Benjamin Chait

Slowing down

3 December 2012

Over five weeks into this adventure and just now beginning to feel like I’m comfortable living on-the-go. Week one was pure adrenaline, full of excitement. Weeks two and three were vacation-like, exploring and jumping place-to-place. Week four was rough, perhaps the first time I fully realized not every moment is fun and “adventuresome”—a way important learning moment. Last week was better; starting to understand my own expectations and begin recognizing disappointment. Right now I feel more balanced and have an eagerness for each day.

Definitely beginning to realize the emotional challenge of backpacking abroad. Sitting in a Thailand café watching election returns at 11 am local time was surreal. Even reading current events and news is strange as I feel relatively removed from the West. A 14-hour difference in time zones makes communicating with friends and family back home amusing though not impossible. Were it not for emails flooding my inbox about sales and shopping “holidays” I might have missed the December season. Bottled water has been a constant necessity this entire trip. Currency conversion challenges me mentally with every interaction: 1 US dollar equals roughly 30 Thai baht and more than 20,000 Vietnamese dong. Thailand’s roads are inverted from America’s—driving on the left rather than the right. Vietnam reverses—or for me, “normalizes”—it only to have it flip back in Hong Kong later this month! Even the act of carrying a passport and cash rather than a driver’s license and credit card serves as a reminder that I’m abroad. Small yet constant reminders I am not settled.

Traveling, thus far, is an exercise in challenging myself.

Most days start without plans, merely the goals of finding food and exploring. Some days involve traveling, others include plans like sightseeing or meeting a friend. But a majority of my time is completely open. In so many ways this feels incredibly freeing—a contrast from the everyday schedule and activities which previously controlled my days. Yet with such freedom comes uncertainties: “am I making the best of my time?” and “what else might I be doing?” constantly cross my mind. I worry about missing sights or activities only to realize that’s a part of the adventure; I cannot see everything no matter how hard I try. Instead, I seek new experiences and do my best to enjoy each area, to create some sense of each place and what story it has to share. What felt odd at first—complete control over my day’s schedule—is slowly becoming routine.

Disconnecting is less a challenge of will than reality; few places enable the constant connection of the developed world. Relying upon wifi leaves me at the whim of each establishment’s Internet, varying from place to place; Thailand was decent while many places in Vietnam are barely able to email photos. Less time connected, however, allows more time in-the-moment. I can read. Meet locals. Enjoy the present.

I have a constant feeling that I am a world apart from all I know. It’s a weird feeling at first but is now my norm: I am foreign.

← Hoi An / Hanoi →