So I made a decision this morning that was as last-minute as such things can get and which cost a fair amount of money, but I don’t regret it for a moment.
First, let me set the stage.
This past Saturday marked nine weeks since I started traveling. I didn’t fly out until Dec 1, but I moved out of my nearly empty house on Nov 26, so I’ve been living out of a suitcase since then. I’m not making a complaint here: this is exactly what I signed up for. I mention it because in that time I count:
- 8 flights
- 5 long transports by boat
- 2 long transports by van
- 1 long transport by passenger bus
- 19 or 20 (I just lost count) hotels, hostels, private homes, huts, cabins, etc.
- 2 continents
- 5 countries
- 12 cities
- 3 foreign (to me) dominant/ official languages
- Innumerable cultural differences
All of which adds up, I suspect, to a slight case of travel fatigue. I started sensing it in Koh Lanta a couple of weeks back when I found that I was sometimes feeling worn out after language barrier difficulties.
I started to feel it again last week when I found that I didn’t much like Phuket and was again getting frustrated with communication problems. I started to think seriously about canceling all remaining plans in SE Asia for the next three weeks and heading instead to New Zealand, a place that’s on my list but hadn’t figured visiting until March or April.
Fortunately I thought better of it and went ahead with the four day stay in Khao Sok National Park. That trip turned out to be exactly what I needed: it was beautiful and peaceful, the kayaking and trekking were great fun, I enjoyed the other people I was around (the language issues involving the Thai staff were no big deal and we all usually laughed about them once resolved), the sights and sounds of the park’s natural offerings were absolutely amazing.
That trip and the overall great experience came to an end when the van dropped me off at the Phuket Airport Inn yesterday afternoon. I was checked in by an unpleasant woman who showed me up to my room which had a foul smell. Then I discovered a line of ants on the bathroom wall. Turned out they were heading to a big ant party being held on and in the bath towel where they’d discovered a fine meal in a dead moth.
Not surprisingly, the idea of changing my plans immediately resurfaced. Beyond the other frustrations, my plans were taking me to large cities that fellow travelers have warned are crowded and noisy and difficult to traverse on either foot or bike… many of the very things that made me ultimately decide that I mostly dislike Phnom Penh.
But after an hour or so of checking alternate flight and hotel options, I resisted the urge to scrap those plans. My upcoming hotel and airline reservations were all non-refundable. Besides, I figured that I’d feel better after a decent night of sleep, which it turned out I did.
So off I went to Phuket International Airport this morning. After hassles at both areas of airport security, I made it into the main terminal and got settled in. And then I noticed that my seat is in row 49. And as I’m thinking that over, I realized that this was the first of three flights over the next 6 days: Phuket to Bangkok (1 night) to Hanoi (5 nights) to Ho Chi Minh City. Then presumably a fourth flight from there to who knows where.
As I considered that, I became aware that the airport terminal announcements have been nonstop and incredibly loud, and each new announcement was reverberating inside my head to such a worsening degree that I feared I might experience head-splosion. I then took note of the multiple languages being spoken all around me, something I’ve found thrilling in the past (heck, hearing that in Vancouver last July is what set me down this path of traveling for the next year) but which at this moment suddenly felt overwhelming for some reason (again, I think it was a sign of travel fatigue). And I also started paying attention to the little girl on the other side of the terminal who’d been throwing a temper tantrum and the old guy right behind me who had been hawking up loogies and…
JANE, GET ME OFF THIS CRAZY THING!!!!!!!
I realized that I could not do it. I could not handle this next bit of traveling, especially the airports and the crowded planes and crossing international borders and dealing with customs & immigration officials and hitting communication barriers in another new language and, and, and…
And I thought about the peaceful days I’d just spent at Khao Sok. So I pulled out my phone and went to the website of Paddle Asia, the tour company that did that trip, and saw that they have other tours with guaranteed departures coming up this week. So I quickly emailed the company owner on the off chance he’d be checking his email on a Sunday morning.
Which he was!!!
He and I emailed back and forth a few times over the next 15 minutes before I went up to the Thai Airlines gate agent and — 30 minutes or so before boarding is to commence — asked whether it was too late to have my checked duffel bag pulled off the flight because I’d decided that I didn’t want to fly to Bangkok after all.
I’m guessing this is a seldom heard request, at least to judge by the looks from all three employees who ended up talking to me.
And while they were on the phone with the baggage handling folks trying to determine if the weird American’s even weirder request can be accommodated, I kept thinking that this was sudden and drastic and just plain crazy and unquestionably the right thing to do.
The airline was very cool about it and returned my bag without hassle, though they did ask me to confirm that I would not change my mind again and ask back on the flight. (Hey, you never know with these damn Yanks.)
After another 10 or so emails between me and the Paddle Asia owner, we came up with a plan (he actually did something custom for me! and at a discounted price!!) that will have me chilling out and kayaking and swimming and bird & monkey watching for four days at another national park starting tomorrow.
I’ve lost out on 95% of what I’d prepaid for flights and hotels/ Airbnb through Feb 14, but it feels like a perfectly acceptable (perhaps even necessary) trade off. It helps that we’re not talking about much money, relatively speaking.
So I’m currently enjoying a margarita at a beachside hotel watching the sun go down over the Andaman Sea (yes, that’s the pic up top) and daydreaming about this upcoming week of peace and quiet that won’t involve any damn airports until Friday night.
And in case you’re wondering about that flight and my next destination… I just booked the flight and a hotel for the first four nights there but feel like I ought to wait before saying anything. After all, who knows what I might decide just prior to boarding. (The hotel is prepaid but refundable this time!)
(Written from Phuket, Thailand | 5-Feb-2017)