Confessions of a Type A Traveler
Here’s the thing no traveler likes to talk about: globe trotting is hard. Navigating public transportation in a language you can’t understand, eating rubbery food you can’t identify, making budget decisions like coffee or toothpaste, and rotating between three t-shirts that all smell like insect repellent and sweat.
When I quit my job and bought a backpack, none of those things were on my mind. I was envisioning hiking in Machu Picchu, floating in the Dead Sea or sipping a cold beer in Halong Bay. My head was full of the mismatched characters I’d meet, the food I’d boldly sample, the cultures I’d observe in a respectful yet charming way.
Well, here I am actually doing it and it’s been humbling to realize that I’m not cool, relaxed, adventurous, easy going or fun enough to handle it. The worst part? My boyfriend, Mike, excels at it. He’s Phileas Fogg meets Rolf Potts meets Pollyanna only with more flannel.
It doesn’t make sense. I grew up overseas while he lived in suburbia. I studied abroad, he didn’t. After graduation, I moved to New York City to become an actress while he stayed in Virginia and married his college sweetheart. I worked in international development and traveled to countries like Afghanistan and Burma while he worked as a project manager 10 miles from his condo.
When I accepted a six month job contract in Bangkok, Mike and I had only been dating a few months but he decided to quit his job and follow me. It was a big decision and I worried that he would be bored, lonely or lost in the pulsating city. Instead, he thrived. He explored more places in his first three days than I did in my first three weeks. He took short solo trips around Thailand and grew a goatee.
Leaving Bangkok to travel only seems to agree with him more. Mike can eat from the sketchiest of street vendors without getting sick. He falls asleep instantly, snoring like a bone saw until morning. He banters easily with fellow travelers and local vendors while I fire off incomprehensible sentences like John Moschitta Jr. As one kindly French hotel owner said, “I no understand words you say.”
Of course this has only served to spotlight my own inadequacies and insecurities. I’m flustered by line cutters, taxi scams, meat I can’t identify, exchange rates, kamikaze motorcyclists, cold hostel showers, and noisy dorm roommates.
If this was a competition, I’d be toast. If this was a reality show, I would’ve been voted off long ago. I’m folding under the pressure of this once in a lifetime opportunity and it’s both frustrating and terrifying. I mean, who wants to suck at spontaneity?
I was seriously thinking about throwing in the towel when we met two 19 year old Dutch girls crossing the Cambodia border. They had just graduated high school and when we asked them why they were traveling, one joked, “To find ourselves.” We all laughed but days later I was still thinking about it. Yes, yes it’s beyond cliché but it’s also the reason I left my safe, salaried cubicle job.
While I’ve loved my past jobs, the line between my professional and personal life had begun to blur. My supervisory reviews read like auto consumer reports: efficient, reliable, nimble, high performance. Life of the party. What happened to the girl who failed two study abroad classes while hitchhiking across New Zealand? Or the one who missed her ten year high school reunion to explore Germany or moved to a crack den apartment in Brooklyn to pursue a dream?
So while I’m still dreaming of hiking the Inca trail, I’m enjoying the mini moments between the milestones, even if they’re frustrating. I’m hopeful that time on the road will help me unclench my jaw and just enjoy the ride. Like everything, it’ll be process with small wins and major setbacks but I’m trying. The other night a group of Chinese tourists stayed up until 2:00 am chain smoking and yelling outside our hotel room door and I never said a word.
The Takeaway: Traveling is an amazing, fun, hilarious, frustrating, soul-searching, hair-tearing, magical, dirty experience. It will teach you a lot about yourself and some of it you may not like but it’s definitely worth the ride.