It’s 9:30am and I’m in a taxi; I have a one way ticket for a flight to Bali (Indonesia) from Kuala Lumpur that left at 9:20am. This sounds like a terrible situation but it’s not. I’m in a taxi heading to the local bus station, and once I find the right ticket counter I’ll be heading south to Malacca – a UNESCO World Heritage city in Malaysia. One or two days later, on July 3rd – my birthday, I’ll be in Singapore and spend a few days walking around the cleanest city in the world. After Singapore …Australia. What happened to Indonesia? What happened to Asia? What drives someone to, on a whim, not show up for a plane ticket to a tropical paradise and instead fly to one of the most expensive backpacking countries in the world?
Near the end of my time in Koh Tao I knew that I was searching for something to add a new flavor to this trip. Through days of internal struggle I decided that the Dive Master program wasn’t the answer – although it was the only option I had at that point. Knowing that diving wasn’t the answer for the question at hand, I decided to head south into Malaysia – a country I knew nothing about and didn’t actually plan to visit. Anyone with a US Passport is given a free 90 day visa on arrival into Malaysia, so I knew there was no real financial commitment of looking around the country. All the while, in the back of my head I’ve been wondering, “what now?”
A few weeks later in the Cameron Highlands I finally purchased a ticket to Bali with plans to be there on my birthday. I’ve heard wonderful things about Bali and Indonesia and it was the next logical progression if you looked at a map of where I was and where I had come from. I think that in the back of my head I knew the ‘logical’ answer wasn’t the right answer, but again…it was the only one I had. The idea of spending another month on the beach after more than a month of bouncing between the Thai and northern Malaysian islands didn’t seem right. Was this trip to be an extended vacation or an opportunity to dig into the cultures of these countries and understand what these people experience on a daily basis? Similarly, what were my other options in the area? Borneo (an island) and The Philippines (a chain of islands). Neither sounded any different.
For days in Kuala Lumpur I stared at my computer screen reading about the ‘Top 25 Travel Destinations‘ and the ‘Top 10 Destinations on the Rise‘. I looked at maps of the world hoping one would jump out at me. I found a website that randomly selected a country – Oman, Turkmenistan, and Somalia came up on my first three clicks. I have a page in my notebook full of potential flights from both Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to places as far away as London and as close as Myanmar. (Ironically for 24 hours over the weekend I was convinced that Myanmar and Nepal were my next destinations. If not for the embassy being closed on weekends and having to wait to apply for visas this could be a completely different story…)
[As a side note: Looking at the two links above made me realize (or just remember) that I’m an extremely fortunate SOB and for one reason or another have had the opportunity to see some of the most amazing parts of the world. Of the Top 25 – I’ve been to 14, and 15 (Sydney) is just a matter of ‘when.’ If I hop over to New Zealand from Australia it’ll be 16.]
Eventually I found the right way of looking at my travel problem – from the end. I know that at some point I will have to go home …or at least back to the USA in an effort to figure out where to establish roots next. I also knew that unless I was purchasing a full fare ticket (Ha! No.), I would be flying back on Delta. (Using 65,000 miles to fly first class from New Orleans to get to Vietnam put me just under the amount of miles I need to get an international flight on United, but I’ve got 250k Delta SkyMiles waiting to serve me.) Knowing that I have to eventually leave on Delta gave me a new perspective on the problem I was trying to solve. Specifically, it meant that in order to get back to the USA (from this side of the world) I would have to get to one of the following cities: Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, or Sydney. Suddenly Sydney, and Australia in general, was the answer. For months I had talked to random travelers about how I’d love to go but that the cost was a prohibiting factor – I could even quote the expected expenditure totals from this 2012 survey as proof that I would rather spend that money in places where it would go further. (I can’t find the article but it said that an average tourist in Australia stays for 80 days and spends 72 dollars a day.)
Needless to say – none of that matters anymore. I’m going because I want to. I’m going because I’ve been talking about going for two years. I’m going because I’m sick of eating rice and/or noodles every day. I’m going because after 3.5 months of South East Asia, sometimes you get tired of asking if the bathroom will have either a toilet, toilet paper, or both.