It was the last night of my solo trip across Saigon and Siem Reap. The late night breeze at the airport kept me company while I drifted in-and-out of sleep on the cold, metal bench with only my backpack as a pillow and shawl as a blanket. I was thankful for the down time to finish my book and muse before my flight back to Singapore or in other words, reality.
When I first started this journey I was liberated from a corporate job that wasn’t necessarily for me. But (over) thinking my next step made me anxious. You know that quote by Robert Frost “Two roads diverged in yellow wood and sorry I could not travel both?” That’s the story of my life. Every crossroad is paved with opportunities, I know. But if you’re like me, the hardest part is deciding which dream to chase and forego.
Sometimes passion has multiple lovers.
Subconsciously I expected my first solo trip to change my life; to ironically give me both a temporary escape from reality and a magical eureka moment that I was looking for to help me take the road less traveled by – a path in pursuit of my own human truth. Because 10 years later, I did not want to feel ‘wasted’ or ‘regret’ about the choices I did not take. Yes, I was restless, which is why I was excited to use that pent up energy for traveling instead of worrying about my future.
But what I discovered was not typically ‘life changing.’
The adventure began in Saigon, Vietnam, a place that’s a mix of being rural in the city. It’s simultaneously chaotic and slow paced from the mob of motorbikes to people literally just chilling and drinking coffee in the middle of the road.
This grit and chaos reminded me of what I loved about my hometown of Manila, but it was also my first indication of how I have changed since moving from third to first world. I realized that Vietnam and I were both in the verge of becoming, more refined, structured, and globalized, yet still raw, uninhibited and dynamic at its core.
I was witness to both Saigon’s progress and my own.
On the other hand, driving 100km out to the Mekong Delta on the back of a Vespa was my much needed break from the city, away from the chaos to be comforted by nature’s solitude. To be still with the murmur of the bike in motion put me at ease. It was midway through my trip where I could finally hear myself clearly.
So by the time I arrived in Cambodia, the next leg of my journey, I was lost in my own reverie. Despite the 15-hour bus ride from Saigon to Siem Reap, I woke up at 5AM the next day to catch the eternal shades of the Angkor Wat sunrise. I spent the next 3 days and 2 nights, exploring the temples in solitary bliss. –
Indeed I felt free, happy, and at peace, but surprisingly it wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling.
While I wasn’t intending to socialize during my trip, my ‘me time’ was interrupted when I met this wise French backpacker whom I kept crossing paths with. It was a timely encounter, as the conversation we shared over a few rounds of beers concluded my not-so-life-changing-epiphany during this trip.
“What’s contentment?”, he asked me rhetorically.
Before I could answer, he said that happiness is contentment. But nowadays, people forget what this means, he said, because we always want more — money, power and success.
The conversation stayed with me for the rest of my trip as I reflected on my impending crossroad, the dreams that I wanted to chase and the life that I envisioned for myself. I’m a free spirit at heart, someone who would rather spend on experiences than designer labels. I knew that it’s the simple pleasures, and not money, that makes us happy and content. But on the other hand, I’m also an ambitious and idealistic person who wants to make a name for myself, and change the world.
Can I be both?
By this time I knew that my first solo trip wasn’t typically life changing. Rather, the long days of solitude gave me the space to be honest with what I already knew to be true. It was the kind of self-actualization that persists over time, yet did not surprise me once it arrived.
I love to travel, but I can feel free, independent and content even when I’m not on the road. My solo trip re-affirmed the decisions that I’ve already made in my life so far, like leaving Manila to work in Singapore, and joining the corporate world instead of becoming a journalist. It was tough at first, but the decision was always mine. Ironically, I started this trip free from the corporate world only to cut it short to rejoin it. The difference? The next job was something I looked forward to doing.
Now that I’ve transitioned back to reality I feel more at ease. I don’t need to be on the road to experience freedom or independence. I know that life beyond a ‘life changing solo trip’ is to keep making it life changing.
I need to continue exploring the uncharted and often challenging territories of my life with the same sense of wonder and mindfulness that I have while traveling. I know that it’s ultimately my choice to pursue what I really want: to balance my love for traveling and ambition to succeed and constantly learn in my career. It’s possible to have both.
So wherever I go, whatever I do in my next career move— I will be happy and grateful. I will find the simple serendipities during the daily grind that will keep me balanced and happy.
Read original article on We Are Sole Sisters here.