One Way Ticket: Things To Savor

Our current traveling writer Simone Spilka reminisces about what she has learned while traveling abroad in the poorer parts of countries like Thailand, Laos and Cambodia now that she has arrived to Melbourne, Australia, where the commodities of the Western World are easy to come by.

"To savor: when you savor tea, or chocolate, or a handful of berries you slow down. You pay close attention – the closer the attention, the more you’ll get out of the savoring. You don’t rush to the next thing, but stop and give space to the activity.” – Leo Babauta

To savor: A warm shower. A home cooked meal. A private bedroom. The things synonymous with the Western World as basic amenities rather than luxuries. The things you wouldn’t notice until you’ve experienced three months in Southeast Asia without them. The things that make you question self-discovery, self-worth, worldly significance, and lessons learned. The things that make Westernization feel like a strange lifestyle to acclimate back to once you’ve been far removed from it in four developing countries.

From the moment I touched down in Southeast Asia I struggled to accept that tourism is significantly defining of the culture in such countries, and analyze how the role as consumers influences our local interactions. The memories of haggling over the price of a ride, a souvenir, a bottle of water gives meaning to everyone in the backpacking community. Unfortunately, this act is one that changes even the most non-confrontational of people into aggressive and manipulative – at least that’s how I found myself.

"I don’t like dealing with money transactions in poor countries. I get confused between feeling that I shouldn’t haggle with poverty and hating getting ripped off," said Richard in The Beach. Day in and day out this quote was ingrained in my mind, a simultaneous battle of losing myself and trying to find myself. I question why something as insignificant as a quarter makes us go against basic common courtesy for someone trying to make a living in their own country. Is it because as travelers we miss our Western luxuries subconsciously?

When I had first arrived to Thailand I remember the airport felt bigger than I expected it to be. I had to wander around for an hour with my overweight O’Sprey pack searching for my travel companion, Jake. I eventually found him exactly where he told me he would be waiting, at the arrival gate with a massive grin on his face and popsicle in hand. I felt a bit overwhelmed –  but only physically by my new surroundings. Mentally I was sure of myself, my stability, my ability to talk to strangers with ease. I felt prepared for whatever adventures and curves life might throw at me; I felt, to an extent, invincible.

Now, three months and four countries later I know exactly where I am, but only physically. Mentally, I’m a bit lost as to how I should feel. How have these destinations that were once vivid imaginations changed me?  They say traveling transforms you, awakens you, fulfills your soul. I learned and I grew, but how do mere words accurately convey its profound effects? I reflect on this chapter in my book of days as a collection of photographs and intangible memories, a self-guided journey through conversations with strangers. A beautiful, jumbled puzzle of labored women in rice hats, Buddhist monks, poverty-stricken Cambodians happier than money-hungry Americans, child beggars, questionable street food and dangerous motorbike rides that I’m taking my time to piece together without any inclination as to what the finished picture should look like. Better yet, do they even fit together into one cohesive picture?

These questions will be answered in time, upon my return to buzzing city life in Melbourne, Australia, and over the years as I spend my twenties enveloped by defining qualities of the Western world: money, technology, power, affluence.

But for now I am whole-heartedly savoring my current surroundings.

To savor: The first warm shower. A delicately-prepared home cooked meal. My very own bedroom with freshly laundered linen. For now, I am crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s of one travel journal and dating the pages of a new year and new country in the next, amazed that seemingly insignificant items were recently a precious commodity and humbled by opportunity. Back in the Western World, I invite hopeful wanderlusts to savor these photographs and intangible memories, our sanity and our health, and let it serve as a reminder of the importance of travel and privilege of this generation.

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