These past few weeks in Thailand have given me some much needed perspective. Although I lived in South Korea last year, my travel mantra was in such a funk, I think it’s safe to assume I hadn’t really traveled like vagabonds travel for almost two years. With the opportunities available to one who has never applied for a single credit card with mileage bonuses, I was able to arrange quite the itinerary this time.
From Texas to Canada, Canada to Europe, Europe to Thailand, and back again (with a brief stopover in Dubai to see some Aussie friends). I didn’t have anything waiting for me on the other side: no savings, no apartment with a friendly neighbor looking in on a non-existent pet, no job. Nothing. And I didn’t care, so long as I obeyed the core of my travel beliefs: just book a ticket and GO.
When I made the decision to volunteer in Thailand back in 2008, it was mainly to test the waters of a different ESL market before committing myself to another year’s contract. I had had a less than desirable experience with AEON in Japan, and didn’t want history to repeat itself. This time, I didn’t seem to find the heat as stifling, the humidity as annoying, or the tuk-tuk drivers and suit salesmen as persistent. Clearly I wasn’t ready to face them five years ago, but now?
Now, I’m at the same crossroads I could just as easily have faced at any time during my travels, but I feel more pressure to conform to what most people’s definition of society tells me. Passing this feeling off on recently turning 30 or not having had a successful long-term relationship is just a cheap ploy; as much as I’d like to believe I can continuing doing what I’ve been doing the past five years for the rest of my life, certain realities are cropping up.
Thailand is one of the best places to see the contrast in my life now versus what I was then. I partied with the best of them on Kou Phangan under the moon, drinking everything that passed my way. I soaked up the stories of fellow Couchsurfers in their 20s and got new ideas about where to go, what to do.
Even though I’m still very much a travel-minded person and not lacking physically what I was in 2008, my Thailand experience this month has moved me much differently. I don’t like seeing 22-year-olds drink heavily seven days a week and talk about how they’ve got things all figured out over here: good pay, no stress, surfing, and sex. I’m not a prude or against the effects of alcohol, but seeing some of the English teachers and expats over here, knowing I was in their position not too long ago (yet also a lifetime), depresses me.
I see amazing experiences, but no forethought. I see kids who don’t know how the world works, who are content to just grab another beer when things get tough rather than think about what lies around the corner.
I find myself wanting a bed in an apartment. Going out evenings in the same city for months, even years. Maybe even meeting someone who’s had her fill of travel for a while, but understands the urge to get out.
Travel has taught me how to live with less. How to deal with the unpredictable. How to find comfort in the unknown. Yet I’ve discovered after these six years abroad I find myself tired, desiring homey comforts over crashing at Couchsurfers or nights in a crowded hostel. Having a steady flow of income from a job I know will be there beyond a year relieves me beyond belief.
I don’t think I’ll ever become a cubicle-doting monkey, crunching numbers before living life. But I won’t be satisfied constantly on the move, sacrificing relationships with friends because there’s no future with someone who can’t stay put, looking for that ineffable perfect setup that may be somewhere out in the world, but finding it will cost me nearly everything I find valuable at the moment: time with consistent friends, time with family, time for love.