The island of Bali, Indonesia - beautiful

Thoughts from a life of travel: Day 6251 – Bali, Indonesia

Derek East Timor, Personal Stuff, Travel Tales 44 Comments

The island of Bali, Indonesia - beautiful

It’s January. It’s Monday. I’m on the island of Bali. It’s my 6251st day of travel.

I’m sitting here at a nice wooden table, with a ceiling fan whirling above my head and a mosquito whizzing around my left ankle. To my right I hear the occasional churning of an espresso machine. Behind me I hear some chatter in accents ranging from Australian to German to American to others my brain is not able to recognize.

In front of me is a wall with a painting of a man with a unicorn on his head. It says “I believe in unicorn” in blue writing. Behind that wall is the rest of the Dojo Bali co-working space that I’ve been hanging out at lately.

There’s a swimming pool in the back, a loft, a water dispenser, tables everywhere and some good people working away on their laptops. I think they’re good people anyway, I don’t really know.

I’m a bit jittery this morning. It’s not the coffee though, as I’ve only had one sip. Maybe it’s because I haven’t done as much exercise lately as I was planning on doing.

Either way, I need to get some work done.

Let me check my to-do list for the day:

– answer emails
– look at new ways to promote this year’s Wandering Earl Tours
– clean my flip-flops
– order a birthday gift for my mom (important!)
– update my How to Work on a Cruise Ship eBook
– create a presentation for the workshop I’m giving on Thursday at the co-working space
– 2pm: Skype call with a travel startup based in Dubai about possibliy becoming an advisor

And write a blog post. I didn’t actually put that one on the list for some reason.

Shrimp burrito, please. That’s what I’ll have for lunch. A bunch of people from this co-working space are going to a nearby Mexican restaurant at 1pm. My girlfriend and I will join them. I just pre-ordered a shrimp burrito.

The island of Bali, Indonesia - temples

Oh shoot, speaking of burritos…I need to purchase flights to Dili, East Timor for next week. We need to do a visa run as our current 30 day visa for Bali ends on the 15th of January. The plan is to take the short flight over to East Timor, stay there for 5 days and then come back to the island of Bali for another 30 days afterwards.

East Timor. Here’s an odd story for you.

Back in 1998, I ate dinner one night at a Tibetan restaurant on Main Street in the town of Northampton, Massachusetts, USA. There were five of us at that dinner. Two of us were university students and members of the local Students for a Free Tibet chapter, one was a Tibetan woman and the last two were Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos-Horta. If you’re not familiar with Xanana and Jose, they would both end up becoming Presidents of East Timor after the tiny nation achieved independence later on, in 2002.

I don’t even know how I ended up at that dinner. But there was I, eating Tibetan momos and noodle soup with two future presidents of East Timor.

And now I’m actually going to visit their country. Maybe I should look them up.

[5 minute break]
I’m back. I just sent a message to Jose Ramos-Horta through his Facebook page. Let’s see if he remembers that Tibetan dinner way back then. I doubt it, but you never know!

[2 hour break]
That shrimp burrito was good.

During lunch I also had a nice conversation with a guy from Belarus and a soft spoken gentleman from Turkey, both of whom have lived in Chicago and are passing through Southeast Asia. This island of Bali sure is a popular place. We were also invited to a BBQ this weekend by a Lithuanian fellow sitting at our end of the table.

I’ll tell you this about travel. Once you get out there into the world, it doesn’t take long to realize that everyone is just looking for a place to fit in. Travelers certainly feel joy and belonging just from becoming part of that cool global gang known as, well, travelers.

After all, there is no initiation or application – as soon as you get on a plane or train or bus, you’re part of the group. You can actually be part of the group before then too, why not?

You like to travel?
Yes I do.
– (High five)
Boom, we’re travelers!

But here’s the catch…

Through my travels, I’ve also realized that fitting in doesn’t really have anything to do with other people at all. Fitting in is more about feeling comfortable with yourself and not deviating from who you are at your core. When we don’t need to alter our behavior and we can stay true to ourselves, that’s when we actually fit in…everywhere.

The island of Bali, Indonesia - jump

And travel does allow us to feel comfortable with ourselves.

As we constantly interact with people of different nationalities, beliefs, perspectives, interests and personalities, we learn that there is no need to pretend to be someone else or to put on a show or to do anything apart from being who we really are and want to be.

When we travel, we quickly learn that nobody cares. Nobody cares about our faults and defects and quirks. Most humans just want to meet and interact with genuine people – whether it’s for a few seconds, a few weeks or more – and most people are more than happy to accept anyone just the way they are.

My coffee is getting cold. Let me take the final sip because here on the island of Bali they love clearing your cups away before you’ve finished.

I just looked up and noticed that man with the unicorn on his head again. It puts a smile on my face, even though I don’t believe in unicorns.

Anyway, my conclusion is this – the only group we need to belong to is ourselves. It’s that simple. That’s really how we belong everywhere else.

I’ve learned this from my travels, through long talks with my girlfriend and in the pages of certain books. And it repeatedly proves itself to be true. The more comfortable I am with myself, the more comfortable I am with everyone else.

So this is me, Derek Earl Baron: 40-years old, American, long-term traveler, currently on the island of Bali, slightly goofy, not so comfortable dancing, patient, don’t take things too seriously but can be cynical at times, bored easily, curious, always need to strive for more, analytical mind, sometimes talk too much, very part-time yoga practicer, enjoy being around people but prefer meaningful conversations over polite chit chat, vegetarian most of the time, armpit shaver.

Who are you? Does travel help you be that person? Please share below.

*Oh, Jose Ramos-Horta (or one of his staff) has read my Facebook message. But no reply yet. Oh well.

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Comments 44

  1. Brunna

    Wow! Beautiful words, Earl! Been following your blog since I was 18, reading your blog and dreaming about travelling and now I’m 23 and in Tanzania, volunteering, staying in a host home and loving every minute of it! I agree with all you said about most people just wanting to connect, that really resonated with me! Would love if you could check out my blog post about it if you have the time 🙂

  2. Andrew Newcomb

    Hi Earl,
    Just want to say thanks for all you do for aspiring travelers. After a couple years of setbacks, I’m finally on my first 3 month trip. Spent a week in Hong Kong, currently in Thailand, then onto Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

    I’m sure you help more people than you know. Perhaps I will see you on the road.

    Peace and cheers, Andrew

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  3. Tuliyani

    Hey Derek, Tuliyani here. I’m a 28 year old traveler currently in Colombia that eats too much food for a 110 lb body. I’m easily pleased, difficult to impress, love to dance, love to make others dance, I sing songs loudly even if it is Despacito for the millionth time, am embarrassingly outgoing, I speak too loud, but only when it’s important, I’m pensive, my laugh is contagious, I suck at meditating because I always think of something dumb to say, (I also think I’m funny), I’m very clumsy therefore people often wonder how I’ve ever been able to travel solo and I suck at winking, but I that doesn’t stop me from trying.

    The truth is that I’m that way at home and while traveling. I’ve never actually felt like I fit in, even in the traveling world. I’ve gotten over that though because I’ve met some incredible people while traveling and I know that we are all unique in our own way. You’re right, the only group we need to belong to is ourselves. I love being myself at home, and especially when traveling because you only have a few moments to show people who you really are, so why not be your whole entire self?

    I hope that made sense, it’s midnight. Waaaay past my traveler bedtime.

    A beautifully written article, by the way. You definitely inspire me.

    1. Post

      Hey Tuliyani – Yes, that definitely makes sense and I really appreciate you sharing! Hope your travels are going well and that you got some sleep in the end 🙂

  4. Sharon

    Hey Derek, I’m looking at Eastern Europe, just gathering info … Slovenia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary. I stayed up way too late last night reading your blogs, and each new place I read about I wanted to go to! This part is fun too, but can’t wait to buy that ticket! Thanks again!

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  5. Sharon

    Hi Derek,
    I have loved your posts for years. I had a wonderful exchange at a place in Istanbul several years ago, talking to the man at the rooftop “bar” in the place I was staying. As we were chatting you came up, he was delighted as he knew you, he brought out some wine (they didn’t sell alcohol), he and i spent hours talking about life, looking over the river to Asia, and enjoying the moment. In so many experiences I’ve had while traveling it is clear to me that travel is really all about the people you encounter, and you have to be open to any experience. What I realized from my first solo trip at 52 years old, after a divorce and a job loss, was that the people you connect with are the best part of life, at home or in your travels. I love experiencing new places and people, and when I can’t travel, I love to host couchsurfer’s to have that wonderful part of travel come to me, or try to encourage people around me to get their passports, and plan an adventure that they’ve dreamed of. When I first went to Ireland I came across the Celtic Cross of Journeys & Meetings (and I picked up in Ireland to bring home as a constant reminder to be present) … “People destined to meet will do so, apparently by chance, at precisely the right moment.” Travel always reminds me that no one is really independent, we depend on each other for our happiness and well being. Travel empowers me, and travels always brings me back to center, back to being more of who I am meant to be. Whew, I do ramble 🙂 Thanks for sharing with all of us. You are such a wonderful, authentic voice in the jungle of travel bloggers. I appreciate the gift you give. ~ Sharon

    1. Post

      Hey Sharon – I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and such a ramble is always welcome 🙂 It seems like we’ve reached similar conclusions in terms of travel being all about the people we meet along the way. I always say that the sights have been incredible but if it wasn’t for the people I’ve met, I would have stopped traveling a LONG time ago! Glad to see you out there going after your travel goals and even more, trying to convince others to do the same. Hopefully your experiences have inspired others to get their passports and take a trip!! I’m sure they have.

      Where’s your next trip?

  6. Eric Cohen

    Enjoy reading the blogs and the commentary from fellow travelers. The worlds a big playground and i’m glad that you and others give us some hope for leading something other than mundane lives focused on the norm.

  7. Ryan Biddulph

    Self-acceptance is THE way Derek. Digging your post because being a digital nomad since 2011 I’ve had similar moments. Experiences where I like to recount, dwell on the moment and simply share what it feels like to travel. Many of my buddies who have blogs are not interested in travel so they dig living vicariously through me. They dig my photos and wild travel stories, as well as the day to day stuff, and following me is good enough for them. This makes my sharing that much more powerful to people who will never experience places like Fiji or Bali in person.

    Loving this post, as always, dude. Enjoy my favorite island on earth!


  8. Lauren Martins

    Hi Derek,
    Love this message and the stream of consciousness format!

    I’ve been slow traveling with my husband for the past 2.5 years and agree that so much of the journey has been about self (re)discovery. We were both coming off 10+ years of intense careers and unwinding from that was pretty scary. Made me realize how stressed, robotic, unpleasant, and unimaginative I had become during my young adult life. Travel has helped me reclaim my identity, uncover my creative, curious, and optimistic personality. Reconnect with that young girl who at age 22, put my favorite quote on my Facebook profile as “Never try to be anything but what you are…and try to be that perfectly.”

    But it hasn’t all been rosy. I agree with you and Travis that there’s a little sadness in the extraordinary becoming your ‘regular’. I don’t like that I sometimes think to myself that I’m not that impressed with something new I’m experiencing because I just did something similar. What’s my problem?!! I have to remember this whole journey is a huge privilege, it’s unique, special, and a much better fit for me than before. Another issue I have is the inner conflict of the push-and-pull of flexibility vs. stability. I LOVE my flexibility, but sometimes I let it get out of hand or I find fault with it. Maybe I booked too much fast travel and let my work suffer or experienced some burnout. Or I am not that comfortable in an apartment I booked for a couple months. Or I lose any semblance of a routine and my health suffers. A newer challenge is thinking about family planning… how I have new obstacles to overcome that I wouldn’t necessarily have with a more conventional lifestyle. But at the end of the day, I now have the TIME to think about these things, the perspective and happiness to brush off any small worries, and the right mindset to overcome the new challenges.

    Oh, and like you, I am a very-part-time yoga practicer, hauling my mat around different continents always reminding myself I need to use it more!

    1. Daniel Barber

      What an honest beautiful comment. You are young and so insighful and I’m so impressed with your wisdom. This, coming from someone old enough to be your parent. Lean forward and sail fast! Best, Dan

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      Hey Lauren – I think this proves one thing…no matter what lifestyle we choose, there’s always going to be questions and struggles and all that. It’s always going to be a battle to stay fully happy at all times, no matter what we’re doing. It’s just the way the human mind works I guess. I go through that same push and pull and trust me, one minute I can’t wait to be in one place for an extended period of time and then as soon as I get to that place, I want to leave 2 days later. It’s just a part of it. Things definitely won’t go perfectly smooth, again, even if we’re living a lifestyle that we once dreamed about!

  9. Romain

    Although I’m French, living in Asia as a kid from 2000-2007, then later in Australia, then Ireland for the past 3 years, has allowed me to travel to a lot of countries at a young age (I remember Chiang Mai in 2001, way before it was a digital nomad hub haha). As a result, “home” is wherever I am right now, and I truly feel like I can fit in anywhere. Meeting so many people has also made me realized that nobody cares about our quirks and most people want to make a genuine connection. This has had a strong influence on me in becoming very comfortable with myself and offering my authentic self to others. In exchange, just like you, the interactions I value most are meaningful conversations over small talk; our world is so fast paced that these meaningful interactions are the ones that stay stuck in your memory, and if I see you again one year from now, I WILL remember you. My best friends are the ones I have these meaningful “soul-to-soul” interactions with, and even though they live far away, we can meet once every 6 months, say, on a volcano in Central America and have that deep magical connection (that’s the kind of trips I talk about on my blog).

  10. kevan Hubbard

    I’m a great fan of curious mini states of which east Asia has a few,already been to autonomous Hong Kong and Macau plus Singapore, so Brunei and East Timor are in my sights. East Timor actually has an exclave too surrounded by Indonesian West Timor.

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      Hey Kevan – I went to Brunei last year, which was interesting to say the least. I’ll post some updates once my visit to East Timor comes to an end!

  11. Manfred Ridder

    Hi Earl,

    I like the picture, you jumping over the puddle. Except, ….. the fact that the picture is photoshopped. How do I know? Your shadow is missing.
    Otherwise nice try, kind of ” the decisive moment”. You know, as in Cartier-Bresson.
    Enjoy life und all the best.

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      Hey Manfred – Thanks for the message but you’re very wrong about that. That photo is definitely not photoshopped. It’s not like it’s some difficult feat to jump over a puddle that I can’t actually do it myself 🙂 Also, I don’t think there is much of a shadow when the entire sky is covered in dark clouds but what there is of a shadow is in the foreground. You misjudged the perspective and how close I am to the camera. Anyway, if you’d like to see all 10 photos I took jumping over puddles, none of which have a shadow, I’d be happy to share if that will ease your concerns.

      1. Keith Cochran

        hahahaahaha yes Manfred, almost 20yrs taking pics around the world, yet unable to find any better than photoshopping a puddle jump

  12. Marta Kulesza

    Hey Earl, I’m also a long time traveller, it’s been 13 years now. Whoop whoop. I agree, the most important thing is to be yourself. Travellers will accept you for who you are and that’s why it gives me so much more confidence than I have back in my home town. Thanks for the article. Have fun on your 5 day visa run. You should certainly look up the Presidents.

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      Hey Marta – 13 years is definitely a long time! I wish you many more great adventures ahead. And the ex-President still hasn’t written back. I’m pretty sure he has better things to do 🙂

  13. Lien pham

    Hey Earl, thanks for sharing thoughts about traveling and fitting in “fitting in doesn’t really have anything to do with other people at all. Fitting in is more about feeling comfortable with yourself and not deviating from who you are at your core. When we don’t need to alter our behavior and we can stay true to ourselves, that’s when we actually fit in…everywhere.” … Totally agree from my experience and it’s fascinating to chat with people from all over the world for hours sometime and make new friends 🙂 … Love Bali, I watched Balinese dance almost every night when I was there 🙂 … Love the gili islands too … Did you go to Borobudur, amazing place … Looking forward to hear about your East Timor visit … Happy New Year!!!

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      Hey Lien – Glad you’ve had a similar experience out there traveling! I haven’t been to Borobudur…not sure if I’ll make it on this trip. I have heard it’s amazing though. Hope you have some great travels this year!

  14. Daniel Barber

    Really Great Article Earl! I was on my way to Bali the beginning of January but got side tracked by “work” of all things. So, I’ve opted for a short trip (a month) back to Playa del Carmen. I enjoyed my stay last year for three months and I know it will not be the same (you can never go back) but it will be good. Then back to the States for a couple of weeks before I head to Europe and then who knows from there. Always great reading your writings!

    Best, Dan

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      Hey Dan – Playa works too! And let me know when you head to Europe…I’ll be back there at some point in the spring so perhaps we’ll cross paths!

  15. Travis @

    I think being a traveler can make shallow conversation difficult to bear. It’d be nice to blame it for the talkativeness but I think that’s always been the case for me. You? The need for more depth probably has a lot to do with what we’re used to. As a traveler I think you get that “high” (the one you’ve referred to while traveling to less-safe/exotic destinations) which makes it difficult to go back to “regular” life. Of course, “regular” is what you make it. Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible to really be surprised by anything anymore. You know what I mean? It’s difficult to get that original feeling back. I find that having that “analytical mind” (also partly due to travel yet also a lifelong characteristic) can even take the fun out of completely new experiences. You think “oh, never done this before!… although, actually it’s a lot like X if you think about it.”

    Any thoughts? I’m currently living in Duesseldorf, Germany. I like it and it’s been interesting learning the language. Of course, same could be said for my year living in Spain. Living in China was different because I couldn’t learn the language (not enough time or motivation) but that still got a bit mundane after a while. I miss New Zealand but I ran out of time and have never had good enough financial reason to return (I teach English). I loved Vietnam but that’s more of a holiday destination than a practical base. Though, I could see myself retiring there. Europe seems to be the best for a base because everything is so accessible… gotta love RyanAir 10 euro flights. It’s a bit expensive living here though (makes it hard to just get on a bike and get lost). I can’t just go live in the mountains for a month like I did in New Zealand. It’s also not as warm/beautiful as SE Asia. The food is okay. Definitely not so much of a problem with MSG or other weird additives. I miss Mexican food but I have friends here from the states so that’s not actually a problem. I think I need to get another motorcycle… hmm.

    1. laura warrick.

      Who do you go through for teaching English? I am an elementary teacher in WI, USA who has lost faith in our education system, so I left my career. I still love teaching children (and I LOVE traveling), so I thought I might enjoy teaching English to children in other countries. Can you advise me as to how to get started? Thank you.

      1. Travis @

        Hi Laura, I got my teaching certification online through over three months for $200. You can easily find jobs in Asia even without the certification but it’s a bit more competitive in western countries. I started out in Hong Kong which is a bit westernized and therefore not actually the easiest place to start. I found a job through an agency then couchsurfed for a couple months (accommodation in Hong Kong is super expensive) while waiting for my visa to come through. My main piece of advice there is that, while governments generally expect you to have a work permit before entering the country, the only real way to get a job is to just show up and start talking to people. Without a job it’s probably impossible to get the visa. Of course, after Hong Kong I worked in Spain for a year through the Auxiliares de Conversacion program. Basically, I was hired by the Spanish government to teach in public schools. This is a more practical approach to getting your first year(s) of experience because you can arrange everything from home. Now, it’s not easy when you consider all the bureaucracy involved but it is more secure… sort of. The Spanish government does have a way of keeping you on the edge of your seat… early deadlines, long delays, late payments, etc. Still, highly recommended as a first time experience! I’ve also taught online which is probably the easiest way to get into teaching as the market / demand for native teachers is huge. Some companies seem to take good care of their teachers (VIPKID) while a great number tend to underpay/extort newbies who don’t know their own worth. Now I’m freelancing which is the best but also the hardest in a sense because you have more responsibilities regarding visa arrangements, taxes, scheduling, etc. But hey, that’s the price of flexibility!

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      Hey Travis – Trust me, I understand everything you’re saying and you’re right, living this lifestyle does make it difficult to maintain the high, whether it be with conversations, new experiences or digging deeper into a particular destination. The fascinating becomes normal, just like anything else we do in life over and over again. That’s simply how our minds work. I guess for me, the only way to keep that high going as much as possible is to make sure I still get to some of those destinations that really are different or that really do provide me with a unique experience. Last year was Seychelles and Mauritius, this year…well, who knows, but East Timor is a good start. Without those kind of destinations (which are still really, really exciting to me), it would be hard to maintain that high for sure.

      As for Europe, you should look at Gran Canaria. That’s probably where we’ll be based later this year. It’s Europe, much more affordable than the mainland, great laid-back lifestyle, nice beaches and plenty of nature to explore!

      1. Travis @

        Hi Derek, thanks for the suggestion. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Gran Canaria. Of course, considering my experience trying to get a work visa in Spain, Gran Canaria is probably best as a holiday destination. Which is fine as I honestly do like Germany a lot. Still, I love the idea of spending more time in these laid-back destinations that you always blog about. I can totally see how they would help with maintaining the travel buzz. Actually, one place that always comes to mind is Perhentian Kecil – a little-known island paradise off the coast of Malaysia (see my post They’ve got everything: delicious cheap food, white sandy beaches, giant turtles and, in my opinion, better / more colourful reefs than Oz. The only thing is that getting there is a bit of an adventure – another reason why it’s awesome!

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