Congrats to me! It’s my 10 year travel-versary! My first solo experience out of America was when I was an 18 year old fresh high school grad. I volunteered at a youth summer camp in Mexico during the summer of 2008. My parents threw me on a plane as I cried while carrying my three suitcases because I didn’t want to leave my friends for the summer.
I worked for a few weeks as a cook, lifeguard, sports coordinator, ref, counselor, and tent setter-upper. It was a great experience that I think all young adults should try out. We need to step out of our comfort zone to humble ourselves and realize that the world is so much bigger than what we grew up immersed in.
This trip really kick-started my love for learning about new cultures. I don’t necessarily love “travel” as much as I love learning about the world and setting out for places I am unfamiliar with. Travel is HARD. You take long and uncomfortable bus rides, eat sketchy meat, see really sad parts of the world, and miss out on things back home.
Ever since that trip to Mexico in 2008 I have graduated college from a small liberal arts Christian school in Seattle, spent 2-3 months studying in France, Italy, and Switzerland, lived overseas twice in both South Korea and now Thailand. I have volunteered internationally three times in Mexico, Ukraine, and Cambodia. I attempted to volunteer in Thailand but it’s illegal without the proper visa. I have taught ESL abroad and online and now design ESL training curriculum. I have been to 20-something countries and find myself always going back to the same places. I always travel on a budget and hate spending money. I have traveled both solo, with friends, with family, backpacked SE Asia, traveled with an ex-boyfriend, and now permanently with the love of my life in Chiang Mai, Thailand while taking intensive Thai language classes and working online. This month I have five – yes FIVE – different freelance jobs and I am working out how to balance everything.
Confession: I cry A LOT because I miss home. But I don’t even know what home is. I am very privileged with the experiences I have. I get confused about how the world works and why some people have nothing and are the kindest while the western world has money yet can’t find simple happiness.
I decided to write about 10 things I have learned in 10 years as a little reflection on my travels. Welcome to my super personal thoughts internet-world.
1. I am very privileged.
I don’t think I knew what this really was until I went to South Korea to teach English. As a white American female I was automatically treated better than people of other races and nationalities. To be honest, I loved it. It was easy to feel like a goddess and it wasn’t my fault. I grew up in a city that was predominantly middle class white people. I now know 100% that my life is much easier because of my skin color and my nationality. It’s crap, but it’s true. Throughout Asia you will see whitening creams which are similar but opposite to tanning creams in the States. If you are white (or western), you are more likely to get hired as an ESL teacher, not get questioned at immigration, and get away with not having to get a driver’s license. When I moved into my apartment in Chiang Mai, my amazingly sweet Thai landlord (she’s my Thai mom) said that she would have us in an instant because we weren’t Chinese. It is so easy to live abroad for me.
I also know that I make more money than Thai locals. I feel guilty about it all the time. I try to live frugally and minimally. But with the amount of vacations Taylor and I take, we have loads of opportunities that aren’t common to many people in southeast Asia.
2. No one else can make you happy.
There have been times where I have hated traveling or living abroad and would rather be at my parents’ house while grilling burgers and letting the wine flow. Recently I spent an entire day in bed because I didn’t have the energy to move. I literally slept and cried all day because I hated being here in Thailand. My boyfriend was out climbing for the day and I had to skip the adventure because I was teaching online in the morning. Instead of just going out and about for the day when my classes finished at 11am, I went to bed and cried for myself. I have been in a bit of a slump lately because I am either working OR playing. I have no balance and when I am home in Chiang Mai I work constantly. But we go on vacation a lot and have fun. If I want to be happy or even just content, it’s 100% up to me. I have this awesome opportunity to work remotely, and I should embrace that I have the ability to control my life every single time during this time in my life.
3. You have zero control in some scenarios.
Yes, I hate the idea of waking up at 3am to go wait in line at immigration to see if they will approve extending your visa. Welp, there’s literally no other choice. If I can live somewhere legally, I’ve gotta get up and do it. I also don’t like that my Thai school forgot to process my visa and left me in a panic. I don’t like that my Thai language school doesn’t allow me to ask “why” questions? Yes, I want to ask questions but it’s rude of students to do so, so I just go through the motions. (Yes, I actually love learning Thai, but it’s a culture shock for sure). I hate that there are little kids out on the streets trying to sell me shit and I constantly want to say yes, but know it won’t help. I hate that I can sleep in a cozy bed while other people next door share a shack. I hate that I can spend money on volunteering but that after a few weeks of “helping” I can just go back to normal life.
4. Instagram is fake news.
It just is. I post often, but I try to keep it decent and not too flashy. Most people post perfect pics about how amazing their lives are, but everyone’s got a story beyond the instapics. We tend to post the happiest moments and not always what is REAL.
5. Lots of people don’t like Americans and lots of people do.
I met an Aussie gal recently in Chiang Mai and we were going to have a wine night at her place. There were three of us Americans going to her house. We all got tipsy and she spilled the beans. She had called her friends back home warning them that she had some Americans coming over for drinks and wanted them to wish her luck. For some reason I can’t get over that. She went on to tell us her opinions and I think I eventually tuned it all out. However, regardless of where you go, most people who travel don’t really care what country you’re from. The stereotypes are there, but I hope that by being a decent person I can show people that Americans are not so bad.
Oh also, America is NOT the greatest country in the world. There are so many great countries and I don’t know why we are all so obsessed with ourselves.
On the other hand, EVERY country has their issues. By living in South Korea and now Thailand I have learned that everywhere has their issues. There’s a lot of messed up stuff around the world. But there’s a lot of good too.
6. If you want to keep friendships back home, you’ve gotta put in effort.
When I moved abroad after college, I kept in touch with some close friends, but after more than two years I fell out of touch with many of them. However, the ones I stayed in touch with will be the ones I stay in touch with for the rest of my life. We set up phone dates, message constantly, and even if we go months without talking we know that we can pick up where we left off. It’s not always easy, but traveling helps you find out who your real friends are. Also, some of your best friends will be made when living abroad.
7. Don’t dress like a slut.
Before you wear that slutty crop top and those ripped jean shorts that show your ass you need to look around and see where you are. One of my biggest pet peeves walking around Chiang Mai is seeing shirtless dudes or women in bikini tops. THIS IS NOT A BEACH TOWN. Also, when I was in Malaysia I felt uncomfortable even wearing shorts. I refused to wear a bikini at the beach because there were a ton of girls in hijabs next to me. I don’t care if you’re a westerner and just bought the cutest outfit that needs to be shown off on social media, but no. Don’t try to get attention by dressing like a hoe. It’s Chiang Mai and you will sweat anyways! If you can’t dress decently then you’re an ass hole.
8. Don’t scroll through your phone at bars.
I spent a few weeks in Europe by myself in 2016. Although I stayed with friends and family most of the time, there was a day that I needed a hostel in London. I found a social one and went to the bar. I immediately tried to chat to the gal next to me. But she rolled her eyes, pulled out her phone, and turned around. That was that. I got my phone out and likely vented to a friend back home how London sucks or some equivalent rant. We are all super connected to our phones and need to just enjoy the moment! Taking pics is fine; but take one then put it away.
On the other hand, I met some gals in Iceland who were chatting together. I was, of course, eavesdropping and found they were both traveling solo and were going to go out in the city. I immediately chimed in and told them I was joining. We had a ball! So guess what, putting your phone down creates friendships!
9. Don’t just go to a new city every 3 days. Stay a while and enjoy.
Traveling long term and getting on a train every few days stresses me out. I backpacked Cambodia and Vietnam for four months in 2014. People are shocked when they hear that I was in each country for such a long time. However, I thought it was perfect. Renewing my visas was easy and I really got to see EVERYTHING I wanted. I enjoyed every moment and didn’t feel guilty if I needed to have a relaxing Netflix night in. I can’t always do long trips. I often go to new cities for just a couple days, but slow travel is definitely my favorite. That’s likely why I moved to Thailand. A week traveling Chiang Mai in 2012 wasn’t enough.
10. I am not better than anyone who chose to stay home, get married, get promoted, and have babies.
Honestly, I am missing out in some ways. If I have babies later I’ll be an “older mom.” I don’t get to go back home for every holiday and family reunion. It’s really stressful planning life around weddings, new babies, birthday parties, etc. I likely will miss a lot of stuff that people who live in the States get to have. I will have the wackiest resume when I need to apply for jobs in the US and I am afraid employers will just think I will leave again and not hire me. I needed to explore a different path for a bit, but I don’t think that I am on some pedestal for having traveled and lived abroad. I believe EVERYONE needs to get out of their comfort zone and if that means just leaving their hometown or home state then that’s great!