It’s now been just over eight months since I left home back in August, and while I’m on somewhat of a vacation from my vacation in Busan, I decided it was a good opportunity to use a post to just write about some things. Call them life lessons, insights, travel tips, whatever, it’s a pretty random collection of personal and general stuff I’ve been reflecting on lately.
So here goes:
- Slow Travel. In my opinion, slow travel is the best way to travel. I know this option isn’t available to everyone and I’m lucky to have so much time, but my ideal visit to a city includes all the touristy stuff plus a day or two of nature – national parks or urban parks, and a day or two of cafe hopping…basically going around to different neighborhoods and sitting in cafes to people watch (and blog!). Slow travel also eliminates the stress of planning! You’ve got plenty of time to see all the sights, no need to pack it into a couple of exhausting days.
- Hiking = Happiness. I think I’m at my happiest when perched on a mountain eating a sandwich (fruit is also acceptable). I should probably do more of this at home. See Salami Sandwiches in the Swiss Alps for more sandwich and mountain pictures.
- Balancing Planning vs. Spontaneity is Hard. Some things just need proper planning for proper enjoyment – to catch the right train, walk the right trail, find the right viewpoint. But sometimes over-planning can kill an attraction. You’ve already “seen” what you’re going to see, or lived it through someone else’s blog. And sometimes finding things or having experiences by accident makes them that much more special. It’s hard to find the right balance, sometimes you just get lucky!
- The World is Really Really BIG. You know that game people play sometimes…if I could go anywhere in the world right now, where would I go? It’s nice to fantasize. But it’s actually quite stressful for this to be a real life decision! I know, first world problems. But when faced with the question “where should I go next!?” it can be really hard to decide because the world is SO BIG. I used to have maybe a handful of places I wanted to go, now my list is endless.
- Comfort is Nice. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time in Southeast Asia. This region is alive with color, food, and traffic and it opened my eyes to so many new ideas, religions, cultures, and ways of life. But upon arriving in South Korea I was quickly reminded of all of the comfortable standards of living that I’m accustomed to and how much I missed them. Toilets, toilet paper, hot showers, sidewalks, respected traffic laws, dogs as pets, recycling, drinkable tap water, and grocery stores, among other things, made me really happy. Pictured below: Siem Reap village vs. Seoul park.
- Solo Travel is Lonely and Crowded. While you often find a perfect balance for a time, there are many other times where you are stuck with people and want to be alone, or you are alone and can’t find anyone to hang out with. Part of the problem for me is that I don’t like most people.🤦🏽♀️ Often there are plenty of people to hang out with, I just don’t want to be around them… so at times I’ll choose to be alone over being with people I don’t like, which I think tends to lead to more time alone than the average solo traveler. While I wish I could just like people more, and it would certainly make life easier at times, I don’t think this “people pickiness” is all bad. It means I know myself (at least a little) and choose to surround myself with people who make me happy, and not just for noise.
- No Data, No Problem. I love browsing instagram too, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision to stick to WiFi only while I travel. I think it has made me so much more alert to my surroundings. For example, instead of browsing instagram on the Seoul Subway I watch interactions among the locals, young and old, surprise the old staring women by smiling at them, notice different hair and fashion styles, or practice reading Hangul (the Korean alphabet) so that I can be better at ordering at restaurants or following directions. And I’ve had to find different ways to entertain myself offline, leading me to more books and podcasts. Which leads me to my next point…
- Knowledge is Power. I’ve talked about this before my post Mingalabar, Myanmar! I try to read at least one book about the countries I’m travelling in, especially when I feel I have limited knowledge about the country, and I think it’s made such an impact on my frame of mind while travelling. I’m more mindful, able to ask the locals more intelligent questions, I’ve explored certain museums, parks, or neighborhoods that I may not have otherwise, etc. (I’ve made a list of all of the country-specific books I’ve read on my trip at the end of this post).
- I Am Privileged. A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with two fellow Busan volunteers, the kind of conversation you often have while travelling (how in the world did America elect Trump, what’s up with America and guns, what is racism really, is nationalism good, you know, really light stuff) when I was asked “What’s it like to grow up white in America?” One of the girls is South African, and when I met her I came to the odd realization that I had never met a South African who was in fact, African, and the other is Nigerian but mostly raised in a small town outside of Dublin, Ireland. Both of these girls have endured challenges in their upbringing that I can’t even come close to relating to. Now, obviously, not all white people in America grow up the same, but my particular upbringing was in fact, very easy. I initially wrote more on this point, but I think I’m just going to leave it at this — when traveling you meet people from every walk of life, those who’ve overcome immense obstacles to those whose parents are footing their travel bills, and everyone in between. I think it’s important to remember to reflect every now and then on how lucky I am to have had the opportunities I’ve had and to appreciate this incredible and rare chance I have to travel the world.
- Eat Local, with Breaks. I love sampling local food and I think it’s an important part of learning about local culture, but I need my western food breaks. If I’m somewhere for a long enough period of time, I try to make a point to find a local burger/pizza/taco joint to get a small taste of home. It’s usually not very good, and double the price of local cuisine, but sometimes I’m surprised!
- Is My Life on Hold? This phrase has come up from time to time along my travels. Some people view their travels as putting their lives on hold to take time to travel before starting their real lives. At times I’ve certainly thought of it that way, but I don’t anymore. This way of thinking only allows for one possible definition of “life” — essentially, stable job, house, marriage, kids. And this definition of “life” is perfectly fine, but it’s not the only definition of life. This entire trip has turned into a major part of my “life”, and is leading me towards the next direction my life takes. Maybe it’s not conventional, but it’s mine, and right now I’m happy with it.
– The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell (modern Danish living from a Brit)
– Hardcore History – Blueprint for Armageddon by Dan Carlin (podcast on WWI)
– Beneath a Scarlett Sky by Mark Sullivan (Milan, Italy during WWII)
– Girl at War (Zagreb, Croatia during Balkan War)
– The History of Yugoslavia by Alex Cruikshanks (podcast on Yugoslavia from late 18th century onwards)
– The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (Sarajevo, Bosnia during Balkan War)
– Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West (Yugoslavia…didn’t quite finish, it’s really long!)
– The Albanians, a Modern History by Miranda Vickers (Albania)
– Eleni by Nicholas Gage (Northwest Greece during 1950’s Greek Civil War)
– Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma, ~1990s)
– The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh (Burma during British colonialism)
– When Clouds fell from the Sky by Robert Carmichael (Cambodia & Khmer Rouge)
– Embers of War by Fredrik Logevall (Vietnam, 1919 up to America’s War)
– Lost Names by Richard E. Kim (Korea, during 1930’s Japanese colonialism)
It wasn’t until after I wrote out this list I came to the realization that, with the exception of the Danish book, every book I’ve read is about war. I think I know what kind of books I like to read!
Lastly I’d like to give a huge welcome to the world to Lucas Joseph Feldman! Lucas is the newest addition to my brother’s family and I can’t wait to meet him! For now he’ll have to learn to FaceTime with me like his big sister.
More comprehensive post on my time in Busan will be next – I still have 2 weeks here and then a few days on Jeju Island before heading to Japan!