Things change when you travel. There’s no doubt about that. But when you leave, you figure you have all the basics figured out – until you enter a country that’s so foreign to you that you have no choice but to sit up, pay attention, listen and learn. I spent nine months overseas, mostly in Australia, but my two weeks in Thailand are what stayed with me the most.
Before Thailand: Walking into a huge, clean hotel room with a gigantic bed and big fluffy pillows. Complimentary breakfast, a five star restaurant on-site and chocolates on your pillow.
After Thailand: Walking into a bathroom and seeing toilet paper.
Before: The movie Hostel.
After: A home base, immediate friends, a bar, a library, a giant database for new places to visit supported but outrageous stories told by firsthand experience.
Before: Someone who has been in your life for years, seen you at your worst and still loves you anyways.
After: The first person you meet in your hostel that wants to share a beer and doesn’t try and steal your wallet.
Before: A man with a college degree and a solid 9-5 job, clean cut and well dressed.
After: Long hair pulled back into a bun, a big smile, even bigger dreams and no STDs.
Before: Getting drunk at a house with your closest friends for the 2,488th time since you first tasted alcohol.
After: having a Thai “taxi” (pickup truck) driver take you and 12 strangers to a jungle party that you aren’t even sure exists and drop you off in the middle of the jungle and drive away. Walk until you hear music, stop to paint your body with neon paint along the way, dance until you see the sun come up, jump in the pool at 5am, sleep til 2pm, do it all again the next night.
Before: a full service resort that is so westernized you basically enjoy the country’s weather but nothing else unique to it.
After: Visiting multiple cities in a country stuffed into two weeks, meeting locals and taking their suggestions, trying every weird food and drink you can try, learning from social blunders and crying when you return home because there were still three million things you didn’t get to do.
Before: A teenager in high school who has no responsibilities, no cares and 100% safety in the small bubble of the world they grew up in.
After: A 20-something-year old who has the ability to support his or herself with an income and do whatever they want with that money, such as see the world. Being at the age where you don’t have it all figured out but you understand that you don’t and that’s why you keep looking.
Before: Paying off student loans with a 9-5 job in the big city while husband hunting and saving for retirement.
After: Working 2-3 jobs to save enough money as quickly as possible to uproot your life and embed yourself in another culture until you’re so uncomfortable and scared that the smallest victories bring such joy and pride that you feel like a million bucks.
Before: A hippie who has no care in the world about having a shower or a bed to sleep in or a meal so he or she keeps travelling off of nothing.
After: Young people who care more about seeing and participating in a foreign country and having the mobility to do so by carrying everything on their back. People who are on a budget and try and stretch their dollar as far as possible to make the dream last even longer. A denial of the 9-5, college degree bullshit that we are fed from birth.
Before: Loud, crowded, dirty, crazy, complete culture shock and a little scary.
After: Loud, crowded, dirty, crazy, complete culture shock and worth every second.