‘Because perfection comes,
not when you’re watching golden sunsets over
But when you have grown,
– from ‘Pathways’, by Leah Fortner
As I sat in my miniscule double room on the 5th floor of a dingy guesthouse situated a stone’s throw from Phnom Penh International airport in Cambodia, completely and utterly alone in a strange country that I can honestly never see myself feeling comfortable in, I breathed an unexpected sigh of relief. At least that’s what I think it was. It might have been something to do with the fact that I’d just cast off the 18kg backpack containing everything I hold dear to me for the first time in a couple of hours, or that the prospect of an actual night’s sleep loomed ahead after several delayed and uncomfortable flights through tropical storms and some dodgy landings. Either way, I was more at ease than I’d been in a while.
I’d finally realised something about myself and about the reasons I’d felt the need to flee my life at home, albeit only briefly. For some reason I thought I, as so many before me have dramatically claimed to be in books and movies, had been ‘searching for something’; some sort of reason or reassurance to keep going and continue. I realised I’d been half expecting to find this something in every new place I stayed and new face I met, each one vaguely seeking a similar confirmation of their own validity or ‘pathway’.
In actual fact, at the risk of sounding awfully conceited and/or like a sappy American rom com (I realise I’m going to sound like it anyway no matter how hard I try), this whole time I have been learning to come to terms with myself; to love myself. It sounds ridiculous. It sounds cheesier than the Vietnamese vegetarian cibatta rolls that contained a single piece of lettuce along with 3 different kinds of rubbery ‘dairy produce’ and a slice of tomato in Hoi An. But there’s a kind of autonomy and respect one learns to have for the person who navigates them safely around unknown territory and through uncertain and somewhat dangerous situations. I realised as I sat alone in Cambodia for the second time around and with a pathetic amount of dollars remaining among the various other currencies in my purse that I’d orchestrated this journey to mean that the only person I had to depend on and to look to for help would be me. I’d forced myself to take care of me, to be the dominant voice of reason and force of reckoning for once, instead of depending on others and placing an unfair responsibility on friends and family who did not ask for it. I sat back and let my inner child be led and guided by the knowledge this world has taught me that I barely knew I had taken on board until it became necessary to utilise it. Led by the mistakes I have already made, and that I have seen others make, I have taught myself how to progress; how to power through; how to hold out for that one minute longer when it feels like you’re lost entirely and will never find your way back to where you want to go. I have fueled my body through lonely and rainy days where it felt like the last thing I wanted to do was get up, eat, and explore – perseverance resulting in enjoyable new experiences and friends, places and photographs that would not have been possible had I not correctly energised and motivated myself enough to be there. I gave myself no option but to recover and escape from whatever demons have held their grasp on me for the past few years, each step and flight taken away from them making them cower that little bit more into the corner at the strength and potential of what I am actually capable of doing in spite of them and without their crutch to lean on. I have practiced ignoring their voices and perservering independently without their help, and I have realised that I am capable of such great things, not only that – but that I am also perfectly worthy of them too.
I have sat with myself and accepted myself. Accepted the fact that I occupy this miniscule space upon the earth and that it is mine to take where I choose, and to do with what I please. Practicing yoga and maintaining balance along the way when it would have been easy to get lost in ‘holiday mode’ and indulge too much has been difficult, but extremely worthwhile. I’m not going to say I haven’t indulged at all, but I’ve done so in a way that has allowed me to also enjoy the moments before and afterwards, instead of focusing merely on the excessive bursts of energy and consumption, and cowering away from anything outside of them. Overall I feel I have learned things that cannot be taught, that some people are born automatically programmed with, but that others must experience and realise for themselves. Extremes of emotions have been dealt with and processed by myself and in a way that has helped me realise I am capable of overcoming them without leaning on anyone for reassurance or aid – something I struggled with hugely in the past.
The overall emotion I feel at leaving Asia and my first solo travelling experiences behind is one of intense and overwhelming pride. Pride for myself, pride for my strength, contentedness that I have managed to do this and prove the negative thoughts and people wrong who doubted my capabilities. They and my own anxieties were always going to be there, but I feel in a way that I have finally reached a place where I can focus less on their intensity and importance, and embrace more of the autonomy and experience that ‘living in the moment’ can actually bring. It may seem like an extreme way to finally come to terms with oneself and place in the world, but I can’t deny how effective it has been both in allowing me the space to realise all these things, and put them into practice; experience required to actually sit as strong and tall as I do today as I wait to board my final flights home.
I can’t change the fact that I am an anxious person, but I can change how that anxiety manifests itself, and how I process it. It is possible to change the direction it takes just like I can change the direction my feet are taking me. It’s a different kind of energy required to do so, but I’m now aware of it’s presence, and have more of an ability to access it, especially in the midst of chaotic environments and unfamiliar situations.
If nothing else, this is what travel teaches us. That there are other options, other paths, other ways to do things that might not initially appear obvious. There is always another way through, another route to take that will take you where you need to go and away from seemingly inescapable situations and emotions. Following your nose and going where your feet take you without worrying or questioning it too much and ultimately just trusting in yourself will inevitably eventually steer you right.
For now, I’m going to close the book on this particular chapter of my travels, in the knowledge that the next will lead me to even more exciting, mischevious and unplanned destinations, that I will come to terms with and navigate when I get there.
For now, the mischievous emotions and uncontrollable situations have been managed, and I’m ready to go home.