Monica Gray / Contributor
The pitter-patter of rain barely concealed the unattractive snorts coming from the boars that rolled around in the dirt. I couldn’t see them, their dirt-caked bodies blended into the ground like fireflies without their lights.
I watched two of my friends giggle about a photo on their phone, while the other two strangers on the porch conversed about something in Dutch.
I could hear monkeys throwing coconuts onto the roof of the dorm rooms, the sudden, sporadic explosion of cracking shells disturbing the otherwise peaceful setting in Bako National Park.
I closed my eyes and took in the smells, the sounds and the positive energy around me. One year ago, I stepped onto a plane bound for Bangkok. One year ago, I set off on a journey that changed me tremendously, and continues to do so, every single day.
In one year, so much has happened, but it feels like so little.
This past year went faster than any other year of my life. I’ve changed tremendously, and yet it feels like I’m still the same person. I’ve learned so much, found so many answers, but still have so many questions I ask myself and the world every single day. After one year of traveling, I’m still left with these questions that will only be answered one way or another.
How much have I changed? How much have I grown?
There are times when I feel so different, feel much more mature, and feel like I’ve broadened my perspectives on the world and the ability to step out of my comfort zone. And then there are other times where I think and act exactly as I did while I was home one year ago.
I’ve become more courageous. I’ve become more open to new opportunities. I’ve learned how to control my anxiety and panic attacks.
But there have been times this past year where I’ve wanted to throw my hands into the air, close my eyes and appear the comfort of my home in New York. There have been times where I’ve craved Chipotle, pumpkin spice lattes, mom’s cooking, New York pizza and bagels, and several glasses of some good red wine. There have been times where I’ve wanted my own bed, my own shower, more than three outfit choices and one choice of shoes. There have been times where I’ve wanted a cup of kick-ass coffee and something other than rice or noodles.
"But then, I will crave travel."
There have been times where I’ve wanted to jump into a cab and not have to worry about getting scammed. There have been times where I wish rules applied, and things weren’t just “because it’s Asia.”
There have been times where I’ve craved fall and spring weather, to smell the crisp air that comes hand in hand with those seasons. To feel the autumn air chill my bones. To smell the pumpkins and the leaves on the ground. To smell the scent of smoke from the fireplace creeping around my neighborhood and tainting the air. To smell the blossoming flowers, and hear the chirping of the birds.
But I know, when I visit home, all of those things will be there, waiting for me. I will experience them with a new appreciation, with a newfound love and adoration.
But then, I will crave travel.
The uncertainty. The spontaneity.
I will crave the constant stimulation, the hostel dorm rooms, the street food and the soft, intertwining chatter of dozens of different accents and languages that constantly surround me. I will crave the different foods, the broken English and the unpredictability that comes with each and every passing day. While I’m satisfying what I’ve missed, my mind will be somewhere else. My mind will be on travel.
I’ve traveled for one year, but I’m thirsty for more. There’s so much to see and do. There are more countries and cultures I want to learn about, so much food I want to try, so many experiences I want to have.
The only solution is to keep going. To keep moving. To keep traveling. I can’t stop.
I can’t go home and work a regular desk job. I can’t go home and go back to regular life, knowing how much there is in this world. I’m restless. I’ve learned more traveling in one year than in 12 years of school.
"I’ve learned not to fear. Fear is what stops us from leaving."
I’ve learned people are kind. Strangers will go out of their way to introduce you to their culture, their way of life, their traditions, and ask nothing in return.
This past year I’ve been given meals out of sheer generosity. Strangers have gone out of their way to take me to my destination and make sure I arrived on time. I’ve been given a place to sleep solely because of the difficulty of finding accommodation so late at night. I’ve learned how small the world is, especially the travel community.
I’ve learned not to fear. Fear is what stops us from leaving.
In one year, I’ve visited six different countries. I’ve slept in 97 different beds. I’ve ridden in 93 buses, five trains, nine planes and 44 boats. I’ve hitchhiked eight times. I’ve worked at hostels, jungle raves and bars. I’ve trekked the oldest rainforest in the world. I’ve been on an airline that lost my luggage and shipped it to the wrong continent. I’ve camped overnight in a cave. I’ve gotten scammed. I’ve gotten my hula hoop and iPhone stolen from me on the same day. I’ve had six different currencies in my wallet and have accidentally tried to use them in the wrong country.
I’ve learned that Thailand still has the best 7-Elevens in the world. I’ve made best friends and met so many amazing people. I’ve learned how to say ‘cheers’ in countless amounts of languages. I’ve watched the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen on the beach in Brunei. I’ve ridden a roller coaster to a waterfall. I’ve trekked the mountains of Vietnam and the jungles of Borneo. I’ve explored Hoi An, Vietnam, with my family. I’ve gotten cut off from eating too much curry at an Indian restaurant.
"I’ve done 7 a.m. tequila shots with my sister from another mister in Saigon. I’ve ran out of gas on my motorbike on a mountain in Vietnam. I’ve watched the sunrise on sand dunes. I’ve had travel romances. I’ve picked strawberries."
I’ve ridden a Ferris wheel in the middle of a jungle. I’ve gone couch surfing in Thailand and Brunei. I’ve camped on the Tip of Borneo, in a tent that was way too hot, with two amazing people. I’ve done 7 a.m. tequila shots with my sister from another mistah in Saigon. I’ve ran out of gas on my motorbike on a mountain in Vietnam. I’ve watched the sunrise on sand dunes. I’ve had travel romances. I’ve picked strawberries.
I’ve fallen in love with Indian food in Singapore and Malaysia. I’ve relaxed in hot springs in northern Thailand. I’ve stayed at a hostel that served both free breakfast and free dinner every day. I’ve seen the most beautiful beach in the world in Cambodia. I’ve gone on booze cruises. I’ve indulged in too much rice wine. I’ve seen dirty cities and beautiful cities. I’ve gone to the Full Moon Party. I’ve danced in the rain. I’ve had panic attacks. I’ve had upset stomach too many times to count. I’ve chased down a bus barefoot that left without me at a rest stop. I’ve learned how to pack my life away in a 40-liter backpack.
I’ve ridden on a motorbike on the side of a mountain cliff in the middle of a massive thunderstorm. I’ve become known as jungle woman. I’ve learned how small the world is. I’ve experienced random acts of kindness from strangers. I’ve walked around barefoot for five months. I’ve learned how far a smile goes. I’ve gotten chased down in Vietnam for a photo. I’ve listened to some great tunes for 12 hours every Wednesday for five months in the middle of the jungle. I’ve gotten lice. I’ve seen Angkor Wat. I’ve lived in luxury in Chiang Mai.
I’ve slept with beetles, ants and cockroaches in my bungalow in Cambodia. I’ve gotten a new passport because I ran out of pages in my old one. I’ve worn a loaf of bread on my head and too much glitter as part of my job. I’ve climbed through tunnels to get to a bar. I’ve gone rock climbing. I’ve been threatened by a tuk-tuk driver with a metal pole in Cambodia.
I’ve learned I’ll never stop craving Thai food. I’ve gone scuba diving. I’ve skipped meals to save money. I’ve splurged on meals because I didn’t care. I’ve learned how luxurious air conditioning is. I’ve eaten so much delicious, local food from many different countries. I’ve found a home and a family in Otres Beach, Cambodia. I’ve explored abandoned water parks. I’ve bathed in a river. I’ve learned what other countries think about America. I’ve learned how lucky I am to have been born in one of the greatest cities in the world and then grow up so close to it. I’ve learned I want to work and travel around the world for a living.
I’ve found my passion.