It’s raining in Hanoi, and the grey skies are matching my mood so I am going to take a quick break from the norm here and write a short piece about the actual act of travelling, that is as much for my own self indulgent therapy as anything else. Apologies if this ends up like a teenage girl’s diary. I have been inspired by the blogs of people I’ve met and they are incredibly open about their journeys and the ways in which it affects them. Way back at the beginning I promised to write a blog that involved subjects and aspects of travelling rather than a list of destinations and “then I did this and then I did this” – I failed miserably on that front, and if you didn’t know better, you’d think I was travelling completely alone so here is a small piece of making amends that I will almost certainly regret, that won’t be going on Facebook for once.
I have now been on the road for well over a year, and sometimes the question is asked of me “has travel changed you?” I respond with a slightly more verbose version of “maybe” or “I don’t know”, but if I am honest the very act of writing this post and (God help me) putting it in the public domain where it can be read by people I actually know in real life (Hi Mum!) perhaps says as much about how it has changed me as anything else.
When you travel, you meet people constantly. It is a never ending stream of friends made, and then regretfully left behind just as quickly. It can be emotionally draining, but thanks to Facebook and its ilk, it’s a matter of a quick message to ask advice or to recommend something and you are back in contact again. I have a sofa in every major city in Canada, and half the ones in Europe. Just the other day, a rugby team up from Saigon were in Hanoi for a match, and over breakfast beer (seriously, that’s not something I do very often!) we shared life stories, then went to a Hotel and stole their swimming pool. I now have a place to stay when I get down to Ho Chi Minh, all within four hours of meeting them. It has gotten to a point that my social life has far eclipsed the adventure of travel itself, and while this is not entirely healthy, I will persevere until my journey’s end, probably in Bangkok.
My time in Asia has been different to South America in regards to people I’ve travelled with. From Buenos Aires to central Peru I was travelling with some of the same wonderful people more or less constantly. I took it for granted, as being out here now I realise that in six months of being in Asia has not seen me travel with anyone at all for any more than a handful of days. While you meet new people all the time, it becomes exhausting. Within ten minutes of meeting a fellow traveller, you will share your plans, your history and your life. Nowhere else can you meet and know each other, sometimes intimately, so quickly. I’ve fallen in and out of puppy love a few times on this trip but the parting is always desperately painful, and that time you next see them with a different guy is a gut wrenching feeling; a feeling that I have no right to have, given there was no relationship in the first place. You share a bed for a few days or less and then you have to move on, yet it hurts enough to make you want to pack it all in and go back home. But only for a while. You dust yourself off and walk on to the next place, a mysterious future where incredible things come at you from entirely unexpected directions, and you wake up the following morning wondering how it all happened. I’d just prefer to do it with someone at the moment, but you don’t always get what you want on the road.
I’ve discovered things about myself I didn’t know: I’m jealous, overly sentimental and self conscious to a fault. I am riddled by anxiety at the merest hint of social/romantic rejection; I’m far too free with my heart. Things to work on, but it’s that discovery about oneself that is so important and while the term “self discovery” is often bandied around regarding travel, it’s a huge facet of the experience. My only fear is that when I get home, wherever that is, I’ll lose what I’ve gained here when I slip back in to my old life. Will I be wearing a different skin? Sometimes this fear is so great that I lose myself in fantasies of getting a long term visa and working in a hostel for a few months, or flying back to Hong Kong, a city that I really fell in love with, and finding work there. It comes and goes along with my memories of my old life – the good and the bad – and with the people I meet. A bar tender in Langkawi who spends half his life in Chiang Mai, and the other in a bar on a tropical island; the staff at the place I am currently staying; a British-Canadian couple living in Hong Kong; a Rugby team of Canadians, Kiwis and Spaniards living in Saigon; English teachers from all over the world, working in Korea, China, Thailand and every other country who travel during the school holidays. You spend the best part of a decade surrounded by people advancing their careers and trying to claw that six figure salary before they hit thirty but the happiest people I’ve ever met live for bed and board in hostels around the world. I feel like I’ve missed out, but I guess I still have forever.
Travel is addictive. Like alcoholism, you don’t ever “get over it” but it remains part of you for life and I feel that once I get back to the UK, everything that follows will be the next step towards the next trip. That next trip might be a circuit of India, or a run through Brazil, Colombia (again… well, it is awesome!) and Central America. It might be to actually visit the Philippines like I was meant to this time, or to Indonesia. Maybe I will look forward to seeing incredible buildings, drinking in the history of the place or to learn to kite surf. When I look back though, I will see the wonders of these places in my mind, and standing next to me will be those friends I made. It’s that memory that will make me smile the most.