Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On Roadblocks, Breakdowns & Changing My Course

DAY 58

As I checked in for my flight from Cairns, Australia, to Singapore — tried to check in, that is — I realized I had made a rookie mistake.

The nice man behind the JetStar counter informed me that I needed proof of onward travel in order to enter Singapore without a visa, and I had no such thing. In fact, I had specifically checked Singapore’s entry requirements to see if I needed to book onward travel — that is, provide proof that I was going to leave Singapore within 90 days — and thought that I didn’t.

Apparently, I thought wrong.

Please let me in, Singapore. Pretty please?



A year ago, if I faced the possibility of being unable to board my expensive international flight, I would have gone red-faced and broken down into tears. I would have felt extremely embarrassed and angry with myself for not doing more research. I would have beaten myself up and let the situation ruin my day — maybe even my week.

But I’m amazed, even as I write this, to report that this travel snafu did not faze me. I simply took 20 minutes to hop onto the Internet and book a bus from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur in three days’ time, emailed the itinerary to JetStar and then successfully checked in for my flight with plenty of time to spare.

No red face. No tears. I was slightly embarrassed, but it didn’t ruin my day. It didn’t even ruin five minutes of my day.

I was pretty damn proud of myself for that.


DAY 63

Having successfully entered, eaten my way through and exited Singapore, I was now at the the front desk of my Kuala Lumpur hostel, trying to make change for a 50-ringgit note so I could do laundry.

The nice woman behind the Reggae Mansion counter informed me that she could not make change for my note, and that I would have to go buy something small and come back for the 8 ringgits' worth of coins I needed.

My face went red. I felt tears prick the inside corners of my eyes. I mumbled a defeated, "Oh," and then hightailed it up to my room before I started to cry. Then I flopped onto my bed and let the tears flow.

Over laundry.


WHAT HAPPENED?

In one of these situations, I stayed cool and calm in the face of a potentially huge travel issue. In the other, I completely broke down over a tiny, insignificant roadblock. What the hell happened to that unfazed traveler I was so proud of?

The short answer is that I became really, really homesick on day 61 — the day I took that five-hour bus ride from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. The feeling came out of nowhere, but it hit me hard.

My seat was amazingly comfortable, and the bus' air-conditioning was heavenly compared to the thick soup of humidity outside. I had a row to myself. I should have been perfectly content to relax for five hours.

But as I stared out the window at the Malaysian landscape, it began to rain, and my mind wandered back to all the times I've stared through rain-spattered windows in Seattle. I love watching the rain. I love curling up with a cozy blanket, a good book and a mug of tea or hot chocolate even more.

Suddenly, the refreshing A/C felt icy. My spacious row of seats became incredibly lonely. And I longed for a blanket, a real book, a spot on my old couch to relax and maybe doze off. I desperately wanted to grab a milkshake and see a movie with my dad, or bake cookies with my mom.

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur to more rainclouds, and a particularly dark one seemed to hang directly over me. I felt miserable and just wanted to stay in the hostel and stew. I hated the way I felt — like that annoying homesick girl at summer camp who can't stop crying long enough to have some fun. I thought it would pass, but I couldn't ignore the ache in my chest and what it was telling me.

I wound up tearfully Skype-calling my mom and dad and arriving at a decision: I'm going to take a break. 


REVISE AND RESET

My plan has always been to fly to California in mid-May for a family trip to Yosemite, but I had intended on returning to Southeast Asia to spend June exploring Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before I attend Portland's World Domination Summit in July.

Now I realize I'd rather stay in the States until WDS so I can slow down, spend time with family and friends, and recharge a bit before heading abroad again. I was disappointed with myself when I got to Kuala Lumpur because I didn't have that thrill I usually feel upon arriving somewhere new. I feel like a really privileged jerk to admit this, but hopping between cities and countries had become the norm and lost its novelty.

I stopped crying long enough to visit KL's awe-inspiring Petronas Towers — wow.

I think, no matter what your circumstances are, that something being different is what makes it special. One short vacation a year can be a huge thrill, while a long period of constant travel — even to the most exciting places — can lose its luster, and you find yourself wanting to do things that used to seem mundane in your old life.

This is not at all meant to be an, "Oh, poor me, traveling is so hard," post. Most of the time, traveling is much easier than I thought it would be, and it's certainly a hell of a lot of fun. I just never expected the emotional side of it to get so intense — the side that has me missing my family, my hometown and all the familiar comforts of my former routine.

There are people who can travel nonstop for a year or more and thrive, but I like the idea of taking a step back after three months of being on the go, slowing down and rebuilding my appreciation for this incredible opportunity I have to see the world — not to mention the fact that it saves me from a few extra long-haul flights across the Pacific.


CHOOSING MY OWN PATH

At first I was sad to miss out on the Southeast Asian countries I'd planned to visit, but I realized I just don't have the same excitement to explore Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam that I've heard in so many others' voices. I've really enjoyed Thailand so far and am happy to be spending 30 days here, but does my heart leap when I think about wandering through Angkor Wat or inner tubing in Vang Vieng? Sadly, no.

My little bit of Chiang Mai, Thailand.




In college, I created a massive collage of Greece photos on the wall of my dorm. I've dreamt of driving along the coast of Croatia. I would die of happiness to eat just about anywhere in Italy. Those are the things I should be doing, regardless of how much everyone else raves about Cambodia, etc.

And I could certainly get more bang for my buck by continuing to travel in Southeast Asia, but time is a currency, too — something of great value and of which we have a finite amount. Why should I spend more time traveling somewhere just because it's cheaper when I'd happily drop more money to go places that make my heart do a happy dance?

In the next chapter of my travels, I will move much more slowly. I'll definitely struggle with the urge to see and do everything in every country, but I know I'll enjoy the overall experience more if I strive to ignore that pressure.

While in line for one of Mrs. Pa's famous fruit shakes in Chiang Mai, I shared a bit about my homesickness with Dave Dean. He's been traveling the world for well over a decade, so he knows his stuff, and he said this: In his experience, homesickness really means you miss having a routine, and you can help fix this by slowwwing dowwwn. Find a place you love. Get settled for a while. When you get the urge to move on, do that.

Sounds pretty good to me.


NEXT UP

I left my intense homesickness in Kuala Lumpur, thankfully. I thought I'd feel like a failure by changing my grand travel plans, but do you know what I actually felt when I purchased a one-way plane ticket to San Francisco for May 9? Relief.

Now I can enjoy the rest of my month in Thailand with the knowledge that I'll be seeing many of my loved ones again quite soon in California. I'll be able to spend my 25th birthday with family and friends in Seattle. And I can either hang out in Seattle until WDS, or take a few mini-trips to U.S. cities I've always wanted to visit — New Orleans, D.C., Boston and Chicago come to mind.

And after that? I'd still love to visit Iceland in July, and Europe is calling my name.

I'm incredibly excited for what's next.

###

New here?
###

35 comments:

  1. So beautifully written and I related to umm, all of it? It was at the 3 month mark I spontaneously booked a flight from Bangkok to Toronto because of homesickness. I took a breather and then headed out again. Always do what's best for you. I'm starting to feel awfully homesick again... hmmm.

    xoxo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Liz. : ) Nothing like being on the other side of the world to make you appreciate your family and friends, huh? Hope you're feeling better soon. X

      Delete
  2. Rest, Recharge and reset your path. Remember it is *your* adventure!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really want to travel and I definately feel excitement for some countries over others. I have trouble slowing down so I think this will apply to me when I finally get out there. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suppose everyone has to find their own path and pace; it just takes some trial and error. Best of luck to you!

      Delete
  4. Hi Devon!

    Sorry to hear that you felt that bad, and I agree, do what feels best. Its OK to feel homesick every now and then :)

    I never had that problem, in more than 10 years wandering across the continent I've rarely had that feeling and when I do, a quick skype call fixes it so I can keep enjoying the place I'm at.

    I'm pretty sure I'll be looking the sky on May, wondering "is that the plane Devon's at?", because You probably will fly over this island :)

    Keep enjoying and tracing your own path!

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, 10 years without major homesickness? That is really something! Isn't Skype wonderful??

      Thanks for your support. : )

      Delete
  5. Hey - Thanks for the honesty! It's great to read about someone's true and honest experiences, good and bad. Sorry that you were feeling crap in KL - I hope your time at home revitalizes your wandering spirit :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think it's fantastic that you're listening to yourself and taking charge of YOUR life instead of letting others ideas of travel and adventure take over your journey and making it lackluster.

    Kudos for staying true to yourself, and defining your own happiness! That's a lesson I'm still working on! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Life is too short for lackluster. : ) Thank you for the kind words.

      Delete
  7. Devon, you have a very fluid writing style and you're very brave to share your stories with such honesty. It's really a reverse how some small wrinkles in the day can upset us so much more than a major upheaval - you seemed to handle the change in itinerary very smoothly. To adapt to any change on the road is an important skill to have.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely — I'm learning so much on the road. Thank you for the wonderful compliments, Patricia.

      Delete
  8. Jen and I got to the same point at the 2.5 to 3 month point of full-time travel as well Devon. Would love to talk to you more about if you are in San Fran or Seattle when we are in May, otherwise we'll catch up at WDS. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can imagine! Especially being a car so much of the time... wow. : )

      I'll be in San Fran May 10-12, then Seattle the 19th through the end of the month at least. Let's see if we can connect for sure!

      Delete
  9. Great post! I appreciate your honesty. I suspect your approach to travel came from friends, blogs, etc. That is a great place to start but ultimately you must find your own travel sweet spot. Maybe next time emerge yourself into daily life of the host country by volunteering or working if possible. Live with a local family. This puts you into a whole different mindset. In fact, you may start thinking differently, not applying the “American” approach to things. One that keeps the apple pie approach is bound to be home sick in the land of rice.

    Keep in mind you did more than most people do in a lifetime.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right, Frank — all I had to go on were travel blogs and others' advice. Now I have a better idea of how and where I like to travel. I'd love to immerse myself into one place, just like you said. I will be on the lookout for a great place to do just that!

      Delete
  10. I think after a few months of constant travel I would need a break too, and think this is a great idea. Just one of those learning experiences we hear so much about throughout life...

    ReplyDelete
  11. I love to see you, a strong intelligent woman, finding your way and following your dreams all over the world. Beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great post! Don't feel bad for a second! You do this for fun and for a great experience, but if you do not think it is that much fun and does not make you that happy anymore, there is no reason to keep pushing forward. Maybe right after you return to the US you will become immediately "awayfromhomesick" => want to get back on the road again. :-) Keep having fun, you are doing the right thing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It took me a bit to figure out that the only person I have to please with this decision is myself... even if I feel like people will judge me, it's obvious that I have nothing but support, and I'm so grateful! Thank you for helping remind me of that.

      Delete
  13. I was going to comment on exactly what your friend Dave said... sometimes it's the constant packing and moving on that takes it's toll and if you were to stay in one place for a while, absorb life in a new city, fully integrate yourself there then that it just as rewarding as bouncing from place to place. Thanks for sharing your experiences, all of it - I know I can relate as I'm sure many others do as well.

    We only get one (finite) life on this planet and there's no use spending it any other way than happy... you define your happiness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a feeling you are both right, although the closest I've come to finding a place where I'd love to stay is Wellington, NZ. SE Asia is a tad too hot, humid and mosquito-y for me! I also just REALLY love Seattle and can't imagine myself ending up anywhere but there... or Portland. : ) But there is so much out in the world I have yet to see and learn about.

      Delete
  14. Great honest post, Devon, and I think it's an important story to be told. Long term travel isn't all rainbows and unicorns, and we are all human - we have good days and great days, but we also have bad ones. The highs of extended travel are very high, but the lows are very low and the stresses and strains of moving all the time make them so much harder to deal with.

    Thanks for mentioning me in the post. :) As I said while we sat over our delicious smoothies, just do what's right for you. There's no instruction manual for this whole travel game (or life in general), no universally correct way to do it. Make the most of the time you have - it's all that any of us can do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, as always, for your wisdom, Dave. : ) So great to catch up with you in CM.

      Delete
  15. Sounds like a very wise decision to me! Everyone needs to recharge every now and then, and then you can get excited for the next leg of your journey!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! I'm very excited to get excited about the next leg : )

      Delete
  16. I stumbled across your blog some time ago, and have been following your trip here and on facebook. All I have to say is - good for you girl. This had to have been a hard decision to make, but you clearly made the best decision for you, and that's what is important. I'm rooting for you from over here! Safe travels and if you ever make it out to DC, I'll give you the grand tour :)

    Amelia

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your support, Amelia! I'd love to tour DC — please shoot me an email [devmills5 at yahoo dot com] and I will let you know if I plan to visit.

      Delete
  17. It is nice to read a refreshing honest post about travel. One of my least favourite things to hear from others are the "you shoulds". If Europe is calling your name, that is where you should be, not where the rest of the world is telling you to go. Travel is personal, everyone has their own interests and opinions, just follow what your heart tells you and it will work out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely, although I feel like many of the "I shoulds" were in my head — like "I should" love SE Asia because everyone said I would! (Not saying that I don't, but you know...) I am much happier/more excited about my travel plans now that I'll be going where I REALLY want to go.

      Delete
  18. Hey Devon, I love this post! found it somehow nice to hear a different account; I've never travelled for as long as you did (yet;)) but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to do it non-stop for too long either, firstly because of saturation and secondly because I love doing domestic things too and would miss that after a while. Let me know if you come to Brussels sometime I'd love to meet up :)

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...