As I sit here melting slowly, watching my clothes battling against the tropic weather to dry, I have nothing but time to reflect upon what it means to be an American abroad right now.
What should I have said, for example, to the fry cook I met in Scotland, who lifted up his arms to show me his battle scars, saying, “I went to war for your President”?
I still don’t have an answer to that. I can, however, take the actions I can from afar. I’m currently housesitting in a Malaysian suburb outside Kuala Lumpur, and it’s odd to be living in a place where Chinese, Malays, and Indians co-exist somewhat peacefully; where I can see women in the shortest shorts and a full burka walk side by side.
There are other reasons why maybe I shouldn’t be traveling. I have a low tolerance for discomfort. I will get anxious to the point of crying if I see a cockroach. My gallbladder is lazy so I have an awful time eating out while traveling. I can’t drive a stick shift. Social situations tire me out easily. I have a hard time trusting people. I’ve traveled alone but I don’t really like it; I prefer to share my experiences.
I thought the hard part would be reducing my belongings into what fits into one backpack. That was actually the easy part. What’s tough is constantly placing your trust on the goodness of strangers, living in the unknown, and receiving kindness.
However, that’s not enough to discourage me. Will you ever read about me roaring down a jungle in my 50cc bike alone in search of an ancient species of beetle? Probably not.
But I’m too curious about the world and human nature to stop traveling altogether. I still have too many questions. I’m fascinated by history and there’s nothing better than being in the places where great change has taken place.
Traveling has helped me become more patient and loving with myself. I have a better sense of who I am.
But my reasons for traveling have evolved over time. First, I traveled to escape reality. I learned the hard way that you’re never going to be fast enough to run away from your demons. Then, I tried traveling in a bubble. Every single detail planned. I left no room for accidents or growth and that’s exactly what happened.
Now, I travel when I can because it feels like a rebirth each time. I allow myself to be a child, to ask questions, to be wrong, to see something for the first time, to explore, to be uncomfortable, to be rejected, to be lost, to look stupid, to relish every beautiful, painful second of the human experience. I travel because the luxury of what could be lets me appreciate the richness of what simply is.
This way, I never really get lost in the tedium of the everyday. Instead, it’s like taking a step on a slack line or a surfboard. Nothing is guaranteed; you must constantly adjust, adapt, and stay present. Your environment will always change, it’s up to you to find constancy and comfort in yourself.