If you’re thinking about going to South East Asia, do it. Just go and don’t look back. Once you step off the plane and you’re hit with the humidity you won’t want to, trust me.
I went to South East Asia on a student exchange and stayed until my money ran out. I covered Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, Bali, and Malaysia. I learned more about myself during those 5 months than I had my whole life. I mean DEEP things, the things that changed my heart. At the expense of a relationship, arguably two of them, I found that being alone wasn’t all that bad. In fact, I was in love with it. Looking back, here are the personal lessons I learned in South East Asia and that I encourage you to find out for yourself.
I can do this thing.
When you are forced to navigate a foreign world by yourself, you will do it! In order to travel solo or travel to a new place with another person for that matter, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I was suddenly aware of what made me jump for joy and what I really hated. It was finally possible for me to shape my world into exactly what I wanted it to be, every day.
No one cares what you do and that’s the truth.
If you’re like me, Asia is a long way from home. So all that matters is how you feel when you do things each day. When you realize that you never have to do anything that makes you feel like shit it’s kind of powerful. That includes the companies you choose to work for and where you choose to spend your time and money. I said a hard no to the Tiger Temple, I said no to the Killing Fields and I happily said no to elephant riding. I am sure I will exercise the right to deny things I don’t agree with many times in my life because of this experience.
What other people think doesn’t matter at all. Ever.
This was a huge revelation for me. Before I left for Asia, I always compared myself to others and I always came up short. Instead of letting those comparisons motivate me, I judged myself harshly. It destroyed a relationship and only increased my anxiety x10,000. In Asia, a triumph wasn’t getting an A on a paper or 1000 likes on Instagram. It was successfully communicating the location of your hostel to a cab driver. It was walking through the Mossy Forest in Malaysia in the rain and fog, knee deep in mud because you only have a weekend and you really really want to make the most of it. It was getting to your bus on time when you’re hitchhiking with two other people and luggage. I wasn’t comparing myself to my peers anymore. I was confident in what I was doing and frankly, I was having too much fun to think about anyone else.
People are amazing, show them a little grace.
Be a good human and you will get goodness back. Try to communicate even if you think you can’t. Toss a smile, give high fives to the locals, talk to people in your hostel and say THANK YOU a lot. I am forever indebted to the local communities that welcomed my friends and I into their homes, ceremonies, and cars (yes, we hitchhiked a lot).
Working and travelling is way easier than you think.
I came so close to snagging a job at one of the hostels. Hostels are hiring all the time. The cool thing about Asia is that it is dirt cheap. The initial flight there may be a doozy but once you’re there you can survive on 200 Baht a day. That’s 8 CAD. Working at a hostel for a few months on the most beautiful island in Thailand sounds like a pretty good gig and people do it all the time jumping from hostel to hostel until their life calls them elsewhere. Not to mention, it’s the tech age. If a life of travel is calling to you, get on your computer and find a remote job already.