The benefits of solitary travel

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Today, I bit the bullet and decided to rent a motorbike since I was tired of spending money on taxis or being forced to walk (though within the confines of the city it’s certainly manageable). Upon realizing I had no idea what I was doing when demoing how to ride the bike, the woman at the rental shop proceeded to give me an impromptu motorcycle driving lesson behind the store. Small children getting out of school giggled as I proceeded to over pull the clutch several times, much to the horror of the poor woman helping me. “Slowly! Slowly!” she’d cry while holding the rear of my bike. Eventually we were able to ride around the block, with her sitting behind me, hands on my wrist to show me how to slowly pull the clutch.

Despite giving her a few heart attacks (myself included), I got the hang of it rather quickly, and made the drive to Doi Suthep temple halfway up the mountain. The intense stress and copious amounts of sweat were all worth it for this view.

Solitary travel isn’t for everyone. After living in Kuala Lumpur for 10 days with friends at my side, moving around by myself felt a bit lonely at first. But I’ve already lost count of how many kind locals have stepped in to help my day along, whether it was the woman at the shop, or the other woman who stopped her taxi to ask if I needed directions, the guy who reminded me my bike wouldn’t start without putting up the stand, the other dudes at the temple who helped me lock my bike, and the other guy who helped me put petrol in when I couldn’t figure out the latch (if you can’t tell I’m a bit hopeless when left to my own devices) — all willing to help with a huge smile that I never have a problem reciprocating in turn.

The thing about traveling alone is that it teaches you one of the most important lessons about being human: always be kind. I’m constantly reminded of what it means to fall in love with strangers, and why those moments you share together, regardless of how brief, are true testaments of what is beautiful about being human.

preamble to adventure

It’s a hazy Tuesday afternoon, and I’m sitting alone at my friend’s apartment a few miles outside of Kuala Lumpur. It’s been a few days, and now that the dust has settled a bit, I find myself contemplating thoughts that have been brewing in my head for quite some time.

For a long time, I’ve been meaning to write an explanation for what I’m doing here. In the weeks leading up to this trip, a lot of people had asked me why I had decided to fly to the other side of the world, virtually for no real reason other than “to travel,” — a simple answer amongst the litany of other generic responses that always seemed to suffice.

“To travel.”

And as cliché as it is to ask, really, what does that even mean? For the longest time, going as far back as to when this trip was just a faint glimmer of an idea in my head, I had thought about how I would write about it. What did I want to say, and did anything I have to say matter?

Like every other twenty-something these days, I had bit of an identity crisis after college ended. Or to be more accurate, am having an identity crisis, as said crisis is still very much ongoing. I couldn’t figure out if I wanted to go back to school, and my attempts at navigating the professional world — which, consisted mostly of reading job descriptions and writing resume bullet points — felt more like a death sentence to my creativity than an opportunity at personal growth. Being a lost millennial is a huge cliché, and it’s one that I’ll proudly own up to. And the thing is, everyone goes through it, mine just happened to manifest itself as a one-way ticket to a country I’ve never been before.

In an effort not to wax philosophical, or divulge too much about my own insecurities, I’ll keep this shorter than I originally planned. I think these days, we all spend too much of our time basing a sense of self-worth on external validation — from friends, from lovers, from careers, and from strangers on the internet — because let’s face it, we live in such a highly connected world now, that social media has created a duality of identity. Often I’m not too sure whether it enriches or diminishes the quality of my life.

I spent a really long time resenting myself for not living up to some archetype of a person I had built up in my head over the years. And that’s scary to admit, let alone writing it down here for other people to read. The scarier truth is not knowing if I’m doing all this to solve my problems, or to simply run away from them. But I suppose that’s the beauty of taking risks, of taking the leap without knowing if you’re going to land on your feet.

And I’m not here to offer some bullshit mantra about quitting your job to travel the world — #wanderlust, #blahblahblah — because frankly that whole phenomena of perfectly composed bikini shots on white sand beaches makes me want to bang my head into a wall. More than anything, the only real goal I have in mind as I travel from city to city and country to country, is to try my best to understand each place I go and to share the lives and experiences of the people who live there. I find myself hating travel for its ability to exploit the lives of people who survive off its industry, and also love it for its ability to connect people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and languages that may have otherwise never crossed paths. There’s no doubt that I’m going to enjoy myself, but I also thoroughly believe the benefits of travel should not be restricted to oneself, but to the places and people you encounter along the way.

To be honest I don’t know what I’m expecting to find. I am beyond privileged to have parents that support me 100%, regardless of how terrified they were when I first told them I was quitting my job to fly across the world by myself. I have friends that love and support my crazy decisions, strengthening my confidence when I couldn’t do it for myself.

Trusting your own decisions is easier said than done, but I’d like to think I’m learning to take the ugliest parts of myself (the bitterness, the self-consciousness, and the insecurities) and trying to turn them into something positive. The hope, I suppose, is that doing so will allow me to grow into the best version of myself, whoever that person may be.

If there’s anything I’ve learned so far in life it’s this: never confuse vacation for travel, and never confuse validation from other people as a form of self love.

For those of you even taking the time to read this, all I can say is thank you, and that I hope you continue following my writing as I start this indefinite journey, wherever it may take me.