Traveling, as I'm sure you've heard, opens your mind in a lot of different ways. It makes you calmer, respectful of others, curious, patient, and usually kinder, depending on your personality. ;)
Although I know all these things, I still am surprised by my travels, things that happen, and how I react or don't react, to everything.
This is my first time in South east Asia and in these 20 days, I have learned more, done more, and experienced more than on any trip I've ever taken. Granted, the culture shock value is greater, I'm from the US and am exploring the other side of the world, where everything truly is different. But it's the small things that have surprised me the most.
Many people told me how kind the Thai people are, but I was not expecting this level of warm smiles. Sure, in the tourist areas, they're trying to sell you something. But traveling to smaller towns and through small villages, the kindness did not stop, even when the common language did. People genuinely want to be kind to you and help you, even if you don't need it. Food choices, activities, ethical companies to look for and how to avoid scams, many things you forget to think about when you're busy looking for the next meal stop or adventure.
For the most part, first-aid kits are usually in a backpackers bag, I hope! When I packed mine, I didn't think I would ever open it, so to the bottom of the bag it went. And 10 days later, there I was, with two deep cuts in the bottom of both feet after exploring a hot spring in Chiang Mai. I wasn't in the water for more than 5 minutes before I noticed. Thankfully, it wasn't anything serious, but it happened. I don't know why I never expect to get hurt or sick, but as I fight away the end of a cold i've had this week, I still don't have the answer. It happens, and it's always better to be prepared for it, even mentally at least.
The biggest obstacle I've had to overcome is my self, and my patience levels. I always thought of myself as a patient person. I still think I am; I am a patient, NORTH AMERICAN, person. I have found myself on several occasions wanting to lose my cool, and even losing it once, because I didn't want to accept the Thai way of doing things. There isn't anything wrong with their way, it's simply a slower and a little less organized than what I know. As a hispanic - american, who only in her last 3 years of life really started to understand the importance of being on time, I really didn't think I would ever snap because the bus was late, or because the reservation wasn't in the system. I guess I may have snapped more than once.. I am learning though, day by day, that my way isn't the only way or the right way, it's just mine. And you have yours and they have theirs. What's important, I think, is that we all respect and appreciate one another's. I am so grateful for the things I have learned so far and I am open and eager to add to my inner book of knowledge.
On this solo trip, I expected it to be just as my last one, solo. But from the very first day, I met people, and through out the week met more people, who later would become a small group of very special people. Five people who I will always have a dear place in my heart for. These five people, and I, traveled together to a new place, somewhere none of us had ever been, and it was as if I had known them all for years. A group of complete strangers, all completely different, from different parts of the world, who so smoothly gelled together; it blew my mind. I, and I don't think they, did not expect it to happen. But with them I traveled to somewhere I never planned on going to, conquered fears I never EVER intended on getting over, and experienced a momentary euphoric pause in time. I rode motor bikes, walked through dark caves filled with thousands of bats, tried foods I can't even begin to pronounce, and for the first time, opened my eyes to see through another's, and did absolutely nothing for hours without ever craving to check the time or my facebook feed. I stared at the night sky filled with stars and wanted for absolutely nothing else in the world. It was surreal, truly. And to them I am so, eternally grateful.
I feel so blessed that my trip has only just begun and it already is astronomically amazing. The excitement for the unknown is consuming me and I welcome it. This is a trip 5 years in my mind and I can't believe I waited this long. Trust me, my dear friends, follow your gut and your heart, they'll never steer you wrong.
With so much love,