pics!
Now I’m back, keeping freedomlovin.com alive, and seeking maximal levels of freedom in San Diego. Tonight I’m hosting a bonfire to kick off the summer. The sun is shining today, and the weather is just about perfect. Something tells me it’s going to be a great summer in Southern California!