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.
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.
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.