Chapter 6: Loneliness of Malaysia

The day had come for me to move on from Thailand. I wasn’t ready. I had barely scratched the surface of what there was to see and explore in this beautiful country. I thought I had nothing but time but unfortunately, the tourist visa claimed otherwise.

My flight to Kuala Lumpur was early at 7 am. That wasn’t even the worst part. Earlier in the morning, I had awoken by my stomach, screaming at me. I already knew what those screams were. There was going to be a very bad problem.

The bathrooms in this hostel were two flights down. I knew that if I waited, I wouldn’t make it so I got up and made a run for it. I hadn’t even made it to the stairs when I realised there was just no way.

Thankfully, I discovered a hand basin by the stairs, I hadn’t noticed it before, it was like someone knew this was going to happen and placed it there conveniently for me. I only just made it to the edge of the sink before I hurled. All that delicious food from yesterday, gone.

Getting food poisoning while in a foreign country sucks. Having to travel on a plane, bus, or boat, with the threat of impending doom? That’s a nightmare.

I hailed an Uber to take me to the airport. I still felt terrible. The anxiety of exploding in this guy’s car was almost worst than just letting it out.

With relief, I made it to the airport without incident. I checked in and made a pitstop to the bathroom. I guess this is the time to pitch anti-diarrhea pills. They are truly a blessing. After taking one of these, I still didn’t feel great, but I made it to my hostel in Kuala Lumpur without incident. Seriously, I would never travel without these things.

Still feeling terrible, I decided that I needed to see at least some of Kuala Lumpur. I visited the Petronas Towers, I went up to the Skydeck, I wandered around China town and the markets.

Malaysia was different from Thailand, the people, the culture, even the travellers visiting here, there were similarities but there was also no question that I was in a different country. Thailand was a solo backpacker paradise, it was all too easy to meet others and find things to do. Malaysia required a little more effort.

I had come to Malaysia without any real plans of what to do or where to go. When I was bitten by a dog in Chiang Mai it forced me to change my plans. I had intended to go to Laos but due to the uncertainty of medical facilities, I had to come here instead.

That is part of the fun of backpacker life. Learning to take things as they come. Who knows what will happen or who you will meet that will change your plans. Having the freedom to go with it, to say yes to any adventure, is just another thing that you’ll come to love.

On a gloomy rainy day in the Cameron Highlands, I decided I needed to make the most of my time in this beautiful part of the country. It’s known to be a bit of a hikers paradise with trails that start not that far from the town centre. I did some research and asked the staff in my hostel about which would be the most scenic tracks to do. I tried to convince some other people in my hostel to join me, but no one was excited about the prospect of walking through the bush in the rain.

Nevertheless, I decided to go at it alone. In hindsight, this was probably not the smartest thing to do. Walking on a wet, slippery, narrow track with steep drop-offs could potentially be dangerous. Doing it alone? Well, no one would know I had fallen to my death.

I was perfectly fine with keeping myself company. I had read stories about solo travel being lonely. I hadn’t experienced that in Thailand. There wasn’t a single day where I hadn’t met someone who wanted to do something. If anything, I was trying to find reasons to do things alone, even for just for a moment.

A lot of us are afraid of loneliness. I can attest that it weighs on you. Its heavy presence is like a dark cloud, building, threatening to fall and drench you. It’s easy to get lost in the darkness of loneliness and fail to appreciate the beauty of it instead.

When you travel alone, feelings of loneliness seem heightened. The language barrier certainly doesn’t help and everything becomes that little bit more difficult. You can’t just leave your bags and go to the bathroom, there is no one to take photos of you, which is actually a really good way to start a conversation with strangers, and there is no one to share in all of your quirky observations.

In embracing loneliness — it’s cliche I know — you can learn a thing or two about yourself. A lot of us try to avoid being in our head. We try to busy ourselves so that we don’t have the time or space to let our minds wander and reflect. It can even be painful to get lost in our thoughts. We need pain. Life isn’t all sunshine and roses. Sometimes you find yourself in a storm, walking alone down a narrow path in the bush. It’s how we act and what we do in these situations that reveal our true selves.

Having struggled to meet anyone in Malaysia, I decided to head back to Thailand sooner than anticipated. I had already planned to visit Koh Lipe, a Thai island not that far from Langkawi. Instead of returning to Langkawi to fly to my next destination, I’d spend another week travelling north through some of the southern islands of Thailand.

When I was in Kuala Lumpur just a few weeks ago getting the forth of my rabies shots, I had asked the doctor if I would be able to get the final shot in Langkawi, “No problem” the doctor said.

The morning of, final-shot day, I headed off to the local hospital. I just assumed that would be the easiest place to get it. I arrived and asked at the main desk who I can talk to about getting the shot. The two ladies at the front desk talked to each other then said I needed to go to a clinic in Kuah, another 20 minutes away.

Walking into the clinic was a completely different scene to the hospital. It was chaotic. There were people everywhere. Some were coughing, some were missing skin, presumably from motorcycle accidents, and there were kids crying all over the place. I asked a passing employee where I should go and they pointed to a nondescript desk in a corner.

It was a long wait, over an hour, eventually, my number was called and I saw a doctor, “How can I help you today?” He asked. I explained that I had been bitten by a dog back in Thailand and that I needed the final shot. The nurse and himself conversed and laughed with each other a couple of times, “We don’t have rabies shots on the island. Langkawi has been rabies free for many years” Super annoyed that I’d just wasted money and half a day to be told I can’t even get the shot, I said nothing, grabbed my passport and documentation from his hand and left.

It felt a bit like a cruel joke. It felt like I wasn’t welcome in this country. I just wanted to leave. However, there is still a lot to love about Malaysia. The scenery is beautiful, the transport options make it easy to get around, and there truly is a great variety of food to be tried.

I was trapped in my own negative mindset loops. Loneliness had taken hold of me. It had blinded me from the beauty of this country and its people. I did actually meet a few fellow travellers in Malaysia. I was also able to reconnect with an old friend from home. Looking back now, I realise, despite spending more time alone, I had some really great experiences in this country.

In Taiping, I walked into a packed out local Laksa restaurant where nobody spoke English, they had no menus, they just gave me a bowl of their finest Laksa. I sat on the edge of a small table with a family while they watched and analysed my every move. They tried to speak to me in Malay, I tried to respond in English, neither knew what was being said, but everyone was smiling and having a good time.

In Langkawi, I rented a motorbike and rode to the top of Gunung Raya Mountain. I was the only one on the twisty road to the top. Overrun by Monkeys, overgrown by greenery, and overwhelmed by stunning views in every which direction, my heart was content. It was one of my final days in Malaysia and as I sat and looked out over the island feeling like Simba, a king, I surprisingly felt like I would miss Malaysia.

Despite the struggles, I would do it all over again, there are many things I still want to do and see here. I knew now, that I can handle loneliness. I learned, instead of feeling sorry for myself, instead of trying to avoid the pain, I could embrace it. And for that, Malaysia, I am truly grateful. I will be back.

Chapter 5: Sweet Pai for New Years

At the end of December, I made the trek north to Pai. I decided it was the place to see in the new year. It was strange though, I felt like my year had actually begun at the beginning of the month, not the end. I guess in reality it’s not that strange, given the huge shift in lifestyle, quitting my job, and leaving home at the beginning of December. Nevertheless, I found myself in this small, mountainous, hippie town, in the far northwestern corner of Thailand, to see out the calendar year.

It was almost an awakening being in Pai. Not because of the drugs, that’s not my scene, but because of the mountains. Being in the mountains certainly was, I was realising, my happy place.

There isn’t much going on in the town of Pai. There’s a couple of main streets with many restaurants, cafes, and bars. The town itself is set on the side of a small river where a few hacked together bamboo bridges connect the town centre with some of the accommodation options on the other side.

It is said that you don’t really need to contact anyone to make plans here, you’ll just run into them in the streets. Shortly after my arrival in town, I was sitting in a cafe sipping on a mango smoothie and mindlessly scrolling through social media when a girl I had met back in Khao Yai wandered by, saw me, and stopped to say, “Hi.”

Michelle and I had met a couple of other times throughout Thailand. Once in Sukhothai, a couple of times in Chiang Mai and we had kept in regular contact since meeting at Khao Yai. We hadn’t planned to be in Pai together, but it just so happened that we were.

I suggested that we dedicate a day to doing a couple of motorbike adventures to some of the nearby sights. I had introduced Michelle to the joys of riding motorbikes in South East Asia back in Sukhothai. The freedom it gives you to be able to go where you want, when you want, plus the joy of just being on a bike is one of the simple pleasures of life. She was quickly hooked.

Michelle asked if I wanted to join her on a sunset mission that evening and a sunrise mission the next morning. Unexpectedly, we ended up spending 4 days together exploring the area, hanging out, getting to know each other, and learning that we have an almost disturbing number of commonalities.

By motorbike, we saw the Pai Canyon, the Historical Bridge, and sat on top of the Mo Paeng Waterfall. We got up early for sunrise at the Yun Lai look out, only just making the summit on our underpowered scooter with an intermittently working headlight. We also made the long ride north to Lod caves.

The ride was a lot of fun on twisty, well-paved roads, with a couple of great lookouts to stop at. The caves, however, were truly impressive. We paid for a guide who rushed us through all the different areas of the caves. Stopping only briefly to take a few photos and taking us on a bamboo-raft race down to the other end. Despite the swift nature of that guided tour, it was still a really cool place to visit.

As the sun was going down on new years eve, we still didn’t know what to do for the evening. We were enjoying each others company and without saying so, had mutually decided that we would see in the new year together. We found some delicious food, which is not hard to do in Thailand, wandered the streets, and people watched. I saw a girl light a roman candle and tried to hold it as it fired. She was unprepared for the force, freaked out, and threw it off the bridge as it fired again mid-drop and ended up in a bush.

2018 was a year of actively trying to make a dream come true. It was one of the first times in my life where I set an ambitious goal and achieved it. In a way, it was proof to myself that in fact, I could achieve whatever I wanted to do if I just put my mind to it (Thanks Doc). To end the year in this small town in the north of Thailand was something special. I was living my dream.

As the hours began to disappear for its last hoorah in Pai, the locals and tourists were coming together along the side of the river and throughout the town too. There certainly was no lack of excitement as commercial grade fireworks were readily available every few meters as well as lanterns and sparklers. The local kids were constantly lighting bang snaps and throwing them near unsuspecting tourists.

Michelle had never let off a Chinese lantern before. What better time and place to try that for the first time. We found one of the many local vendors selling all the things that burn and explode, debated whether we should get one or two, then headed down to the river to set it free.

It was chaotic. The bamboo bridges which certainly had not been certified by any engineer, were overrun and most likely over capacity. We waited for a while at one end to see if anyone would keep walking or get off so that we could cross. Impatience got the better of us and we speedily got over without catastrophe.

We wandered up and down the river, watching the many tourists play with fireworks that would be illegal to even touch in a western country. I was highly alert and overly anxious that we were going to walk into a potentially explosive situation. Eventually, we found a small clearing in which we could let off our lantern.

Opening up the lantern I asked Michelle if she’d like to do the honours of lighting the fuel cell. To which I got a quick and absolute, “No.” So I set the four corners alight and together, we held the lantern as it began to fill with heat. We had a couple of attempts letting it go but it wasn’t time, you had to be patient, something I’m admittedly not so good at.

We let the lantern fly and watched it disappear high into the sky. I made a wish, a promise to myself. In some ways, It was the next big goal for my life. I stood there, calm in amongst the chaos, content, happy to be here with a new friend.

Time was quickly running out on 2018. We walked down the river again, watching all the chaos unfold around us as people were getting hit with fireworks, lanterns were crashing into the bamboo bridges, and people who had a little too much to drink were falling down the edge of the river. We luckily found a swing that was unoccupied and sat next to each other, looking around, unaware of what the time was.

As the countdown began, a friend of Michelle’s had called her. She wandered off to take it while I sat on the swing and watched the show. It was like a warzone. I had never seen anything so unorganised but so beautiful. The elaborate and expensive fireworks shows of Sydney, New York, or Dubai, don’t even compare to how crazy and beautiful the show in Pai was that night. I think the best explanation would be if you put all the top fireworks shows in the world together and instead of choreographing it into a show, you let it rip all at once from all around town.

I felt like my entire year of 2018 happened in one month. The rest of the year was a blur. The madness of trying to prepare for the trip was now but a distant memory. Instead, I was focused on what was to come. The many more adventures and many more people I would encounter. The unknown wasn’t scary anymore, it was now something I embraced and longed for.

Next Week: Loneliness of Malaysia

Chapter 4: A Christmas Bite

We were riding in convoy up a highway north of Chiang Rai towards the golden triangle. Where the border of Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos meet. Wearing jeans, a hoodie, and my raincoat over top, it was still cold. I never expected to be so cold in Thailand. The windchill factor of riding a motorbike at 80kmh made it feel all too much like home.

I had met an American guy in my hostel the day before. He was trying to organise a driver to take him to see a couple of the sights around the area. I had interrupted his conversation with one of the staff members to ask if I could join on this adventure. The plans eventually changed to taking motorbikes instead.

There ended up being four of us, an American, a Brit, an Australian, and a Kiwi. We hadn’t spent more than five minutes together and now we were off to explore the sights. This is the true joy of the solo backpacker life. When the opportunity arises to explore with some fellow travellers. You go for it.

During our day together we discovered that we all had the same plan, to be in Chiang Mai for Christmas. In a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas due to their Buddhist heritage, it seemed like it would be the place to go. As it turned out, a lot of the people I had met along my journey throughout Thailand had the same plan.

Christmas Eve was more or less a normal touristy day of checking out a nearby garden. In the evening I headed to the night markets to catch up with some of the people I had met and wander around. As like any other Asian night market, it is a little chaotic. Not because of cars or bikes, but because of the sheer number of people. If you’re in a hurry you are going to be late. There is no way to forge a quick path through the crowds when everyone is stopping every few metres to look at the different t-shirts or artwork on offer.

After hanging out with some new friends, I decided it was time to head in. I wandered through the dark streets of Chiang Mai Old City back to my hostel. I stopped a couple of times to take a few pictures of locals on the streets and the beautiful buildings. I wandered down a sketchy looking, unlit side street, and discovered there was a spot with a good view of the temple which was bathed in light and looked like it was on fire under the night sky. I stopped to take a picture and as I was standing there, trying to get the exposure compensation to work on my phone, out of nowhere, I felt something grab my leg.

I turned, shocked, and confused as to why someone would grab my leg like that. It wasn’t a person, it was a dog! Still in shock, it took me a few seconds to realise what had happened. The dog looked at me confused too, it didn’t make a sound, it didn’t growl, it didn’t give me any warning, it just stood still in front of me, waiting for my reaction.

I retreated, bailed, I got out of that street as quickly as possible and tried to see if I had bite marks on my leg. I pulled my shorts down in the middle of the street, I didn’t care if people could see, I was more concerned about what could eventuate from being bitten by a dog in South East Asia. I couldn’t see any bite marks or even bruising but still, my heart was racing a million miles an hour.

I hustled back to my hostel and went immediately for the showers and scrubbed my leg almost to the point that my skin was going red. I thought maybe I had dodged a bullet but I had to see a doctor to be sure.

Christmas morning and the anxiety about the possibility of contracting rabies was the only thing running through my mind. I got an uber to a nearby clinic and as I got in, my driver said, “Merry Christmas.” Confused, I asked her what she had said, even though I heard perfectly, my brain was in another world, “Merry Christmas” she said again. “Thanks” I responded, “Merry Christmas to you, too!”

I was bracing myself for the worst. I had seen and heard some not so great things about medical facilities in Asia. What I walked into, however, was world class. It was clean, the staff were very attentive and helpful, there wasn’t a waiting room full of coughing people. It was a relief.

I explained what had happened and I very quickly saw a doctor. He had a look, couldn’t see any skin breaks or even bruising and said I would probably be fine. No need to get the shots. A little taken aback I left the clinic still feeling anxious about the possibilities. I decided to get a second opinion and found another nearby clinic that was open.

Again, this clinic was nothing like the horror stories I had heard about this part of the world. I was also seen really quickly. No waiting half a day and filling out forms. It was all too easy. Easier than home in fact.

This doctor said much the same. There was no evidence of a bite and suggested that I shouldn’t need the shots but that it was up to me.

There, of course, was no harm in having the shots. It would give me immunity if I were to get bitten again in one of the many other countries I was yet to visit. The only downside is that it would affect the plans I currently had.

I consulted with a doctor friend from home who stressed that I absolutely should start the five shots immediately. So it was settled.

I got the first shot then and there. It was just like any other shot. The nurses were very sweet and made sure I was okay with everything and even gave me step-by-step commentary on what she was doing. I was given a card and some documentation to fill out as I got the remainder of the shots.

When I left the clinic, my anxiety levels had returned to normal. It was a bit of a hindrance that I would now have to be near a clinic for next 4 shots. It certainly bet the potential alternatives of dying from rabies.

It’s funny how in the flash of an eye everything can change. You could say that it is a metaphor for life. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. A dog could bite you down a dark alleyway in the back streets of Chiang Mai and have to throw all future plans out the window. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can quite as easily lead to something new or even better.

It’s easy to focus on the negatives in these situations or even on worst case scenarios. Certainly, it could very well have been a life or death situation if the bite was worse than it was. Who knows, had I listened to the local doctors and not got the shots, maybe I wouldn’t even be here right now.

At the time, I was annoyed that I wasn’t going to be able to cross the border into Laos. However, It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As I made new plans to head to Malaysia where medical facilities were more reputable and easier to come by, things were happening behind the scenes that would change the rest of my travels remarkably.

That’s a story for another day.

Next week: Sweet Pai for New Years.

Chapter 3: The National Park

The bus dropped me off on the side of the street in a small town not that far north of Bangkok. A pick-up truck pulled up and asked if I was, “Nathan.” He grabbed my bag, threw it on the flatbed, and told me to jump on. Strange, given there was nobody sitting in the passenger seat up front.

We hurtled down the highway as I held onto my hat and my seat. It was hard to breathe as the wind pummeled my face, it felt like being punched repeatedly with no way to fight back.

I had come to this part of Thailand to visit Khao Yai National Park. I wanted to see wildlife, get away from the city, and get lost in nature.

I dropped my bags in my new luxurious accommodation. It had old stained green lino floors, a sagging ceiling with a fan in the middle of it. A bed I was sure was made out of concrete and a bathroom that had no hot water. The food, however, deserved a Michelin star.

My fellow travellers and I congregated out the front in the dining area. I looked around, wondering what their stories were. There was a couple sitting at my table speaking a European language that I thought was German. There were two older French couples making a bit of a racket but obviously loving travel life in their retirement. An older tech looking dude who was absorbed by his laptop and phone. There was also a young woman dressed in all black, sitting with perfect posture, glasses, and both ears covered in piercings.

We were segregated into 3 groups. The old, the families with kids, and the younguns. Our group consisted of a couple of couples and the rest were solo travellers. A good mix of European, British, American, and little ole lonely me, from a place called New Zealand.

The first day of the tour was spent as one big happy family. We visited a cave — climbing down into the darkness of the earth, stumbling over rocks we couldn’t see, and banging heads on rocks above. We also visited a bat cave at sunset as they awoke to find their supper for the day, it was like the scene at the end of Batman Begins. It was an amazing sight, surprisingly, they also made an amazing sound.

At the end of the day, we stopped by a swimming hole for a night swim. I was the first to dive in and much to my surprise, the cool fresh water sucked the wind out of my lungs. I swam to the edge of the natural pool where there was a little waterfall. The current would push you against the wall and hold you up so you could float there underneath the trees with the sound of the water crashing behind you.

Everyone else started to join and jump in. They would swim down towards me and say, “Hi.” It was the first time this tour that I didn’t have a camera in my hand. Instead of looking for what to shoot I noticed the people around me. I talked to them and I got to know them just a little bit. I had been too caught up with trying to capture everything and not paying attention to the potential friendships that could be made with my fellow tourers.

It’s all too easy for me to get caught up in trying to capture the things around me, forgetting to take it all in and share the moment with those who are near. It’s something I knew I needed to be better about. I didn’t want to forever be hiding behind a camera. I had decided to do less documenting and more living in the moment.

The next morning, we headed up the windy road into the park. Stopping every now and then for monkeys that had decided sitting in the middle of the road was a good idea. When we made it to the lookout point we all got out to take pictures of the view. Our guide had a telescope with him to spot birds and other wildlife around the park. He had spotted a hornbill sitting high in a tree. We all gathered taking turns to look at it up close.

From there we headed to our hiking spot for the day. Winding through the jungle over fallen trees, crossing small streams and stopping frequently to watch the birds in the air and the critters of the forest floor. It was quiet, nothing but the sound of wind and the birds, as well as the footsteps of the group in front of me.

As usual, I hung at the back of the pack. Feeling shy and insignificant, battling with my own self-doubts and anxieties. I guess in a way this trip was about facing these fears. About breaking the safety barriers I put up that have held me back in many of the relationships in my life. I just didn’t know it yet.

One of the best things about travelling is all the people you meet. The other travellers, the tour guides, the locals. The downside of travelling is that these people come and go so quickly.

When you meet someone new on the road who is also travelling the chances that you’ll have something in common, something to bond over, are higher than if you met someone on the streets in your hometown. It makes these fleeting relationships feel deeper than they probably are. The connections feel like they could easily become lifelong relationships in a day spent with this new person. But then you have to say goodbye.

Our one and a half day tour had come to an end. Our small group dwindled from 8 down to 3 by the time we arrived back at our luxury accommodation. I personally had struggled to find my way back to the social traveller life. I felt like I had failed to properly get to know these great people. It had been a while since I had been surrounded by strangers. I got stuck in my own anxiety loops, thinking I had nothing to offer the conversation, when actually, I was genuinely interested in everyone’s story.

This tour in Khao Yai was one that I know I will always remember fondly. Later in the year, as time will tell, it would hold a lot more weight in my heart. That is a story for another day. This was the first tour of many that I’d take over the year. It was a great introduction to what this year was about. To meet great people, to make memories, to have a blast.

Goodbyes on the road suck. The traveller life is one of fleeting relationships but relationships that go deeper, faster, than what we probably normally would be comfortable with at home. I don’t know what it is about the travel life, but people seem to drop their guard faster and be a lot more vulnerable when you’re away from the safety and familiarity of home.

These chance friendships with people from all over the world are something I would come to love about travelling. As I spent more time on the road, I learned how to be less of an anxious person and enjoy the time with the people I was fortunate to cross paths with.

When I left home I had anticipated that my favourite part of the travel life would be the daily creative pursuits. As it turned out the people I met would become my fondest memories.

As the Maori proverb goes, “He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata” translated, “What is the most important thing in the world? The people, the people, the people.”

Next Week: A Christmas Bite

Chapter 2: Goodbye Life, Hello Travel!

I had made a decision. I was going to buy a one-way ticket to Thailand and travel for as long as I could.

It was almost freeing to finally commit to travelling the world. It gave me something to be excited about. Of course there was some anxiety thrown in for balance. Though, having some direction and a goal to shoot for, made life a bit more interesting.

My final few days at my current job were not one of reflection, relaxation, and reminiscing. At the 11th hour, we were informed by the people above us that we would have to return or dispose of the remainder of our tape library. It became a hectic week of sorting, boxing, and shipping tapes.

If only they could have waited an extra week or two.

With my replacement having received below adequate training, I was tasked with the tape removal project. For someone who has spent 7 years in a desk job where the most amount of physical exercise required of the job was walking down a corridor, this was hard work. I actually enjoyed it, but it was exhausting.

On top of that, I was trying to sell my motorbike that for most of the year was plagued with electrical issues. Two days before I was due to leave the country I picked it up from the mechanic. It seemed to run mostly fine, so I dropped it at a dealer for them to sell, making it their problem.

By the time I had made it to the airport, I was ready to sleep for a week. The lead-up to this trip was not at all what I had expected it would be. As I sat in my middle seat on the plane I didn’t think much about what I was leaving behind. I was excited about the adventures that I had to come but I was also stressed that I still didn’t have a plan beyond the first few days.

I arrived late in the night to the chaos that is Bangkok airport. I had arranged for an airport transfer because I didn’t want to try and work out how to get a train to the city on my first night in a new country. I wandered around the arrival hall for a few minutes before I spotted my driver standing in the most unassuming spot behind a pillar next to an escalator. It was like he didn’t want to be found.

I don’t think he spoke a word of English either as he immediately rang the hostel on his phone and handed it to me, “Mr Walker! Welcome to Bangkok, our driver will bring you to our hotel, is there anything I can help you with at the moment?” This warm and welcoming service is something I’d come to experience everywhere in Thailand.

I awoke early the next morning. I had to make the most of my time in this new city. There was so much to see. During the first few days in Bangkok, I saw all the top sights of the city. The Golden Palace, Wat Pho, Chatuchuk Markets, Jim Thompson House, and of course, the never-ending strip of malls.

I had seen so much but just three days into this trip of a lifetime, I crashed. I couldn’t find the energy to get up and explore the city, to take photos, to film. I just wanted to sleep and do nothing. Who travels to another country to hide in a hostel and not experience the culture, see the sights, eat all the delicious food? I felt like I was wasting this amazing opportunity.

Often people think that travelling is relaxing and refreshing, which it can be. It can also involve early mornings, long days, lots of walking, and late nights. The lack of routine, the constant planning, the stress of trying to communicate in a language you don’t understand is exhausting. Mentally and physically. I learned quickly, travel can and does take its toll.

So when I crashed after three busy days, it was no surprise. In hindsight, I had been trying to do too much. I had forgotten that the one thing I wasn’t limited by, was time.

I took a breath, a zero-day. I went downstairs for breakfast. I got my daily mango smoothie and waffles from the in-house cafe. The smoothie was delicious, the waffles were a step above average. I grabbed my laptop and spent the morning checking in with friends from home, reading the news and catching up on Survivor. I had no plans to do anything except relax and recharge.

A funny thing happens when you take a step back. You start to see things you didn’t notice before. I met more of my fellow travellers in the hostel. I got dinner with a couple of them. I met some locals who invited me to join them for dinner too. I started to enjoy myself a lot more. I started to experience more of the things I wanted to experience rather than the touristy things.

In a way, I was lucky to have crashed so quickly into my trip. I learned that you need to take breaks. You need to take care of yourself first.

I embarked on this trip as a way to transition back into the creative world. Travel and new cultures are great places to find stories. However, I had gone into this a little too ambitious. I was trying to do too much in such a short amount of time when time was the one thing I could control.

When I slowed down to look around. To watch the locals go about their days. To ask fellow travellers their stories from the road. I found the joy of travel life. I started to learn more about the culture, the food, and in some ways, myself. Most importantly though, I was having fun again.

Next Week: Elephants, Monkeys, National Parks…

Chapter 1: In The Beginning

It’s 7 am, the birds are beginning their morning song while your alarm goes off. You roll over, smash the snooze button and curl back into a still tired ball of a human. Eventually, you have to give in. You fall out of bed and make your way, zombie-like, to the shower.

You eat breakfast, something quick that doesn’t take too much effort, make instant coffee, because who has time to make quality at this time of the morning, and you head out the door to work.

Work is fine. Just fine. It doesn’t excite you but it pays the bills. It has stressful days and boring days. You don’t complain, you just get on with it.

By the time the clock reads 4.59pm, you’re logging off, ready to walk out the door bang on 5 o’clock. When you get home, you make dinner, open Netflix and watch the latest Marvel series until it’s time to go to bed.

Then, you repeat.

For the record, I like routine. It helps my ever busy mind get on with the day. The less thinking I need to do with everyday activities, the more functional I can be.

However, the job was what was getting to me. After 7 years, I was ready to get out. I was bored and stagnant. I needed a shakeup.

I am a creative, despite the fact it makes me feel like a fraud to say that. I always long to be creating something. I need to do something that scratches the creative side of my brain. I can go a little crazy if I don’t.

I knew if I quit my job, I would want to do something that would allow me to flex those creative muscles. There were two problems with that, 1. I didn’t know the direction I wanted to go, and 2. Making a living from creative work is HARD!

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to work for myself. It is the dream. To be my own boss, to work my own hours, on the things I actually want to work on.

When I finished film school I began to live out that dream. I was freelancing as a camera operator and editor. I had made a couple of good connections that led me to get work reasonably quickly. It just wasn’t enough work to sustain me.

I decided to apply for a full-time job to be able to afford life and try and build up a portfolio of work on the side. When you’re working a full-time job it is hard to find the energy and motivation to take on side-projects. I got sucked into the comfort of a steady paycheck and the dreams of living the creative life took a backseat.

However, the benefits of working a full-time job were great. It meant I could take paid time off to travel. In 2016 I spontaneously decided to take a trip to Vietnam. It was so last minute, I didn’t have time to convince anyone to come with me, so I went alone.

I flew into Hanoi with no plans other than a few ideas of places I should go. Luckily in Vietnam, everyone is a travel agent which made it easy to find things to do. It was a bit of a baptism by fire. Being dropped in South East Asia where people and motorbikes are everywhere and few spoke English. I was hooked. I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to keep exploring this beautiful country.

One Christmas, I was working with an old colleague who contracted during the holidays. He had quit his permanent job to return to university and do something he truly believed in. It was a bold and courageous move.

On his last day of that contracted week, I stopped by his edit suite to thank him for the work he had done. We got talking about the company and my job. I told him how I wanted to leave and do something else but I didn’t know what that would be. I considered travelling but thought that was too scary and a potentially unwise thing to do. He told me his story about how he travelled the world and some of the great experiences he had. He told me about why he left the company and how that was the best thing he could have done at that point in his life.

Sometimes you need to hear things from other people to gain the courage to make these seemingly risky moves. I don’t think I realised at the time that this conversation, in the back of an edit suite of a broadcast facility, had given me the needed push to commit to quitting my job.

And that’s what I did, I quit.

Change is scary but change is necessary. Without change, we don’t grow, and we don’t accomplish greater things. It’s theoretically easy to make changes in our lives. Practically, not so much.

Giving up financial stability in order to do something new, something that I could end up loving, is scary. However, I had to do it. I had to know what could be. I didn’t want to live with the regret of, what if?

Over the next few weeks, months, years, this blog will share my story. My journey to, who knows where. It’s not a story of success, yet. It is just the beginning. I’m writing this as a challenge to myself and a way to be held accountable to whatever it is I go on to do. I hope that you will join me to share in my successes but also pick me up when I inevitably fall. I also hope that in sharing my story, maybe you will find the encouragement needed to make a change that leads to your dreams becoming a reality.

Next week – A new job, or a plane ticket…

2018 in Review

2018 saw me in 15 countries, taking 27 flights, and travelling over 80,000km. It was a year of new places, new food, and new experiences. It was my best yet.

The year started with a bang­—literally. I saw in the new year in a small town called Pai, located in the north west of Thailand, not that far from the border of Myanmar. I was sitting on a swing on the side of the river with my new friend Michelle, watching all the people light their lanterns and set off commercial grade fireworks that were available all around town. Neither of us had realised the countdown was on. Nor did we realise the town was going to become even more like a war zone when the clock struck twelve. It was the most chaotic, impressive, and explosive fireworks show I have ever experienced.

My year actually began in December. I quit my job, jumped on a plane with a one way ticket to Thailand, and went with the flow. It took me all around Asia, over to Canada, around a big chunk of western USA, to the Caribbean, and home via Australia. Here are a few stories from my year…

Sri Lanka
In February, Michelle and I were travelling Sri Lanka. We had arranged with our hosts to make a trip to Adams Peak. A 7,359 foot tall conical mountain also known as Sri Pada (The Sacred Footprint). We had come to climb the 5,500 steps to the top. To the locals, this a sacred mountain and a pilgrimage. To us, it was physically exhausting, and mentally challenging.

We set off on the climb around 2 am so we could make the summit for sunrise. It’s a climb that starts off easy but slowly gets steeper and steeper. We’re constantly passing people who have stopped for breaks, then a few minutes later, we are passed by them, as we stop for a breather. It takes us nearly three hours to make it to the summit. It’s cold, probably close to freezing point, and blowing a gale. It’s only 4 am and sunrise is at 6. We find a little corner and huddle and cuddle and try to stay warm, but still, it is deathly cold.

Eventually, the sun begins to rise. The few hundred others, also at the summit, pushed their way to the fence with their smartphones, and iPads, trying to get a picture of the sun peeking up over the horizon. Hand drums and flutes begin to play behind us. A traditional Buddhist ceremony that went largely ignored due to the spectacular views that were beginning to appear in the opposite direction. We stood and watched in awe and wonder. The pain and exhaustion of the 5,500 steps seemingly unimportant now. The beauty of the surrounding area, sound-tracked by beating drums, and the sun finally warming us up, made it all worth it. My legs no longer felt the pain.

United States
On a fine summer’s day in Seattle with an exceptional single-origin, aeropress brewed, specialty coffee in hand, we decided to make the trip south to Mount Rainier National Park. It is two hours south of the city, and a beautiful twisty drive up sunrise park road to the visitor centre.

We decided to make the climb up Dege Point. It was getting close to sunset by the time we set off, so there were not many others on the track. One family who passed us told us to watch out for mountain goats which got Michelle excited. Everywhere we looked was a picture perfect postcard, which meant it took us longer than it should have to get to the summit, as we kept stopping to capture those postcards. It was certainly not the longest or most difficult hike we did in America. The longest was a 9.6 mile hike to see icebergs in Glacier National Park. The hardest was 10,000 feet up in the Rocky Mountains struggling to breathe. But the payoff of climbing to Dege Point made it my favourite hike.

The summit was a small area, probably no larger than five metres in diameter. It had 360 degree views of the valleys to the east and Mount Rainier to the south west. It was as calm and quiet as a summer sea, and the setting sun kept us warm. What made it extra special was that we had it to ourselves. I sat on a rock, watching Michelle wander around taking photos in every direction, wondering how I had become so lucky. To be sitting on top of a mountain in the United States accompanied by this amazing person whom I only met nine months earlier but felt like I had known for a lifetime. Surrounded by mountains, valleys, and the setting sun, you could say it was a little romantic, you could say it was the perfect hike.

Japan
We arrived in Tokyo on a rather cool June evening unsure of exactly how to get to our accommodation in Asakusa. Michelle had asked a couple of local guys if we were on the right train. They chatted among themselves then decided that we were. They went back to talking and Michelle sat back down. Five minutes later one of the guys comes over and hands us a piece of paper with specific instructions on where to get off and which train to switch to in order to get where we needed to go. Welcome to Japan.

On a wet and rather cold day, I made the trip from Hiroshima to Miyajima. When I arrived it was bucketing down so I looked up the nearest coffee shop and made a run for it. I walked in the door to what looked like someone’s living room but with a bar along one wall. There was a middle-aged gentleman who greeted me, the only customer currently taking refuge in his shop, and asked me to take a seat. “Coffee?” he asked. You don’t need to ask me twice. He gave me some baking that he had made. I didn’t know what it was, but of course it was delicious.

He asked me where I had come from, what I thought of Japan, where I was going, where I had been. I told him all about my life, how I had lost my father 10 years ago, how I had quit my job to travel, and how I had met an amazing girl from New York who I was going to reunite with in a couple of weeks. He told me all about his life, his family, about what he thought of Japan. I spent about an hour in his living room, which doubles as a coffee shop. Drinking what was a delicious Japanese siphon coffee, and eating all the Japanese snacks. I never got his name, but by the time I left, I felt like we were lifelong friends.

What’s next?
I quit my job a year ago almost out of desperation. I didn’t want to remain stagnant, I didn’t feel like there was anything else I could offer the company. So I got out. It’s a crazy thing to do—I admit—to give up the comfortable, the familiar, the financial stability, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. However, I didn’t know what I wanted next in my career. I knew I wanted to see more of the world, and thus it became the perfect opportunity to go. One year is such a tiny part of a chapter, of this greater thing called life.

Has travel revealed what is next for my career? I think I already knew on a macro level what I want to do. I’m just unsure of the micro level details needed to succeed yet. What I am sure of is that life is about stories—more importantly—it’s about the characters of those stories. I’ve met many great people this year and I have many great stories. My only wish for 2019 and beyond is that the characters in my story and my relationships with them continue to grow, deepen, and strengthen. That those characters will become the superhero’s in my story, and I in theirs.

With that, I wish you all a very happy and prosperous new year! If there is any way I can help you succeed in business or life and make 2019 the best one yet, I’d love to hear from you.

Aroha nui,
Nathan