Gosh, I’m sorry. I kinda dropped off the face of the earth there for a bit. Not literally, but figuratively, in that I’ve been off finding myself in Bali. I’ve been on a 3 week solo trip bouncing from Saudi to Kuala Lumpur, to a yoga/meditation retreat in Bali, and then back to Kuala Lumpur. I promise to tell you all about it soon, but in the mean time I thought I’d tell you about how I came to love travel so much, and some of the things it has taught me.
I spent most of my 20’s working as a travel nurse in the US, living in North Carolina, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Arizona, California and Washington. I was very outgoing and comfortable with uprooting myself whenever I got bored or needed a change of scenery. During this period of time I moved more than most people will in their entire lives. As in I seriously moved at least 20 times. Even though I would’ve described myself as adventurous it was from a very sheltered perspective. Besides going to Mexico as a kid I had yet to leave North America. I was a bit of a princess back in those days- very tied to monetary things that I thought brought me comfort- I always had a flashy car, never deprived myself of whatever it was that I might “want” in that moment. The “me” of then could never have imagined living out of a backpack, having to wash my knickers out in the sink, or staying anywhere that wasn’t 5 stars. The extremes of humanity like poverty, classism and sexism were largely foreign concepts to me at that point.
Back in 2006 I took my first international trip with a friend to London and Ireland. Even though it was an English speaking country it felt very foreign. The locals had cute little accents, and the toilets were a bit different, and they used different words to describe things than I was used to. Oh, and they also drove on the other side of the road, which meant I had to drive on the other side of the road. It was all fresh, and new, and I loved it. And then because it was my first international trip I decided to live every travelers worst nightmare and have my passport stolen. Because, THAT seems like a fun idea. Here’s how green to travel I was. I was 27 and convinced that if I was going on a pub crawl I needed to take my passport with me in the event I got ID’d. Yep. Present day me never carries my passport with me if I can lock it somewhere, and yet here I was drunk on a pub crawl in Temple Bar, and my passport got stolen. Along with my friends camera. Tears ensued. Like the kind of crying where you know you’re completely effed and it sobers you up kinda crying. Now here’s how equally green I was: from the movies it always appears that people who are in trouble (or drunk and missing a passport) just run up to the gates of their embassy and the guards let them in and offer assistance. Life Lesson: that is only in movies. In reality embassies work business hours, and may not even be located in the city or country your passport is stolen from. Eventually, I obviously got an emergency passport and I’ll tell you all about it another time!! Promise.
So after the passport fiasco of 2006, I traveled to Japan and Bali in 2008 to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday. This was likely the point where the life I had been living intersected with the life I wanted to be living. And where my full blown passion for travel was found. I was able to experience 2 very differing Asian cultures on this trip. I saw the orderliness of Japan against the third worldiness of Bali. I ate foods I had never heard of, road on some of the fastest trains known to man, became accustomed to the distinctive smell of burning garbage, and had one of the worst GI illness of my life. That trip left me wanting more.
The following year I rang in my 30th birthday on the beaches of Costa Rica with an awesome groups of friends both new and old. I traveled to Guatemala to visit a dear friend who was living there and learned the life lesson that sometimes we play it a little too safe in our western bubbles. For sensible reasons I would never ride around in the back of a strangers pick-up in North America, and yet that was exactly what I found myself doing in Guatemala. I also learned that really outside of western countries there are no such things as safety waivers, just the general implied rule of “try not to act like an idiot and you’ll live.” I like that a lot. I also dragged my Pops with me to Scotland that year on a ancestry tour. That same trip I managed to drive our rental car into a low-hanging bridge about 3 hours after we picked it up. Thank goodness we got extra insurance with that one!!
When I was 31 I got the crazy idea to take a travel nurse gig in Saudi. By crazy idea, I mean my cousin Amber nagged me to go with her, and then when I decided I would, she promptly pulled out. Granted she’d recently met a lovely guy so I couldn’t really be mad. And to be fair I’m pretty sure Saudi couldn’t have handled the both of us!! The 15 months I worked in Saudi shattered all my previous world views and exposed me to cultures, languages, and religions that were so foreign to me. During that time I had the privilege of traveling to Bahrain, Oman, India, Sri Lanka, Hungary, Austria, Egypt, Portugal, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. Some with new friends from Saudi, some with dear friends from home, and some solo.
After Saudi I moved back to Seattle, but had a hard time settling in. I had changed. Long periods of travel, or moving abroad do that. They are meant to. I saw things differently, and longed for more. Within a year I was off traveling again. Exploring Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. I had almost 5 weeks off and it was awesome. I didn’t want to come back. This started me planning the biggest adventure I’ve ever had and last year I took nearly 3 months off and drove an auto-rickshaw across India with 2 of my dear friends. It was life changing. After completing the “Rickshaw Run” I traveled thru Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and spent some more in India. I volunteered at a charity in Kolkata and then spent a week in Northern India in an ashram. I fell in love with Bangladesh. Specifically the people. I can’t talk of that trip without getting a goofy smile on my face. In fact I’m smiling now as I write this to you. The time I spent in India opened me up to the injustices of poverty, classism and sexism. What I saw can’t be unseen. Nor should it.
So that brings this to my most recent travels. This year has been an awesome travel year, one that has often made me feel like I’ve been shadowing along on other peoples honeymoon’s as several of the places I’ve been have had a slightly romantic feel. While I myself have felt anything but. The winter isolation of the Lofoten Islands of Norway, the Maldives, the susets off the beach in Bali have all been uber romantic. But as I’ve already blogged about I’m not waiting around for the future Mr. Kristine wanders to experience it. If I want to go, I go.
Here are some of the many lessons I’ve learned from traveling. My passion for travel has made me fiercely independent. I am comfortable alone, or with strangers. The people you meet are generally good. If you ask, they will help you. Kindness begets kindness. For me personal growth happens when I’m out of my comfort zone. There’s something very liberating about going with the flow. Letting things play out. Traveling will make you more aware of your “gut” feeling. Listen to it. I don’t always play it safe, but I take calculated risks. I’m also not afraid to yell at someone or become aggressive if a situation requires it. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often. Travel opens you up, it softens you. Often it is transformative. It has been for me.
The things you experience while traveling will imprint themselves on your heart. Some of them will be places, some will be experiences, but the vast majority of them will be the encounters you had with other travelers and the local people. People who are the exact some as you, but come from very different backgrounds. People who if you let them will be some of your best teachers.
What are the best lessons you’ve learned from travel?