When I was a kid, my Dad took me to the grocery store and as he turned to get a shopping cart, I turned the other direction and couldn’t see him anymore.
Maybe I didn’t realize that I had turned around, or maybe I simply didn’t understand yet how eyeballs worked. Regardless, I now couldn’t see my Dad and I panicked.
“DADDDDDD” I screamed.
“Leah,” he replied in what I can only assume was a rather confused tone. “I’m right here.”
I don’t think anyone could’ve known at the time that this was not a cute 3 year old mishap, but a character trait that was part of who I fundamentally was as a human.
Fast forward 25ish years where I’m kickstarting a 2-month tour across Southeast Asia. I flew here alone and met up with my former roommate/current friend Eilish, where we proceeded to make our way through Cambodia. It’s been badass and beautiful and SO much fun – but every day I’ve encountered a grocery store style glitch and despite everything I’ve done and overcome in life, I still react the way I did when I was 3.
“MY PASSPORT’S MISSING” I’ll exclaim, throwing clothes out of my bag and onto the bed. `Wait JK it’s here.”
Long story short, I’m the same person I’ve always been. I just happen to be somewhere new and happen to be navigating my personality through unique situations I haven’t encountered in awhile/ever.
And this is the entire point of this article.
This whole stigma around travelling – belonging within the backpacker culture – is really fucking weird. We’ve turned it into this romanticized ideal that hey LOOK, we’re travellers. We’re the brave ones! The ones who dared to stray from the norm in order to “find ourselves.” We’re cool and educated and more interesting than him and her and her. And through Insta posts & #Wanderlust; photos of beach hats & sunsets we’re so #blessed to see, society has successfully morphed travel into this be-all-end-all that actually makes us believe we are as wonderful and brave as they say we are. We actually believe our lives are better. And in hostel after hostel, we sit around talking about how this is true. How we never could’ve “settled down” yet. We’re far too daring for that.
But I’m not brave. I’m on vacation. A long, glorified, somewhat complicated holiday.
Earlier this week we went to Angkor Wat. We took that 4am tuk tuk to get there in time for sunrise, sipping on a hot coffee while we watched the sky slowly lighten above the temple. And yes, it was just as beautiful as you would expect it to be. And yes, I’m sure the 5 billion other people watching it with us probably felt the same.
And I, along with those 5 billion other people, stood to get that quintessential photo of the temple majestically reflected in the water so I could post it along with a caption of how life changing that moment had been.
But my life did not change when the sun rose at Angkor Wat. It was special, yes. And admittedly at the third temple – after we had climbed the insanely steep staircase leading to the top and Eilish and I sat up there in the shade – I did have a moment. One of those moments where you are 100% aware that had your life been any different you would not be here right now, and this makes you fully believe that everything is exactly how it was (and is) supposed to be. It was beautiful. And I’m sure there will be more moments like that, and I’m sure I’ll have an equal amount of moments where I’m frustrated and lost and hate myself a bit. But that doesn’t make me – me, the daring backpacker – unique. This is what life is for literally everyone. And that’s what makes life so worthwhile.
“So are you finding yourself or what?” People write.
“Totally,” I respond. “It’s so beautiful here.” But like, fuck man. Want to know what I did today? I gloriously slept til 9. Had a big/cheap breakfast in the hostel garden. Wrote a bit. Swam in the ocean and looked at the jungle, sipping on 50 cent Angkor draft & eating a pineapple from a fruit stand. Then I got a $2 massage.
I didn’t find myself. What I found was a pretty rad lifestyle to have for a couple months. And yeah, I’m super stoked about it and super proud of myself for investing in the life I wanted to live right now. I´m eating a lot of food I’ve never tried and learning a bunch of cool shit about who I am. And that’s dope. But it isn’t better than anything anyone else is doing right now. It’s just a tad different and a tad further away.
And in case this is reading as super negative (is it super negative?) no. I am absoluuuutely NOT diminishing this experience of packing up and hitting the road because travelling is hard, presenting you with situations that are pretty tricky to navigate (lost credit card in a foreign country, anyone?) It is challenging and it does test you and it does make you come to face to face with who you really are. And in so many ways it does change you. AND furthermore, I am fully aware that everyone’s experience is different. This is merely a reflection of the backpacker culture in general.
Because at the end of the day travelling is an interest – an interest that I, along with thousands of other people, happened to have. So I went after it , the same way everyone else goes after whatever the fuck they’re interested in. This particular interest doesn’t make me better – and it sure as hell doesn’t make me any braver – than anyone else. At the end of the day, I’m just a 3 year old in a grocery store, immediately panicking in every situation and laughing about it later.