Southeast Asia Adventure
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
– St. Augustine
When I left for an 8 month work assignment in Palo Alto, California a good friend of mine suggested that I keep a journal in order to share the things I learned. It as a good idea, and I told him so…but I never did keep that journal. This time, though, I’m going to do my best to write at least weekly about my adventure in Southeast Asia!
Some of you may have heard me talking about it: I’m taking a four month sabbatical from work and heading to Asia. The reactions I get when I tell people this are interesting: they either fall into “That’s awesome!” or “How can you get four months off?”. As I reflect on the why and try to look back on the genesis of the idea it actually originally started because moving to Bangkok for work had come up as a possibility, and I had started talking with my manager about what it would look like if I moved there for another short-term project. The project ended up not getting legs…but the idea of moving to Bangkok had been planted in my mind.
I did a bit of research and found that the Southeast Asia area was extremely popular with backpackers. This was reconfirmed when I met others on both my Fiji and Morocco trips, and cemented something that appears to be true: young people from other countries travel much more extensively than young Americans do. I really enjoyed my time in Palo Alto because it was much different than a typical vacation. Vacations are done to see a place…but in Palo Alto I got to meet people. Of course I saw lots of places, but not through the lens of a tourist…through the lens of a local. And I still have a few good friends that I met in the Bay. I decided I wanted to have this same type of experience and after some cursory research I decided that I would make Chiang Mai my home base, rent an apartment there for 6 months, and then make friends and explore the area while trying to be a digital nomad.
I talked to a few different friends and about coming along and Brian said yes. After talking with Steelcase about a leave of absence my 6 months got cut into 4 to comply with the official policy. And Brian and I decided that instead of just staying in Chiang Mai that we would be a bit more adventurous and tackle the more traditional backpacking route. As of now our plan is to visit Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, and maybe Malaysia. There are a few highlights that we know we want to do (elephant owner for a day), but for the most part we have an open schedule. This is very intentional: a few years ago I read this wonderful book called Vagabonding by Rolf Potts (Tim Ferriss highly recommends his book too) and one of my favorite quotes is that “there is still an overwhelming social compulsion – an insanity of consensus, if you will – to get rich from life rather than live richly, to do well in the world instead of living well.” He then goes on to give the advice that one should “save what little money you possess to meet basic survival requirements, but spend your time lavishly in order to create the life values that make the fire worth the candle.”
Thoreau once said it didn’t make any sense to spend “the best part of ones life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.” We work so hard to save money and enjoy the “good life” that we forget to actually go out and life it ourselves. My mom continues to influence me: she loved travelling and did a fair bit of it when she was younger. She always had family vacations planned, and had many adventures in store for retirements. And then she got cancer. And the rest of her plans fell through. I want to see the world. Explore the many different cultures and places and taste adventure.
Brian and I both know that there are many unknowns and that we’ll experience lots of things: both positive and negative. But we’re okay with that. In my life it’s the times that I leapt into the unknown where I grew the most. Many people have said that when you no longer feel challenged at your job then it’s time to move on. I’ve never really had that issue as Steelcase is really good at continually shaking things up, so that I’m always on a new challenging project. But in my personal life I believe this is certainly true. I knew I wanted to get into real estate investing, and I read a lot of books. At the end of the day, though, I learned the most from actually going out and buying a house. Same thing with music: I wasn’t the best handbell player, but I was just barely good enough to play with a local pro-level group called Embellish. And after working with them for a number of years I was able to improve dramatically. Growth comes when you put yourself in uncertain situations. New environments and new experiences build intuition. So if you want to learn how to be intuitive put yourself in as many new environment and have as many new experiences as possible.
So now I get to share with you our first “it’ll be funny when we look back on it” moment. Brian and I met up a few weeks ago to firm up our plans and to figure out where we were staying for the first week or so. We found out that while we intended to go to Asia at the same time that we had in fact purchased our tickets offset from each other by a week. So he left a week ahead of me and comes back a week before I do. But it’s okay, because our seats are right next to each other and we even have the same flight numbers 😉 This will end up truncating my initial stay in both Bangkok and Thailand; Bangkok because Brian will have already spent an entire week there and Thailand because we have 30 day visa to be in the country. In the grand scheme of things this isn’t really a big deal, and besides it’s much easier to roll with the punches and to accept things that happen versus being upset. Life is much more fun that way!
So what is the real “why” of what this trip? The way I explained it to HR and the multiple levels of managers at work that needed to approve this was that it would be something that I’d regret not doing. Have you ever done a maze backwords? It’s much easier than going forward. I believe life is like that too, and I imagine that when I’m lying on my death bed looking back on my life that I won’t say “I wonder what it would have been like if I had worked for those four months at Steelcase?”. On the flip side if I hadn’t gone, I do think that there would be part of me that wondered what would’ve been different.
My time in Palo Alto certainly changed me; I expect my time in Southeast Asia to do the same.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain