Determined to conquer my fear of traveling alone, and curious to know what my life as a traveler would be like, I traveled thirty days through Malaysia, Singapore, and Spain. During this time I kept a journal that I turned into the travel stories and “behind the scenes” posts you’ll find below.
Last updated: June 14, 2017
From June 2015 to December 2015, I wrote and published more than thirty travel stories and accompanying “behind the scenes” posts from my one-month trip to Malaysia, Singapore, and Spain. I only ever released these posts on Instagram and Facebook and always thought of reposting them here on the blog. Last week, I finally got to the task.
I was apprehensive beforehand about going through the material, knowing chances were I would be disappointed with some if not all of it. Revisiting past work could put me on a slippery slope towards perfectionism, leading me to delete everything, or worse, to start rewriting it.
I couldn’t lapse into the unattainable, but at the same time, I knew I wouldn’t be able to republish the text as it was. Thus, I made a compromise with myself. I was allowed to throw the lot into Grammarly, which would help me pick out the worst spelling mistakes, but no matter how much it hurt, I wasn’t to rewrite a single sentence.
It took me a day and a half to have the posts spellchecked, formatted and transferred to the blog. Pages told me I was looking at 23,358 words. Grammarly found 209 critical issues and 425 advanced issues. WordPress couldn’t handle so much copy + paste and jammed. And for a day and a half, while it rained adjectives like candies from a piñata, I was nauseated.
I had written more than a hundred posts1 for a single spin-off, and now I couldn’t justify why. I pitied myself. This travel volume was the work of a madwoman. And it spoke of how I failed to see the bigger picture and drowned myself in work that had little to do with my goals for The Spin-Off Project. As I started reading the text, however, somewhere halfway through, my stomach stopped turning.
Feelings of failure and embarrassment were now joined by a sense of pride and enjoyment. This was the journey on which I conquered my fear of traveling alone and confronted truths about myself and life that continue to influence me today–and being able to relive such a life-changing trip through a well-attempted written journal was rather special. It’s like seeing a trip you took come together in a photo album.
This collection of posts is like a photo album. It’s a selection of my most significant experiences, good and bad, edited and turned into a curated glimpse of my past and observations. It beats the scribbles from which these stories and insights were created, just like a photo album beats a memory card of unedited images. (Related reading: How writing these posts allowed me to uncover insights that otherwise might’ve escaped my attention, Travel Day 30)
Finally, curating this post couldn’t have come at a better time. As I’m about to finish The Spin-Off Project, I was reminded to not fall for similar mistakes. It helped me redefine my priorities and cut my final to-do list in half.
At the same time, as I kept reading and scrolling down, and saw my writing improve, I was also reminded that failure and progress go hand in hand. And that although I’ve fallen off the wagon, more than once, I’m, also, still standing.
For each of the 30 travel days, I have written a travel tale and a behind the scenes post. The tales talk about my adventures–the places I visited, the people I met. They are also my attempt at writing travel stories.
The behind the scenes posts look beyond the superficialities of my travels, beyond the rip-offs and the beaches. Occasionally these posts reveal a truth that I didn’t include in the tales, but more often than not, they are lessons and insights that I learned on the road.
With more than an hour of reading ahead of you, I don’t expect you to read the entire journal at once. Instead, I suggest that you pick a few random travel days and jump from story to story for as long as you feel like.
To help you navigate further, here are some pointers: Each travel story is followed by a behind the scenes post2, indicated by a middle dot (·). My writing gets better and more elaborate from travel day 8 onwards. What I remember as my favorite travel moments are found under travel days 8, 13, 20 – pt.3, and 29 – pt.1); what I mention as my favorite travel day is day 21; my most treasured insight follows travel day 25 (complement with insights that follow travel days 14 and 21); what I recall as my worst travel day is day 23; and if you only have time for one story, make it number 28–it’s what I consider to be the best written one.
TRAVEL DAY 1
About to land in Malaysia for my 9th spin-off, “be a traveler.”
I’m actually not about to land in Malaysia. My solo travel adventure started already two weeks ago.
In between traveling, not having an Internet connection and trying to round up my Instagram posts about Thailand, I didn’t get a chance to start sharing my experiences earlier.
This bums me out a little because I wanted to share this spin-off month, more or less, LIVE with you.
Then again, among other things, this is what traveling is about, the unpredictable and being able to adapt to the circumstances.
I couldn’t fight the Internet, so I made sure to keep a daily log of all my travel days so far and am looking forward to sharing my stories and pictures with you from today on.
TRAVEL DAY 2 – pt.1
I didn’t get out much for the last 24h. Still felt homesick and missed having Mr.G around. All very teenager like and highly irrational, and yet I can’t do anything but to sit it out. 🐣 Working on my blog and catching up on social media all day long helped get my mind off things. And at one point I finally felt like getting out of the hostel for a casual walk around Georgetown. 🍃 Taking random turns left and right I found myself walking through a street full of half-naked butchers. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. This trip was starting out just right.
TRAVEL DAY 2 – pt.2
Feeling good after my walk in the hood, I decided to give this backpackers life a chance and go out for drinks with people I met earlier in the hostel. We ended up at “Antarabangsa Enterprise “: a liquor shop with an improvised outside terrace. The whole setting reminded me of something out of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles scene. 🐢 It was dark and dirty, and there were rats, but the beer was cheap and the atmosphere cinematic. After what must’ve been a million conversations with other travelers, I felt I had successfully completed travel challenge no.1: integrate with backpackers crowd. ✔️ I could go to bed now. And I did, accompanied by this gorgeous morning light.
Million conversations. Billion questions. Usually the same questions:
1. What’s your name?
2. Where are you from?
3. How long are you staying here?
4. How long have you been traveling?
5. Where are you going next?
6. What do you do?
Though answering these questions is already getting on my nerves (let me remind you: this is only travel day 2), the last one, in particular, is killing me softly and slowly.
It’s incredible what a shitstorm of follow-up questions you get when you tell people you’re a blogger.
My favorite one: how much do you make?
Asked by 9.5 out of 10 people.
Think I might have to start telling people I’m in publishing.
TRAVEL DAY 3
Realizing that “having fun” and “missing someone” can exist together in the same space is allowing me to fall deeper in love with the streets of magical Georgetown and my some-13.000km-away boyfriend at the same time.
Before the realization and the love, there was: The Hangover.
I woke up with a terrible one and spent most of the day nursing it and feeling guilty.
This unexplainable guilt is nothing new. I get the same feelings back home after an evening out.
However, being so far away from the familiar and realizing I couldn’t use these irrational emotions right now, I decided to switch things around.
I accepted that this was the inevitable price I had to pay for a night of fun and the sake of allowing new challenges and experiences into my life.
As soon as I did, and I mean literally the second I did, I had the calmest and most wonderful conversation with two awesomely kind guys about my blog and life in general.
Half an hour later, a girl, who Mr.G and I met on the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, walked straight into my dorm in Georgetown, Malaysia.
An incredible moment of amazement, serendipity and happiness rushed through me.
All there was left from my hangover now, was love.
And, the realization that it’s okay to have fun, even when your favorite person in the world is not around.
TRAVEL DAY 4
I find that early mornings are best for connecting with locals and witnessing daily life unnoticed. It’s when people are still sleepy, somewhat innocent, and more likely to let you be in their presence without paying much attention to yours. ⛅️ As such was my breakfast experience at this busy street vendor who prepared the most delicious roti canai–a dish that I’ve been meaning to have for breakfast ever since @arjencalter introduced me to it in Indonesia. 🌴 Roti canai is a type of Indian-influenced flatbread which is served with dhal and spicy curry. Bound to wake you up and make you fall in love with your day from the early hours. I accompanied the indulgence with a ginger milk and feasted like nobody was watching. 😎 Experiences like these are what make traveling for me. And, as ordinary as they may seem, they’re not easy to stumble upon. But trust me on the “morning advice,” and I’m sure you’ll find yourself soon enough in a similarly ordinary and yet unexplainably magical situation. 💫
Another reason why I like to go for morning walks, specifically here in Malaysia, is because the local men still seem too lazy to bother.
Though I never felt like I was in serious danger, traveling alone in Malaysia hasn’t been a very comfortable experience.
The heavily present staring and comments are sadly killing my sense of safety, freedom, and joy of traveling.
And for the first time in my life, I wished I was a man.
TRAVEL DAY 5
One of the things I greatly enjoy about traveling alone is that I get to sightsee my style. For example, I find a lot of freedom and happiness in walking around a city for endless hours without necessarily having a purpose or having a rather significant one. 📍 I don’t mind searching two hours for that “chicken and rice place” just to see what it looks like. At the same time, I don’t think twice about abandoning a must-visit site (for which I paid a ridiculous entree fee) if I happen to hate it from the start. 📛 Furthermore, when I’m sightseeing alone, I seem more impressed with ordinary sights and experiences. My impressions aren’t colored by other people’s opinions, and I’m more present. That is, of course, when I manage to shut down the endless self-talk.
Though I prefer hardcore sightseeing on my own, I find traveling from A to B more comfortable to do with someone else.
And with “traveling from A to B” I mean: being on the road, going cross-country, taking buses, trains, boats, etc.
I’ve noticed that when I travel with another person, whether that person is my boyfriend or someone I meet during my travels, I’m able to relax a lot more during the journey itself.
I don’t care much about knowing with certainty if I’m heading in the right direction or even if I’ll arrive at my destination.
When I travel alone though, I’m more restless.
This is especially true in countries where I don’t speak the language and most certainly when I travel by night.
The difference between traveling alone and with someone, if I’m to believe quotes and experts, exists only in my head.
It’s fear–a feeling that I’ll normally try to overcome.
At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if I’m capable of recognizing danger from fear.
When does one stop pushing oneself over the edge?
Or, is this just fear talking again?
TRAVEL DAY 6
Today was a very special day of which I spent a good deal at Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Penang Base. Where I was introduced to Chinese history by a most lovely and patient lady who’s kind hypnotic voice told me everything about this historic site where Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the first president and founding father of the Republic of China, devised many of his plans to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. 🇨🇳 And as she finished her story, leaving me in complete tranquility and with the most fantastic water I ever drunk (infused with pandan leaves), I couldn’t think of a better place to write my postcards at. ✏️ Mind you, I had some pretty extraordinary writing to do. My postcards were going to be sent to the future. At Paper Pepper where they’ll send your postcards up until ten years from now. I’m not sure if I know why, or if you can imagine it at all, but the idea of this felt rather incredible to me. ✨ And when I gave my postcards, stamped to be sent on my upcoming birthday, for some reason, all kind of wonderful feelings rushed through me. While I was standing outside, my unusual happiness was caught by a passerby, who shared this unexplainable moment with me for a second or two by mimicking the same ridiculous smile I had on my face. And, that, was special too. 😁 To top it off, this day ended with awesomely delicious tandoori chicken (don’t leave G-town without ordering the Cheese Naan Tandoori Set + ginger milk at restaurant Kapitan) and the company of three incredibly special, and each in her own way, fantastically quirky, women who are known on Instagram as @mollylila, @camillamika and @liencaudron. 🙋🏻 These girls made my first hostel experience a raving success. And each of them has taught me more about myself and the awesomeness of people than they’ll ever phantom to be possible in such a short time of knowing each other. I’m deeply thankful for having met them as I’m for this travel day. ❤️
It’s rather incredible how life lessons find us, curiously, at exactly the right time.
It was just this morning that Molly asked why Australians and Americans are made so much fun of when they fail to know something about Europe.
“Should they really know that Denmark is a country in Europe?”
I obviously didn’t understand what she meant at the moment, because I condescendingly responded something like: “But, of course, they should, it’s Europe. How can you not know Denmark is a country in Europe?”
Only to find myself, a couple of hours later, being educated in the history of China.
The country with one of the world’s oldest civilizations. The third biggest country in the world. A country of which I know absolutely nothing about.
Yet, my kind guide, not even once, laughed at me or made me feel stupid for not knowing.
Though I know only a little bit more about China now, and I probably won’t make the effort to learn more, at least I’m standing next to my high European horse as of today.
TRAVEL DAY 7
I often wonder how I’ll ever manage to make my blog successful when life keeps throwing all these wonderful travels and experiences at me. I don’t expect much sympathy for this awfully spoiled issue of mine, but the honest truth is that I hardly have time to blog between traveling and doing my spin-offs. 😏 I also keep struggling with finding the balance between actually traveling on one hand and sharing my travel experiences and lessons on the other. Just like I can’t seem to find a way to immerse myself in my spin-offs and write about them at the same time. 💭 Then again, I wonder if that’s even the way to go. Because I can’t tell you what it’s like to be an artist if I don’t be one first. It’s like being a travel blogger who writes about a place without leaving the hotel much. 🙊 And though I’m not a travel blogger, I’m starting to get the idea I’m getting judged as one out here amongst the backpackers club. Locking myself up all day in the hostel to work, apparently, doesn’t portray the best image of a blogger. 😁 But honestly, I don’t understand how people think a blog and social media shares get done other than by hard work? I don’t have a choice but to work when traveling. 💈 Working on my blog and social media is as much part of my travels as anything else is. So, yes, I’m still making a mess of this whole blogging life balance thing, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. ⚡️ Take today, while I was trying to get a lot of work done, people kept walking in and out of the hostel, stopping to sit down with me to have a little chat. They would tell me how their day was going, spill their insecurities and share their plans for the future. So I didn’t get as much work done as I wanted, and I didn’t see a whole lot of Georgetown, but I apparently participated in a monk chat which was scheduled without my knowledge. 😂👳 And isn’t that the kind of experience that’s worth more than a successful blog?
I’m very much used to people (i.e. complete strangers) sharing their unfortunate life experiences and deepest secrets with me.
It happens more often than not and usually fairly quickly after we meet for the first time.
I’m still to figure out why people actually feel comfortable in doing so.
It seems to me like I’m the last person you’d want to share anything profoundly personal with.
I don’t easily get personal myself.
I’m not a good listener.
I don’t hold back my opinion when I don’t agree with something.
And I’m rather judgmental.
Though I always thought of this “ability” to be more of a curse than a blessing, today was different.
While people kept sitting down to talk with me, I felt surprisingly connected and was happy to be there for them.
Then again, it might’ve been them who were there for me.
TRAVEL DAY 8
After taking in the hazy views from the top of Penang Hill, I went for an easy trek in the jungly surroundings. Though the route was paved and effortless, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable on my own. And when I heard a voice coming from the distance my face turned all shades of yellow. 👻 Feeling panicky (understatement) I rushed (ran) up the hill back to the main road. While I was still catching my breath, I bumped into Luke who was staying at the same hostel as I did. Having had enough solo adventures for the day, I decided to join Luke for the 5KM walk down to the Penang Botanical Gardens. 🌳 The trail was charming, and besides being a welcome exercise, we had an interesting conversation about the future of my blog. Just as I was about to shift the conversation to Luke, and halfway to our destination, it started pouring down like mad. 🚿 There was no shelter in sight, and before I knew it, the MacGyver in me had come out and I found myself clinging to a bunch of leaves in a hilarious attempt to stay dry. ✂️🍃 Tens of minutes passed when a man walked by. His shoes were protected by a nifty construction made of two single leaves. While I looked at his improvisation in admiration, he shortly inspected mine, and then immediately signaled me to follow. 😬 200m further down the road a sheltered rest area appeared where I was left to drip in the dry. Standing there, puzzled about how a day like this, which started out so awfully lame in a funicular railway train, could’ve possibly progressed into something so cool so fast, I yet again fell head over heels with the magnificent madness that’s traveling.
When the man with the nifty shoe-construction found me, Luke wasn’t with me. He was actually sheltering a little further back up the road.
The man with the nifty shoe-construction had to have passed him though before passing me. Yet, Luke wasn’t with him.
Had the man with the nifty shoe-construction not seen Luke? Or, had the man with the nifty shoe-construction not asked Luke to follow him?
Once at the shelter I debated going to get Luke.
I felt bad being in the dry while he was still out there in the tropical storm.
But I didn’t move. And I didn’t get him.
Because of whatever stupid excuses I had come up with.
Next time I find myself in a similar situation, I plan on doing the right thing.
And because it can sometimes be hard to know what the right thing is, I’ll ask myself: “What would MacGyver do?”
Now, tell me, do you ever feel like a bad person?
TRAVEL DAY 9
8 chatty ponytailed teenagers
5 hours in a night bus with a suicidal driver
3 hours of waiting in the middle of nowhere while being harassed by 4 drunken “taxi-drivers”
1 late + overfull speedboat
1 flip-flops thief (seriously, who does that?!)
1 asshole of a hostel manager
1 check-in and 1 same day check-out
2.5 hours walking in the heat of the day in search for a room
A pinch of sunburn and a whole lot of sleep deprivation
Mix that all together and what you get is the right to post pictures like these and not be unfollowed. 😁🌴
Not all travel days are created equally.
Some seem to come straight out of a bad movie.
When one of those hits you, you can’t do much more than wait for it to finish.
I do find, however, that when I change my attitude towards what’s happening, by pretending that I got all the time in the world, everything starts feeling a lot less dramatic.
This is not to say that the bad stuff stops from happening, but I do suffer less. And, once the storm is over, I don’t feel so emotionally drained.
I also like to see tragic travel days as adventurous challenges. Perhaps, even like a computer game of some sorts (of which I play absolutely none by the way).
Lastly, I remind myself that the worst travels days make for some of the best stories which I can brag about back home.
Using these “tactics” is what allowed me today–even when my flip-flops got stolen–to see the jungle ánd the palm trees.
TRAVEL DAY 10
I woke up a lil’ rough after yesterday’s drinks but replaying last night’s events made me instantly feel a lot brighter. ⛅️ It’d been my first night on Perhentian Kecil and I had already been blessed with a splendid beach dinner and alfresco movie screening (!), a private fire show during (what looked like) crazy monsoon weather and had seen a pyramid of empty beer cans being built with absolute expert precision. 👳🍺 Plus I met so many friendly people who, like everyone else on this paradise island, were savoring the good beach life and unwinding to the max. 🌴 With those good vibes in mind, I jumped into a boat that took me and a few others on an all-day snorkeling adventure. There were plenty of laughs, fishes and clear waters as we spent the day cruising from point to point. 🐠 Back on land, I prepared for the night which was yet again to be brimming with new connections. I had dinner with the lovely Lucy and Marko, drinks with charming Amy, and went to a beach party with the extraordinary Becky and Jennifer. 👯 Can’t tell you much more except that I’m totally embracing this “solo” traveling. 😁
Two lessons I’m taking back home with me from today’s travel day.
1. When traveling with Mr.G (i.e. being a couple) be open to meeting other travelers just like when traveling alone.
2. Don’t get so worked up about waiters not doing their job properly. Or, move to The States.
TRAVEL DAY 11
I spent the first part of the day nursing a hangover. 💉 Which is worrying. Because I don’t feel like I’m getting older, but my hangovers seem to disagree. And I then made excellent use of my afternoon by chasing the non-existent internet all over the island in the hope of getting some work done. 🔫 After several panic attacks, I reluctantly accepted that I, unfortunately, don’t control the internet and would yet again be unable to share any of my travels experiences INSTA-style. This tragic truth almost made me want to throw around fireworks. 💣 However, by sunset time, l managed to stop feeling sorry for myself and got my make-up out. Brushing myself up, after not having worn any paint for five weeks, totally killed the control freak in me and made me feel human and relaxed again. 💊 Feeling like a million bucks, I kicked back at the lounge bar, totally infatuated by the awesomeness of having dinner and watching a movie with my newly-made travel friends. That is, al fresco and on this incredibly ridiculous island. 🌴
Before I even knew where I wanted to go for my travel spin-off, I was sure about wanting to travel as light as possible.
I didn’t have a lot of trouble deciding what to bring with me and what to leave at home, but I do remember debating if I wanted to bring some makeup with me.
In the end, I did.
And though I didn’t get it out of my bag for five weeks, I was happy to have it with me this night.
After all this traveling, and going back to basics, using some mascara and lipstick kind of revived me.
Seeing myself with makeup made me feel a little more human, and like .. “me.” Curiously enough, I also felt less homesick.
Which is all, in a way, totally nuts–I agree.
However, I wasn’t the only one who felt like this about makeup in the world of traveling women.
Other travel girls, who had been traveling for a while, totally shared this experience.
My little bag of makeup supplies was worth more than gold on the island.
An indulgence I was happy to share in exchange for extraordinary gratefulness, huge smiles, and twinkling eyes.
Altogether, by the way, I carried about 11kg worth of luggage with me.
Though I would try to pack even less next time, I definitely didn’t regret bringing makeup, and I can’t say I regretted bringing any other items, except for the tripod which I used exactly ..wait for it.. zero times.
TRAVEL DAY 12
Mesmerized by the blues and whites, I halfheartedly waved the captain goodbye. 👋🏻 Was this place for real? Perhentian Besar– oh wow! As I stretched my towel on an almost deserted piece of paradise, I felt incredibly lucky to be traveling alone. Selfishly, and sweetly, I savored it all while I walked aimlessly around, floated about in crystal clear waters and soaked up the power of the sun on silky sands. 🐠🌴🌴 The rest of the day I spent in a quite similar manner, hopping from beach to beach, dipping my toes in different shades of blue and falling helplessly in love. 🐚
It’s not often that you get to spend time on a paradise island without friends, family or a significant other.
And if you do, at one point, once you selfishly savored every bit of its’ magnificence, you’ll undoubtedly wish you could share the experience with the ones you left home.
It’s a paradox of solo travel: having a destination all to yourself but not being able to completely enjoy it if the people you love aren’t there with you.
I guess that’s why, after I had spent a good couple of hours in euphoria, I felt the need to send my friends and family pictures of the island.
In an attempt to make the experience even more precious, and in a way, more real.
TRAVEL DAY 13
Days on the seaside seem to pass by curiously fast. Apparently, doing not much more than sunbathing, makes time fly. Travel day 13 though, which began with a scuba diving refresher course, was going to last forever. 🌴 It had been five years ago since I dove and about time I plunged back in. After all, diving is one of the must-does on the Perhentians. 🐙🌾 So there I was, with my diving instructor, Lisa, who didn’t exert much confidence. While she not only looked as if she had just returned from an after party, she also seemed more interested in our surroundings than in making sure I was properly aware of the safety measures. Each time someone familiar passed by, she would shout: “party on …” (fill in random name). Half a Facebook friends list later, Lisa declared my skills refreshed and I was ready to go. 👌🏻 But once on the boat, I got nervous. It had been a long time since my last dive. Horror stories flashed through my mind. Then, I almost flew overboard as Lisa practiced her sailing skills. I rolled my eyes and got back to my internal conversation. Time stood still. I was shaky. As we were about to descend into the water, I panicked. We immediately surfaced. It took me almost the whole dive to relax and get back at it. Lisa proved extremely professional. Always calm. Never giving up on me. She’s the main reason I managed to push away my fears and kept breathing while the wonders of the sea passed before us. 🐠🐟🐟 We finished on a high and sailed back to land. This time I couldn’t care less if Lisa tipped the boat. The same day, I went for another dive, took a jungle walk around the island and visited three remote beaches–one of them pictured above. I wrote messages in the sand, played wannabe photographer and floated in the sea for an eternity. 🐚 The day was endless and the evening still to come. I went back to my room, wrote a little, watched the sunset and an outdoor screening. I dined, made new friends, and then, stretched the day into a new one, dancing the early night away with my feet in the sand.
While traveling in Malaysia and Singapore, I kept daily notes of my travel adventures. These extensive scribbles have proved invaluable. They now help me craft my travel stories in more detail.
More importantly, they also remind me of the many great lessons I picked up during this month of traveling. Lessons which I’m now trying to share with you too.
Today though, while going through my notes of travel day 13, I was unable to detect a helpful message in particular.
Nonetheless, I did find myself repeating over and over again how this day felt so extraordinarily and amazingly long. And how time seemed to stand still.
A perception that I often encounter when traveling. Especially so, when I pack my travel days with plenty of different activities, meetings, and experiences. But, by no means though, is this an argument for planning one’s travel days to the brim–absolutely not.
The more often you travel and the longer you get to wander, the more non-planned time you should allow for. This way you allow destinations to reveal themselves to you in a pleasantly ordinary and yet unique way.
In any case, re-reading these notions about time, made me wonder why days back home pass by so quickly while a month on the road can feel like an eternity. And why holidays on the seaside, when you’re doing pretty much nothing, usually feel like they ended before they even began.
Looking for answers, I got my best friend Google to hook me up with a few articles on time perception.
What I found out is that time seems to slow down when we’re making new discoveries and having new experiences. New information needs to be processed by our brains. The longer it takes them to do so, the slower time will seem to pass.
This is exactly why days spend traveling intensely seem to last forever while a week on the beach doing nothing is over before you know it. And, why your friends and family, going about their routines, are amazed at how quickly you seem to have gotten back home from your travel adventures.
In the end, it appears there was a lesson to be found in my notes of travel day 13 after all. An important lesson actually, on how to slow down time and live longer–well, at least in our minds.
For those interested in reading more about time perception: “The Science of Time Perception: Stop It Slipping Away by Doing New Things” and “The Speed of Life: Why Time Seems to Speed up When We Get Older.”
TRAVEL DAY 14
The plan for travel day 14 was to have no plan. I deliberately refrained from scheduling any trips or sightseeing activities and vowed to go screenless for the day. The idea was to simply linger around and go with the flow. ⏳ Little did I suspect that this non-ambition could work against me. While I was aimlessly walking along the shore, I stumbled into Lucy who I had met the night before. She was clearly in distress. Lucy told me she cheated on her boyfriend only hours ago. This wasn’t the reason she was upset though. As it turned out, Lucy had told Clark, the guy she cheated with, and now “ex-platonic travel friend”, she would be leaving the island that same morning. 🚣🏻 She hoped her sun-kissed Superman would beg her to stay. He didn’t. Lucy had played a game and gotten burned. Why we women do drama like that is a mystery to me. All I know is that I ended up nursing Lucy’s insecurities and playing Dr. Phil whole day long. 🎉 Whenever I thought I had pulled her out of her frenzy, she would just start from the beginning. Lucy was going in circles. After hours of listening to her, she said she missed her friends–”someone she could talk to”. I couldn’t believe my ears and for an instant thought of drowning her right there in the South China Sea. At this point, I was missing my friends too. 😩 I felt sorry for Lucy, but couldn’t give her the absolution she was looking for. Only she could do that. Only she could make the effort to learn from her mistakes. I suggested that we both go take a shower and meet up later. I was exhausted and needed some time alone. I spent what was left of the day in my room, reading and packing. Early next morning, I would be leaving the island. 🚀 I didn’t see Lucy anymore, but hoped she was doing better. I was grateful for the lessons she unknowingly thought me about myself and about my flaws in listening, patience and empathy. My non-ambitious day ended with a hell of a lot of work in front of me. In time, for another Lucy, I would perhaps be able to do more.
They say you can’t run away from who you are.
If you don’t believe this, go traveling.
On the road, there’s no escaping You.
Every situation you find yourself in, every interaction you have, is like an ever-present mirror.
The reflection isn’t always pretty. Mine was often ugly.
Day in day out, traveling showed me my character flaws.
Once I decided to not run away from the experiences in which I would be the worst version of myself, I was able to turn these into life-changing lessons.
I started understanding where things had gone wrong in the past and I saw possibilities of improvement for the future.
I decided to not run away from who I am, and instead, to walk towards who I could be.
TRAVEL DAY 15
I just came off a rather trancey boat ride when I heard someone call my name. I turned around to match a face with that voice but only found a big-boned Malaysian man. “Huh!?”, I thought. “Who is that guy? And how does he know my name?” 😐😎 I blinked once, and now, to my pleasant surprise, saw a familiar face appear from behind the big fellah. Ryan! He made it! I met Ryan on my first travel day in Georgetown. He was my first “backpacker conversation.” Ever since Georgetown, we had more or less been following the same travel itinerary. 🚌🚌 Though we never traveled together and often changed our plans, we somehow always managed to end up in the same place and–even more bizarre–same hostel. 👻 The second time we saw each other was on the Perhentians. On our second last day there, we found out we would continue to follow each other. This time, to Cameron Highlands, and yet again, we would also be staying at the same place. We figured it only made sense to go together, so we booked a minivan to bring us to our next and shared destination. 🚜 But then, Ryan had to suddenly go to the hospital. He left the island earlier than planned and our plans fell in the water, or so I thought. Eventually, Ryan managed to get all his tests done and made it just in time to meet me at the bus station. When I saw him waving at me, it felt like I was seeing one of my best friends. The tiniest sense of familiarity goes a long way in a foreign country. 🎈 Ryan and I went for a quick breakfast, accompanied by a burping concert of a fellow-guest, and then headed out to find our driver. There he was: a kind face, perfectly on time and eager to leave. 🌳🌳 Before I knew it, between long exchanges with Ryan, sweet doozy naps, far gazes over the passing countryside and elaborate encyclopedic tales by Mr. Driver, we had arrived. Transit days are, very likely, my favorite kind of travel days.
Just after arriving at Cameron Highlands, I called Mr.G.
While I was feeling better than ever, stronger and more certain about what I wanted to do with my life and future, Mr.G was having a bad week back home.
Two weeks had already passed since our travels to Thailand, but in his mind, he was still there. He was finding it difficult to adjust and to be excited about everyday life.
It was so different from what I was experiencing, and the chat left me feeling annoyed.
I needed to clear my head and to understand why I was angry, so I took my first walk down the misty and cold streets of Tanah Rata. There was something in the air.
Right there and then, I understood that I was being unfair to Mr.G. I was taking his bad mood too personal. It was okay for him to feel sad–I didn’t have to.
TRAVEL DAY 16 – pt.1
It had rained all night long and in the morning everything felt damp. The humidity reminded me of several camping trips. None of which I got particularly fond memories. Nonetheless, the sun was out and my weather app told me I better get going if I didn’t want to miss the clear blue skies on my first morning in Cameron Highlands. ☀️ I opted for a short jungle trek which would bring me a little closer to my destination for that day: a butterfly farm, ten kilometers north from Tanah Rata–the town I was staying at. It wasn’t that I was especially interested in that farm, but all great adventures start with a goal and I was looking forward to taking a big walk to find out what Cameron Highlands was all about. 🐛 The jungle trek wasn’t anything overly impressive, and as many previous “notes to self” confirm, it was rather uncomfortable to be walking alone in the bush. Half-way, I almost felt relieved when I was forced to turn around and take the same way back. The path ahead of me had been taped off with police line. 🚧 Still determined to get to the flies, I decided to take a different road which brought me past quirky strawberry farm hoods, luxurious golf courses and straight into the busy town center of Brinchang. 🚕🚜🚚 Five more kilometers to go and there I was taking arty arrow pictures. Instead of seeing the sign for what it was and going back, I turned around and continued up. What followed was a steep and winding road and steady inhalations of suffocating exhaust fumes. There was an enormous traffic jam and no escape from the gazes and comments. 😩🔫 I arrived overheated and depleted at the butterfly farm which turned out to be a dirty tourist and butterfly greenhouse-trap. I spent eleven sad minutes engineering “The Great Butterfly Escape” and then pulled myself out of that hothouse. There I was on that same road again and the only way was down.
Cities and towns are about much more than just their impressive viewpoints, top restaurants, and ancient old temples. They’re also about their dirty back alleys, heavily industrialized landscapes, and empty spaces.
To ignore the latter is to reduce a destination to merely highlights which may or may not fulfil our expectations. Furthermore, if we allow enough of a slow pace for exploring the “lowlights,” we’ll find that they often end up being far more interesting than their counterparts.
I nowadays prefer that exhausting 22h life-fearing train ride to arrive in an outrageously boring place like Vijayawada with 60+ mosquito bites on my rear than an organized excursion to the Taj Mahal. The first travel experience is unique and includes life-long memories, stories and lessons–the latter, not nearly as much.
That’s not to say that I would skip the Taj next time around–of course, I wouldn’t. However, the more I travel, the more I realize that it really is about the journey and not the destination. And the way I find it to be the easiest to force myself into the journey is by having long walks with no particularly interesting end point in mind.
Going from A to B this way allows me to take my time in between those points because I’m not in a hurry to get to B anyhow. Moreover, those raw and authentic sites I mentioned earlier, almost inevitably, reveal themselves to me on these walks.
In conclusion, this is not only an argument for taking your time when traveling from A to B, it’s also about taking random routes and about (sometimes) picking an uninteresting B. When you do this, travel becomes less about consuming and more about being. And the latter, I’ve heard, is the way towards a life well lived.
TRAVEL DAY 16 – pt.2
After the dreadful second part of my walk to the highly uninteresting butterfly farm, I figured I better take a bus or taxi back to town. A perfectly smart idea which immediately proved impossible to implement. The busses weren’t riding and there was no single taxi in sight. However, there were a lot of cars, and so I convinced myself I was going to hitchhike. 👍🏻 I stuck my thumb out but nothing happened. Nobody stopped. After a guy signaled something like, “you’re an idiot for trying,” I gave up. I didn’t have the strength to confront one more cultural difference today. Refusing to have my travel spirit broken though, I exchanged my thumb for an imaginary middle finger, held it up high, and walked down. 🚶🏻🚶🏻 I was sure I would be able to catch a cab five kilometers down the road–and I was right. Just before it started raining, I got dropped off at Lord’s Cafe where I met Ana and Ryan for tea and scones. Though crankiness had already gotten the better part of me, the quirkiness of the situation didn’t escape me. Here I was in Southeastern Asia, sharing stories with a couple of complete strangers, and drinking many cups of English tea while gorging on–of all things–chicken pie and scones with strawberry jam. 😂 Once the rain stopped, the three of us got a cab to the Cameron Bharat Plantations. It was the first time I would see the greens everyone was raving about. I was beyond awe. The otherworldly patchwork of hills and tea plants was one of the most impressive sights I had seen in a long time. ✨ We walked for an hour or so between the green lush humps before returning “back home.” Ana and I picked up a bottle of dark rum and sat down in front the hostel, bonding over strong booze and girl talk. More people joined, more rum was shared, and right there and then, I got bitten by the backpacker’s bug.
I could’ve never imagined that “hostel life” would be one of my favorite bits of traveling alone. As a matter of fact, I feared everything about it: bedbugs, sleepless nights, other travelers–and I especially wondered how I was ever going to meet people and start conversations.
Of course, none of these anticipated troubles happened. I stayed in the coolest places, slept like a baby each and every night met the most wonderful people, and to this day, I still don’t know what the infamous bedbug rash even looks like (and no, I’m not Googling it).
“The hostel” became a safe haven–the place where I would return, after a day of intense discovery, to decompress, connect and learn. The other guests became my family far away from home.
It was in this traveler’s hub that I could begin to understand what people mean when they say “we’re all connected.” It was through the many interactions that I saw how deeply vulnerable we all are. And how we need to make a constant effort to be kind to ourselves and everyone around us.
TRAVEL DAY 17
It was 8:19 in the morning and Ryan, Ana and I were having breakfast. In little more than ten minutes an unusually tall Malaysian man was to pick us up at the hostel and to take us on a tour of the Cameron Highlands. The first stop on the agenda was the highest peak of the area, Mount Batu Brinchang. 🐞 After what seemed like an infinite route of narrow and loopy roads, our driver triumphantly announced that we had arrived at the top of the mountain. We all got out of the Rover, only to have confirmed what we had all already noticed: there was nothing to see. A thick layer of mist was blocking our supposedly magnificent view. 🙈 We jumped back in the Landy and drove a little further until we hit a dead end. Apparently, we had now arrived at our second stop for the day, The Mossy Forest of Gunung Brinchang. I saw no signs of a mysterious fantasy-forest whatsoever and started wondering if the Malaysians had stolen my idea of a “non-tour”. But before I could indulge in this theory, I found myself walking over muddy pathways and climbing over slippery tree roots while listening to ranger Raj passionately babbling away about pitcher plants and primitive ferns. 🌱 🐍 Half an hour later, just when I thought we had gone completely off the grid, and hobbits were about to come out and greet us, we jumped out of the moss and found ourselves back in front of that good old truck again. 🚜 With our shoes full of mud, we hopped back on and drove to the last stop of the day: The Boh Sungai Palas Tea Estate. Here we visited a tea factory, learned the ins and outs of tea production and then sat down with a pot of tea and a slice of cheesecake amidst breathtakingly beautiful green hills and tea plants–taking it all in, one last time. 🍃 My ravingly successful stay in Cameron Highlands was coming to an end. All that was left to do was to send a few postcards, have one more strawberry shake and go to bed early.
Out of 196 countries in the world, I set foot in 31 of them. Meaning that I’ve had a sneak preview of 15% of the world. Doesn’t sound like much when you put it like that, does it? However, when it comes to travel experience, 31 countries definitely does get you the “advanced traveler” badge.
Nowadays, traveling comes naturally to me. Nevertheless, though, I imagined that this travel spin-off would be challenging anyhow because I never traveled alone before. At the same time, I also knew that it wouldn’t be challenging for long.
To get the most out of this travel spin-off, I figured that I needed to set a few travel challenges. My list included: hitchhike for a day, go couch surfing, meet up with local bloggers, get lost, don’t book accommodation in advance, turn off all screens for 24h, be properly bored and send postcards to friends and family.
Obviously, all of these challenges are fairly easy to complete. My intention wasn’t to make them overly difficult. This month was about the possible life-changing effects of traveling alone and not about breaking world records. They simply served as a way of getting me out of my travel comfort zone, if I would get too quickly too used to traveling alone, and gave my travels something of an edge.
That being said, “sending postcards to friends and family” almost made me cry. Though I grew up bilingual, I nowadays find it almost impossible to express myself in my mother tongue–Bosnian. Trying to write to my family, made my brain go in a knot. After several failed drafts, I just went with: “Thinking of you. Love, Mirha.”
Not being able to say exactly what I wanted without making first-grade mistakes, made me feel sad. And lost. Because I realized that out of the four languages that I speak, none of them is really mine. I don’t feel home anywhere in particular, and now it seems, neither in my words or thoughts.
TRAVEL DAY 18
If I’m to believe my notes, travel day 18 was a particularly dreadful one. It started with the promise of a 3h (turned 4,5h) bus drive with a monster of a child and parents who didn’t give a shit. Then, somewhere between the high pitch sounds, and Cameron Highlands and Kuala Lumpur, my data plan stopped working. Three long and confusing phone calls followed which left me without any solution, phone credit, battery power or patience. 🎊 Finally in KL, checked-in and well, and about to take a picture of my lunch, Ryan snapped at me for asking him to move his (hairy) arms out of my frame. Soo .. 😯 To the phone store it was! Here I spent two hours waiting in line to eventually be told that I had “two” options. I could: 1. Go back to the airport where I originally bought the data plan and get things sorted, or 2. Buy a new data plan (read: pay twice) right there and then. Not really feeling like the seven-hour journey to Penang airport, I settled for highly frustrating option no.2. 👌🏻 With Google Maps up to full speed now, I went on the first exploration of KL City followed closely by more misfortunes. That same day, I was rudely refused entry to a mosque, got a plate of chili peppers served for dinner (I kid you not), and had to walk back to the hostel while the heavens poured down mercilessly on me. 🎉 After a soothing cold shower, I decided to have a little drink before bed and introduce myself to the hostel crowd. Two beers in, the guy I had been talking to left the table with a grunting: “Good luck with that.” He had just spent half an hour putting my blog and dreams to the ground. 👍🏻 Oddly enough, I don’t remember this as a bad day at all. Instead, I remember seeing the enormously comfortable bus seats, Ryan teaching me how to deal with customer service US-style, having meatloaf and iced lemon tea in the hippest of places, the joy of 3G in walking mode,the ease with which I was now able to explore a new city on my own, and my unconditional belief in my blog and future success. What can I say? I’m as surprised as you are.. 🍻
Travel day 18 leaves me with two observations.
Firstly, I’ve come to realize that I can handle setbacks a lot better when traveling than when at home. I think this is because I recognize–and accept–that one can’t travel without encountering some misfortune.
On the road, that acceptation helps me to see setbacks merely as “things that need to be taken care of.” They don’t necessarily spoil my day or put me in a bad mood.
With this understanding in mind, I now should be able to better cope with day to day difficulties too. After all, travel isn’t any different from life; it is life. If I succeed in doing this, you’ll be the first to know.
Secondly, I’ve also come to realize that I’m too easily annoyed with complete strangers. I find it almost impossible to not be bothered by, for example, people who cut queues or parents who let their children behave like rude and loud monkeys in (tiny) public spaces.
What’s worse is that I often find myself unable to calmly and rationally respond in those situations. If you’re succeeding in doing this, please tell me how. Must-reads, firsthand advice or Jedi mind tricks are all very much appreciated.
TRAVEL DAY 19/30 – pt.1
It didn’t matter that he was about to finish. He started earlier. Besides, he was a big Indian fella and me a tiny Bosnian creature. If I would finish later, victory would nevertheless be mine–and there was no reason to believe it wasn’t going to be. I was a little over half-way and still going strong. 💪🏻 But then, as if to say “Oh, you silly little white girl,” he ordered an extra portion of rice and dug his fingers right back into feasting mode. Argh! Now what?! I looked at the remains of my thali and quickly analyzed the situation. There was no way I was going to beat this guy. I promptly put my spoon and fork down and surrendered. “Check, please!” Whatever. I had better things to do than participate in eating contests. 🍴 Not too many things though, according to my fellow-travelers. The top two (and often only) recommended must-does in Kuala Lumpur were a visit to a shopping mall and another to the famed Petronas Twin Towers. ⛽️⛽️ The first, as I already suspected, bore me to tears. However, the sight of the 88-storey steel-clad towers stung me straight into awe. The rockets were hypnotizing. After admiring the beautiful beasts from the outside for what felt like 20 never-ending minutes in a Finnish sauna, I decided to try my luck and check if there were still tickets available for the inside tour. Just like that, I unexpectedly found myself, walking across the Sky Bridge, 180m above ground, and a little later, sending selfies to mom and dad from the 86th floor, a low 360m down. ⚓️ Although it was pleasant dwelling in the airco, and the experience couldn’t have possibly remained unchecked, I quickly realized that you want to be looking at the towers and not through its windows. The helipad wasn’t far: if I hurried up a little, I would still be able to catch a sunset glimpse of the shooting twins. 🚁
TRAVEL DAY 19 – pt.2
I made it to the helipad just in time for sunset, but there would be no sunset views tonight. The sky had grown dark with clouds. Nonetheless, a cold beer on an active helipad with the twins of steel and a dramatic sky in the background still sounded pretty rad to me. And for about one slug of beer and a minute, it was. That is until everyone was kindly asked to make their way back down, to a different bar, inside the building. A storm was coming. ⚡️ The other bar, however, wasn’t rad at all. It was tacky and busy. I was uncomfortable being alone, so I mustered up the courage to ask a couple of guys if I could join their table. “Of course,” I could. We were still exchanging formalities when the staff announced that we were all allowed up on the helipad again. It didn’t take long though before we found ourselves walking back down. The storm was there to stay. My newly-made friends and I decided to leave. 👋🏻👋🏻 As chance would have it, one of the guys, Max, was staying in a hostel just across the street of mine. We decided to walk back together and have dinner too. I gave Max my umbrella and suggested we go to this Indian place I had lunch at earlier today. When we arrived at the restaurant, I realized I was completely soaked while Max looked like one of those people who doesn’t know how to share an umbrella. Ah well, I thought, nothing that a soul-soothing Masala Dosa can’t make up for. 😋🍴 Max, who had never eaten Indian food before, opted for the same. The food came quickly and we dug straight in. The fiery chilies rushed through our veins. While Max struggled to keep up, and kept asking for more water, I mopped the lot like a pro. I might’ve lost to the big Indian fellah earlier today, but this “farang” was no match for me. The game was mine. Max didn’t take his loss too well and we parted without exchanging any contact details. Standing outside, alone under my umbrella, I took a deep victorious breath, crossed the street and walked straight into the hostel for a long, hot and well-deserved shower.
One reason for why I’m doing these “behind the scenes” posts on Facebook is because I want to show you that a lot more went on during my travel spin-off than the paradise pictures and travel stories on my Instagram feed allow you to see.
Beyond the good and bad “superficialities” of traveling, like the rip-offs and pristine beaches, I also encountered deep inner struggles and many life-changing lessons. These posts are an attempt to identify and share both.
In sharing my vulnerabilities and stories with you, I hope to inspire you to do the things you always wanted to. For it’s the only way to find out if what you always wanted to do, is as cool or impossible to do, as you think it to be.
If it’s fear that is stopping you, then all I can say is that I understand. Fear is at least as much of a part of my life as it is of yours. The accompanying Instagram post for this travel day, only mentions that “I mustered up the courage to ask a couple of guys if I could join their table.” It doesn’t tell you, however, that I was terrified to do so.
Looking back, I honestly can’t even remember what I was so afraid of. However, I do vividly remember that “being afraid of doing it and not doing it” felt a whole lot worse than “being afraid of doing it and doing it anyway.”
That evening, I learned the true meaning behind quotes like, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (Franklin D. Roosevelt) and “Always do what you are afraid to do” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Furthermore, I felt super proud of myself. And, I gained more appreciation and respect for the guys out there on the dating field.
A paradigm shift in my thinking, a boost for my self-esteem, more appreciation for 50% of the human race, and now a chance to inspire the 100%–all because I got up and asked: “Would you mind if I join you?” The only thing that scares me about that experience now is the thought of never having asked that question.
TRAVEL DAY 20 – pt.1
For the sake of getting some writing done, I convinced myself that there really wasn’t much more to Kuala Lumpur than its malls and twin towers. And because I had already seen both, I figured I could perfectly stay in the hostel and pull an all-dayer. I wasn’t even going to get out for lunch. Around 13:47, however, I could no longer ignore my lust for food and wander and my hardcore-blogger/toast-with-jam plan fell in the water. I packed up my work and headed out in search of the Madras Lane Market where, according to the mighty LP, I would find an alley with food stalls. 🍜🍜 On my way to what was going to be a much-needed break from Indian food, and freed from synonym dictionaries and photo editing programs, I happily bounced around the city, pretending to be an expat, and only broke my cover every five meters or so to take pictures. 😎 I easily hunted down the alley with steamy pots of fragrant broths, but as I shopped around, thinking what to choose, I bumped into another market. It was Chinatown’s wet market and it was still open. What a luck! Clucking chickens, distressing cuts of meats and quirky market vendors make for the best of interactions and photo opportunities. 👳🏾🍆🐓 My growling stomach would have to wait a little longer as I reminded myself yet again that a place is never about its most obvious sights.
TRAVEL DAY 20 – pt.2
I was so immersed in my market discovery and soul-soothing bowl of laksa that I almost forgot about the rest of my day. In two days I would be leaving Kuala Lumpur and I still needed to buy a bus ticket. I only had a couple of hours to get to the bus terminal and back before the food tour I signed up for would start. The terminal was on the other side of the city. There was no room for mistakes. I took a train, the right train. 🚆 It was a slow ride, but I didn’t mind. I saw another side of Kuala Lumpur which had nothing to do with shopping or sky-scraping. It was banal and ordinary. It was day-to-day life. And I felt completely part of it. It was like the city was trying to tell me something all day long. And I got it. It’s the reason why I like to travel slowly. It gives a place a chance to reveal itself. And Kuala Lumpur was revealing itself in full force. 💨 Little did I know, while I queueing to buy my ticket and staring at the posters that said “buy your ticket online,” the fireworks were still to come. Little did I know then, I would not only make it in time for the food tour but that I would also be eating beef soup with cow tongue and ligaments right here on this corner. ☝🏻 The soup place was the first stop on the tour. Seven more stops and eleven more dishes followed. We had blue rice, egg-wrapped burgers, chicken feet salad, pancakes with peanuts and creamy sweet corn, and more. I kept bouncing around about how excited I was about the food tour while being on tour. Our guide was fantastic and the group hilarious. The food delicious and the locals heartwarming. And the city, well, the city exploded into full amazing mode. 💥 💥 💥 SOLD! I was sold ..
TRAVEL DAY 20 – pt.3
As I watched the Petronas Towers and KLCC shopping malls disappear in the rear mirror, I zoned out. I felt grateful for Kuala Lumpur had shown itself to be about much more than twin skyscrapers and designer clothes. Beyond the supposed highlights, there had been my stay in the historical and financial heart of the city where modern high-rise buildings seamlessly blend with temples and mosques. 👳🏿 💼 There were visits away from the hustle and bustle and peeks into day-to-day life. I got introduced to the local food culture, and tried chicken feet salad and beef tongue soup. I forged new friendships and danced the night away in a bar with mermaids. And there was more to come: demonstrations of how to shotgun a beer, first-plays of “Never Have I Ever”, and Belgium jokes on helium. And there was this very ride. I snapped back into the present. 💫 🚖 There were the six of us and Mr. Mehta, our cab driver, with whom we had just drank water-diluted whiskeys. Now, he was driving us to our hostel—BackHome. The music was pumping and everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives. Beyond the supposed highlights, there now also was Mr. Mehta’s charming Indian accent, plenty of jokes on his own account and an infinite amount of selfies. 😂 📷 If it was for me, we would never stop. But I guess that wouldn’t make sense. As Mr. Mehta drove off, I waved and wished him well, and silently thanked both him and the city of Kuala Lumpur for an unforgettable ride.
It often happened that I followed up on a must-visit tip from a friend or fellow-traveler, only to end up wondering how someone could recommend such a clearly depressing destination.
After much well-intended advice gone wrong, I nowadays first make sure I know exactly why someone recommends a place (or doesn’t). I’ll ask who they were traveling with. Who they met. Where they stayed. How much time (and money) they spent. And what they did.
The answers usually reveal that a person’s liking of a place has little to do with the place itself and more with one’s personal and non-replicable adventures. And that travel tips are often pretty useless.
Take my experience in Kuala Lumpur. If it weren’t for that food tour, which allowed me to see a completely different side of the city, and more importantly, to meet the people I did, Kuala Lumpur wouldn’t be on any recommendation list of mine. I fell in love with the city for very specific reasons. I’m not sure you would.
Perhaps you would if you did everything I did. But then again, chances are, for example, that you won’t be able to replicate my cab experience—or, more likely (and wisely so), that you won’t want to. Or, that despite doing everything I did, you’ll hate the place anyway. That’s the difficulty with recommendations. My experiences are just that, my experiences.
In this case, then, it would perhaps be better to tell you that Kuala Lumpur is just one of those places you either fall in love with or you don’t. But that would be nonsense. All places are like that. In fact, I think it’s possible to fall in love (and not) with any place.
Listen to people’s stories and adventures, but don’t exclusively rely on them for your itinerary. Find your own way. Give a place enough time to reveal itself to you and allow for your own water-diluted whiskey stories to find you.
TRAVEL DAY 21
There must’ve been more than 200 movies on that drive, but the six of us were determined to find one we all wanted to watch. We went through the list of titles over and over again. Vetoes poured like candy from a piñata. No horror, no violence, no comedy, no romance, and no freaking Tom Cruise. Something easy. What about Zack Snyder’s bloody 300? Going once, going twice, sold! 300 it was. Well, at least we got the no-Tom part right. 😎 We had locked ourselves up in the hostel’s movie room and only left it once to have dinner—across the street. After yesterday parties nobody felt much like sightseeing. This was just what our hung-over souls needed: a safe haven away from the unknown. A place to hide from the heat and humidity and intruding gazes. 💂🏻 In between all the on-screen blood spatter and off-screen jokes, I started to feel an unexplainable connection to each and every person in that room. I felt what it meant for the world to be one. There was no longer a “them” and “I” (or “us”). There were no strangers, just other people. Extraordinary human beings. Vulnerable beings. On the other side of the world, between four walls which could’ve easily been standing in Amsterdam, I felt at home and missed it at the same time. How ironic of this travel day which involved no wandering about to become one of my favorite ones. 💫 “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will be as one.” – John Lennon
During my first week of traveling alone, I almost ran away from it. Not from traveling itself, but from other travelers. All those interactions with different personalities were too overwhelming.
I could see my strengths and flaws reflected in every person I would meet. It felt like I was walking in a mirror maze with funhouse mirrors.
And then, a few days in, I realized that this was my chance to make this month of traveling alone a life-changing experience. All I needed to do was to keep looking in the mirrors. And take notes.
Every day, I would write down the names of the people I met and observations about what I considered to be their strengths and flaws. Looking at what character traits I did and didn’t like in others, helped me to learn a lot about myself.
It quickly became clear to me, that certain behaviors, which I didn’t appreciate in others, were my biggest weaknesses—and the ones I needed to work on. Plus, I learned which strengths I wanted to incorporate more in my life.
To not run away from those mirrors was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I’m so grateful that I didn’t. The lessons I learned from my interactions on the road will guide me for the rest of my life.
I’ll always remember to be a little bit more like Molly—who didn’t take herself too seriously. Or, like Camilla, who knew how to have an amazing time just on her own.
And next time, when I’m being too critical of others, or when I’m way too present in a group, I’ll remember how ugly that looked on Mr.K and Ms.H—and how it made them look old and fat.
TRAVEL DAY 22
In Cameron Highlands, Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown, I stayed in hostels. On the Perhentian Islands, it was a resort. In a couple of days, and for the last part of my one-month travel adventure, I would be staying with a dear friend in Singapore. All that was missing, was a truly local experience in Malacca. ⛺️ I tried finding a host on Couchsurfing, but all I got was a message from a certain Patricia recommending me a homestay with Mr. and Mrs. Egeh. The accommodation wasn’t free of cost, but if you took cooking classes with the family Egeh, it would be. Though I didn’t like that “Patricia” was using the Couchsurfing platform to promote the offer, the charming idea of learning to cook Malay food while staying with a friendly local family overrode the knot in the pit of my stomach. Even after 20 painfully long negotiation emails with Mr. Egeh, and after waking up unjustifiably nervous and cranky, I chose to ignore the feeling and boarded the bus in Kuala Lumpur. 🚍 A two-hour ride later, I got off at Melaka Sentral Bus Terminal. Looking at the station’s name above me, I chuckled. This must be what the “sentral” in the cleverly named “Melaka Sentral Villa” referred to–the bus terminal, 5KM from the city center. 😂 Fair enough, I thought. Sightseeing wasn’t my main priority anyway. One word game later though, following Mr.Egeh’s directions past “our beautiful river sidewalk,” or as I like to call it, “the walk of fear,” the knot begged to be listened to. But it was too late for intuition now, since I already found myself sitting next to the great mustached man himself.
I took my tea. It was piping hot. Shit. No place to hide, not even in that cup. I looked at Mr.Egeh and nodded in agreement, trying to be the best version of my diplomatic self. As if those 20 emails hadn’t been enough, Mr. Egeh now went on in real time, tirelessly, about the extraordinary price I had negotiated for my stay and cooking class with his family. 💸 He wanted to know if there were any entrepreneurs in my family; he was sure I would be a millionaire in ten years. Also, he asked, if I knew food prices in Malacca had skyrocketed recently. And, he went on to inform me, that it was his wife who convinced him to accept my offer of 200RM ($45,-) for their exceptional hospitality. To give you an idea of Mr.Egeh’s suffering: an average salary, in Malacca, comes in at 1500RM ($350,-) per month, a bowl of steamy hot Laksa will cost you 5RM ($1,-), and a night in a top notch hostel, 40RM ($10,-). 😴🔫 Moving on, and to top it off, Mr. Egeh wondered if I could have a “quick look” at his website, show him how to increase his page ranking and popularity. The thought alone. I gasped for air. And told him, “no” (not in a million years). He looked at me, even more displeased with me than before, and coolly informed me that I wouldn’t be staying with him and his wife at the family house (bye-bye homestay experience). 👋🏻 In fact, the house we were sitting in, “Melaka Sentral Villa,”, was their second house. They bought it recently and were using it to host tourists. I would be staying right here, with their son, and for tonight, a Spanish couple. I gasped for air, but this time out of relief. This meant goodbye, at least for the next 15 hours. Freed from the heaviness of Mr. Egeh, I ran up to my guestroom, snatched my bag and city map, flew out of the front door, across the riverrape walk, and caught the city bus away from the local and straight into the touristy red heart of Malacca where I bounced from sight to sight, checking off, restlessly, each and every high- and lowlight.
The whole deal was clearly off from the beginning. My gut knew this, but I chose to ignore it hoping it would be wrong. Rather unnecessary, because after all these years of traveling, I know that the road isn’t the place where you want to be testing the infallibilities of your intuition.
At one point in this story though, it was no longer just my intuition which I was ignoring. Not wanting to deviate from my travel plans, I stubbornly kept to my plan, even though the situation was begging for a change. Rather stupid of me, because after all these years of traveling, I know that arrangements with people like Mr. Egeh, who are in the business of hospitality only for the money, never turn out right.
What I should’ve done was to leave and check into a different hostel, or shall I say, actual hostel. And even though, I didn’t do just that in this particular case, I have been in similar situations where I realized that finding a new place, or changing my plans would be a hassle at first, but most certainly less so than recovering from a bad experience.
I can’t say I never regretted following my intuition nor can I say that my intuition has always been right. It’s too difficult to do so in retrospect. Besides, I didn’t keep count. However, I can tell you that I never regretted changing my plans, even if it meant paying twice for the “same thing.”
How I know and why I never regretted it? Well, because whenever I chose to walk away, to change the situation in such a way that I felt in control of my day again, I would feel like this enormous weight had lifted from my chest. Amen.
I don’t know why I said, amen. Just remember, you can always walk away.
TRAVEL DAY 23
I found myself standing on the street. Distressed. Tears in my eyes. I was a couple of blocks away from Mr. Egeh’s house in some suburb far away from everything I trusted. Mr. Egeh had just raised his voice–I had. And then, I had walked out. I couldn’t believe this. It was too much. 🙍🏻 He still hadn’t gone over our mutually agreed price for my stay and had continued to punish me, all day long, with anecdotes of other guests who had paid more. He never stopped talking about money, and when the three of us, Mr. Egeh, Mrs. Egeh and I, finally sat down to enjoy the dishes Mrs. Egeh taught me to cook that day, he couldn’t help himself but talk a little more about his business, and other favorite topic,”rich tourists.” 😎💰🌴 I learned that he had to shut down his Couchsurfing (CS) account due to unfavorable reviews. He had tried to charge his guests for rides to the center, for the use of the laundry machine, for home-cooked dinners, and occasionally even for the couch. I can only imagine how appalled the CS community must’ve been. 😳 I tried to explain the idea behind CS, but Mr. Egeh would have none of it. He couldn’t believe people were hosting others for free. He got increasingly upset, acting as if I was making this stuff up on the spot. The discussion surpassed every boundary of decency and hospitality, and before I would say things that I would regret, I got out. I started walking away from the house, but then stopped, realizing I had no idea where I was. My data plan wasn’t working and I was in no state to be wandering around. I had to go back: swallow my fear, tears and pride and ask for a ride back to the guesthouse.
In the car, Mr. Egeh tried to patch things up, to talk. But all I wanted was to scream, to jump out the car. Instead, I bit my lip, nodded in agreement and tried to calm down by remembering the good. I pulled in an image of poor Mrs. Egeh, Hawa, and her apologetic misty-eyed look and fierce goodbye hug. Our time spent cooking together, when we managed to keep Mr. Egeh out of the kitchen, was nothing short of homey. Nor was the break we took, stretched out on the sofas, dozing off while we watched a rerun of a wedding television game show. 👰🏽🎩 I tried holding on to her kindness and calm–something good to remember this city by. And I kept trying, even a little later, when I had to wait an hour, between a hundred male fixations, for a bus that would never come. Or, when I gave up on the bus and walked back to the homestay, across “our beautiful riverside walk,” about to lose it when I was asked on two occasions, “where are you going?” And even, did I try, oh-so very hard, back at the homestay, when her son, Jr. Egeh, cheated me into a talk about religion. 🕋 Yes, I tried. But Hawa wasn’t enough. I had had it. I needed fucking proper price tags, friends and familiarity and stare-free streets which allowed for hot pants. I locked myself up in my guestroom with two lukewarm beers and the Lonely Planet on chapter Singapore. I texted my host, and dear friend over there, going over the last practicalities. His replies brought comfort and ease. I felt like I was almost there, if not already. I floated in a promised swimming pool which I was yet to meet, drifting and dreaming myself to sleep. Tomorrow, tomorrow.
When I was in over my head with Mr. Egeh, I wished I wasn’t traveling alone. When I was floating around in azure blue waters of a secluded beach on the Perhentian Islands, I also wished I wasn’t traveling alone.
It’s during both the best and the worst times on the road that I’m usually most homesick. The travel days in between paradise and hell, however, are the ones that make me feel like one happy solo hobo.
The extreme travel experiences, the blasts and the horrors, make you long for the familiar. But it’s also these same experiences that teach you how to be alone and show you that you can be. These lessons are all-encompassing and can be life-changing.
However, it’s on those days when nothing noteworthy happens and, in a way, everything noteworthy happens, that you unconsciously assimilate those lessons from the extreme, and you simply enjoy yourself and your surroundings without needing anyone else.
It’s also during these more balanced travel days that you feel most connected to a place and its people; you feel part of daily life. Now, if you must, is also the time to decide whether you love or hate a place.
This month of traveling alone, and the above observations, have made me realize that I’ve come to greatly prefer the everything in between over the extreme. And, that travel, just like health, love, happiness–life–really is better as a balancing act.
TRAVEL DAY 24
I grab my backpack from the luggage compartment, determined, as if I just got out at my usual bus stop, and start walking like I know where I’m going. But I don’t, exactly. Actually, I’ve never been here before. Nevertheless, my route proves straightforward, oddly affirming this false sense of familiarity. One inquiry into my whereabouts plus two underground connections later and I’m only three blocks away from where I need to be. 🕳 I don’t have much time to contemplate my environment, but I can see at once that, yes indeed, the streets here are exceptionally clean. Some people seem to frown upon this reality, like grouchy Europeans do about the table service in The States, arguing it’s “too much” and “unnatural.” I don’t get that. If you ask me, both are exactly like they should be: plain amazing. 👌🏻 Speaking of first impressions, I’m loving the absence of culture shock. People understand me. Surroundings look familiar. Nobody is bothering me. Nobody even seems to see me. Oh! I keep meaning to tell you: I’m in Singapore.
Looking back, there were many situations in my life in which I probably should’ve been more afraid than I was at the moment, such as during that one night in India when my friend, Arjen, and I found ourselves enclosed by a pack of street dogs.
And there were plenty of other moments when I did feel properly scared, like when I was learning to surf in Bali, and the rip current took me, without any warning, into the open sea and left me there between house-high waves.
However, I can only recall a handful of circumstances in which other people made me feel unsafe and fearful of what they might do to me, often for the sole reason of being a (foreign) woman. In these appalling circumstances, I’m bluntly reminded to not take my freedom for granted.
And I hate it. I hate that reminder. Because after three weeks of fearing unwanted attention and verbal harassment at best, and rape and murder at worst, that’s what my mind has come up with as the trade off. Gratefulness? Well, thank you.
And this is travel too. You don’t get to pick and choose the realities and reminders that travel throws at you, but hey, at least you get to choose how you interpret them. That being said, I think I’ll take this one as reminder of how truly unsuitable a career in politics would be for me.
TRAVEL DAY 25 – pt.1
If yesterday was about brushing off the travelers dirt and easing into the mundane, then today was all about completing the makeover and slipping right back into day-to-day life. After three weeks on the road, I was longing for routine and everyday tasks: meditating, making breakfast, going to the gym, sitting down to write a post—I had missed it all. Even the chores, which back home make me want to jump on the next plane, seemed now rather enjoyable experiences. Folding my laundry and doing groceries felt no less fulfilling than discovering a secluded beach or diving with Nemo. I knew it wouldn’t last; I just needed this morning. 🏋🏻 🍳 💻 The rest of the day I spent doing not much more than mall hopping and blending with the crowd. Singapore treated me like that rare friend who knows when to leave you alone and when to offer soothing care and advice. It allowed me to be anonymous, and yet, I never felt alone. 💫 I was being engulfed in a cloud of kindness. People were nice. And they all seemed to think I would be back sooner than I could promise. The beautician insisted that I took part in their stamp saving program for free future treatments. The hairdresser gave me enough restaurant recommendations to last a month. And the girl at the metro, who had stopped to ask if I needed help figuring out my route, urged me to stop buying standard travel tickets and to instead get a “top-up card” for non-tourists. 🔮 The day went by quickly, like only routine-based days know how to, and without a warning, the evening fell. I innocently added yet another auditioning day for Desperate Housewives to my résumé, not knowing that my inner backpacker was planning a comeback.
TRAVEL DAY 25 – pt.2
I looked across the madness in search for that “pinch,” a reality check, and caught MK’s eyes. He seemed as dazzled as I was. Only a few hours ago, it was just the two of us, having a couple of drinks, staring into the Singapore skyline—doing nothing wild. But then the crazy backpacker in me decided to pull me back into travel modus and I started talking to everyone. Soon, MK and I were cracking jokes and busting moves with a ten pax crew and a fluctuating number of bystanders. We were at rooftop bar 1-Altitude, standing 282 meters above ground, celebrating fearlessness and ad hoc friendships—the best rewards of travel, I knew now. 🍾
“Leaving home is a kind of forgiveness, and when you get among strangers, you’re amazed at how decent they seem. Nobody smirks at you or gossips about you, nobody resents your success or relishes your defeats. You get to start over, a sort of redemption.” –Garrison Keillor in “Leaving Home.”
During the first week of my travels, I wanted to escape the whole social hostel experience, uncomfortable with the mirror it held up to my character. But then, I realized that my ultimate travel challenge was to keep looking in that mirror and that if I didn’t, I would miss out on a possibly life-changing trip.
Thus, I chose to confront my monsters and kept pinpointing my flaws and softening them and exchanging them for more favorable strengths. But as the time to go back home drew near, I started wondering if I had been successful in doing so at all. Had I managed to reinvent myself?
And then on this particular night in Singapore, the second-last night of my month of traveling, a bunch of friendly strangers, unknowingly, and oblivious to my fears and struggles of the past month, gave me the confirmation I was looking for through acts of selfless flattery and kindness. It was like my grand travel finale—the cherry on top of a not always easy inner journey.
Travel gives you this chance, the chance to come to terms with your bad habits. And, if you choose to try and replace them with better ones while you’re still traveling, you’ll be lucky enough to receive constant, renewed feedback from the many people you’re bound to meet on the road.
This feedback will be based on the person you are at the moment, because for those perfect strangers there’s no old you nor a new you, there’s just the You in front of them. So without really knowing this, people give you the chance to start over as many times as you want, and as many times as it takes for you to get it right–whatever your “it” may be.
TRAVEL DAY 26
I switched between my to-see list and Google Maps, contemplating the data and my emotions. I had just checked-off Chinatown and couldn’t recall much more about the place than that there had been Wi-Fi on the streets. I was disengaged—oblivious to my surroundings. Tomorrow, I would be going home. In my mind, I was already there. ✈️🏠 To continue sightseeing would be pointless: I wasn’t looking anymore. I put my phone away and started to walk, sine list, sine map, for the sake of walking, for the sake of wasting time. I let the urban landscape lead me, following anything that caught my attention, like that red brick stairway with wooden handrails, and just like that, I found myself exploring again. 🔎 The stairs took me up to a walkway, above a back alley of shophouses and air-conditioning units and through a hilly city garden with nutmeg, cinnamon and tamarind trees. I threaded slowly through what looked like a forgotten path, admiring every next step into my accidental discovery, seemingly far away from the known, when all of sudden, right in front of me, a familiar sight arose. It was the financial district’s skyline, a very-well “known”, a blue horizon towards which I had been gravitating ever since my arrival in Singapore. 🏙🏙 I laughed at the odds, pulled up Google Maps again, and just like that, my mind went back to the arrival hall, back to his embrace while my body continued in the direction of the skyscrapers, fed itself on fish head curry in Little India, met with my host for an iced lemongrass tea, and watched two outrageously stupid movies before calling it a day.
More than anything, this spin-off was about me, about me exploring my passions and concurring my fears. Nevertheless, I also knew that with me being away from home for a month, and thus away from Mr.G, we both would inevitably have the chance to reflect upon our life together. I could’ve never imagined though, how immensely important this time apart would be for the future of our relationship.
I will spare you the sentimental banalities that I became aware of (for now at least) and instead share what may be the least romantic conclusion of my being away from Mr.G, which is, that from now on, I plan on being away from him once a year. Not because I need to get away from him or “us,” but because I owe it to Mr.G and myself to spend quality time, alone.
Time which allows me to examine my strengths and flaws as an individual but also as a girlfriend (sister, daughter and friend). Time which allows for headspace and the experience of autonomy. Time which reminds us that the best friendships, and the best romantic relationships, are the ones with independence built in.
TRAVEL DAY 27
As the plane climbed into the midnight blue, my heart fell into my stomach and 27 days of traveling unfolded before my eyes. It was all there: heroes and villains, humbleness and pride, misfortunes which never happened and adventures of a lifetime. 🛩✨ Soon these memories would be reduced to an incomplete flash. Never again would I understand what I had feared so much. 🕷 I pulled my hoodie over my head, wrapped myself in blankets, and within the sound of earplug-silence, I rested and closed my eyes. A vision of Mr.G slowly crept in, and in that dimmed, overnight-flight darkness, my eyes filled with tears and my thoughts whispered: I did it, boy. I did it.
It wasn’t until the plane was up in the air, and I was going home, that I realized I had conquered my fear of traveling alone. Looking back, it’s difficult to remember what I always feared so much about wandering out on my own. Then again, for a long time prior to my solo escape, I had been easing myself, mostly unknowingly, into the challenge until it almost didn’t feel like one anymore.
In April 2011, one of my best friends and I took a plane to India—a country which was considered to be a difficult and tiring place for traveling. My friend and I though, who were still both travel novices, rocked it over there. In less than six weeks we crossed over 3800 miles (6200 km). Taming India definitely won me a few travel experience points.
A year after India, Mr.G and I went to travel the world and live abroad. We were away for more than 1,5 year. We spent two months in Bali, a month in Havana and the rest of the time we lived in Bosnia, Mexico and Brazil. By the time we came back to Amsterdam, I was used to getting out of my travel comfort zone.
The year that followed, Mr.G and I were based in Amsterdam but still continued to travel a lot. I also joined Mr.G on his work trips to big cities like San Francisco, Madrid and Tel Aviv, and while (poor) Mr.G worked during the day, I made myself explore these places on my own. Being able to tackle these cities, gave me the confidence to add “traveling alone” to my bucket list.
Malaysia became number 30 on my “countries visited list”, but the first one I would travel through alone. In retrospect, it’s easy to say that there was nothing to it, and that I should’ve traveled alone much earlier in my life. However, confronting our fears head on doesn’t always seem possible, sometimes we need to use a workaround. It makes the victory no less victorious though, and reminds us all the same, that there’s nothing we can’t do.
TRAVEL DAY 28
Overly excited by the last tapas dish of the evening (slow-cooked pork cheeks with mashed potatoes and roasted garlic) and the discovery of a new drink of choice (a “tintón”: red wine, gin, vermouth and soda pop), I bounced from alley to alley until an announcement caught my eye: “EXTRA FLAMENCO SHOW TONIGHT!”, it read. 💃🏻 I was in the south of Spain, giving 24-hour city trips the benefit of the doubt and challenging myself to travel faster than I normally do. In three days I was to cover Seville, Córdoba and Granada and with those whirlwind visits to complete my 30-day travel spin-off. ✈️⛵️🚍 To my own surprise, and by the look of my now-checked off list of 25 points of interest, I was off to a good start. In one day of non-stop sight hunting madness, I managed, more than less, to grasp Seville’s essence. Re-opening my itinerary to add a last-minute flamenco show seemed redundant. The challenge taker in me though, disagreed. And thus, too tired to argue with my demanding ego, I walked over to the ticket counter, but only to find myself, as if I had spun a revolving door full circle, back on the street again. The show was sold out. And I relieved for it had already been a day of abundance. 🗺🍷 I continued on the last stretch of my route, past Seville’s monster, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, contemplating if I should, at last, give its’ two-football-fields-size structure the attention it demands, when all of suddenly I heard distant cries. 🎙 There they were, three fearless beings with their dark sounds and clasps of hands, stealing the cathedral’s nocturnal limelight in the corner of my eye. It was an impromptu flamenco street performance, the “cherry on top” which would even strike Hermes, the God of travel, with envy.
Travel is an experience that I don’t take for granted. I’m well aware that being able to explore the world is a privilege. And still, when I’m traveling, I often need to remind myself that “being” in a foreign country is already enough and that there’s no need to be chasing any “cherries on top.”
After cramming three week’s worth of sightseeing into 72 hours, I can tell you that even a day jammed with amazing experiences can be overwhelming to the soul. I now believe more than ever that travel, just like life, is best kept simple. And that less, really, is more.
But hey, enough of these life’s clichés. They won’t mean much to you until you can experience their realities for yourself. So please, go traveling or take up a challenge—both will help you discover your own truths. And then soon, all those quotes might actually make sense.
TRAVEL DAY 29 – pt.1
I was in Córdoba, sitting in Bar Lucas, mapping out the rest of my day, while Rafael, the owner, prepared me one of his famous hotdogs. I was feeling unjustifiable stressed, having taken my self-inflicted challenge, to visit three cities in 72 hours, a little too serious. But as Rafael let me hover in his kindness, my petty troubles dissolved. 🍺🌭 There seemed to be an eternity between the sound of my alarm and Rafael’s “Buenos días.” My memory filled with sights that I wouldn’t remember. And the only travel stories worth keeping, apparently ordinary. Anecdotes about timeless dwellings in local bars and early-morning drives amidst sleepy faces on their way to the daily grind. 🚗 I could’ve stayed forever in Bar Lucas, but more historical monuments demanded to be seen and forgotten. With three chocolate candies in my hand (at the insistence of Rafael), I left Bar Lucas to its rightful regulars and mournfully closed yet another sacred portal to everyday local life. ✨🚪✨
TRAVEL DAY 29 – pt.2
Through a labyrinth of narrow streets, I walked in the direction of the “Mezquita-Catedral” (Mosque-Cathedral) of Córdoba, “the jewel of the city,” a church turned mosque, the mosque turned cathedral/mosque, all the while being distracted by Córdoba’s pebbled patios and plazas and fairytale taverns that demanded pit stops and snapshots. 👸🏼🍸📸 I arrived at the Mezquita-Catedral fortified by a glass of “fity”, a combination of “fino” (a bone-dry pale sherry) and “Pedro Ximénez” (an intensely sweet dark dessert sherry), set to be impressed by the 856 columns of which I had heard so much already. 🕌 And yet, as hypnotizing as the forest of columns and arches, and as dramatic as the presence of a cathedral smack in the middle of a mosque was to my eyes, I seemed far more interested in the stories and people who live beyond the walls of this architectural wonder.
My daily routine looked much the same for all three days of traveling in Spain. I did a guided tour in the morning to get a general sense of a place. Then, I split the rest of the day in two, spending the first part visiting sights that weren’t covered on tour, and the second wandering around without a plan. Around sunset, I would rush back to the hostel, shower and get ready for tapas hunting and more casual walks.
In addition, I would wake up every day at dawn to drive to the next city and spend each night an hour or two planning the following day’s itinerary and booking my stays. Compared to my usual, much slower, travel style, this pace of traveling felt completely insane. It was a brutal routine that left little room for spontaneous interactions. There was almost no time to let conversations unfold.
And still, it’s the few short encounters that I remember most vividly. It’s people like Rafael, and not the historic landmarks, that made these cities come alive. And even though I doubt I’ll travel more often this way, I’m grateful for the experience. For I understand more than ever that it’s the people we meet, far away from home, that make travel memorable.
TRAVEL DAY 30
Red brick roofs and cast iron window guards awoke the alleys of my childhood. Drinking fountains and pebbled pathways found their matching card in my memory and brought forth emotions of nostalgia that I didn’t even know I had. After 30 days of wandering and deliberate introspection, I found myself, on the last day of my travel spin-off, in a place that looked just like home.
For months now, I’ve been analyzing the notes that I took during my travel spin-off, trying my best to convert them into travel stories and “lessons learned on the road.” Today’s post marks the end of that process. Practically speaking, it was a painfully long task. Emotionally, however, it was likely the best therapy I could’ve given to myself.
By examining my observations and feelings through the process of writing, I was able to identify my character flaws (and strengths) and to learn a lot about myself. Furthermore, looking back on my experiences after they happened, allowed me to pinpoint valuable life lessons and to capture and connect dots that would otherwise have escaped my attention.
If it hadn’t been for these travel notes, I might’ve also never found out that there is, in fact, a place in this world that irrevocably represents “my home”–a city, a people, a culture to which my soul belongs. And I would’ve perhaps never had the pleasure to smile at the odds of rediscovering my roots on the go.
Tell me what you think. Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (links match comment pages) and let me know: What travel story or insight did you like best? What is the most valuable lesson you learned from traveling the world? And what are you afraid of doing?
1. Apart from the stories above, I also wrote 53 Instagram posts, ranging from recommendations to observations about the places I visited. Although I decided to leave these out of this blog post, you can still find them on my Instagram by following #spinoff9more. ↵