Monday, October 21, 2013

On growing up as a person and a traveler

Hi folks! I'm back from a short hiatus, which I spent traveling in Cambodia - an amazing trip, and one that officially crosses a destination off of my bucket list. And it was made all the better because I traveled with an old friend of mine who was equally excited about nerding out over temples and going a bit nuts in markets...

But a few things happened during this trip that surprised me, all pointing to me growing up as a person, and also changing my style a bit as a traveler. I've spent years touting how awesome budget travel is, and solo travel, and adventure travel, and I don't think I'll be changing my tune completely anytime soon. But as my tastes change, I want to share them with you - and as always, ask for your opinions!

1. I don't want to stay in hostels any longer.

This is big. I have written about the awesomeness of hostelling before, and also how it is growing up for a new generation of budget travelers. And I still begin almost every accommodation search with a trip to a hostel aggregation website like this one. It gives me a good sense of what is considered "budget," and how far my money can reasonably go.

But dorm rooms are no longer my style. Neither are super-cheap rooms. I could have stayed in Cambodia for easily under $10 a night, but I chose to stay (splitting the cost with my friend) in places that were in the $15-25 range. And I also deliberately chose spots slightly out of city centres - which ended up being a really good choice. For all I could say wonderful things about Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, the centres of both places were some of the dingiest and most depressing backpacker hubs I've ever seen (not helped by the very laddish drinking culture in Cambodia, but still). The tuk-tuk fare is worth it, as is seeing actual homes inhabited by actual Cambodians in real-people neighborhoods.

2. Haggling doesn't stress me out.

I have gotten very annoyed over the years at various markets, and even convenience stores the world over where one is expected to barter for a price. There's something about knowing you have the foreigner's "I HAZ MUNNY" spotlight beamed on you, and knowing you're paying multiple times the locals' prices, that can get my blood boiling. This is especially true on longer journeys, where I've gotten to know a place and fair prices, and just get exhausted having to prove that in every interaction.

Maybe it's the face-saving nature of Southeast Asian etiquette, or the fact I wasn't there for weeks at a time, or just good old-fashion old-growing, but I really just didn't get annoyed by it all. If I didn't like a price, I walked away. Nuff said. If I liked the price enough, I just paid the extra dollar or whatever rather than bickering down to the nickel (ah, having the extra dollar to spend... another way life has changed!). I felt so much freer and more relaxed, which, in the sweaty and crowded fire hazards that are Phnom Penh's markets, was a good thing.

3. More travel isn't always better.

In the old "quantity versus quality" vein, I've started to appreciate that just because I can travel, doesn't mean I necessarily should. (I'll pause here while the travel blogosphere breathes into a virtual paper bag.)

I was having some personal stress, and decided that, you know what? Four nights by myself on the coast was suddenly nowhere near as appealing as getting home to my family. So I left a destination unseen, and initially considering doing that made me panic. But as soon as the decision was made and the ticket was rescheduled, guess what? I felt a million times better. The rest of my trip was spent excited and curious, where before I had been trying to push back a feeling of dread. So much more valuable.

4. Solo travel isn't always better, either.

This is the one that sort of breaks my heart to write.

I am a huge supporter of solo travel, and absolutely think that everyone should try it at least once in their lives. Preferably more than once. It is a true luxury to spend time doing EXACTLY what you want, how you want, when you want.

But maybe it's the stress I've been under, or maybe I've just had my fill - I got to a point where I just didn't want to see another gorgeous sight without sharing it with someone. I didn't want to luxuriate at my seaside hotel (splurge, yo) by myself. I wanted to have someone else there to squeal over spa treatments or go swimming with. Sort of like a tree falling in the woods - if I didn't share the moment, how real was it?

And I know that on paper that sounds, to a degree, lame. But when I got home and told my mother (a.k.a. my best friend - also a loyal reader. Hi, Mom!) about this new change of heart, she totally agreed. She told me about a vacation she once took to California by herself, and after looking out at the Pacific, said to herself basically, right, well, that's done. Now let's call up some friends because I don't want to do this every day. And she did. And had a blast.

So what about you? How have your travel comfort zones changed over time? Or have they? Am I growing as a human, or off-base?

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