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.

16 Comments on “Confessions of a Type A Traveler

  1. Abby, you write famously! Uganda had me feeling the same. I love reading your adventures. Also, I would have killed those tourists outside the door til 2am. a+

  2. Thanks, Jani! Full disclosure: it was your trip to Africa and corresponding blog that inspired this. So you’re to blame! Those tourists had no idea their lives were in danger.

  3. This blog is fantastic Abby! What an incredible adventure…I’m so excited for you!!! How long have you been traveling? Do you have a “plan” of where you’re headed or are you guys winging it? Can’t wait to read all about it! 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Gina! We were in Bangkok for six months but have been traveling for two and a half months. So far we’ve been to Cambodia, Vietnam, Jordan, Israel, Greece (well, Athens) and just left Prague. We’re heading to Amsterdam with friends where I imagine all hell will break lose :). We are definitely winging it – trying to plan everything was sucking the fun out of the whole trip. Thanks again for reading and let me know how you’re doing. xx

  4. “I no understand words you say.” It’s so refreshing to read an article where someone writes the good and the bad, and not just we got lost, but the real hilarious awkward moments, and emotions that go into traveling.

  5. Abby — you go! These are the adventures if your life, even those chimney Chinese or the dare-devil tuck-tuck ride stick with you…

    I’m looking forward to reading much more in the weeks and months to come.

    Now there is this tiny resturant in Prague between the bridge and the cathedral that I should have told you about..,

    • Thanks, Joe! Blast, we just left Prague. We’re headed to Amsterdam if you have any recs…. After that, it’s Paris, Ireland and Spain. At some point we’ll just run out of money and be shuffling along the sidewalk in our stolen hotel bathrobes :). Thanks again for reading – it means a lot.

  6. The only journey that brings one peace is the journey inward. The external can assist this journey by reflecting what we already know is truth within ourselves. Just a little something I picked up along the way 🙂 only you know your truth. Shine on sister!

    • Thanks, Karin! You’re right, traveling is as much about what we learn about ourselves than what we learn about other cultures. Not sure I love everything I’ve learned about myself so far but, like all of us, I’m a work in progress :). Thanks again for reading.

  7. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good.

    I do not know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already
    😉 Cheers!

  8. Can I just say what a relief to uncover someone who genuinely knows what they are talking about on the internet.
    You definitely understand how to bring a problem to
    light and make it important. More people should check this out and understand this side of
    your story. I was surprised that you aren’t more popular since you
    definitely have the gift.

    • Really appreciate the comment. This post was personal for me. Traveling around the world was something I’d always wanted to do so I didn’t expect it to challenge me in SO many ways :). Still, hoping to take another trip next year. Thanks for reading!

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