If anything, at the end of this Asia trip I will be able to say that this continent has changed me. I'm not certain of much at present, but I know that I will be a different person when I leave Asia than when I arrived- hopefully a slightly older, more balanced, more confident, more courageous version of myself.
In true clichéd backpacker fashion, I've learned a lot about myself on this journey. As much as I love to socialize and ham it up other travelers, at heart I am an introvert. I need time alone each day to process life: to take photos, to read, to write in my journal. If I'm surrounded by other people constantly I start to feel anxious and like I need to be “on” the whole time.
I've also learned that I'm a sensitive person who over-analyzes and over-thinks things. And while noticing the small details and being hyper-aware of my surroundings makes me (hopefully) a decent writer and photographer, it can also make social situations difficult- I'm too thin-skinned and I take negative comments entirely too much to heart.
When I'm traveling with others I wonder, Do they really want me here? Am I crashing their trip? Should I go off on my own?
So why is this post titled, “And Then Everything Changed in Vietnam”? Because after a month of partying hard with an incredible group of people and three months with a travel buddy, I'm now on my own. I've had to face the inevitable sadness that comes with the transience of travel- losing people who probably meant too much to you in the first place.
If there's anything I've learned about travel in the past eight years, it's that you really, really do have to enjoy each moment because you never know what will happen next- on the road, everything is ephemeral. A week ago I was traveling in a group of eight and now I'm alone. It was a sudden jolt into solo travel but strangely enough, I'm more than okay with it.
At first, I was struggling with going forward- how could I travel Asia all by myself? And as this emotional turmoil was transpiring, I was falling in love with Vietnam.
I'll write more soon, but I but can't help but adore Vietnam. The food is far and away the best I've had in Southeast Asia, and it's such a vast cuisine. I find myself wondering, How am I going to try all these dishes in only two weeks?
So here are my plans at present. I'm going to spend the next two weeks in Vietnam exploring just the Central Highlands and the south so I can travel slowly and work along the way. Then I'll spend four days stuffing my face in Singapore and a month enjoying a self-made yoga and diving retreat in Indonesia. From there I'll most likely fly to Bangkok around mid-December and decide whether to fly home for Christmas or continue north to northern Thailand, Laos and Northern Vietnam. I also have a tentative plan to stop in Europe on the way home for six weeks or so to visit friends and family.
And I have a new vow- I'm going to make a conscious effort to nix my self-doubt and bolster my self-confidence. Too often I find myself second-guessing myself: Should I really be traveling right now? Am I ever going to make it as a writer? Will I ever have a lasting relationship?
But honestly, I should be happy with who I am and how far I've come. All of the things I dreamed about as a 17-year old, all the things I thought would never come true, I've accomplished: writing for a living, speaking three languages and traveling the world. I really am living the life of my dreams and remind myself each day of how insanely, absurdly lucky I am.
Travel has its ups and downs. Things change quickly but I'm breathing a sigh of relief- solo travel is exactly what I need right now.