We know we’re never really going to find the answers, because these kinds of questions come from having a hunger and a passion for life-they have nothing to do with resolving anything or tying it all up in a neat little package. This kind of questioning is the journey itself. The fruition lies in beginning to realize our kinship with all humanity. We realize that we have a share in whatever everyone else has and is. Our journey of making friends with ourselves is not a selfish thing. We’re not trying to get all the goodies for ourselves. It’s a process of developing loving-kindness and a true understanding for other people as well.
Life does not operate on the buddy system. I want to be able to look after myself and fully enjoy things without being dependent on another person, especially a male, for the experience. When you are independent and self-reliant, you are better at helping others. I feel like we are starting to think we have to share every experience to make it worth while. Everyone has to update each other via social media, or it never happened. It’s okay to be alone and it’s okay to be in charge of yourself and it’s certainly okay to travel. Also, I’m certainly not going to shelter myself because I’m a woman. Women say they believe they can do things that they specifically are told are ‘scary’ or ‘unsafe’ without harm, but we don’t actually do them. It needs to change. I believe in healthy fear. I’m not advocating every woman go diving into third-world travel, but I’m not going to not travel simply because I’m a woman. Encouraging independence is important. I put my big girl pants on for this trip and there is something very liberating when you finally get good at hailing a taxi in Bangkok or successfully ordering your meals in a different language. I think it’s important to encourage solo travel, especially for females, and not to perpetuate a cycle of fear regarding different cultures .
Didn’t you get lonely?
Yes, there were times when I wished I had a travel partner to bounce ideas off of or to help ease the culture shock. Romantic couples, adventurous families and gaggles of girlfriends pulled at my heart strings, at times. Having someone to watch your bag on the beach, put sunscreen on your back or split the check with would have been nice. But did I ever get lonely? No. I like being alone. I have a hard time spending a few days straight with anyone, let alone a month. I took this trip alone on purpose. The truth is, sometimes it’s nice to to have to say “well, where do you want to eat?” or “can we stop?” Or “do you mind if we check this out?” I just did what I wanted. And it felt really good.
But what about eating alone?
Apparently, this can be a concern for some people. Most cafes and restaurants had wi-fi (where I wrote most of this!), television, and tons of other friendly, solo travelers. I am grateful for the interactions I had simply because I was alone. Also, no one is alone when you’re eating all together on the street. Here’s my advice about eating alone-get over it and order dessert.
Weren’t you scared?
Was I ‘scared’? Yes. Am I brave? Yes. Fear is not always a good reason not to do something. Life is full of reasons to be afraid, but not all of them are warranted or justified. I believe whole-heartedly in the power of instinct. Intuition is powerful. Solo travel heightened and intensified my instincts and made me more tuned in to them. If it feels wrong, it probably is. If you feel like you’re going the wrong way, you probably are. If everyone’s doing it but you think it’s not for you, it probably isn’t. Lastly, listening to yourself and your body (thanks, yoga) is so crucial. You have a lot of internal dialogue when you’re solo, and a lot of bursts of laughter.
Shouldn’t you be starting a career? Isn’t this what retirement is for?
This day and age, the twenty-something’s of America are asking themselves “Is college really worth it? Should I just go to trade school and stop chasing a four-year degree? Am I even going to be able to get a job after graduation?” Meanwhile, social security is in the dumps, student loans are ruining young adults credit every day, and millions of graduates are thinking: now what? The brief experiences I’ve had since college graduation have shaped me in to a more articulate, broad-minded, discerning individual. These attributes will shine through in my professional career. I am consciously grateful that I chose to come here when I did. Leaving a husband, child, and/or dependent job creates guilt and makes it more difficult to accomplish your goals. I have no regrets.
Do they eat dogs?
I hear they only eat your dog if you’re racist.
Are the bathrooms horrible?
No. 95% of the time I encountered standard western toilets. The plumbing sucks, but that’s the case in most of the world. Thailand is more developed than many SE Asian countries and popular destinations (and islands) are accommodating to Westerners. Also, bad bathrooms are not a reason to not visit somewhere!
Perspective: aka The World Doesn’t Revolve Around Me and The Art of Being Humble. Constantly being the solo, female, minority foreigner who doesn’t speak Thai will change you. I have perfected the art of the passive smile. One thing I learned is that Thai people just want to see you smile. It puts them at ease. They want to know you are enjoying yourself, aren’t judgmental, aren’t going to be a pain in the ass, and aren’t going to expect everything to be like home. Any time I felt overwhelmed or lost in chaos, it never failed I would meet eyes with a local that would offer me a sincere and warm smile and hello. When I think about this, it makes me want to cry because some people were so genuinely nice to me.
Suffering and pain and concerns are all relative. No ones are greater or smaller or more valid than the next. People are just people and we are more alike than different.
I highly suggest traveling to primarily Buddhist countries. 94% of Thailand’s population is Theravada Buddhist. Since buddhism is not a religion, there’s no God or rules and regulations; merely a moral path that one chooses to try to adhere to. To really dumb it down; basically, try to be a good person. Through this experience, I found Thai culture to be extremely compassionate, realistic, loyal, and caring and this makes for a warm and easy environment for travel.
Prepared: I’m a generally prepared person and in the past I’ve felt nerdy and self conscious about that. I saved myself so much time and money by doing as much research as I did, I helped other travelers, and I feel like I made the most of my time. Also, I’m pretty proud of my sense of direction.
Geography: When the only television shows in English are the world news, you can learn so much. My geography of Asia and the relationships between Asian countries is much clearer now.
Did you get sick from eating street food?
I think of it like a state fair: is the food the epitome of cleanliness? No, because it’s an outdoor state fair in the heat with little or no refrigeration. Does this mean an funnel cake or corn dog will make you sick? No. Should you eat it? Yes, it’s the state fair! BUT does this mean you should get a chili cheese dog from the dimly lit stall near the bathrooms from the guy with a cooler and one cutting board? Probably not. Street food exists for conevenience and many times is actually cleaner than a kitchen you never see. That being said, travel in general, new bacteria, poor nutrition and a stressed immune system are a recipe to feel some kind of strain on your system.
I don’t feel proud of America. I wish we were better. It’s one thing when you’re sitting in America to bitch and moan about our politics, lifestyles and progresses but when you are seeing America through the viewpoint of the rest of the world, it sucks. When I spoke with Thai people, I would ask them ‘are the Americans you meet friendly?” “Do you want to go to America?” “What do you think of the way Americans live?”
They said we’re too fast. Too demanding. Too critical. Too impatient. These people have so much less than we do, and are far more satisfied. They look at us and we have everything and they feel bad for US. People who work twelve-hour days six days a week told me WE never stop working. WE always take it home. Thailand thinks we need to take major chill pill and I agree.
1-10 in Thailand
0: Zero: the number of times I felt genuinely unsafe, threatened, scared, or in danger throughout my entire journey. I waited and waited for it. I took precautions. I roamed at night, took transportation alone all over, carried my belongings through alleyways and crowds and spent extended periods in male dominated areas. It never happened. Not once.
On that note, I’d like to say that I was astounded by how polite and respectful Thai men were to me and women in general. Especially if they knew I was traveling alone. It was refreshing and contributed to what a good trip I had. ***The only times I received unwanted and mildly aggressive attention by men was by AMERICAN expats living in Thailand.*** Marinate on that one.
I feel whole-heartedly more unsafe alone at the Medford Walmart at 9pm
than I ever did in Thailand.
1: the number of times I became familiar with the term ‘Bangkok belly’
2: how many sunrises I caught
3: the approximate number of showers it takes per day to beat humidity in Southeast Aisa
4: the number of weeks I think I could have kept going on my budget
5: how many times I ate at the same restaurant in Chiang Mai because it was just so good.
6: the number of days it took me to fully beat jet lag, a head cold, and get my Thai sea legs
7: the most people I saw riding one scooter at the same time
8: the most people I saw crammed into a tuk tuk at once
9: the latest I slept in the entire trip
10: the number of days it was over 101 degrees during the month
Things I won’t be missing…
Pollution-it’s enough to hurt an Oregonians soul, especially in the islands. There are so many people coming in and out of Thailand, particularly from other countries that aren’t “conscious”. It just gets worse when they’re on vacation. Liter, garbage, plastic. I tried to ignore it, but it was sad. Plastic bags plastic bottles plastic food containers.
MSG-So good, but so bad.
Fish smell, fish taste, fish flakes, fish sauce, and fish garbage.
Speaking in fragmented sentences: “I go taxi airport now?”
Telling people I’m from California because they don’t know Oregon.
Stupid people-dear under twenty girl who’s petting the clearly rabid dog while drinking beer from the bottle, eating half-cooked pork on stick and rubbing against a cat with worms; do you know the over twenty boy inappropriately dressed for the temple that is riding his scooter terribly unsafely while demanding that the Thai tattoo artist do his tattoo RIGHT NOW!!!?
Listing the things I will miss makes me too sad. Apart from material things and feelings, I will miss Thai people and their outlook on life the most.
Laos, Japan, Iceland, Prague, U.K., Spain, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Sicily. Eventually.