One of the most common questions you’ll get as a traveler is “so, what’s your favorite place so far?”
There are several ways to go about the answer if you’re like me and love all places “equally but differently,” as if each country were one of your children. (My mother always said that about me and my brother, though I don’t know why she insists on perpetuating this foolish lie since, Stephen, we all know who’s the fave. And she’s writing this post!…)
But no, really. This “equal but different” answer may be true, but it’s the safe non-answer that no one’s looking for. As in life, I find that people prefer an actual answer. Any specific answer is sexier than a generalization. You may be wondering, “Okay, Alex, then what’s your specific answer?” Ahha! This is where I keep you hanging. I’ll come back to this idea, but first a brief-ish detour.
Back in March about 6 weeks ago, I was in Poland. I stayed with a (wonderful, fantastic, AMAZING – Wolskis, I love you all) family where I had the rare opportunity to sit at a desk and work at a real computer. This is the kind of thing that happens when you “only plan to travel for 2 months” – I figured I could live for a short while without my laptop and instead opted to bring my clunky old tablet. Anyways, a computer and a keyboard and a big wooden desk – and privacy (!)- it was better than Christmas morning or meeting the Hanukkah bunny.
Thus far, I felt that I’d done a decent job of keeping up with my blog. Though at first back in September I’d steamed ahead at a post about every 10 days, I was satisfied with posting every 3 to 4 weeks. At this point in time, my last post had been about a month prior, and I didn’t want to let too much time start slipping in between posts out of fear of being that “blogger who starts out super excited and then let’s everything slip through the cracks and becomes the person who keeps telling everyone how they need to get back to updating their blog.” Nothing wrong with this, but I wanted to get back at it anyways because I enjoyed the simple act of writing. Not to mention, what would my reader base (cough, Mom and Dad….I love you) do without new monthly reading material!?
I figured it was time – I was filled with energy and good ideas. Writing a post seemed easy enough. I had something in mind about energy and balance – about how everything in life carries energy, and your energy has the power to attract and repel the energy of others. Something like that. About how life doesn’t always give us what we think we want, but it gives us what we need. Which are words to live by and which I truly believe….
So it’s not like I was putting any pressure on myself or anything. And we all know how pressure and obligation make hobbies even more fun.
It was true that I was filled with some kind of inspiration, though it felt more nebulous and intangible than ever before. And I wanted my blog post to reflect just how deeply I felt the importance of this vague “energy/balance/good vibes” message. I spent a few days typing away, adding and subtracting, taking my time. Maybe it was more out of enjoyment of typing on the pretty silver keyboard in front of the big, shiny computer screen, because in the end I didn’t even finish the draft.
This was okay with me – I know you can’t force brilliance. I’d just send the beginnings of this Microsoft Word document draft to myself via email and continue in the following days.
And then a familiar looking Microsoft Word dialogue box opened up on the screen, except it was in Polish. And I figured it was asking me something non-consequential, except it was in Polish. So I clicked what I thought said “ok.” Except it was in Polish. And all of my brilliant ramblings vanished.
The document was empty. Gone. Finito.
At first I was bummed. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was several hours of work and about 1500 words.
Then, I thought about what I was preaching in the first place. About energy and how I always say that life gives us what we need. So I took a step back before getting too bent out of shape over my supposed loss.
If I was being honest with myself, I’d clearly been having trouble getting to the point. Maybe it had been helpful to write those thoughts out, even if just for the sake of it. Maybe they weren’t meant for the blog. Maybe a monster-size reflection of a blog post like this one was the way to my readers’ hearts after all (hi again, Mom and Dad. Except you guys have to love me, so even if I write 100000 words, it’s ok).
Anyways, I figured life might be giving me something I needed with my deleted draft. As much as I feared the fate of my blog if laziness took over and it got abandoned, it made sense to me that a post should come from the heart. Maybe I had a better blog post coming just around the river-bend, and maybe it would pay off to lay off writing out of a sense of duty or obligation. To take the theory of not forcing anything and put it into practice.
Regardless, I didn’t really have much of a choice. I could sit and cry about it, or I could let go and move on. I quickly chose the latter option, and decided that this was an opportunity to rethink, regroup and create something even better. Something that felt organic, natural and inspired. I would listen to myself and write when I was good and ready.
And then one week passed, and then two weeks. And now it’s been over 6 weeks since that polish computer ate my last blog draft and easily over 2 months since my last post.
I didn’t expect it to take so long for me to sit and type again, but here I am – at my tablet once again – and it was important that I waited until I was ready.
It was especially important for this post because of the nature of my subject – “My favorite place so far.” Drumroll.
I had the idea for this post shortly after losing the last one, but I wasn’t ready to write about it. It was necessary for me to actually feel the truth behind what I was going to say before saying it – to practice what I was preaching. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past giving decent advice without actually taking any of it myself. I’ve had my fair share of days being a big, fat hypocrite. This post of all posts could not be hypocritical.
It didn’t take long before an idea struck me and I knew I had it. I would write about my favorite place. And after that brief-ish detour, here we are.
When I have the energy to give a logical rationale behind my answer, I usually pick New Zealand as my overall favorite country. New Zealand is easy to explain, and it’s largely true (though Savoie region in France may have just taken the lead…). New Zealand is a fantastic place with breathtaking landscapes, friendly faces, and happy cows – I look forward to returning there someday and exploring it further.
However, the truth is that I do love every place equally but differently. Each country holds personal lessons for me that have been critical to my journey over the past year.
It was Australia where I first launched and started to do things that scared me most. In New Zealand I felt Joy again for the first time in perhaps a decade. In Indonesia I opened my world to the beauty of teaching English and living in a rural Balinese village. In Singapore I learned about balance when it comes to 1st-world conveniences and luxuries. Malaysia was where I began to understand what worked for me and what didn’t – in general. Malaysia was big for me and I love it there.
Thailand showed me that the opinions of others don’t shape my experiences. Myanmar was where I joined forces with Cindy, a fellow traveller from France, who helped show me the importance of enjoying my moments and listening to how I feel. Every place I’ve stopped in Europe so far has been magical, inspiring, and fresh. For me, Europe has been the place to reconnect with friends, tap into my artistic side, and to put some earlier lessons into practice before I return home and face “the real world” again.
So my favorite place? It’s possible that my answer will infuriate you even more than the vague and easy “I love everyplace” cop-out answer, or the somewhat sexy “New Zealand rocks.” But, at least my answer comes from the heart, so I’m sticking with it.
Something I’ve been learning over the past several months is how to enjoy the moment, wherever I am. I’ve understood this concept for a long time now, and it’s an easy concept to know in theory. Putting it into practice has been a whole different experience.
It was in Myanmar traveling with Cindy that I first began to actually feel the truth behind this statement, beyond understanding the concept intellectually.
I’d talked about it enough, and if you’d asked me about the reason for my 11 month Odyssey, it would have easily rolled off my tongue – I was on a quest for balance and peace. However, I spent very little of my life, if any, experiencing peace on the physical, mental or emotional level. I was a ball of unconscious stress, whirling around in a futile effort to be perfect.
Eventually, I realized I didn’t care where I was or what I was doing or what anyone else thought I should or shouldn’t be doing. I wanted peace. I wanted to take the lessons I learned about living in the moment and to practice enjoying my moments, wherever I found myself.
Slowly but surely, with practice and with seeing again and again how life has a way of working out organically, I began to see things differently. Wherever I was, I was enjoying my moments. Regardless of what other people thought I should or shouldn’t be doing, regardless of whether I was seeing all the “cool” spots. I felt gratitude for my experience as it was, without judgement of what it should or would or could be.
This feeling was true freedom.
For months now, I’ve said that life gives us what we need. And while I believe this to be true, it’s taken practice for this to be something I actually feel on an experiential level. For me, it still requires conscious effort on a daily basis.
However, the point is, that while life may or may not give us what we (think we) want, it has a way of giving us what we need. This includes wherever I am right now, whatever I am doing at this moment.
My favorite place so far is a new state of mind, a fresh lens through which I see the world. A lens that makes all of my experiences great, and allows me to enjoy my life with less pressure, less stress, less judgement. If you are enjoying your moments and feeling your life, then every place is the best place.
I know this answer is the least sexy of them all.
As dopey as this conclusion may sound, and as sexy as it may be to rattle off the names of actual destinations and give you reasons why they are great or cool or exotic, this is the truth as I feel it today.
It’s not about where you are, or what you are doing. It’s about How you are there and How you are doing it.