Travel Lesson #1: Embrace Your Inner Dumbass
Before I head off to Thailand, I’m spending a few weeks off the grid, on the Lost Coast of NorCal. This place is wild and free, and I certainly will be blogging about my experience here. However, the experiences I had just trying to get here proved to serve as an important travel lesson…that I have a big fat ego, and if I am going to navigate SE Asia solo, I better let go of my need to know anything, get comfortable with admitting cluelessness, and most importantly… start embracing my inner dumbass.
So I have a confession: blogging, updating Facebook with pictures, and sharing all my adventures with friends have sent me on a bit of an ego trip lately. I definitely don’t think bragging rights are the purpose of travel, or writing about it- my blog, as well as my upcoming trip, are supposed to be outlets to reveal my authentic experience and let go of the need for approval in the process… turns out that is easier said than done. It’s kind of a ‘one step forward, two steps back process’. I start out revealing a part of who I am, get just a tiny amount of applause, or start to feel like I know what I’m doing, and my mouthy ego pops back up and says, “Duuuuude, this is awesome!!!! Do more things to earn praise, I love this shit!!!”
Sheeeesh… silly ego.
Fortunately, whenever I start letting my ego do the talking… the universe has a lovely way of serving me up a lesson in humility. Two days ago, I was all set to take an Amtrak train to Martinez, California, then hop a bus to Eureka, where I had a ride waiting to drive me down the long winding mountain drive to my uncle’s cabin in Petrolia. Then came the ‘fun’ part…where I got to the station, remembered I’m from Ohio, and have never taken an Amtrak. I didn’t know the first thing about navigating a large Amtrak station. However, I like to think of myself as a saavy traveler, so I thought, “ I got this”, and began wandering. What I did not do was admit to one person how incredibly confused I was- because I figured that would make me look like an ass. Twenty minutes later, I finally found my track. Feeling a sense of confident satisfaction, I showed the attendant my ticket.
….and was told that my train had left a minute before.
I felt defeated; if I failed at something as simple as catching an Amtrak, how on earth would I navigate the confusion of a new culture in where I don’t speak the language?! I began to go into panic mode, sure that I would screw up every single part of my upcoming trip to Thailand, positive that this was a sign that I couldn’t handle solo international travel. Sometimes I overreact…
The next train to Martinez didn’t come for five hours, so I had a lot of time to figure out the San Jose Amtrak station/ calm down. So while I munched on overpriced train station snacks, it hit me… not knowing how to find my track wasn’t an issue, mistakes happen and I was going to make it to Eureka the same day.
However, I did notice my big fat ego and stubborn avoidance of looking like a fool kept me from admitting that I had no idea what I was doing and asking for help. Had I asked a bunch of silly questions, I might have looked like a clueless idiot…but I also might have been an idiot who was riding her train, instead an idiot watching one take off without her.
So… pretending to be in the know for pride’s sake… not working for me this particular day. It also struck me how absolutely ridiculous it can be to pretend to know what I’m doing when I was in Palo Alto eating Pho (Vietnamese soup) with my classmates. So, for whatever reason, I can barely eat sushi with chopsticks. As the bowl of noodle soup was placed in front of me, my stomach grumbled, and for a split second I thought, “I should probably ask how on earth one eats soup with chopsticks”. But as I watched everyone chow down, my loud mouth ego jumped in, “Don’t be the dumb Midwesterner who has never attempted to eat noodles with chopsticks!” All the while, my physical body was saying, “Screw you ego, I don’t care if you grab those noodles with your hands, I’m starving!”
My ego won.
So, I pridefully asked no questions, picked up the dreaded chopsticks and immediately slopped a pile of noodles all down the front of myself. For the rest of my meal, the table, my lap, and the floor got covered in Pho. I pretended not to notice, and thanks to my pesky ego, I spent half an hour being frustrated as I tried desperately to land one full bite of food in my mouth without anyone noticing me flailing. Later, when I realized in class I had noodles down my shirt and in my scarf, I realized I probably need to have it out with my ego, because being prideful is starting to get messy.
So pesky ego, here’s the first blow. II’m admitting publicly that there are more times lately than not when I’m completely clueless. Despite my big fat ego, who would have everyone think I have it together, I’m admitting I’m a big dork, and most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing. A lot of times when people think I’m quietly contemplating some deep thought in class, I’m trying to suppress a giggle because I just mentally thought “that’s what she said” about something my professor said. I act fearless about my upcoming trip, when I tell everyone how awesome it will be, but in reality, I am full of insecurity and doubts. I often worry that I’ll get there and find out I made the wrong decision, or be lonely, or accidentally end up in Laos because I couldn’t understand Thai and jumped the wrong bus.
I guess when it comes down to it, kicking my pride in it’s arrogant ass is probably the best reason to travel. In the next month, I’ll be living somewhere where I’m so clueless that I can’t help but be humble… the place where I don’t speak the language, I look and dress strange, and I don’t know how to order food… a Buddhist country where my ego can’t say “ohhh, look how spiritual I am” because I sure as hell don’t know more about mindfulness than the Thai people… a place where in order to survive, I have to check my ego at the gate, as I’m mispronouncing the three Thai phrases I’ve learned, “Hello”, “Thank You” and “ I’m lost”.
It’s been awhile since I took the travel plunge, and something has changed… I go into this trip knowing how to laugh at myself, knowing that travel, especially solo travel, is another awesome opportunity let go of pride and to stop taking myself so seriously. Screw my ego. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I have a plan- I’m going to ask every question and unabashedly look like a clueless idiot. And when I screw it all up… I’m going to laugh. A lot. Travel lesson numero uno- Embrace my inner dumbass.