I filled out a lot of guest book ledgers in the five weeks I spent traveling through South-East Asia. Always I filled in my name, my passport number, my nationality, etc.. When I reach the vacant spot for "occupation," I would hesitate, but only for a moment. Then in one swift motion I would fill the blank in with the only possible word to describe myself at that moment, "traveler." I wrote this down as my occupation so many times that I started to convince myself it was an occupation, that a life could subsist on hotel rooms and passport stamps and one gorgeous, soul altering location after another. Of course this isn't true. There are several minor details such as money, overstays on visas, those kind of trivial things. But for five beautiful weeks I was a full time traveler. That was my place in this world, my mission, my agenda, my raison d'etre.
I retired as a traveler two weeks ago. I hung up (literally and figuratively) my backpack. I stopped carrying around half of my possesions in plastic bags. My sun burns faded. My bug bites stopped itching and begun the inexorable process of turning into scars. I stopped wearing my weathered, dirty, travel battered watch and started relying on a cell phone to tell the time. I've spent entire days in doors, where for weeks the only time I was consistently indoors was at night (and even then I was often nearly still in nature, with lizards crawling over the walls or the sound of waves crashing in from only yards away). I don't even have a Lonely Planet in my possesion, something no self respecting backpacker would ever not have at his or her side. I have gone two weeks without seeing something new, after five weeks where every day brought something so strange and different and wonderful that the word "new" couldn't even do it justice.
It's been two weeks, but sometimes when I close my eyes, I can swear it's not over. I can almost make myself believe that I'm dirty and sweaty and exhausted, sun burnt and covered in insect bites. I can almost feel the soreness from lugging my heavy backpack down the streets of some new town, looking for a tiny guest house whose name I can't pronounce.
And it was exhausting and sweaty and full of bites and bruises and burns. But can't you understand how perfect that makes it? In my opinion if you travel luxuriously or as a true adult, your experience runs the dangerous risk of being smooth and pain-free. And that's great of course. You'll probably come back home relaxed and calm and not covered in the aforesaid burn/bite/bruise combination. But a smooth, pain free trip will never be perfect, because the only kind of perfect I understand in this world is the kind that's haphazardly created from the imperfections we experience. It's the perfect that comes together at the end of something, when you look back, and despite losing things or having things stolen or getting lost or getting sick, you understand that there's not a damn thing you would change about it. I wouldn't change a single thing about my travels in SE Asia. Because in my memory every single second of it is beautiful. Every single second of it was beautiful.
And it all started with Railay...