“When Are You Coming Home?”
Anytime I talk to friends or family back home, at some point in the conversation, this question always comes up. The short answer is: I fly back to the States in May. The longer, but still incomplete, answer is: I don’t know how long I’ll actually be there, or where I’m going next… All I know is that when I get there, it won’t be to stay. Sure, home is great… but there are so many places to see, and so many things to do. Now that I know just how capable I am of traveling on my own, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
When I see photos of all my friends back home getting engaged, married, and starting families, I get a bit sad about my current relationship status. Said status can best be classified as “more single than a slice of American cheese”. These feelings of gloom quickly fade as I scroll past photos of beautiful landscapes, and add more places to my ever-growing destination bucket list. What would be the point in being in a relationship if I’m always going to be gone anyway? Instead of planning my Pinterest wedding and going on dead end dates, I spend my days dreaming about all of the places I want to go, and my nights planning how I’ll make it happen.
From staying in a yurt in the Gobi Desert to seeing the Northern Lights over Iceland… journeying across Russia on the longest railroad in the world and going on a Ugandan Safari… there is literally no end to the list of things I want to do before I die (aka settle down).
But I don’t just travel to tick things and places off a bucket list…. So why DO I do it?
Common (and valid) Reasons for Traveling…
But Not Reasons that Are My Own
To some people, travel is about numbers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen variations of, “23 countries and counting” on the first line of an Insta bio. Travelling is great… and it is dope that so many people are starting to expand their horizons by visiting so many places. However, overall, I’m pretty unimpressed by numbers. I don’t care how old you are… I don’t care how much money you make, and I especially don’t care about the countries you’re “counting.” Don’t tell me how many countries you’ve visited… tell me what you learned there... how they changed you… or better yet, how you changed them.
In other cases, travel seems to be all about the photos. I’m not sure how they do it, but so many travel bloggers and social media influences seem to capture the most beautiful, epic destination photos. They always have perfect hair that blows in the wind just right… accompanied by their beautiful, billowing dresses… on top of a mountain… that they apparently hiked in their highly impractical footwear. I can only imagine that these photos are taken by their tall, dark, handsome and chiseled boyfriends with perfect jawlines, (who also, miraculously, have unparalleled photography skills).
Don’t get me wrong. These shots are great. They’re gorgeous… but they are also posed, and paint a highly unrealistic portrait of what it means to travel. I can only imagine how much time goes into primping for the shot, posing for the shot, and then editing the shot to falsified Adobe perfection. I fear that people get so wrapped up in taking amazing photos that they forget to actually enjoy the amazing places they’re in.
Pictured below: Kirst attempts epic travel photo. Expectation versus reality. (Shout out to Ian for giving me a boost... after documenting my failed attempts - THE SWING IS HIGHER THAN IT LOOKS, OKAY!?)
Other people travel to getaway. Vacationers. Let it be known that there is a huge difference between traveling and vacationing. I am not a vacationer. When I travel, I rarely spend time at the hotel or hostel I’m staying at… (which is why, typically, I book the absolute cheapest option). Fancy schmancy hotels and pools are just about the same everywhere, so instead of lounging around a hotel property, I prefer to spend my time doing things I can’t do at home. I typically wake up at the crack of dawn, throw my hair up, lace up my sneakers, make my best effort at figuring out the public transportation, and head out.
Among other things, you’ll likely find me stuffing my face with local foods, getting hopelessly lost searching for temples and street art, or sweating my butt off hiking a mountain. My friend I’m traveling with to Bali has already expressed her concern with my inability to sleep in, and tendency to stay on the go. We have negotiated, and I have agreed to calm down for a couple days that have been designated for JUST chilling at the pool or beach… because Bali… and when it comes to lazy pool days, Bali is different.
Pictured below: After waking up early to try to go to Taiwan's North Coast for the second day in a row, I was told all of the trains were cancelled indefinitely... something about a typhoon... Instead I went to this beautiful temple in Tamsui... in the pouring rain. On the plus side, because the weather was horrible, no one else was there.
(that actually are my reasons for traveling)
Now that I’m done telling you all the reasons for travel that are not my own, I guess it’s time to get to the main purpose of this post – Why I travel.
My first major in University was Cultural Anthropology. After taking an online class on the subject in high school, my interest in global cultures grew, as did my already sizeable case of wanderlust. I enjoyed learning about culture and field work enough to declare it as my major, however, unless I wanted to become a professor (which I don’t), I knew I’d need to choose a different, “more practical,” field of study. Flash forward five years, and I’ve been living in Asia teaching English for a year and a half… more or less expanding on, and putting in to practice, my love of cultural anthropology. Now, the study of culture is like my real life major. THIS is why I travel.
I don't just travel for travels sake... to lounge at hotels catching a tan, and I am not a "vacationer" by any means. To me, travel is more than the souvenirs I buy and the photos I take, (though I do plenty of that). Travel is about meeting people, making connections, learning, and understanding that, though we may come from very different places, we are all the same. I travel because I love learning about new cultures and want to gain a better understanding of them. Documenting my travel experiences is not about making them look perfect (or acting like I have it all together)... because they aren't (and I don't)... instead it's about telling the real story - whether it's good, bad, or ugly.
Also, I love walking through a city for the first time... (and, more often than not, getting totally lost in it) because, before it's your favorite place, it's a place you've never been before. You learn to make the most of every moment in a new place, even the "totally lost" moments, because you know you may never be back again. While vacations are about Point A and B, travel is more about enjoying the journey in between.
Pictured below: Taking a very brief break from singing and dancing to Sugar with the Tuk Tuk driver's son. Thumbs up for Adam Levine... Thumbs down for thumbs in photos -(C'mon Bradley, take notes from the handsome, photo savvy boyfriends with chiseled jawlines, already)!
One thing I’ve noticed on my travels thus far is the occasional expectation that things will be like they are at home. Though English signage has been pretty prevalent in the countries I have visited, more often than not, English was not anyone's first language. Don't expect for people to be able to understand and respond to you in your native, English tongue. YOU are the foreigner.
At times, I've also seen a total disregard for the local cultures, customs, and rules. Tourism is a massive source of income for many countries, especially in Southeast Asia, but, sometimes, it comes at the unfortunate cost of exploitation: exploitation of people, animals, and the environment. Ethical tourism is a HUGE issue that needs to be addressed. In order to promote long-term sustainability, it’s vital for people to start learning about the culture in the countries they’re visiting, and, more importantly, for people to respect it, the land, and the people. My goal is to learn about these things, and to teach others about them.
Travel is not just a change of scenery, or an opportunity to get lost in beautiful places It's a complete change of pace. It's not just a chance to learn about other countries and customs. It is a chance to represent your own country. With the current state of global politics, I think that, now, I think it's more important than ever to capitalize on the opportunity to represent my country, my state, and my city abroad; To show the world the compassion and love that so many American people possess, and that so seldom makes global news. Travel is about being less concerned by what I take with me, and more concerned with what I leave behind. To give back whenever, and however I can.
Pictured below: Nokcha, the adorable pooch whose name is Korean for "Green Tea". We became besties at a Green Tea Farm in Boseong, South Korea. His owners were just as kind, but, thankfully, didn't lick my face. (I often mention meeting new people as being a big reason why I travel... but meeting new puppies is also very important).
Why I (usually) Go Alone
When I lived in the States, I rarely did things on my own. I hated it. I can count on one hand the number of times I sat at a restaurant and had a meal by myself... and going to a bar alone was absolutely unheard of. When I moved over 7,000 miles from home, I didn’t know a single soul. I had to learn to be self-sufficient in ways I never had to before.
Now, I not only have most meals by myself, but I also do a lot of my traveling alone. I have been on trips with (former) friends, and by myself, and though traveling alone is not easy, it is hands down more preferable – (It’s true what they say about not really knowing a person til ya travel with them).
Solo travel is challenging, and, at times, downright scary… but for all of its obstacles, there are so many more values. When you go alone, the experience is totally your own. You meet so many more people and spend your time 100% the way you want to. If you want to sleep in, you sleep in. If you want to get up at the crack of dawn to go for a hike, you lace up your kicks and go climb that mountain. If you want to also crack open a beer at the crack of dawn, fine… ain’t nobody gonna judge ya – (unless you’re staying in a hostel and someone in another bunk hears you open up said beer… but, whatever because you’ll probably never see them again).
If you want to stay, you stay. If you want to go, you go… and if you end up having a shitty time, it is absolutely no one's fault but your own.
Pictured below: No billowing locks, no fancy dress. Just me, my rain jacket, and a pair of once white sneakers getting lost in Taipei. Not even super typhoon Meranti could rain on my parade. Well... I mean, it was raining... but a little drizzle (and the occasional downpour) never hurt anybody.
If you're looking for a sign that it's time to book that flight, this is it.
Yes, you! If you want to leave that bubble that is your home country, a bubble Trump wants to build a wall around, type skyscanner.com into your search bar and get to plannin'!
If you want to see the world, but have been waiting to find a travel bud who’s vacation days match up with your own, SCREW THE WAIT. Book that cheap flight and go to those places you’ve always dreamed of. If you are ready and able, make a plan and go alone. There’s a big beautiful, sometimes intimidating, but always incredible world out there – and I don't know about you, but I NEED to see it.
In a time of division, difference, and proposed walls, (lookin' at you, Donald), it’s now more important than ever to cross our man-made borders, expand our horizons, and to build bridges (not walls). If you think of the world as a threatening place, that will become your reality. On the other hand, traveling will open your eyes, mind, and, more importantly, your heart to new people, places, and cultures… and when that happens, you realize we are all the same, and that the world is not the scary place everyone warned you about.