Coming Home

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After a 25-hour flight, walking down the corridor with swollen ankles and a tired head, I am greeted by things that feel, that are familiar:

The simplicity and clarity of Finnish design, mostly using wood as the main material – one of the great resources we have plenty of. 

The sweet, intoxicating smell of cinnamon buns at the café – one of the desserts I’ve missed the most because no other place in the world makes cinnamon buns the way we do in the Nordic countries.

The taste and smell of Finnish filter coffee (especially after drinking mostly instant coffee since Australia).

All these things greet me with their familiarity and I welcome them, thinking to myself as I enjoy the wet and foggy landscape on the train ride to the city centre: I’ll make this work.

Then the jet lag hits me. 

The first day everything goes well despite only a few hours of sleep on the flight, but the day after that, I struggle to stay awake. I decide to go to bed early, only to wake up three hours later, at one o’clock in the night to realize I’m alert and awake like a nocturnal animal. I try reading, and have to force myself to at least rest after two hours of page-turning.

Days after that, I get headaches. I find it hard to concentrate. I get no writing done and for every day that passes without words, it feels even harder to open any of the files I felt so inspired by in New Zealand.

It becomes a pattern.

Slowly, it feels like everything I believed in in New Zealand loses its value. The short story I’ve been working on, the longer fan fiction story, the ideas I wrote down while living on the other side of the globe. It doesn’t seem like they are going anywhere, not anymore.

My remedy? I ask Netflix to play the next episode of Anne With an E. I check Whatsapp for new messages in a writing group I was added to (which is, actually, awesome). I update my email over and over again to see if something’s happening and when something is, I close the app and decide to do something else.

I feel conflicted about meeting friends and family because I don’t know what to say to them. For them, six months have gone by quickly as life as we know it has been happening. For me, for us, the past six months have been a lifetime. Now, I’m supposed to have a plan. People expect us to have a plan. 

And I do, or at least I did. But everything that felt right in New Zealand… It feels like I lost it somewhere during those 25 hours. It’s like the change in environment has affected me more than I realized.

I do believe this is only temporary and that the inspiration and motivation and energy for doing things are somewhere there, hidden in the back of my mind. But instead of giving myself the time to land, to ease into being in Finland again, I keep beating myself up for binge-watching Netflix, reading for hours, avoiding contact with people I know – and not writing.

It’s nice to come home but it isn’t as simple as I had thought. 

In 2016, after my exchange semester in Ireland, I was happy to come back and had no problems with it. Now, it seems different. I wonder if what I’m feeling is fear – fear of actually starting to do things that seem meaningful to me? Writing and publishing a book, maybe getting started with that idea about youngsters and reading.

If it is fear, I think it’s a good sign. That usually means you’re on the right path, despite the fact that resistance tries to keep you from not acting. I think I just have to give myself a few more days to get used to the cold weather and the fact that this country is the place where I have decided to actualize my dreams.

It’s not easy but it is definitely the right thing to do. Then, hopefully, I will be able to get my hands dirty (or my fingers sore from all the writing).

Ways To Connect With People

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Thought-provoking art work by Peter Stichbury (NDE, 2013)

Thanks to our digital devices, the developing technology and all the opportunities available online, it becomes easy to isolate ourselves from the real society around us.

It’s definitely easier to be social online without needing to worry about your looks or your energy levels, the weather or what cake to choose in the café. It is also definitely wonderful to find inspiration online on social media, on blogs and random websites, and to connect with other like-minded people. To know you’re not alone with your passion to write a book, start a business, go separate ways with your long-time partner or start a new life somewhere else.

But all of this exists also outside the Internet, social media and forums. You can find it in real life as well.

As we are rounding up our half-year adventure, we flew from Christchurch to Auckland to spend a few days in the capital city before returning to Finland. As we had been renting a private room in a house in Christchurch, staying at a hostel seemed like a refreshing change. It would be nice to meet new people, right?

The great thing about hostels is that it’s impossible to not meet new people. You share a room with them, you eat breakfast at the same table, you make travel plans and get advice from more experienced backpackers. Hostels are backpacker hubs. That’s what we thought, at least.

But our digital lives have changed that hostel culture.

I could already see it in Malaysia when we were staying at a hostel in Cameron Highlands. In Auckland, however, the effect of technology and digitalization could be seen even more clearly.

The combined kitchen/lounge area of a hostel is supposed to be the place where people talk and get together. Instead, we saw people sitting alone, eating their food while facing their phone, watching a video or scrolling their feed, isolating themselves from their surroundings with headphones. One time, when we tried talking to a girl, she was too busy taking a perfect picture of her food for social media to stay on track with the conversation we were having.

It’s weird that people wish to hold on to their social media fees, keep on following the same content producers as back home – why travel if you’ll only do the same things on your phone abroad that you would at home?

Only sometimes, when we played Skip-bo or any other card game, we could spark up some conversation with the few who weren’t distracted by their phones or who had dared to sit at one of the bigger tables. But taking out your phone or turning on the TV – it’s a conversation killer, a passive force that takes over and to which we so easily succumb to.

Hostels, the places that were supposed to be backpacker hubs, where the free travelers gather and talk, seem to be dying. Or at least, changing form, if our digital consumption continues as it does. The cultural exchange goes lost when you can do it online, the conversations die when you can have them on your phone, the stories are already out there, on the Internet. What do we need social, real life experiences for anymore?

However, there is hope.

Lucky for us, we got to meet curious characters elsewhere in the city. We met a couple of Swedes queuing to the same impressive gelato shop and ended up sharing our ice cream experience with them. Two days later, at a café, we shared a table with an older man who knew surprisingly lot about Finland and its history with Russia, and we got into a conversation about the differences between New Zealand and Scandinavian countries.

And the thing is: I think both conversations bloomed because we kept our phones in our pockets and instead opted to observe our surroundings. We looked like we were up for a conversation, open-minded and curious about the people around us.

The Internet is a wonderful place but only if we use it wisely. If we let ourselves become isolated, if we find it ”too hard” to let go of social media, if we can’t let go and instead embrace the awkward silences, the seeking conversation-starters and sometimes even weird conversation partners… I honestly don’t know what the world will look like in ten years.

It’s already happening in hostels, the sacred places of connectivity and feeling of community. And if it’s happening there, it’s most likely happening elsewhere as well. But  believe me when I say that putting away your phone, headphones, laptop or any other mobile device will do wonders. For you, both internally and socially.

Let’s prioritize real human connection. Our phones and social media feeds aren’t going anywhere. People around you, however, might.

 

The Thing About Not Being Homesick

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In the process of less than a week, we sold our road trip car and booked our next flight tickets. Quick actions, one might think, but I believe we are doing the right thing. Australia has been a wonderful experience, a road trip even more so – but it’s time to move on.

The next destination is actually our main destination, the one we’ve been approaching slowly but surely for the last three months: New Zealand. A plan of ours that was born a few years back and the one we’ve been saving for since the plan was formed – to spend a year in this country, to see what it feels like to live on the other side of the world.

In other words, we are not going back to our home country – instead, we are doing the opposite by staying in the southern hemisphere with an eleven-hour time difference from Finland. One could think homesickness would be creeping in.

But I’m not homesick – and I don’t think I will be.

But why is that? Why am I not homesick. Shouldn’t I be?

No Home, No Longing

I believe one reason to why I’m not feeling homesick is that technically, we don’t have a home anymore. Last summer, we sold most of our belongings and gave away the apartment we had been living for the past eight months. This way, I don’t have a specific place for writing or a certain chair where I’d love to curl up to read a good book.

(Sure, my parents still live in the house I grew up in, but what used to be my room is used for something else and the house simply doesn’t feel like my home anymore. So it doesn’t count.)

I can’t feel homesick if I have no home – right?

Some things, of course, remind me of things back home and awaken the feeling of ah, I wish I could do that or have that again. More than once, a smell of something has made me think of my grandparents’ summer cottage. First time, it was the smell of metal chains (yes, that’s right) and the second time, the refreshing smell of pine trees. Both reminded me of those early mornings at the cottage when you wake up with the sun, take a morning swim and enjoy the quiet.

But other than that, I’ve been fine.

Some thoughts in my head say that it’s wrong not to feel homesick, that isn’t there anything I miss and would like to get back to?

But my home, it feels, isn’t in Finland, not anymore. It is somewhere else – because other than those early mornings at the summer cottage, I haven’t really missed anything. I don’t need to go back.

Searching for Safe Space

However, even though I can write more or less anywhere (just give me a chair and table or just a lap and I’ll write), it doesn’t mean I am in no need for a home base. Quite the opposite, really: for weeks, I’ve been longing for a proper writing desk, a space where I can properly write, draw, plan and execute those plans.

But where to find that home base if not in Finland?

Quite randomly, as I was wondering about homesickness and the absence of it, I happened to stumble upon a quote by a Finnish poet, Eeva Kilpi, who said that the meaning of life is ‘to come home’.

This quote became the answer to my questions about homesickness and why I haven’t been feeling it.

For me, ‘to come home’ means finding a place that feels like a safe space. The moment you walk in, you feel safe and comfortable, like you can be and do anything you want in that place. Home also consists of the people around you, the ones you meet and who become your friends. It consists of familiar walking trails, cycle routes.

A home is somewhere you can think clearly, where you feel free to find a way to be yourself without compromising too much.

For me and my partner, it didn’t feel like we could find that in Finland. It just didn’t work out because of many things – the weather, the darkness, the language, the culture. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been feeling homesick?

After reading the quote from Eeva Kilpi, it made me realize that one of the reasons we embarked on this journey is to do precisely that – find a place where it feels like we’ve ‘come home’.

If we find it in New Zealand, only time will tell.

The Way We Travel

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A few weeks ago, we met a German couple who are spending a year in Australia, aiming to drive around the whole country before their twelve-month visas expire. As we had a similar setup, a car with a rooftop tent, and a similar route – we ended up meeting them time and time again on campgrounds and other places.

The similarities got us talking and we spent many great nights and days together. But there was one thing that made us as travelers differ from each other: the way we travel.

We were having a picnic in a park when we started talking about our travel plans for the near future

The Germans could tell us their exact plans for the coming days, even for coming weeks. They intended to explore the botanical gardens and the zoo in Rockhampton, go see a Singing Ship, spend a night at Emu Beach and then slowly make their way towards Bundaberg for a brewery tour and Hervey Bay to spend at least five nights on Fraser Island.

Then they asked us how we plan our travels. Our answer was, and is:

“We plan as we go, take one day at a time.”

I could see in their faces that they thought it was a weird way to travel, that they couldn’t do the same. And in a way, for me, a person who loves planning, doing research and writing lists, this is a very weird way of travelling.

But I’ve grown to like it. I even prefer it that way.

Let the Road Signs Guide You

In Asia, we couldn’t really ‘plan as we went’ because we didn’t have a car and the countries’ infrastructure are more confusing than logical for tourists. In Australia, however, the road network is great and easy to navigate, and we don’t have to follow a schedule.

That has enabled us to do our road the way we want to do it.

What ‘taking one day at a time’ means for us is that after we’ve woken up and had our breakfast, we pack our tent and belongings in the car and hit the road. We have our general direction we’re headed towards, usually a bigger city such as Cairns or Brisbane, but what we’ll do that day and where we end up staying the night is still a mystery.

We have a few different apps on our phones that help us find day-time rest areas, campgrounds and points of interest. They are helpful when we try to find a place where to have lunch, sleep or fill our water tank, but otherwise we let the apps be.

Instead, we keep our eyes open and follow the road signs.

My favorite places so far we’ve randomly visited have been a beautiful windmill park in Atherton Tablelands, Australia’s tallest single-drop waterfall Wallaman Falls (268 meters), a bushwalk route in Bowen and a morning above the clouds up in Eugenella Park (as seen in the photo for this post).

All these attractions were unplanned – and unexpectedly beautiful. That, somehow, makes them all even more valuable than the expected things.

Seeing What Others Don’t

Many of our decisions our guided by our low budget. Most often, we opt for free campgrounds instead of those that cost. We choose the free attractions rather than the guided, costly ones. We make our own food on the gas stove instead of going to restaurants and cafés.

It can be seen as a trade-off. Some paid campgrounds are awesome (we did stay at one that used to be nudist park a couple of years back – few places have been as relaxing as that campground) and of course, it would be awesome to go diving on Whitsunday Islands, see the wild koalas on Magnetic Island or the dingoes on Fraser Island. I would love to visit cafés, bakeries and restaurants and gorge on meat pies, fish and chips, artisan made ice cream.

But when seen from another perspective, we are actually experiencing something most tourists are not. It feels like many places we drive through or take a lunch break at aren’t visited by tourists – in a way, they are untouched, and that the road signs we follow guide us to places other tourists have overlooked. The Wallaman Falls, for instance, are visited by approximately 100,000 people per year. In contrast, the Fraser Island is visited by 380,000 people every year.

In other words, we end up seeing something most travelers don’t.

The Ultimate Freedom

By choosing something that feels like the opposite to what most tourists do, I feel a bit rebellious – and it feels right. It feels like we are making our own, unique Australian road trip by choosing the things most people don’t. Our plans aren’t dictated by “20 best things to do in Place X” lists found online or by what other people expect us to see. We make our own decisions and it feels like the only right way to do it, without the obligations.

Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing bad about wanting to go diving to the Great Barrier Reef or drive on the sandy beaches of Fraser Island – I would most likely do that if I had the opportunity. The tourist attractions are attractions for a good reason – but there is something even more awesome about doing the “rebellious” thing, the thing no one else does. The things we want to do and see.

Also, I think somehow, as the world is so interconnected and the Internet allows us to see most of the world attractions, seeing the random things becomes the thing while traveling – to see things you cannot find online. To see the odd vehicle memorabilia museum next to the gas station in a small village or chatting about writing with an elderly lady in the twilight at a rest stop.

For many, this might not feel like the way they would like to travel, like it seemed to be for the German couple. Some people prefer to have some control over their plans, a schedule to hold on to. I get it – I’m like that when it comes to certain things. For us, however, traveling without ‘must-sees’ seems to be the best way to do our Great Australian Road Trip.

When we don’t plan ahead, we get the ultimate freedom of being on a road trip. By letting go of control and expectations, we stop restricting ourselves from giving opportunities to random things.

So, in case someone in the future wonders out loud why we didn’t see “any of the sights” while we were in Australia, I won’t feel bad. Instead, I’ll recall all the odd, beautiful things we encountered on the road while lightheartedly driving from one location to the next without plans, without schedules, and without the pressure of following in the footsteps of most tourists.

 

Experiencing As the Opposite of Writing

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After writing last week’s troubled blog post about my writing-not-writing situation, two quotes came to my mind.

Somehow, it seems, my brain thought it was time for me to do some changes so it picked these quotes from the long shelves of thoughts and memories, giving me a perspective on my current writing situation.

Funny enough – the quotes have made a difference.

Let’s just dive in and start with the first one. The quote is by Benjamin Franklin and goes like this:

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

If you have read my posts from the previous two weeks, you know I’m longing for writing something worth reading. It’s what I’ve been doing for the past year and half, writing almost daily – fiction, journal entries, blog posts. It’s what I know and love.

But now, as Mr. Franklin/my brain conveniently reminded me of, I’m doing something worth writing.

Or am I – really?

Learning About Prioritizing

Because –

I wonder if one can travel great lengths without actually doing anything worth writing about. Just linger, wander, pass curious details and interesting human beings without really seeing them and taking in their existence – and if I’ve done just that.

You see –

During these past months of travel, I’ve been looking for opportunities to write and been disappointed when day after day I haven’t had the possibility to do so. I’ve been having many negative thoughts of what I should be doing and what I’m not and, to be honest, it has consumed me and my energy.

And as I’ve been in this gravel pit of negativity, I wonder if I’ve actually given myself the chance to enjoy and experience, to take the days as they come.

However, the thing to realize here is that in the mode of experiencing, to write or not write becomes more like a side product of that mode. You have to be willing to ease on the writing part of being a traveling writer and focus more on experiencing.

But I haven’t let that happen.

I’ve kept writing as my main mode, my first priority, and that just may have hindered me from it’s opposite – experiencing.

Experience Requires Patience

This is where I’d like to introduce the second quote my brain reminded me of. It’s from a film called Stuck In Love I saw earlier this year (a movie recommendation for those looking for films about writing – it’s not a super awesome movie but it’s about writing and that’s the best thing about it).

A writer is the sum of her experiences.

When I was little, I read a fantasy book called The Prophecy of the Gems by Flavia Bujor. It was Bujor’s first (and only) book but the thing that made it cool was that she was only 14 years old at the time. I was amazed by her young age and, as I already at that point had my dreams of becoming a published author, thought I could do the same.

But the thing is, it is very hard to write about themes such as love, loss, freedom and loneliness if one has never experienced those things. No matter how much I would have wanted to write a publishable book at the age of 9, I don’t think I could’ve done it because I didn’t have enough experience of the topics that make books feel real.

Becoming experienced in this thing we call life takes time and waiting out time takes patience. And during that time you shouldn’t just sit and wait but experience, instead.

And even then, you’re not done.

Even though I feel I’m somewhat more experienced than I was at the time I read Bujor’s debut and could put together a realistic novel, at the same time I realize I’m not done experiencing.

There’s so much more to learn about life’s quirks that I haven’t gotten to yet.

I believe one of those quirks has been presented to me during these last couple of days.

The Lesson To Learn

I don’t think it’s too late for me to switch my focus and re-organize my priorities. Even though writing is one of the most meaningful things in my life, I can let it rest for a while – that doesn’t mean I will never get back to my writing routines and never become a published author.

I just have to be patient, give time to this period in my life. Remember that experiences give me something to write about.

And even though I’ve been obsessed about writing-not-writing, I think I’ve squeezed in some experiences and observations:

I have used my senses in the desert landscape of Northern Australia: seen the drought, felt the heat and sweat in the small of my back. I’ve heard the wind rustle through the dry hay, smelled the smoke coming from forest fires, tasted the refreshing water after a hike.

During the long days of driving, I’ve had time to listen to audiobooks and in the evenings, listened to audiobooks or read fiction. Thought about my own works of fiction, the characters and what makes a book feel real.

I’ve had time to think of who I am as a person and as a writer, thought about what life’s meaning really is about and if it’s necessary to find something that feels meaningful or if the meaningfulness of things already exists there or here, I just can’t see it yet.

So I’m already on a good path here – I just need to be patient and forgive myself for not writing.

It won’t be an easy switch to just ”forget” about writing and only write when the opportunity presents itself. And I need to be careful not to put too much weight on experiencing and instead just take the experiences as they come.

This road trip might be about learning to enjoy, to experience without stressing out about experiencing, and write when the opportunity presents itself – but not force myself to do anything.

If I learn that, I might have an experience on my hands really worth writing about.

The Traveling Writer, Pt. II

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(You can read part one here.)

I haven’t written about writing in a while because it has been… complicated.

The thing is, writing and traveling don’t go too well together. It’s because both forms of doing consume time and energy. It’s an either or situation where you have to choose what you want to focus on.

However, that has not stopped me from doing it. I mean, you’re reading this blog post that I’ve written while sitting in a rooftop tent in Kakadu National Park in Australia – so I am traveling and writing. It is possible!

But you have to fight for your writing time, for sure. Be prepared for compromises, for flexibility. Give yourself a little mercy for not being as prolific as you’d wish to be.

And realize that maybe traveling and writing don’t go together as well as you might have thought in the beginning.

When Your Focus Goes Elsewhere

While traveling, it is easy to just go with the flow, to be consumed by all the things that come to traveling: planning the route, the food, and where to stay the night. You focus on what you see, smell and feel. In the end of the day, you are tired and ready to go to bed – although you haven’t written a word.

In Vietnam, as we preferred our homestay rooms more than the touristic sites, I had plenty of time to write. I got into writing regularly and could keep up with my writing projects. But now, as we’ve changed country and continent (yay for Australia!), my writing time has decreased noticeably.

It has been on hold because we have been preparing ourselves for a different mode of travel.

As the best way to travel in Australia is by car, we decided to buy one. After a few days of searching, we found one that we liked and had a reasonable price, and bought it. Then, for a few days more, we prepped the car: cleaned it, fixed small things, got necessary kitchen equipment and a rooftop tent.

I didn’t have the time or the energy to write.

After that, when our traveling home was ready for the road, we started the engine and were off. (A side note: there is something very symbolic about starting the motor of your car for the very first time).

As it is in the beginning, new things take so much time and energy to focus on planning: where we want to drive, how long it takes, when do we need to fuel up or go to the grocery store. It takes effort to put up the rooftop tent, to cook food, to clean up and prepare for the night. It’s a full-day job to be on a road trip that will take a few months – it’s nothing you can plan too well before-hand.

So, even if we hit the road, I didn’t have the time, the space or the energy to write.

But I have noticed my feeling of restlessness growing from one day to the other – I want to write, I know I have to write. Get those thoughts, ideas, plot twists and character developments on paper.

Finding the Balance

I know I have to make traveling and writing work together – because I, as a writer, am most satisfied when writing. But how?

A week ago, I tried something: instead of writing in the morning, which is my best time for writing but also the best time for waking up and getting going in Australia, I changed my writing hours to the evening.

Why? Because when the sun goes down, the bugs come out from their hiding and take over the world. Therefore, at 7 PM, we pack everything in the car and take the steps up to our rooftop tent to take shelter from the blood-thirsty devils. But who wants, or even can fall asleep at seven in the evening? No one. It is the perfect time for writing.

Or… You’d think it’s the best time to be writing.

I’ve noticed that although it is the perfect time for writing, it’s not the perfect time if you plan on sleeping after writing. It’s the blue-screen-brain thing – sitting in front of the computer for an hour does not make you sleepy. After you’re done with your words, you lie in the rooftop tent literally for hours waiting for sleep to come. And you wake up tired.

It’s far from an optimal situation. But at the moment, it’s the best I’ve got. Otherwise I’ll be scratching my writing minutes together with blood, sweat and tears and it’s not nice. But I have to say – especially when traveling together with someone, it’s tough to combine both writing and traveling. You can’t be in two places at the same time.

I’ll keep on working on my writing and trying to find a way to keep going with this traveling writer thing. Sometimes I do remind myself of the fact that I have actually managed to put together over 25,000 words while on this trip and that is something to be proud of. But at the same time, I know I could’ve produced twice as much if not for traveling.

An easy choice would be to choose – for now – traveling over writing. But it feels like something I don’t want to do, it feels like I’ll be betraying myself if I just let my laptop rest instead of trying my best to write.

I can’t choose writing over traveling, not quite yet, but until then… I’ll just have to keep on finding that time for writing and find a way to see my situation in a better light, from another perspective.

I’ll let you know how I’m doing.

Unsuited For Travel

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For so many years already, backpacking has been something many dream of.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to just leave everything behind and live from your backpack for months while traveling around the world? Be free from the ordinary life you’ve learned to know, let the days melt together and forget the meaning of Fridays and weekends?

There are so many who would love to do that. Who love to backpack, travel to foreign, exotic countries, sleep in hostels, spend days sitting on buses and trains, do things you wouldn’t or couldn’t do back home.

But there are also people who do not have a need for that backpacker life.

After more than two months of travel, I’ve realized I’m one of those people. Those, who do not get the thrill of visiting new cities and towns, who don’t get excited from the freedom of spending their days doing whatever they want.

While traveling in Southeast Asia, we had all our belongings neatly packed in our backpacks. We were constantly moving around, from hostels to homestays to Airbnb apartments. Every three or four nights we would pack our things and get going, take the bus to another city to settle down there for a few days. We would explore the city for a few days before packing up everything again and moving on.

That’s how we traveled in three different countries. For me, it was exhausting.

An Introvert On A Holiday

As I only see people loving this lifestyle we’ve tried for two months now, I’ve been trying to figure out why I seem to feel different about backpacking. Why am I not enjoying it like everyone else? Am I not a backpacker, am I not able to adapt to this kind of lifestyle?

One explanation to my discomfort could be my personality.

First of all, I have a tendency to try to please other people. When a people-pleaser like me, who tends to believe the best in people and give almost everyone benefit of the doubt, is forced to say no and know locals are only after a money… It’s uncomfortable. It is exhausting to constantly shake your head, or worse, ignore the seller.

And for the second, I’m an introvert. While I enjoy meeting new people, to play cards, drink beer, go on hikes with people I’ve never seen before, I also need to balance out that social life with some privacy, my own time and space. Otherwise, I’ll drain my energy.

But as being social is one of the essential parts of backpacking, I tend to feel guilty for taking time off people, shut the door to the room or the curtain to my bed. Somehow I feel like I’m doing it wrong – backpacking. And still, I know I need that time for myself.

Backpacking is a balancing act for an introverted person. It can get tough, exhausting, even frustrating at times, compared to an extrovert who doesn’t seem to have any problems chilling with people around the clock.

However, at the same time I know being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t do certain things. You can be an introvert and a backpacker at the same time – you just have to be selfish enough to take the time for yourself.

Which makes me think there is something else that explains my unsuitability for travel.

Freedom, Sex, Distraction

It feels like many backpackers come to Southeast Asia for freedom.

It’s the kind of freedom you see in their behavior: how they drive scooters without helmets on, how they drink rice wine and have random sex with random people in shared dormitories, how they spend their money how they wish without needing to think about the consequences.

Many travel to Asia to escape something and to get something they can’t get at home: the freedom, the sex, the careless attitude. The also get the kind of attention they don’t get in the western world: the friendliness of the locals, the attention they give you when they want to sell you something.

It’s attractive.

And they have a great time in Asia because their money actually has more value here. They get the benefits they would like to have back home without having to dress up, drive a fancy car, behaving according the etiquette and social norms and have huge amounts of savings and investments.

But even more than the freedom and sex, they get a distraction. In the chaos of Asia they momentarily lose themselves, their former goals and dreams or the lack of them. For a while, they don’t need to think about the future, their career plans, the expectations they are expected to meet. It’s liberating to backpack, to be free.

However, what I’ve realized is that I have no need for that kind of freedom – and that, reader, is liberating.

I’ve realized that I have things going on already that I like and enjoy. I already have my plans and dreams for the future, I already know what my own expectations for myself are. Therefore, I have no need to escape the feelings of helplessness and anxiety that come from not knowing what one wants to do with his or her life.

This comes from the fact that I’ve already discovered the thing I can see myself doing the rest of my life: writing. Writing both fact and fiction allows me the escape and the freedom many seek in backpacking, and I’m comfortable to do it wherever I feel at home.

(Where that place is, is still bit of a question mark but I do believe there is a place where I’ll feel comfortable enough to actually stay.)

The Realization

Realizing this, the difference between me and 80% of the people we’ve met on our trip, has helped me get away from those guilty feelings of introverted behavior and the thoughts of am I doing this wrong when I’m not enjoying it?

I get tired of constantly moving around, of constantly meeting new people and getting excited about things that mostly have to do with the freedom of an exotic, foreign country. Part of it can be explained by my personality, my biology, but it’s also about the fact that I don’t get the thrill of backpacking because I already find it somewhere else.

It’s nice to know this. At the same time, it took two months in Southeast Asia to realize it – and I can’t yet say if the trip was worth it. But here I am, aware of what is important to me and what is not.

And that is very liberating.