Taking a walk through the cemetery near Kiyo Mizu temple in Kyoto.
After Andy and I had dated about 6 months, we decided to take a trip somewhere far away and foreign to blow our yearly two weeks of vacation. Somehow, we decided on Japan, and set a travel date nearly a year later to get the best airfare, save money, and plan. The months leading up to our trip were spent consulting Lonely Planet’s Japan guidebook, living on JapanICan.com, and practicing Japanese on Rosetta Stone. We stole away to coffee shops and read books on Japanese history, watched anime, and sent emails to everyone we know who had ever been to Japan asking for advice. The night before we departed, I went to Target and bought the whole store, including a brand new iPod and new luggage.
Taking this trip was a big deal. Huge. I mean, we watched Lost in Translation like 6 hours before boarding our flight. [Insert groans here.]
In contrast, a few days ago, we decided to go to Laos and now we’re here. I’m writing this on a slow boat in the middle of the Mekong River between Thailand and Laos, watching a stream of backpackers file on, finding a place to sit among the seats salvaged from minivans. To prepare for the trip, we washed our clothes in the bathtub and hung them to dry on hangers suspended from knobs on our ceiling fan. We bought tickets in advance for the first leg, from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, and we’ve improvised since then. And guess what?
Everything is fine.
I think we’re able to let go in part because we feel more at home in foreign countries, and in part because we’ve met so many travelers in Thailand that make it seem easy. From the Swede who hitchhiked from Europe, across oceans, and through Asia, to the older couples hoofing their belongings on their backs, it doesn’t seem so scary to just go. Even if the guesthouses are full, we’ll find somewhere to sleep. Even if the food totally sucks, we’ll eat. If the trip is a bust, meh, there’s always Myanmar (Burma)*. It doesn’t matter/mai pen rai/ไม่เป็นไร.
Of course, when you have only two weeks to spend, and that is the only travel you’ll do overseas in a year, it’s important that you spend that day time efficiently and wisely. We needed to build up the two weeks into something extraordinary, worth the thousands of dollars we’d saved and planned to spend (we did). There was no luxury cushion of a day or two (or a week) in the event we picked a dud location. Also, despite being a pretty laid back person, in the states it’s common to chat about the upcoming journey and talk about your itinerary with anyone who will listen. If you haven’t planned, you don’t get to have those chats that stretch the travel experience and maximize those two hard-earned weeks. Those conversations, and the reminiscing over pictures that follows is essential to mental heath in the cubicle world.
Besides, Laos is a completely different animal from Japan. We’re only spending a week here, and most of that will be on boats and buses, traversing terrain slowly. We probably won’t get far from the backpacker trail, because when you leave things to spur-of-the-moment decisions, the restaurants with clear signs draw you in, as do the guesthouses two steps from the pier, and the first stand hawking sandwiches.
Perhaps, a bit more research would have had us motorbiking on the dirt roads bordering China and Vietnam and finding all the lovely noodle stands and baguettes between. It’s possible we’ll find those anyway, but it’s okay if we don’t. Beyond the extra time on our hands that lessens the urgency of travel, Thailand has definitely taught me that patience, a smile, and a beer can go a long way in turning a bad or mediocre situation into something entirely bearable, if not enjoyable.
*I can’t stop. Myanmar (Burma) forever.
Hi! I'm Susan, and this is my travel journal. You can read more about me here.
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