Travel Notes Week by Week

Week by Week 16: On Disappearing, and the Lessons Learned

April 15, 2016

Ever since I launched this blog nearly a year ago, I’ve developed a habit of disappearing.

It happened for the first time a month or two into my stint in Broome, when I took a step back from productivity and threw myself full-on into the Cable Beach scene. The second time took place toward the end of my stay there, when I went off the grid for a ten-day road trip exploring Western Australia’s remote Kimberley region and, well, stayed off the blog even after my return to Broome.

I didn’t plan either hiatus, and despite the guilt that crept up in the back of my mind as my to-do list steadily grew, I still hesitate to call this a bad habit. After all, blogging remains a byproduct of my traveling, not the other way around. Travel has tamed my type-A tendencies, pulling me to the present when my thoughts normally lean toward the future. While I continue to strive for balance, it is, on the whole, a change in mindset for which I am incredibly grateful. It is travel, more than anything else, that has taught me to make appreciating life here and now a priority.

Case in point? My recent month in Thailand.

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Yes, Thailand!

Last time I checked in with my travel plans, I was wrapping up my extended stay in Penang and getting ready to make moves toward Borneo and the Philippines. If my budget allowed, I thought that maybe I could swing through Thailand for Songkran (Thailand’s crazy fun New Year’s celebration) before my return home. I could hardly have been more psyched. The Philippines, in particular, had been pulling on my heartstrings for a long, long time. In fact, in all of the post-Australia travel plans I dreamt up during my year there, the Philippines was the sole constant.

But if there’s one thing my twenties have taught me so far, it’s that plans are forever changing.

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Time and time again, my life has turned on the seemingly innocuous moments in between the big events: on chancing upon places I never knew existed, on epiphanies that struck while daydreaming on long bus rides and in passing conversations with strangers on the road.

These are the moments that took my post-grad year teaching English in Thailand and turned it into a lifestyle centered on working and traveling abroad. They’re how I ended up in Australia for a year — a country that before had hardly registered on my must-see list — and how I adopted the tiny village of Saxapahaw, North Carolina — where I’m writing this now — as my home base in between travels. Most recently, it’s one of those little moments that brought me back to Thailand, when I became friends with a guy in Penang and took advantage of my (unprecedented!) flexibility in travel plans to go ahead and join him for a few weeks.

Which became, instead, an incredible month.

I was a little apprehensive about going back to Thailand, afraid that a return trip couldn’t possibly live up to my previous year living there. Thanks to a combination of a few old favorites, lots of new adventures and an amazing travel partner, it absolutely did. As soon as we crossed the border from Malaysia to Thailand, I knew that my impulse had been on point. From the familiar rubber tree plantations on the side of the roads to carts selling mango sticky rice to the ubiquitious 7/11s on every other corner, being back just felt right.

As over-the-moon happy as I was to be back in Thailand, the destination itself wasn’t even the highlight of the trip. More than ever before, this month in Thailand was about freedom. We had time to spare and no itineraries to keep. We made our moves when the time felt right, lingering in the places we loved and leaving only when we’d had our fill. Our plans were never more than ideas, a vague pull in the direction of Bangkok. We took each day as it came as I let my to-do lists, the blog and even the internet slip away. I’ve never been so rooted in the present as I was that month in Thailand, and let me tell you: it was a lesson in living.

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I’ve been home now for a month, my return earlier than expected thanks to other (travel-related!) changes in plans. The specifics of those plans, though, and the details of my next big move I’ll save for another post. For now, I’m slowly but surely settling back into my groove here in North Carolina. I came home to spring, to a celebratory road trip with my mom (and pups!) to visit family in Georgia and South Carolina and a promising summer on the horizon at home in Saxapahaw.

And now, a little bit of housekeeping. Adjusting back to life in the States after being abroad is always a little rough for me, this time perhaps even more than usual. It’s why the blog post has come so late, but now that I’m back, let me tell you — I have heaps of stories to share! Next week, I’ll be back to regular blogging form with posts from Australia, Malaysia and Thailand. On another note, it’s time for me to be honest about something: my attempt to chronicle my life abroad through these weekly, and then bi-weekly, updates has been, um, not so great. I’ve decided to retire this Week by Week attempt in favor of monthly check-ins (and will probably re-title all of these earlier reflections to follow suit). I’ll start that new round of monthly reflections at the end of May, with all the details about where I’m headed next!

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//THESE DAYS

Reading…

Slowing down in Thailand gave me the opportunity to indulge in some serious reading. Among my favorites? Rereading Nicole Krauss’s History of Love (which never fails to make me laugh and cry), Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto (a character-driven page-turner about a hostage situation in an anonymous Latin American country) and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies (I’m a sucker for novels with multiple narrators, and this one’s an especially compelling take, detailing the course of a marriage from first the husband’s and then the wife’s perspective). In my month home, I’ve satiated my lingering wanderlust with Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan — a novel that takes place during the Khmer Rouge’s reign in Cambodia, and one I highly recommend to anyone visiting the country.

Listening to…

I’ve been spoiled with live music since my return home, having caught Chance the Rapper, Dr. Dog and Angel Olsen all in the span of a week. They’ve been in heavy rotation on my playlists, along with a new North Carolina favorite: Rainbow Kitten Surprise. How could you not love a band with a name like that?!

& Feeling Inspired by…

When I stopped writing here over the last two months, I also took a big break from keeping up with my regular blogs. Still, a few posts caught my attention, especially Chantae Was Here’s kitesurfing breakthrough (traveling with a kitesurfer opened my eyes to this sport for the first time in Thailand!) and The Overseas Escape’s Rome vs. Barcelona round-up (because I’ve had Europe on my mind lately…)

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4 Comments

  • Reply Chantae April 17, 2016 at 2:19 am

    Ahh finally πŸ˜› a new post! Haha, NOT trying to guilt trip you πŸ˜‰ . It’s awesome that you experienced living in the moment for such a great period of time without any obligations to fulfill. That’s a true travel experience and so rare to actually grasp – both logistically and mentally. (Funny – under suggested posts, it links to your “Bad Blogging, Good Living” article haha, too true.) It’s hard to keep up with strict blogging schedules – esp when you write in-depth and from the heart.

    I’m going home for a month too and always experience a bit of reverse culture shock heading back. I can’t wait to read your catch up stories!
    Chantae recently posted…Western Australian Road Stops: The Weird and the WonderfulMy Profile

    • Reply Katie April 18, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      Haha yes, FINALLY. It really was a long time coming! I hadn’t exactly planned to give myself over fully to Thailand the way I did, but that kind of completely untethered travel was so worth putting “productivity” — blog and all — on the back burner. You’re so right — logistically and mentally, it’s not as easy to achieve as it might seem. Still, I’m excited to be back now, and still with months of Australia posts to go haha! Thanks for the note, Chantae πŸ™‚ As always, I’ve been loving keeping up with your stories, too!

  • Reply Amanda | The Backpack Lass April 18, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    I will second Chantae’s excitement over a new post! Beautifully written post, Katie! Can’t wait to hear more πŸ™‚
    Amanda | The Backpack Lass recently posted…Let’s Try This Again, Shall We? I’m England Bound!My Profile

    • Reply Katie April 19, 2016 at 6:25 pm

      Thanks, Amanda!! Lots of stories to come πŸ™‚

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