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Travel Reflections

My Fast Journey to Slowness – Bye-bye Travel Ambition

 

In general I am more on the fast side. Jab jab it has to be. Patience is, to say the least, not one of my strengths. My leisurely pace when taking a walk is roughly at the speed of runners who take it easy. When I stroll with people slower than me I feel like a dog who is restrained in its leash while panting forward.

Regardless of the consequences

When travelling I choose a similar approach. Reaching a new place I want to “arrive“ as quickly as possible. Explore the area, eat in local restaurants, work through the top five sights on TripAdvisor. Throw myself wholeheartedly into the new location, the new culture, the new climate, regardless of the consequences.

One combines this preference for speed with the ambition to travel in the cheapest way and like the locals instead of taking the more comfortable and expensive means of transportation and one gets an interesting combination. This leads to situations like this one: It’s the beginning of this century in Southeast Asia. My former, 20 years old me stands in the streets of Bangkok, holding a hot off the press Lonely Planet in her hands and compares the Thai characters in the travel guide with the ones of the busses passing by.

Looking back I am surprised that I managed to take the right bus to the bus station which was way out of town. There I was the only white person who took the local bus heading north. Instead of using one of the high speed buses with AC for a few more Euros like the “normal“ backpackers did. Who I looked down on. Of course.

The simple way felt like betrayal

This way of travelling is not only motivated by saving money. To choose the simple way has always felt like betrayal to me. Like I was avoiding challenges, ignoring the “real” life and instead buying conveniences with my Western wealth.

That said I don’t think it is a bad thing to move like the locals do. As long as you have fun doing it. I certainly had a feeling of exhilaration when I had mastered a difficult path. On the other hand, I was overchallenged by the situation more than once. Of course that’s something I would have never admitted to myself.

Partly because the pressure didn’t mean that things didn’t work out. They have always worked out. At least somehow. After a night on the local bus in which I was mainly busy with not throwing up (since then I cannot eat coconut biscuits in combination with salty peanuts anymore), I had made it to Chiang Mai.

My relief to be finally able to breath fresh air again was so big, that it took me half an hour to realise that I had left my big backpack on the bus which of course was long gone by then. Fortunately, I got it back. But that is another story and a big exception in my extensive portfolio of solo journeys to “exotic” countries.

Travelling during a state of emergency

Last year I did a solo trip to Ethiopia. Only a few weeks before the state of emergency was declared. Unlike me most of the other backpackers had done their homework and have been hanging out in quieter places of the world. Merely a few Israelis were around. They are used to times of trouble, I guess. The first few days the internet still worked and I was able to contact friends and family back home using WhatsApp and Facebook.

Then communication on social media stopped – the harbringers of the state of emergency. I did speak to local people but most of the time their English wasn’t good enough to have a deeper conversation. To cut a long story short: I encountered a feeling I hardly ever meet when I am travelling. I was lonely.

When the pressure gets too much

Not having been in the best emotional condition when I started this journey wasn’t making me feel any better. Everything was too much for me. The people talking to me on the streets. The men trying to point me in the right direction in the bus terminal. The ones who tried to take my luggage and carry it for me. The guy who sat next to me in the minibus and vehemently tried to invite me for coffee even though I had declined his offer as friendly as possible for several times. This is not a complaint about Ethiopians. Not at all.

It was because I was overwhelmed with the situation that I started to regard everything as hostile. Ethiopia is a wonderful country that I would definitely visit again. Next time not in a bad mood and on my own though. And preferably not shortly before a state of emergency is called.

My transformation to being a softie

My present journey will take a year. In this case you have to pace yourself well and put your strengths to better use. I started to be more friendly to myself. Less hard. From time to time I am waving at ambition with a gentle smile and tell it to quickly piss of then.

At a yoga class I have recently visited the teacher preached to have compassion and to always start with yourself  before you can use it on other people. I am trying to take this lecture from my yoga mat into my life.

 

 

The first weeks of my journey I have spent in Australia on the farm of a friend of mine. One of my favourite places worldwide. I have given myself time to get grounded. Had good talks, cuddled with goats, enjoyed the horseback rides in the eucalypt forests. I worked through some emotional residuals from the past. Ate as healthy as I have never done before in my life thanks to my friend. Gave my body and soul time to get ready for the journey.

I am loving goats. Especially Lucinda!

 

Strengthened I went to Indonesia with stops in Sydney and Singapore. Spontaneously decided to fly directly from Bali to Lombok where I took a taxi (!) to Sengiggi. The comfort I had bought myself for 14 Euros was definitely worth the hassle free drive. From Sengiggi I didn’t bother to work through the local bus system but instead booked a well organised transfer with bus and boat to the Gili islands.

Extending my radius in slow motion

When I had arrived on the small tropical island of Gili Air I did something I had never done before while travelling. I kept my radius to a minimum and only extended it by tiny bits every day. From my bungalow to the beach it was 20 meters and about the same distance to the hotel restaurant.

I still had to finish a major project and was sitting in and in front of my bungalow on my computer for many hours each day, interrupted only by the occasional jump into the lukewarm sea water. Day by day I integrated a few more meters into my effective radius, mainly by exploring the nearby restaurants.

View from the snorkelling boat onto Gili Air

 

I left the stroll around the island until the fifth day. And this island is only 1.5 kilometres long. I slowly conquered my island. After my project was finished I treated myself to my first dive for fourteen years. In total I have spent ten days on Gili Air and expect for a short lunch stop during my snorkelling trip I hadn’t even set foot on the neighbouring islands of Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. If it wasn’t for a good reason to travel on I would probably still be there.

I stopped throwing stones on my path just to be able to say afterwards that I successfully overcame them.

The good reason was the invitation of an old friend to visit a traditional Balinese wedding. Following his call I chose the simple way to Ubud once again, taking the fast boat with bus transfer. By the way, that’s how 99 percent of the other travellers do it as well. I stopped throwing stones on my path just to be able to say afterwards that I successfully overcame them. I give myself the time to travel at the pace I need right now. I am listening to my needs instead of actively ignoring them.

And what can I say: It’s working! I am surprised how easy things can feel. I am feeling as good as I have hardly ever felt before. I managed to give myself the space to really enjoy the experiences I am having. Without offering a surface to attack it’s hard to be overchallenged.

Who am I trying to impress?

Because, come on, really. How did the bus driver from Colorado who I met in an Australian hostel phrase it so nicely while he was unsuccessfully trying to wipe away the colour that the green tea bags with which he had cleaned his face had left behind: Who am I trying to impress? The world? Presumably it couldn’t care less what I am doing. Myself? What for? After all I should be even more the reason to listen to myself.

This is not meant to be a plea for travelling slowly. I still prefer moving fast. I don’t think that in the future I will only move in slow motion. But it has abruptly improved the quality of my wellbeing while traveling that I didn’t just use one modus operandi but instead exploited the possibilities of the stepless adjustment of my own pace.

I am ready to move at exactly the speed I need at any given moment. To really make use of the luxury I am having this year and to stay as long at one place as it feels right to stay. Without rushing to see the next sight. To respect my needs and not to ignore them. To find my own rhythm even and especially when this means to pause again and again to admire the beauty of this world in astonishment.

 

 

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