Today is 114 days since I left Australia for Bali to start my Southeast Asian Odyssey. So far I have been to Bali, Indonesia; Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo, Brunei; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Koh Lanta, Thailand and Mindanao, Palawan and Luzon in the Philippines.
Travel for me equals waking up in countries where I don’t speak the language, smiles and laughter, meeting new inspiring friends, laying on beaches, climbing mountains and opening my heart and mind to the possibilities of this world and those oh so wonderful stamps in my passport
As a girl I used to watch travel shows and dream of doing these amazing things. As an young adult I dreamed and couldn’t work out how other people could actually get their act together to travel. I just didn’t understand how they did it! It wasn’t that I didn’t have the money but I was actually scared.
Enter an R&R from active duty in Iraq and my world changed. I had traveled previously with the military and with a partner snow boarding in New Zealand.. Sorry New Zealand but apart from the funny accents this couldn’t really be called traveling because we spent one week snowboarding and didn’t explore any of the rest of the country. Boring I know but I will be back… I digress!
One Contiki tour later and I was hooked. I have since been to 54 countries and in each one I learn more about life and myself.
1. Regardless of colour and religion we are essentially all the same. I don’t know why I thought people from other countries would be so completely opposite that I wouldn’t relate to them. Looking for the similarities and not the differences my opinions of other people changed. We all seek pretty much the same things; security (house, job and income), happiness, friendship, food, clean water and LOVE! Whilst we may come about these differently they are still the building blocks that can ensure deep friendships that cross cultural boundaries
2. Joy can be found in the smallest thing. As I sat meditating on the lawn of Kopan Monastery in Nepal I heard a giggle that persisted and though not wanting to break from my meditation I opened my eyes. There was the smallest novice monk sitting in front of me, he was a child that had previously been leaning up against me in the internet room. When I entered the monastery a few days before they informed you not to touch the monks but this little novice clearly was breaking all the rules. It had turned out that he was only new at the monastery and deeply missed his mother. This day however his giggle brought me such joy. Whether he was giggling because I wasn’t meditating properly or that he found me strange and intriguing I will never know. The language barrier was too big but the cheeky smile and infectious giggle touched my soul.
3. The speed of trust. When you don’t speak the same language it is often difficult to know if what you have asked for has been translated correctly or that they even remotely understood you. In Syria, I had to take a leap of faith and being my first completely solo trip without meeting anyone or on a tour I knew I had to trust my gut as well at the people I was going to meet. One morning as my taxi dropped me at the bus terminal and standing there looking like a lost child I tried to find the ticket booth. A man came up to me and I simply said ‘Maharba, Mar Musa’. Basically I said hello and the location I was trying to get too. He lead me to a small room and then made a gesture with his hands that looked like opening a book. It could only be my passport which I dutifully presented. The massive toothy grin told me I was right. The universal symbol for money was easy but he looked shocked when I handed over a massive note. He quickly shock his head ratted through my little purse and pulled out 2 coins. Effectively it cost me $3 dollars and I was going to hand him $50. He could have easily ripped me off but didn’t. He then walked me to a mini bus, loaded me up with my bag at my feet and gave me a stop sign to stay put and spoke rapidly to the driver. I only understood the words ‘Mar Musa’ so at least he was telling the driver when I wanted to go. Hours later when the bus pulled up at Mar Musa I felt a wave of relief and knew that I was going to be ok.
4. People at home won’t notice that you’ve changed. People tend to see you as the same person you were before you travel. They don’t know that deep down inside you are not the same person you were. Some will notice and some of them will become people you used to hang out with. For me it was a result of the fact I was never home anymore. In fact I moved to another country and as I wasn’t having children and doing all the ‘usual’ stuff I was no longer in the same circles. I don’t talk about my travels much with people who don’t travel. Just as they don’t talk babies and stuff with me. If I try and explain how I have changed it sometimes doesn’t make sense. I no longer feel as afraid of the changes in life, I have an open heart to new experiences and I trust strangers to help me when I need it.
5. Life is precious. It seems to be such a throw away line but life really is precious. I have worked in countries that are war zones, traveled to others where the annual income is less than my previous fortnightly salary, I have watched poverty and opulent wealth co-exist side by side. I have witnessed death and I have felt loss. When I travel I feel richer and my life feels more precious because I am not just climbing a ladder that I don’t want to be on! Now don’t get my wrong if you are happy doing whatever you are doing then you will know life is precious and shouldn’t be wasted but if you are climbing a corporate ladder that fills you with terror and stress or you are sitting in car crying because you don’t want to go home maybe you should ask yourself the question: ‘I’m I wasting my precious life?’
I have about 140 days left on my travels if all goes to the very very loose plan I have. No doubt that means I have 140 days of precious moments, 140 days of having to have trust in strangers, 140 days of experiencing joy and 140 days of feeling truly blessed that in essence we are all the same.
Have you traveled? What did it do for you? Did you change for the better? Let me know.