Sometimes when you’re traveling you just need to be by yourself. Sometimes you don’t want to make new friends, meet locals, or learn about your surroundings.
I’ve come to realize that travel is entirely selfish. It’s about experiencing new things, learning about yourself, meeting new people, adding to your own cultural capital. You understand more, you know more, you have greater perspective, you’re more empathetic. But what is the common factor here? YOU.
Travel is about you graduating to some sort of higher level of yourself. You have more experiences, you’ve seen more countries, struggled through more situations, eaten more food, met more people, collected more passport stamps, et cetera. Essentially, you are a more interesting person for it.
It’s unflattering and uncomfortable to think about a supposed cultural exchange as so one-sided and narcissistic but ultimately, are you doing this for any other reason? And anyways, why shouldn’t you be? It’s your life, and it’s hard to argue that encountering other cultures puts you in a worse spot than you were when you started. The world would be a better place if everyone traveled more, etc etc.
After 4.5 months on the road, I’m starting to wonder what exactly is the point of all this for myself. I don’t know what I want to get out of this. I’ve proved to myself and anyone else who was wondering that I can handle this. To be honest that was not a given, and it’s something that I am proud of. I loved the life I left behind in San Francisco and I miss it every day, and it was hard to make the decision to leave. It hasn’t been easy to navigate this new region alone, explore these new countries, languages, and cultures and still manage to hang on to myself and be confident and happy with the person I am. The only constant that I’ve seen these last 18 weeks is me. The landscapes, the people, the surroundings, the values, the truth, the priorities have all shifted, continuously. But each time they have I’ve been left with myself.
I don’t think I’ve changed. I think I’ve learned things about myself, I’ve definitely learned a million things about Asia. But when I started this journey I think I wanted to grow more significantly, learn something truly profound. I don’t know if that’s happened. To be sure I’m living a lifestyle that’s very different than the one I was living in San Francisco. I’m out of my comfort zone, I’m not finding things as easy as they were back home, I haven’t made a ton of new friends to replace the ones I left. But then, I’m finding that I don’t really care. I’ve had a million opportunities to do so – there is no more social demographic than the westerner in an eastern culture. But I’m not sure why I haven’t; I know I’m a social person and I know I miss those connections. I guess I don’t relate to a lot of people I meet on the road. Many are still in school, or taking their month of work vacation – apparently in other countries people get a shitload of vacation time and then actually use it. I took my time finishing school then spent another three years paying it off and saving money, and as a result don’t need to return home to a full time job anytime soon. I’ve done the sort of step one and two of adulthood, and I rarely find other people in similar situations. Maybe I’ve done that making new connections with everyone you get along with thing already in college and right after, and when I studied abroad in Australia. Maybe my standards are just higher now.
Now I’m surprised to find I don’t really care so much about meeting a ton of other travelers and making lots of new friends. I know I can always find and maintain relationships with the ones who matter. I don’t need to add every person I meet on Facebook, and neither does our shared background mean that we should continue to travel together (sorry everyone I’ve made excuses to).
Tonight I blew off this Vietnamese domestic tourist who’s been trying to hang out with me, not just once but three times. It’s not like I have a lot of social options – I haven’t really made too much effort to make friends in Da Lat nor will I probably try to. I love this little town and I love it by myself, even with all the parts of it that I would love to share. My room has two double beds, as if my single-ness wasn’t obvious enough. I’ve split them up, one for working, one for sleeping, just so that it doesn’t seem like it’s a total fail for me to be in this room alone. But whatever. Earlier tonight I went to the market and got two bottles of local wine, a baguette, some fruit, came “home” and put the wine outside to cool on my balcony, the balcony that my first thought about was that it would be incredibly romantic, the balcony I would love to take a partner up on, share the beautiful view of this town, the balcony whose purpose tonight was a wine refrigerator. I walked down to the Japanese restaurant and ordered some sushi rolls to go. I brought them back to my inappropriately spacious room, uncorked the wine, and settled down to a movie.
Vietnam has, on average, the fastest internet connection I’ve experienced since arriving in Asia and I’ve spent the last week downloading movies. Tonight I put on an indie romance, a quarter-life coming of age story, replete with a killer soundtrack and a manic pixie dream girl. I enjoyed it but can’t say that it really spoke to me too much except to say that in the meta sense I’m also trying to figure out the next step of my life. I didn’t feel like I’d learned anything but by the end of it, and by the end of my first bottle of wine, I felt inspired enough to write my thoughts down on the whole thing. Which is what this post is. I kind of just closed my eyes turned down the lights and went with it. It’s taken me about 10 minutes to write 1000 words. It’s nothing profound, nothing I didn’t realize a bottle of wine ago when I was sober. (It should be noted that my tolerance for alcohol has rapidly deteriorated over this trip.) But it’s the first time I’ve written these things down.
I think it’s time to open the second bottle, and keep writing. For $3 a bottle, this is some pretty good wine. And there’s no one to tell me to stop, or to go to bed, or to do anything.