why i'm still traveling

I recently had a traumatizing experience in India that threw me completely out of orbit. For the past week I have felt emotionally and mentally lost and I haven’t found the same sense of urgency and excitement for travel. In truth, I’ve never felt so stuck, lonely and doubtful of what I’m doing.

Now I’m in Thailand, and as each minute, hour and day of this last week went by, I repeatedly asked myself the question, “Why am I still traveling?” After all, I’ve been gone for four months and I can go home at any point. Should I?

Yesterday I left my hostel here in Bangkok to spend my last two days in the city with Jackie, a TEDster I met three years ago at TEDGlobal. In order to get to her house, I had to walk 15 minutes from her office to the sky train, take that across town, and then walk another 30 minutes to her place. It was about 95 degrees outside, ridiculously humid and I had about 55 pounds to carry on my back.

As I was nearing her home, I started to become very mindful of everything I was physically feeling and seeing. I was drenched in sweat from head to toe, my shoulders were aching and it was about to downpour. Around me cars and motorcycles were whizzing by carrying everything from hundreds of plants and flowers to babies and animals. The cracked sidewalks were packed with men, women and children trying to sell anything from fresh fruit and poultry to handmade trinkets. Stray cats scampered by my feet, the smell of something burning filled my nose and the sound of dragonflies and honking horns filled the air. A mosquito buzzed in my ear. I could feel the warmth and weight of the moist air heavy on my body.

This awareness of my surroundings made me stop and sit for a minute. I thought of all the little things that backpacking around this world has made me come to love. The smelly streets and alleyways and the wrinkled faces peering out at me. The zips, clicks and clacks of packing everything up. Never knowing the language but being fluent in hand gestures. Constellations I’ve never seen and food I’ve never even heard of. Conversations with people I’d never dream of meeting.

On a deeper level, travel has given me the opportunity to flip the camera around and observe myself. Over the past four months, I’ve discovered more about my true character than I have in my entire life. I’ve learned that you find out what really makes you happy when you’re truly alone. That by going far, far away, you realize what you miss and call home. I’ve learned that negative energy is useless and the only thing that matters in my life is people. I’ve learned what it feels like to be one of a million and not one in a million. I’ve learned how to stand up for myself when there is no one else around who can. I’ve had moments leave me speechless and others leave me begging for a voice.

As I sit here writing, I realize that learning all of this is exactly why I am still traveling. I’m still traveling because what I discover from being truly alone trumps the feeling itself altogether. I’m still traveling because getting an opportunity to do so is not one I can guarantee in the future, nor one that I will ever take for granted. I’m still traveling because to me, learning and growth are paramount. I’m still traveling because it makes me feel human. 

Going forward, I know that I will be challenged and thrown off course once more. My thoughts and perspective will change again and doubt will be a common occurrence. But I also know now what my home is, what brings me there, and how to get back up after falling down.

-B

table for three

It's very, very hot here in Dubai (about 100 F/37 C with humidity) , so while I was standing in line tonight at a local burger place, I was fanning myself with the laminated menu. At one point I turned to see a man behind me doing the same. We made eye contact, said "it's quite hot," nodded our heads and smiled and laughed.

With some awkwardness in the air, he filled the silence by asking where I was from. "The US," I said, "California. And you?" "Pakistan. From a city in the east named Lahore."

From here we continued to talk about why I was in Dubai, my travels and studies, and how I've enjoyed my time on the road. He then introduced me to his beautiful wife who was also from Pakistan. After some more small talk and ordering, they both shook my hand and wished me well. 

A few meters away, however, we all found ourselves waiting for a free table together. When one opened, the hostess motioned to them and then me, seemingly confused as to if we wanted to eat together. The man then said "We're together," nodded at me, and then we all went over to the table. 

What should have been a quick 15-minute jaunt by myself turned into an hour-long meal with this wonderful couple. We talked about everything from travel and marriage to the recent Humans of New York series with Pakistani people. The wife was so pleased by Brandon's (HONY) photos because of how well they represented the true culture of the Pakistani people, instead of folks simply creating their ideas of people by watching the news. We talked about how they met, where they went to school, what they studied... He is an engineer and she's a software engineer specifically. Her entire family is made up of software engineers and her two brothers live and work in Seattle, at Facebook and Microsoft respectively. They moved to Dubai a year ago and have been married for over three. They both have never been to the States but hope to go one day. She would love to live in Australia although she doesn't have a reason for it, which makes them both giggle. She has a nose ring, which looks great. She wears a traditional hijab like some of my friends do back in the States. He's very kind and gentle with the way he speaks, and it's so clear that he loves her. He's 29, she's 27, and he told me they got married early in regard to usual Pakistani culture but "we knew it was right," he said with a smile on his face. 

They asked me so many thoughtful questions about my journey so far and what I want to do with my life. At times it felt like I was talking with old friends. After dinner they asked how I was getting home (the friend's house I'm staying at) and I told them the way I had gotten to the beach in the first place: by taxi. Without hesitation he said "Let us take you back." I respectfully said they didn't have to and how kind of a gesture it was, but he pushed back. "Please," he said, "it's right on the way and it's no problem at all." {For context, it's a 25 minute drive from the beach back to my home here. In other words, it was ridiculously kind of them to offer to drive me back.}

As were leaving the restaurant he told me and his wife to wait for a bit. A few minutes later he came back from the counter with two cups filled with ice cream. He handed one to his wife, and the other to me. "Oh my gosh you're way too nice!" I squeaked out. He didn't even respond. His face just simply read that it was nothing at all. Again, so sweet of him/them. 

On the drive back she fed him spoonfuls of her ice cream while he was driving. We talked more about my next destination and things I've learned along the way. When we arrived, they both got out of the car to send me off and I thanked them endlessly for their generosity. The wife then told me, "you're very special, and you're going to be someone great one day. Let's take a picture!" He grabbed his phone, we took a picture together, we hugged again and they drove off. 

~~~

Moments like these make up some of the best memories while traveling. They happen to me more often than I'd expect, and usually with perfect timing. Meeting people from far away places and cultures who you have so much in common with will always give me goosebumps. 

 

 

choosing a backpack

Ever since the idea for this journey began, many people have asked me how I am packing for this year-long adventure. For the purpose of simplicity and efficiency, I will be using a backpacking pack, which I purchased just the other day. Choosing the right one for me came down to a few specific details:

Size - A year is obviously a long time, so having a backpack that can fit a fair amount in it was important to me. Most of the ones I was looking at online ranged between 60 - 80 liters and had substantial pockets and accessories, so after landing on two that I felt comfortable with, I went to REI to check them out in person. I ended up getting one that is 75 liters, as opposed to the other choice I liked which was 65 liters. It also was better shaped for my body in that there was not a protruding piece on top that my head kept hitting (like it did on the other one). My pack also comes with the ability to adjust the length of the spine of the pack so that it can fit my torso. 

Brand - The backpack I got is a Gregory backpack. Osprey is the brand that most people like for these types of packs and it was between Osprey and Gregory for me as well. It ultimately came down to which served me better in terms of size and other details (see below). 

Price - These packs can be super expensive. Luckily, I've been saving an REI gift card for awhile, my Dad found a coupon in the newspaper recently, and we went during a huge sale. This made the ending price significantly cheaper than expected. All about that bargain shopping! 

Accessibility - Another hugely important aspect of the backpack for me was how it opened/how it could be packed. Some backpacks can only be unpacked / packed from the top so that you have to reach down to the bottom to retrieve something. The two that I was looking at could be laid down and opened like a suitcase. The one I didn't get could open its zipper in a "J" shape, whereas the one I ended up getting can open in a full and regular "U" shape. My backpack also has a significant external/outside pocket that fully zips shut as opposed to having a mesh covering. It also has a flap at the bottom that creates a small separate pocket from the main section of the pack where I can put things like dirty shoes/clothes. 

Daypack - Having the ability to leave my big pack in a hostel/Airbnb/room somewhere during the day while exploring was also very important to me. To do this, I needed to get a very small daypack. I found a great one that can either be attached to my big back or secured across my chest. With this pack I can walk around with my camera, a water bottle, etc., during the day without lugging around all of my belongings. 

Choosing a backpack proved to be one of the first important steps on an extensive list of preparation items for this trip. Big thank you to my Dad for his help with research and advice. 

Message me if you want more details on the pack or anything I mentioned! - B