I’ll be honest, despite the fact that I’ve moved something like 17 times and been to around that many different countries, I’m remarkably scared of new places. I put on a good show, and most of the time do a pretty convincing job of making people think everything’s wonderful and exciting when I travel. But when I hiked El Camino de Santiago in Spain, I was cold, wet, lonely, and miserable for the first two weeks. And when I first arrived in Chiang Mai I was overwhelmed, terrified, lonely, and disoriented. My first full day here, I tried exploring the city and could not for the life of me find my way around. The city was noisy and busy and hot and dirty and I couldn’t figure out where to find decent food and couldn’t identify half the things being sold at the street markets. I also didn’t meet anyone who spoke English and started to wonder if I had made a huge mistake coming here. So I returned to my hotel, ate a granola bar I had packed that was filled with the sweet taste of home, and had myself a good cry. WHAT HAD I DONE? Why did I think moving to the other side of the globe alone would be a good idea? Why didn’t I try to learn Thai first? How long could I survive hiding out in my hotel room…
After a nap, I ventured out again, and found the city a little less intimidating, but still seriously overwhelming and disorienting. The next day was a lot better, and while I wasn’t so overwhelmed, I still didn’t really enjoy myself. I figured maybe that’s what life here would be like–just kind of tolerable.
But that night (with the aid of a sleeping pill) I finally slept through the night. I awoke refreshed, though admittedly a little groggy, and took the advice my sister had given me the night before. As I’ve mentioned before, my sister Tara is a teacher in Kathmandu, Nepal, and has a little experience living and working in a totally foreign place. She told me to keep in mind that I would be here long term, and didn’t need to try to take it all in right away. If I wanted to stay in my room and watch movies all day and only explore for an hour a day, that was completely okay.
I think I had been in that “vacation mentality” of needing to be on the go all the time, making the most of every minute and seeing as much of the city as possible. But I plan on being here for a long time, so that really isn’t necessary. Once I realized that, things got a lot less stressful.
That same day, I moved from a hotel with a private room to a hostel with 10 beds in each room. And within 5 minutes of being there, I met a girl from Canada who had also just arrived. Through her I met another girl from Portland, then a woman from Canada, then a guy from Virginia. The next day I met 3 girls from California and one from England.
If you are planning a trip to Asia (or anywhere else), let me give you this advice: Stay in a hostel. There are hostels with private rooms if you’re worried about a shared space, but the community aspect that comes with hostels is hard to find elsewhere, and it is invaluable.
I was afraid to come to Thailand, and I thought having my own space in a hotel would make it easier. I was afraid to meet people, afraid of looking for a hostel, afraid of everything. But as soon as I stopped being a baby and just went for it, things turned out great.
Traveling might not scare you, people might not scare you, giant rats outside your hostel might not scare you. But they scare me. And we all have things that scare us. But that’s no excuse to hide from them.
Every cliched “inspirational” Pinterest post will tell you that great things happen when you leave your comfort zone, and as much as I hate to agree with the “block quotes over nature scenes” pins, it’s true. Staying in your comfort zone will only ever keep you in engrossed in mediocrity. What are you ever going to learn from a truly comfortable life where you never try anything new or scary? Not a whole lot, I’d guess.
When I forced myself to leave my comfort zone and go stay in a hostel (a truly unimpressive feat by anyone else’s standards) I actually began to enjoy Chaing Mai. That’s the great thing about being occasionally courageous.
Some of my friends were talking about going bungee jumping and visiting a snake farm, which as you might know from my post on fear, is seriously outside my comfort zone. Like if my comfort zone were here, those activities would be on Pluto. I’m not ready for that just yet. For now, I’m sticking to my tiny victories and enjoying time spent with new friends.
Here are a few photos of the past couple of days to prove I haven’t just been hiding inside the whole time.