Two months into my travels around south-east Asia and I find my brain is beginning to relax and allow me to think about home, work, life and the future. For me, one of the big motivators for this trip was to give myself some time and space to work out what was important to me. Sounds very hippy and cliché I know, but it’s the truth.
To date we have travelled through Hong Kong, Vietnam, North Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. The next month has been dedicated to the second leg of our Thailand adventure, the south, and on arrival in Phuket we decided to book cheap and cheerful lodgings for 10 nights, our longest stay anywhere so far. Becoming bona-fide beach bums needs hard work and practise, so where better to start than on the beautiful beaches of south-west Phuket; Patong, Karon and Kata. Nestled in amongst the package deal tourists, taking their well earned 2 week holidays, we noticed the vibe here is very different from our other travelling destinations, and we switched into holiday mode almost immediately. From the murky depths of my rucksack came the dresses for dinner, the fella dug out a shirt, and for the last few nights we’ve been frequenting restaurants with tablecloths and wine lists. Not a plastic chair or chop stick in sight. During the day we’ve been mopeding between beaches and having lived in shorts and t-shirts for the last 2 months, my mission has been to eradicate my dodgy tan lines. Lying on the pristine golden sand day dreaming, listening to music and reading, my mind has wandered over the last couple of months, the places and faces we’ve seen, and the reasons I wanted to come away in the first place. Freedom. The freedom to allow my brain to slow down and to find some answers to the constant questioning I seemed to be under from every possible source in my life. Work, home, family, friends.
It’s not like a I was having mid-life crisis or anything. I was just having one of those years, know what I mean ? The year your long term boyfriend tells you he’s gay, the year your dream job turns into a daily nightmare because the new boss is a witch, the year you crash your long saved for new car and they’re not insured, get your exams results and they’re shocking, get your health check results back and that bump was a lump. Whatever your worries might be, when combined with communicating with our lovely but bonkers families, the relentless commute to the office, the annoying woman at the checkout in your local supermarket; if you’re anything like me, you can find yourself about to commit some highly socially unacceptable tantrum in the middle of the high street for absolutely no reason, crawl into a hole and hide until it’s all gone away, or escape to the other side of the world and re-evaluate things. Understand, this isn’t just the normal day to day disgruntlement of life, it’s the year that makes you say, “Right! That’s it! I’m outta here!”.
Thankfully I chose to escape. Thankfully I had the means to escape; an understanding boss, few financial responsibilities that would leach my funds and a good job enabling me to save like mad for a few months before the agreed departure date. Knowing why I wanted to go and confiding this to my friends, I was of course given their loving advice to make sure I had a good time, but not to expect a miracle cure-all for my worries and tribulations in a jaunt around the beaches of Thailand. I was sure though, that as long as I could get away and give myself time and space, I would be able to work out what was making me so squashed, pent up and frustrated ‘back home’.
Its taken longer than I first anticipated. I thought after a fortnight or maybe three weeks that I would be super chilled, relaxed to the core and ready to get all philosophical with my inner self. Nope. To be truthful work didn’t even enter my mind until about 4 or 5 weeks into the trip. And then it was to smirk smugly to myself that I wasn’t there. Family have constantly been in my thoughts, as have my friends, but not in a pining “I’m missing you so much” kind of way, more of a “Ooo Mum would love this tour”, or “Jenny would think this bar rocks,” kind of way. Literally everywhere has wi-fi, even the shabbiest of eateries are happy to give you the password, as long as you stay and eat. It makes the world a much smaller place, so when home sickness strikes (if at all) the solution is but a status update, video call or instant message away. Unless you are homesick for Marmite on toast, a good cup of tea, and a roast dinner. No amount of social media will help with that. Sigh.
Recognising that my brain has needed 2 months to be ready to reflect and make some tentative plans and resolutions has given me confidence that my decision to take a break was the right one. Looking back to pre trip Willis I can see in myself all the traits of a person living a busy, sometimes stressful life, like most of us do. I was cranky, tired, indecisive, tired, unhealthy, short sighted and oh, did I mention tired ?! Things riled me up and made me angry or frustrated, I worried too much and tried too hard to keep control of things I had no place or ability to control. I knew that I needed to get off the hamster wheel, and for longer than 2 weeks.
So what have I decided, now that I’m chilled out and ready to confront the niggles of life ? Well, I’m not 100% sure to be honest. I’ve been able to identify the general categories and priorities at least, I think that’s a pretty good start. I’ve recognised things I can do to make my life easier and happier, habits I can ditch that I’ve developed that just make life more complicated. I’ve downloaded and deleted a good portion of garbage that was taking up my brain capacity. It’s left a space that allows me to really think about what makes me happy. Having no one around to influence, even subtly, what you should be doing is very liberating. It has truly allowed me to answer life’s big and small questions on my own. A well intended work colleague passing a comment about my obvious next career choice, a loving family member understanding exactly how I must be feeling, the off the cuff remark about an assumed lifestyle choice from a gym buddy. All these were infiltrating my tired brain and preventing me from saying, “Hang on a sec, I don’t think I want that in my life”. Now I’m beginning to riffle through all the ‘to do’ files in my head and put them in an order, or simply straight in the trash.
After chatting online with a friend recently she asked, “Yes, but are you enjoying yourself?” I thought, “What a funny question!” But then when I thought about it some more I decided it was a great question. I’m happy, I’m relaxed, when I look in the mirror now I see the person I hoped was still in there; less crinkles, more colour, younger. Yes, I’m enjoying myself but I’m not walking around with a grin on my face like a buffoon all day. I’m not out getting drunk and raving every night. I’m not getting home each night saying that was the best day of my life! I feel like I’m becoming me again and its good to know she still exists. When I’m 80 and my family ask me out of all my 80 years, which was the best, I’d like to be able to say that there have been lots, but once, when I was 35, I went on an adventure that turned out to be the start of one of those years, where everything fell into place, where good things happened to people I love and life seemed great.