I have 12th row seats for The Lumineers show here in Winnipeg tonight and the timing is perfect. I got into your band in 2015, three years after the self-titled album and the performance at the Grammys–which seemed like kind of unfortunate timing because The Lumineers, for all I knew, went into hibernation. Indefinitely.
I bought your first studio record off a friend who was selling all her shit to move out of town or something. That album was my anthem for leaving too–I was planning a two month backpacking trip to Asia in the spring of that year.
I know the song Charlie Boy sounds like it’s about going to war (perhaps?) but I listened to it probably 200 times in the weeks leading up to leaving, it’s just such a simple, almost haunting song. But to me it is hopeful. It has a quick and rising rhythm that crescendoes with that deep cello sound, setting my insides aflame.
So when I started to hear whisperings of a new album in the works I was beyond ecstatic. And a year later in the spring of 2016 it exceeded all my expectations. People always complain that an album is either too different or similar to the previous, but Cleopatra was–to me–the perfect sequel to build on your signature sound. It became another anthem to my spring time.
Here in my hometown of Winnipeg, the winters are brutal and spirit-crushing, and this album unthawed my frozen soul, and continues to do so every spring. So here’s a cheesy poem I wrote, inspired by the music:
I want to strap on a guitar and head out the door,
play shows to empty rooms and Sleep on the Floor,
I want to sing to Cleopatra on a highway somewhere,
Where The Skies Are Blue like her deep ocean stare.
My Eyes are brown, and careful where they lurk,
“You’re A Long Way From Home,” she’ll say with a smirk.
I’ll tell a White Lie, say I know where I’m going,
As a Gale Song wind starts hissing and blowing.
In The Light of dusk her Patience is waning,
I swear I’ll hurry up, I’m a performer in training.
So she lets me sing on, I say “I’m Sick In The Head,
love’s as deadly as a Gun, (but a) Song puts you to bed.”
When I’m done she says: Everyone Requires A Plan,
I confess I never had one, I only ever ran.
So Cleopatra did join me and helped me unthaw,
And all the places we went, oh the things that we saw.
We married out west, saved souvenirs and memorabilia,
Then we raised two young daughters: Angela and Ophelia.
I guess I could be talking about Donald Trump right now, but I’m pretty sure I’ve spent the last 48 hours already talking about it. A lot of the most obvious things have already been said and until I come up with anything uniquely pertinent to say on the subject I’m going to stop saying much at all.
That being said, maybe this has a shred of relevance if you or someone you know claims to be one of the crowd that wants to pack up their shit and get the hell out of the US.
I tried my best to pack pretty minimally when I travelled to Asia last year in April. I just discovered a picture I took of the contents of my bag before I left and thought it might be interesting/helpful for anyone considering a trip to South East Asia (or anywhere else) in the near future.
I don’t pretend to really have the whole minimalist thing down pat; some people out there have done a way better job of this than me. Seeing as it was my first major trip, I needed to overpack for my own sanity, and I needed to discover what was useful and what wasn’t for myself.
Most Useful Items
Passport/Money Carrier (pictured bottom left): My sister lent me this little document and money organizer thing she got from MEC, and it was honestly the most useful thing ever. Everything sorted, in one place, zippered pockets: godly.
Compression Sack (pictured center, below sunglasses): I jammed all of my clothes into this thing, and then I buckled it down and tightened the straps turning all of my clothes into a manageable little clothing brick. So awesome, honestly.
Quick-Dry Towel (green towel, top right): Need I say more? They’re tiny, they get the job done, and they dry so damn fast.
Least Useful Items
Plug Adapter (center above batteries): You seriously don’t need this in most places in South East Asia as far as I encountered. Two months of travel and I didn’t discover one non-American (Canadian?) plug in any hostel I stayed at. (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia)
Pants: It is a good idea to have them possibly for visiting Temples because you have to your legs covered past the knees at some. I did visit in the hot/dry season, but still–it is f*cking hot there. Be prepared to walk around pretty much the whole time with them in the bottom of your bag, never putting them on.
Here’s a full list (possibly missing a couple things, I’ll update if I discover I missed anything):
2 button up shirts
4 pairs of underwear
4 pairs of socks
One pair of pants (swear to god I didn’t where them more than twice)
2 pairs of shorts
8 Large ziplock bags
Quick Dry towel
Backpack rain cover
Batteries (for the flashlight)
Mini First aid kit
Mini Aloe Vera (saved my ass on multiple occasions)
At first glance there are honestly not too many pivotal moments in my life. Not that I have had a ‘cushy’ life or anything like that, but in the past I have just gone with the flow too often. The problem is that making a choice that seems easy, or seems like the only choice, can leave you worse off than you already were.
All my siblings went straight to university after high school, therefore I did too. They did it for the right reasons, but me – I’m not so sure. After one year of mediocre grades I found I wasn’t enjoying myself, or even making any friends, for that matter. I panicked and dropped out. Then I spent about two and a half years meandering in and out of part time jobs that I hated. I spent my time dwelling on what on earth I was going to do with my life. It was mid-January, and I had just started a job washing cars.
I swear to God, it took so much out of me every day to get up and go do that job. Every shift was a struggle, and I fantasized about walking out the front door every minute. I think I just kind of snapped one day because I went home and started browsing plane ticket prices. I always wanted to travel but had never had the money to pursue it. It was as good a time as any to go. I bought a round trip plane ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. Just me, and nobody else. I had eight weeks to make my way around South East Asia.
I spent a full week without telling almost anyone about it. It was this enormous, exhilarating secret that I had all to myself, and it was so satisfying to know I had chosen it totally independently.
No one talked me into it, and nobody could talk me out of it. The ticket was paid for and that was that.
It was probably eight of the greatest weeks of my entire life. I won’t kid you and say I took up Buddhism, became a master of meditation, or transcended to a higher plane or something…But I felt so much more self-reliant and just – corny-as-hell – free to be me. I ate what I wanted, went where I wanted, said what I wanted, and met more people than I even remember. I scaled cliffs on the ocean, drove mopeds in Thai rush-hour traffic, ate barracuda, visited a 1000-year-old temple, and watched my friend fire a rocket launcher in the Cambodian jungle.
I bought a digital camera before my trip that happened to take HD video and thought, “What the heck, I’ll try and make a video out of it.” By the time I got home I had hours of footage, and I stepped off the plane with years’ worth of self-confidence.
If I hadn’t gone on that trip, I would be in a totally different place. Maybe I would still be working awful jobs that were making me unhappy. Maybe I would be seeing someone, but still unhappy. Doing an injustice to myself, and more importantly her. If I never went, I wouldn’t have realized how passionate I was about putting my experiences into words. I would not have sat down and started editing trip footage, realizing that I was absolutely enthralled by it. Spending hours on end staring at a screen, getting it just perfect, and yet – loving every moment of it. I wouldn’t have considered Red River College, or Creative Communications. I would be bored, directionless, and scared.
I am still, more or less, terrified in my everyday life these days, but I am engaged in my life. That simple difference changes everything.
Here’s the video from my trip. It’s a little amateur-y, but it is my heart and soul essentially. I’m not even entirely sure what I mean by that, but it feels right.
(This was Blog Challenge #3: Rewrite one important moment of your life and theorize where you might be today based on the change you made)
Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for rescued Asian Elephants in Northern Thailand. The park is situated in a valley and consists of 250 acres of land for the animals to roam freely, bordered by a river and surrounded by mountains and rain-forest. They provide rehabilitation to the injured and mistreated Elephants and are currently host to 67, but that number continues to grow. I had the pleasure of spending a day in the park, learning, taking pictures, interacting with the elephants, feeding them, and bathing them in the river.
One evening, in early January of 2015, I sat alone in my room browsing the internet reading about other peoples’ travel adventures. I was newly in between jobs, bored, lost, and frankly not in great spirits. I had come across this web forum about “Solo Travel”, where people were discussing and sharing the secrets and stories of striking out on a journey all alone. They spoke of places all across the globe, from South America, to Europe, to Asia with the bravest and most exciting accounts of their travels. The thought of striking out alone, leaving behind all familiarity, was absolutely intoxicating to me, but simultaneously – terrifying. It was fantasy to me, escapism at best, to read through it. Something someone else could do, but not me, no. Certainly not me. Little did I know, less than 4 months later I would be boarding a plane and flying very far away from home.
I was tossing around the idea of visiting my friend in Vancouver but hadn’t really been set on anything. Nonetheless, I thought, what could it hurt to just take a look at prices for plane tickets? 30 minutes later I was planning a two month trip to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. I honestly don’t even know how it happened, I had read about South East Asia being a fantastic place to visit, and an especially great place to travel solo, but I had essentially no intention of going anytime soon. It was like a switch had just turned on in my mind, I wanted to start school in the near future, so if I actually wanted to go before starting a long education program, this was my chance. After mulling it over and researching for a few weeks, it quickly became all I could think about. But I only told a few people about it, because there was no way I was going to let anyone talk me out of it. On February 2nd I booked my flight, it was done. No backing out now. I was practically vibrating with excitement. The plan was set, I would fly to Vancouver, visit my friend for a week as a ‘warm up’, if you will, and then fly to Bangkok, Thailand.
After a week in Vancouver I bused to the airport and stepped on to a plane. I was so excited throughout the entire flight – up until about 10 minutes before landing. So many questions began to fire through my brain. Will my visa be approved? Will I be able to find my pack? Will I be able to find my hostel? Will I be able to get a taxi? Will I even be able to communicate with the driver?
It’s important that at this point you remind yourself that it is normal to feel this anxiety, and to just push through it. You will find your way, you will figure it out, and everything will work out.
Lesson 1: Go with the Flow
It sounds like a cliché, but it can be essential. You can plan every moment of every day, from the moment you step off the plane until the moment you get back on and head home; but try as you may, it’s never going to work out the way you have it in your head. You will get lost, not be able to find your hostel, or you’ll finally find it only to discover they’re full up. You’re going to get scammed, or you will discover 100 dollars missing from your pack (Yes. This did happen, unfortunately), or you will get dropped off somewhere you didn’t want to go. But the important thing to remember is that you’re going to be fine, and in some circumstances a wrong turn may even lead you somewhere wonderful that you would not have gone otherwise. One day in southern Thailand I ended up in a hostel where I was having a hard time making friends. I was going to leave but took a chance and got lunch with a couple American girls, who invited me to travel to a little beach village called Tonsai with them. When we got there they told me, “We’re going rock climbing, and then free water solo-climbing. Let’s go sign up.” This turned out to be rock climbing without a rope over water. I had issues with heights and zero climbing experience, so I was skeptical at first, but going with the flow allowed me to conquer a fear and try something new that was not even on my radar prior to that day.
Going back to the beginning of my trip – after wandering around for over a half hour I finally got the correct directions to my little hole in the wall hostel. It was the middle of the night, I was exhausted, and overdressed for the 30 degree temperatures. I took a shower quickly and crawled into one of the 20 beds in the room and passed out. When I awoke in the morning, it was go time. I was going to try and make some friends. I had prepared for this, the amount of stories I had heard about people starting their trip but being too afraid to leave their room resounded in my mind. But there was no way I was going to be one of those people. I would strike up conversations with anyone and everyone I came across.
Lesson 2: Talk to Everyone
I should stress one thing: as much as it is called ‘Solo’ Travel, it is often anything but a solitary experience on the whole. You are constantly surrounded by so many unique, vibrant and interesting people, so talk to them! They are the best resource for you to be able to find out more about the country you’re in: where to go, where to eat, what to see, and how to get the most out of your trip. Whether it’s the knowledge and insider suggestions of locals or the recommendations of fellow travelers, other people can be your greatest resource. Not only that, but any interaction is the perfect way to strike up a conversation and make a new friend and travel buddy. You never know what other people can open you up to. Every traveler you meet is on their own journey, but your paths are often parallel; you are in this together. On my first real day in Bangkok I sat down in my hostel common room next to the first person I could see who looked almost as lost as I was. That person turned out to be a Brazilian who had just begun his trip too, and we met up with a couple of Thai locals he knew and they took us to a massive outdoor market we might not have otherwise known about.
Here’s my best tips for making friends on the go:
Don’t stress about small talk, you will find you have so many questions you can ask a person you just met when you’re backpacking. “Where are you going, where have you been, and where are you from,” provides 30 minutes of conversation, minimum, just by itself. And by that point the ice is long broken.
It helps to look for other Solo Travelers, because often they are in the exact same position as you. And in my opinion they tend to be the people most likely to open up to you.
Easiest way to solidify someone as a new friend? Ask them if they want to go and get food with you. You’ll find 9 times out of 10 this does the trick.
Don’t concern yourself with being embarrassed or self-conscious when you’re meeting new people. The truth is, you may never see these people again, so what does it matter? You can even use it as an opportunity to embrace certain parts of your personality that you don’t normally. You can be whoever you feel like that day.
But in fact, one of the strangest and most freeing parts about Solo Travel, is actually that you’re not obligated to be anyone, or really, do anything that you don’t want to do. This goes for your whole life really when you get to the bottom of it all, but it is especially evident in travel. Everyone has their own path, so if you want to go somewhere else there is nothing keeping you from doing that, compromise is optional.
At one point, I had planned to reconnect with my friend Alix one day whom I had met earlier in my trip in Thailand. I happened to meet two people earlier in the day who wanted to come check out a night market with me and then go get food, so the three of us went out. After an hour or so Alix and I were starving and tried to steer the group towards finding a Street Vendor to buy some cheap Thai food from, with little success. The other 2 were arguing with a shop owner and we were continuing on to search for food. Almost without noticing we turned around 5 minutes later and realized they were no longer following us. But we just shrugged and continued on our way, just like that. No strings attached. And that is the beauty of it, you are totally free from being tied down in any way. You’ll find that this freedom will change you. You will realize that you have way more control over the direction of your life than you ever thought possible.
You’ll find that Solo Travel is an epiphany of epic independence
But I have to address the other side of this coin. There will come a time when you start to feel alone, and for me that moment came as I had just arrived on an island in Southern Thailand. I had followed a couple people to their hostel but quickly felt them break off to do their own thing. It was an extremely hot day, and I had not fully adjusted to the climate yet. Also, I was battling a head cold and mild fever. I attempted to go to the beach to cool down but discovered the water was too shallow this time of year to even swim. I sat in my hostel bunk and felt a crushing weight of doubt and fear begin to bear down on me. Part of me started to wonder why I had left the comfort of home to be alone and so far away. Was I really cut out for this?
Lesson 3: If you feel alone, don’t panic
This is something every Solo Traveler encounters at one point or another on the road. An overlapping of unfortunate circumstances may put you in a bubble and start to make you feel a little homesick, and a little scared. At this point it is important to remind yourself why you’re here. You left home for a reason, whether that reason was to see the world, meet new people, or even to straight up “find yourself”. As corny as that may sound, it’s probably pretty accurate. Maybe it was just to escape the mundanities of a 9-5 job. Regardless, you made a choice for you, to take back your life.
Here are my tips for keeping your cool when the going gets tough:
Write out your thoughts in a journal; get to the root of what’s causing you to feel like this.
Spend less time hiding in your room. As a general rule of thumb; anything you don’t need to do alone can be done in a hostel common room. Isolating yourself will only make things worse after a while.
Go for a walk, do some people watching, visit a museum, take the time to appreciate your surroundings in a way you couldn’t if you were surrounded by other people.
Speak to a friend from back home that you can count on to support you. Chances are they will be able to encourage you and help you get back on track
Above all else, remind yourself this feeling is temporary and that it will pass.
And it did. The next day I was off on a snorkeling trip; a new adventure, with new people. Solo Travel is full of these kinds of ups and downs. It’s part of what makes it so cathartic and meaningful. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Solo Travel is not a vacation, it’s a journey. You need the valley and the mountain. Solo Travel cracked me open, reached inside and pulled out the human being I was always supposed to be. My inhibitions and protective shells were all torn away, leaving me exposed and vulnerable to the world and the journey. But in taking you apart it builds you back up again, stronger than before. You will prove to yourself how much more capable you are than you ever thought. And on the last day of your trip you’ll step back onto the plane more outgoing, more resourceful, and more wise than you ever were before.