You arrive. You wander. You meet. You move. You learn. You roam. You find. You experience. You change.
And then you leave.
As you travel and move from city to city, whether close to home or on the other side of the world, you are exposed. You are exposed to new places, new foods, new normals but easily the most daunting, and in the end influential, are the new people you meet along the path you travel.
While recently in Thailand I met a number of people who I hope to continue to cross paths with in our future travels. Together we climbed up, slid down and stood under waterfalls. We tried foods we couldn’t pronounce, endured nauseating ferry rides, and watched the sun rise and set again each day. Although all of this happened over the course of a few short weeks, each of us can now say we have friends in places we haven’t been yet. Places we all plan to go.
Thousands of miles from home, we were free from the pressures of our everyday lives.
Free from the expectations of those that have known us. Free from the weight of responsibility to anyone but ourselves. Free from the regret of the mistakes we’ve made. In leaving this all in the departure lounge of the airport, we were free to be our best, brightest selves. The wide eyed, salty haired, and glowing (even if it is from the sweat and sunscreen) versions of ourselves.
Stripped down and unguarded we were eager to experience everything surrounding us.
From the street food (and bucket bars) on Khoa San Road, to the Wat Po Temple, to the markets and street shops, you soak every moment of it all in.
Before you’ve even left Bangkok, you’ve met a group of people who are in the same state of mind. People who are willing to try deep fried scorpion and street Pad Thai, who have the same appreciation for the history and beautiful detail of the temples, and who are willing to share a bucket of vodka and redbull with you while you dance in the streets together. Together you found the freshest fruit stand, the best iced coffee and the cheapest place to get a massage. Without all the familiarities of home, these people become the comfort and encouragement.
All of a sudden, it’s not just the experiences of scuba diving in Koh Tao, staying up until the sun rises, or climbing the seven tiers of Erawan National Park that you are sharing with these people. You are sharing the purest and most honest form of yourself. There is something about the foreign air that speeds up process of getting to know others. You find yourselves opening up and telling stories of your past, and your hopes for the future. Nothing is off limits for sharing. In a short span of time you’ve caught them up on 20-odd years of your life.
Then three weeks has suddenly past the inevitable happens – the last supper. Despite early flights, you delay saying goodnight. You continue to lift your glasses and cheers the new family you’ve made. And then, one by one, you get in a cab head for the airport. Each of you traveling in a different direction, resuming the lives you put on hold. The final hugs are given and promises are made. Promises of another one.
You come home to your things in the same spot you left them, but somehow it looks different. The places you frequent, only feel vaguely familiar. The water pressure in the shower feels too hard. You crave the home cooked meals of the homestay, rather than the meatloaf your mom always made.
But more than the subtle differences in the environment, you miss the people you met. The people who you shared a meal, a drink or a white-knuckle-gripping Tuk Tuk ride with. The people who didn’t run from the rain, but danced in it. The people who helped you, and even carried you through the forest that lead to the waterfall. The people who didn’t just take the picture for you, but stood beside you.
Despite the difference in time zones, you continue talking to the people you met day and night. You wake up to countless unread messages and the photos found deep in the camera rolls of each other’s phones. You retell stories, and continue to encourage, tease and confide in each other from across the world.
As you settle into your daily routine, you continue to find yourself distracted. Distracted by the thoughts of traveling. I’ve come to realize that it’s the people I met while traveling that are fueling my desire to see and experience more. It’s not simply about trekking Machu Picchu, or spending the day at Angkor Wat, it’s about being surrounded by people who want the same experience, and have the same appreciation for the world around them.
Now a month later, I still find myself distracted by the idea of another trip, to another place, for another month, with the hopes of meeting the same people along the way.