Contributed by Molly B.
The first thing you should know about me is this: I’m terrified of flying. I hate airplanes, airports, security, relinquishing my beloved suitcase and its contents to the vast unknown of the undercarriage. I hate flying so much that I requested a Xanax prescription from my doctor for my upcoming flights so that I wouldn’t lose my mind during take-off and landing. It’s all just absolutely the worst. Having said all that, though, the next thing you should know about me is this: I love and crave adventure. And no 22-hour travel day and imminent airport anxiety would stop me from hopping on multiple planes to see one of my best friends in what is now the most incredible place I’ve ever seen.
Chrissy and I have been friends since our college days, spending tons of hours together navigating a cappella group and honors classes (and bars) during undergrad. It was really sad to have to part ways when I went to occupational therapy grad school and she went, ultimately, to teach in South Korea. When I mentioned visiting her in South Korea after more than a year of being on opposite sides of the world, Chrissy one-upped my suggestion: “What if… we went to Bali instead?” Obviously I was immediately intrigued – Bali is gorgeous! Cultural! Tropical! Exciting! I was so in!!! As pumped to go as I was, though, I knew that this trip and the planning would not be without extensive effort on both of our parts. I, being an Asia budget-travelling newbie, would rely on Chrissy for everything – finding hostels, booking excursions, basically telling me what and what not to do so that I survived. Chrissy, being a fully independent grown-ass adult, would be answering my thousand questions and listening to the drama from my conservative, never-been-out-of-North-America family, with whom I still live. As soon as I booked my flights, I was discouraged from going. Why couldn’t Chrissy and I meet somewhere closer, like Hawaii? Why would I go to hostels when they’re so dirty and dangerous? Didn’t I want to go somewhere without a language barrier? It was, honestly, exhausting, and there were times when I thought it would have been easier to cancel the trip and let my family have this victory instead of constantly defending my decision. I am so glad I stuck to my guns, because then I would have missed out on my favorite, and most eye-opening week of my life.
Bali was everything I expected and then some. I ate the best food ever, saw nature like I had never experienced, met truly unbelievable people – in a nutshell, I indulged in my adventurous side, and it fully paid off. Out of the two regions we visited, I especially connected with Ubud, the more mountainous and lush region, as compared to Kuta, which is far more tourist-oriented and loud. I’ve always been more intrigued by vacations that are off the beaten path, and the lack of hagglers and motorbikes in Ubud (while they definitely were still there in smaller quantity) reinforced that for me. It felt so liberating to walk down a quiet, narrow street and take in the surrounding palm trees and rice fields. Eating in small restaurants with green, island-themed decorations and open-air design was so comforting – not to mention delicious. And our hostel was absolutely charming: made up of many tiny bungalows, a warm pool with a view of a rice field, and two cozy lounges, I could have moved in without any second thoughts. (America? What’s that? Never heard of it.) I even had a blast exploring the fancy Qatar airport during my overnight layover on the way home – who would have thought!? From start to finish, Bali was just pure magic. That’s really the only accurate way to describe it.
I’ve always felt as though I’d been bitten by the travel bug. I constantly have this urge to explore, try new and different things, almost cause mild havoc in a way – blame my sheltered small-town upbringing, or blame early adulthood experimentation. Whatever the case, I have never felt the travel bug’s teeth like I have after Bali. Suddenly, the thought of going to my job, which I love and consider to be pretty fun generally, was dreadful. My hometown and its surroundings seemed to suck the life out of me even more than usual. I just wanted something else that I couldn’t put my finger on; my boredom had reached an all-time high. It took reflecting on this trip at home to help me see that the travel bug feeling I’ve always had was really just my barely-used independence in disguise, hidden deep down somewhere, unearthed by the world and people outside of America.
There were many moments during our trip that made me conscious of my independent spirit, or at least how I could utilize this spirit to enhance my life back home while still under my family’s roof and in a town with virtually nothing to do. Perhaps the biggest example of this revelation was my airport navigations: where I had once been a terrified, anxious, weak-willed mess, I was now a curious, conscientious, calm (but still kinda anxious – it is an airport after all) less of a mess. I realized that I was indeed in control of my situation more than I originally thought, at least in regards to how to spend my time: leave the airplane, go through security and customs, immediately find my gate so I don’t panic at the last minute when I inevitably get distracted, and then explore (fun fact: the Qatar airport has a ridiculously good chocolate shop). When left on my own in an unfamiliar place, it turns out I am absolutely a capable, responsible adult who can problem-solve her way through strange situations.
The people I met on this trip also helped me realize my independence, especially when I listened to their exciting travel stories. It amazed me learning about how different vacation culture is in Europe versus in America: every person I talked to from Europe had travelled extensively across Asia, Australia, other European countries for months at a time. I saw pictures of their various views in each country, accompanied by spectacular narrations of what they were doing there. Between each other, they compared countries and sights (overarching opinion is that Vietnam is the coolest) and often found that they had all been to the same places at some point in their travels. The thing that got me about these stories is that these people did all this travelling themselves! No friends, no family, just themselves and the people they met abroad! Chrissy herself has done solo travel, and she explained how there’s an app for everything you might need when travelling, from transportation to food to attractions, that make solo travelling a whole lot easier. You don’t necessarily need another person with you to help plan things when you have the means to do that yourself – a concept people-pleasing me has obviously never followed. While I by no means have any interest in travelling by myself (I’m way too extroverted for that), I do have interest in applying that world traveller mindset
-fearless and smart- to my current life. Taking your decisions, plans, and the associated repercussions in your own hands, much like travellers do when they’re on their own in a foreign place, sure has a way of making you think through things much more thoroughly. On the same note, though, it has a way of making you celebrate the associated victories as well and only encourage you to pursue more of what makes you happy – as is the case with this entire excursion.
So, that was a lot of word vomit to explain my overall takeaway from my trip to Bali: hone your independence and run with it. Without this trip and its experiences, I don’t think I would have started the process of moving out of my family home and pursuing a more challenging job. I don’t think I would have felt as comfortable as I do with making decisions for myself regarding plans, whether it’s giant ones like moving out or small ones like making the executive call on where my boyfriend and I eat when he takes forever to answer my text. I for sure wouldn’t have started planning my next Asia budget-travel trip with Chrissy, since this trip busted any and all deep-seeded stereotypical fears about backpacking and hostels (stay tuned in a year to hear my thoughts on Vietnam). I just feel so much more in control of my adult life, with newfound confidence to blaze my own trail as I see fit regardless of what obstacles may be in my way. After exploring the world and its inhabitants in a different way, I can’t wait to travel more and learn even more. And to think I considered staying home at one point… un-Bali-vable.