… that is the question!
On a recent trip to Indonesia I had a travel wobble. Another one. I seem to be forever having them. Each country poses a new personal challenge for me. I’m sure most of it is derived from the fact that this is all I have to worry about these days.
Over the past 10 months I thought I had nailed my confidence and my travel style. I know what I like, and I know what I don’t like. That’s not to say that I’m not willing to broaden my mind and try new things, but I also know that I get very little satisfaction from visiting waterfalls, I hate swimming in the sea and I won’t hire a scooter despite this being the cheapest and often most accessible way of visiting some of the islands I’ve been too. Crazy, right?! BUT I will walk across bridges now, often without a single tear falling down my cheek. Progress!
I am beginning to realise that travelling in your 40s is quite a bit different and it’s time to hold my hand up…
….my name is Heather and I am a planner. There, I said it.
Over the past year I’ve had countless conversations with friends and other travelers who say they dislike planning and see themselves as more free spirited – I should be more like that, chill, go with the flow. So I tried. I tried to go with the flow, I tried not to think about where we might be in a couple of days, how we were going to get there, where were we going to stay. All this did was leave me feeling nervous, anxious and feeling like it cost me more than it should in both time and money. Why can’t we make a decision about which hostel to stay in tomorrow night? Why do we have to wait till we get there? Why do we just book one night when we’re in the town for three nights? Whhhhhyyyy? Of course I know the answers to these, I understand that the hostel may not be nice, ridden with bed bugs, too far out of town, hasn’t got a great ‘vibe’. All I want to do after a long journey or after a few days of serious adventuring is relax. Get my head down for an hour, freshen up, explore the new place. For me, the thought of getting to a hostel after a long journey and not liking it, having to find another hostel, find a taxi or walk there is my idea of a nightmare. Believe me, there aren’t many hostels I’ve booked where I actually wanted to stay when I’ve first arrived despite my gruelling online research. But first impressions are often misleading, especially when in all honesty all I want to do is be in a nice hotel room with a dressing gown and fluffy slippers.
Being a planner apparently doesn’t lend yourself well to what if something else comes up? What happens if you meet some awesome people and you are already committed to move on? Then hopefully I can meet them a little further down the track. My plans aren’t that set in stone. Then it clicked, essentially some people suffer from a classic case of FOMO. For the benefit of my parents that’s the “Fear Of Missing Out”. You know, we’ve all got that friend that doesn’t want to commit to Friday night plans, just in case an invitation to something better comes along. But really, in all honesty, what are we holding out for? I have been that person, and quite frankly it just led to disappointment. Make a decision, give yourself to it and make it the best. Now I suffer from FOMO in a different way. More so that I’m worried I miss out on seeing places I want to see because I’m going with the flow, and that flow does not go the direction to where I want to go. Control freak much?! I wouldn’t say so, more so that I know what I want to take from my travels. I’m not scared of travelling alone, heck, I’ve spent most of my travels alone. Does this worry me – it did – A LOT – not very much any more. One of the things I love about travelling is the friends you make and the chance encounters you have. I have met some amazing, inspirational and free spirited women on this trip and I’ve made friends for life on previous trips but I don’t need to be booking into a social hostel so I can meet people so I then have a travel buddy for the next day/ week/ month. When I have met people and we have shared ideas it has been glorious, but I don’t need that to have the experiences I am having.
There will always be a reason why I am visiting a place, there’s something there that has already drawn me to go there. I’m not a 20 or 30 something with limited cash, partying, sorry “travelling” my way through South East Asia. I have been there, done that and that chapter is now closed. I have spent years trawling through Instagram seeing inspirational photos (saving them to folders), Atlas Obscura is my bible (with a list compilation function), I had a Lonely Planet monthly magazine subscription for eight years (which I covered in post it notes), I read travel books and follow travel blogs. I generally know why I would like to visit a country and it’s not because I can get a visa for 30 days and the beer is cheap (although this is a viable reason). It’s often a small reason, one thing that draws me there but that’s all I need, an abandoned place, war history, an underground bunker, some street art, an ancient temple or just a simply stunning beach. Just something that gets the inspirational juices flowing. I mean take Malaysia for instance, I only went to Kuala Lumpur for four days so I could visit the Batu Caves that I missed seeing 10 years ago when I was last in KL. Then I started trawling the internet for ideas of what to see in Malaysia and before I knew it I had spent a month travelling round the country seeing the most spectacular things I didn’t know I would and I think I can honestly say it’s now one of my most favourite countries. This was spontaneous to an extent – does that take away my title of ‘planner’? Probably not, as in my downtime I still managed to knock up a quick inspiration board of pictures and google maps of things I had researched to see. There’s always far more to discover than just the small reason I have. Look at my visit to Yogyakarta in Java, I went primarily to visit Borobudur Temple, another 10 year bucket list item for me. However, it wasn’t Borobudur that left me buzzing in the end (although still incredible all the same). I kept seeing these amazing stencil art pieces all over town, a local street artist – Anagard. Through the power of Instagram I ended up meeting Anagard the following day at his studio and toured round the small village he lives in and directs an art community adding murals to the community. I buzzed from this for days and was beyond excited when I spotted one of his pieces a few days later at the abandoned theme park I ventured to in Sanur, Bali. Now that wasn’t planned was it? I went with the flow didn’t I? Despite having the purpose of being in Yogya, it still left me open to new discoveries and experiences and yet I still get that butterfly feeling in my stomach and broad grin when I get to witness something with my own eyes that I have longed to see.
I don’t plan my itinerary hour by hour, I simply have a list of things I would like to see, I am still flexible and leave plenty of room for discoveries and believe it or not, my itinerary does change frequently.
This trip for me is a trip of a lifetime. I’ve visited 70 countries in my 41 years so far. I’m not upping the country count by much as I’m often revisiting countries that I have been to before but I’m getting to explore in more detail or go to those places that I didn’t get a chance to see previously plus there are new discoveries and places cropping up all the time. I have no shame in being a planner anymore. It doesn’t make me any less of a traveler not being more free spirited and likewise it doesn’t if you’re not like me (I’m possibly in the minority here…). I’m still thoroughly jealous of those that can just get on a scooter and see where it takes them, take in the nature and be free but I know what suits my personality and ultimately my own mental wellness. We all have a limited amount of time and money, I just know how I would like to spend mine and confident enough to execute it, even if it does mean I go solo.
One thing I have learnt though, is I don’t need to rush to book the next flight (unless of course the visa of that country stipulates you need an exit ticket). Take one country at a time. I’m due to leave Australia in two weeks. Whilst I have booked a flight and my first two nights accommodation at my next destination – that is all for now. It’s off the beaten track, tourism is in it’s infancy stage and there is little information available online. I literally will HAVE to go with the flow… but of course leading up to this I have already created an inspiration board and have an idea of where and what I would like to visit from what information is available. Maybe in hindsight I should refer to myself as being a researcher rather than a planner? What do you think? What is your style? Whatever it may be, just be true to yourself, enjoy and explore the world x