thoughts

Traveling: Discovering What Type of Traveler I Am

Prior to beginning my semester abroad in Bangkok, I held a pretty narrow view of travel. My definition for traveling has vastly changed over the past four months, courtesy of countless travel opportunities I've been lucky enough to embark on. 

I have always been passionate and in love with traveling, both in practice and in theory. The excitement that comes with indulging in a new place, eating new foods, interacting and learning from different cultures, viewing natural and historical beauties that exist unique to each destination. But prior to last summer, most of my travel experiences have been planned for me or structured for me. Never before was I put in the position to be solely responsible for the outcome of my traveling experience - not having to rely or accommodate for other people in my party. This semester I grew as an independent traveler - figuring out details prior to leaving and holding myself accountable for everything necessary. I learned what I'm good at and what I'm not so good at. 

But above all else, I learned the importance of adaptability, openness, and spontaneity. Over the years I have become less and less of a 'Type-A planner' and find myself pushing the limits for just how much I can "wing it". The freedom and uncertainty associated with simply buying a train or plane ticket - and having that be the extent of your planning - is both incredibly worrisome and liberating. I found that often times traveling without a strict agenda, but simply a well educated list of possibilities and ideas is the best way to travel. Of course, not all trips can work this way, but more often than not I think diving in to a trip with minimal scheduled commitment to activities and specific destinations is the best way to go. Why? Because I believe the greatest and most memorable moment from traveling come at the most unexpected and unplanned times. And I believe that planning these memorable and perfect moments is impossible. When we think about it, and I mean really think about it, what do you remember and love most from the last trip you took? Was it the sightseeing you did around the city? The temple you visited that held some historical significance you can't quite remember? Did TripAdvisors top ten attraction list match your own? When I really think about it, when I'm being completely honest with myself, when I ignore what social constructs pressure to define as the best moments of my trip - I find myself stumbling across memories of me eating noodles on a plastic stool in the middle of the street at 1am, laying in the sand for hours talking with my French roommate staring at a limestone rock and crashing waves, being caught in the rain all alone in the jungle of Bangkok with a huge smile on my face and a bike between my legs, watching a monkey steal a banana out of my friends hand in Cambodia, and standing on a street corner at 2am singing with a band in Hong Kong. The most authentic and memorable experiences when traveling are some times the small, unplanned, unscripted, undocumented moments.  And this doesn't mean seeing temples in Cambodia wasn't incredible, it doesn't mean that I don't remember the view from Hong Kong's Victoria peak or wasn't impressed by the Grand Palace in Bangkok, or didn't find myself completely stunned by Mt.Ijen.

The planned, scripted and documented, experiences of traveling often overshadow the value of the unplanned and spontaneous moments. We tend to default to associating places with destinations featured on rated lists or checklists, rather than relishing in and remembering the equally as (if not more)  memorable little moments. 

I've learned a lot about myself through traveling; mainly in regards to how I think, what I think about, and why I think about those things. And I am proud to recognize where I fall short (in worrying, planning, and decision making) and where I strive (flexibility, intuition/street smarts, and prior-developed-knowledge through research). Although unexpected and seemingly silly, I plan to boast about the little moments, the simplicity of interactions with new people new food and new places, that made my trips incredible and memorable. 

Jennifer Louie