Over the last two weeks, between bouts of lazing around on a variety of Indonesian beaches, I’ve had an overwhelming feeling of needing to do something. Something we can’t do back home. Something that will capture the essence of the foreign land we are in. The problem was that I couldn’t figure out quite what the something was.
Getting sucked into yet another guidebook…
In the last 6 months our travel has been faster paced than we are used to. We’ve focused on visiting some really historical places, some of which we probably won’t get the opportunity to visit again, and we wanted to make sure we really used our time well. The problem with this that we lost track of how we usually like to travel, which is slowly. When I imagine a perfect day I see myself sitting at an outdoor café all afternoon just people-watching. Or perhaps I’m wandering through the neighborhoods, checking out the houses, peeking into the local restaurants, or drifting around in the market. This doesn’t mean I don’t also want to take a walking tour in a new city, or check out the museums and galleries, or hit up the famous towers and temples and churches, but I need there to be a balance between these different kinds of days. Unfortunately, somewhere between dashing around to ancient holy places in Israel to making our way all over India by train and then being hospitalized in Nepal, we let ourselves get pretty unbalanced.
By the time we got to Thailand I was feeling some serious burnout. Yes, that’s right, I was burned out on travelling, which is something I never really thought I’d say. I’ve read about other long-term travelers having this problem, and I figured it would just take a few weeks of lazing around to get myself back together. Having already been to Bangkok a few times, I didn’t feel too much pressure to go sightseeing, though there are a few sights I’d missed in my previous trips and we figured we’d hit up one or two of those so as not to seem like lazy travelers. We ended up seeing none of them. Instead, we spent our days eating absurd amounts of Pad Thai, having massages, and going to the huge and fancy movie theaters at the top of the big malls in the downtown area. Once or twice I’d feel a pang of guilt at not being motivated enough to do something more, but I justified it by reminding myself that it had only been two weeks since I had been released from the hospital so I really should just be taking it easy still.
As we made our way out of Thailand and into Cambodia, then back into Thailand and down to Indonesia, we felt a bit like we were on a huge pendulum, swinging back and forth between bouts of frantic ‘tourist stuff’ and complete sloth. The thing is, with the exception of Angkor Wat, none of the ‘tourist’ stuff was really impressing us anymore. There comes a point when you just get so templed and museumed out that you can’t imagine having to go to yet one more of them. I know, these are not pressing issues compared to most of life’s problems, but it was unsettling because we felt like we should be enjoying ourselves more. One of our problems was that the cost/interest level wasn’t balancing out. In Cambodia we had paid something like $35 to go see a village built on stilts, but we both walked away feeling like we had totally wasted our time and our money. $35 isn’t much by Western standards, but keep in mind that for us, that’s one half day’s allotment of our expenses. We paid this to essentially be scooted along in a boat for 30 minutes through this village which, while interesting to see, just wasn’t $35 for 30 minutes interesting.
For nearly a month we tried really hard to figure this out because time and time again we simply weren’t feeling the love with our sightseeing choices. What could we see that might re-energize us? What could we do that would make us feel like we were getting our money’s worth out of the visit?
Eventually we gave up and just went to the beach. I kept arguing with myself that we are all the way across the world, in this place that’s nothing like where we live usually, and we can’t find anything better to do than lay around at the beach?
Who wouldn’t want to lounge about here?!?!?
There are plenty of things you can do as a tourist here, but what we kept running into was that pesky cost/pleasure problem. Do we really want to pay $200 to hike up a mountain at three in the morning to see the sunrise with 35 other people? Do we want to pay $80 EACH to ride an elephant for 30 minutes (especially when the same thing costs $20 in Thailand where we just were)? We neither dive, nor surf, so that takes away another chunk of options. I get wildly seasick, so the boat trip to Komodo and Flores is a no-go. We intended to go to Sulawesi, but that island is huge and we’d only have a few days there, which would definitely make us feel frantic and rushed.
I felt like I was losing my mind. Here we have the trip of our lives and I already felt like we’d been lazy travelers in Thailand so I didn’t want to just waste time while we were in Indonesia. Then, finally, it hit me. This was the trip of OUR lives. Ours. Who said a ‘good’ trip is filled with non-stop sightseeing, especially if that’s not what you want to do? There are other ways to experience a place, and they don’t all involve a tour guide or a rushed itinerary. We totally knew this, but had somehow lost track of it along the way. We started looking at our options through a different lens.
Why were we beating ourselves up over lounging on the beach when that’s something we love? Colorado doesn’t have beaches with fabulous turquoise water, so it’s not like this is something we can do back home. We decided to give ourselves 5 more days to explore the beaches around southern Lombok. When we’re done with that we’re heading back to Ubud, in Bali, where we’ll take 5 or 6 days of introductory yoga classes and at least one cooking class. In our spare time perhaps we’ll rent bikes and ride through the rice terraces, or maybe we’ll just find a lovely café and read.
It was incredible how much better we felt after that shift in perspective. Making these decisions served to remind us, as we head into the next few months of travel, that this trip is for us and we will only be making the most of this time if we do things because we are interested in doing them, not just because they are in the guidebook under someone else’s list of ‘must see’ items to check off a list.
What are your favorite things to do when you travel to far away lands?