On our journey through SE Asia, we’ve spent mornings sitting beside a rice field doing nothing but listening to the sounds around us while enjoying a freshly harvested coconut and laughing and smiling with Mama Wayan Suri. We’ve explored temples high in the mountains and stumbled into cockfights where we’re the only foreigners and Alli is the only woman. We’ve gone from finding remote waterfalls where locals would like more foreigners to visit, to talking about Balinese temples, the system of four “castes”, and the two-part cremation ceremonies that take place on Bali with villagers we have met along the way. We set out on this journey with goals of spending as much time as possible with locals and gaining confidence as travelers. After four months on the road, we are proud to say that we are having many more “local experiences” than we did when we first arrived and are more confident as travelers than ever before.
Part of it is being in the right place at the right time when it comes to meeting locals, but the other part of it is stepping outside of our comfort zone and being open to new things (two challenges that have helped boost our confidence).
When you arrive in a new place, halfway around the world, where you don’t speak the language, practice the religion, or understand the culture, it can be a bit intimidating to experience (or try to experience) elements of life as the locals do. Sure, there are people who jump in head first with no fear, drive off on their first day into local villages and head places where no one speaks a word of English… but for many travelers, like us, this is not something that is immediately within their comfort zone. For us, it took a little while to acclimate before we felt comfortable enough to venture off the beaten tourist path where English is commonly spoken and Western comforts are just a few steps away.
We started this crazy year-long journey just over four months ago when we landed at Ngurah Rai airport in Bali delirious from our 30 hours of travel. At that point, we were wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into, how we were going to get around, and sooooo much more. Taking part in local experiences was a goal of ours before we left, but we weren’t quite ready on day one (or two… or even three for that matter) to venture off and find them on our own!
Nevertheless, after a few days passed (and we got our bearings), we started venturing out. What began as simply smiling and saying hello to all the locals we encountered turned into chatting with locals whenever we could, finding local eats where people don’t always speak English and the best way to order is simply by pointing to things on a menu.
From there we started getting up early and enjoyed participating in morning markets, or the morning “rush” (which is quite relaxed and civilized) as kids are driven to school and locals head to work. We strayed far off the beaten path looking for wonderful places and were led down a mountainside by a young, local girl to an extremely remote and incredibly beautiful waterfall on Lombok Island. We made friends with an amazing group of Malaysian and Singaporean dive instructors on Tioman Island, wandered through small villages in Thailand and Bali, and explored the countryside of each place we traveled. Now, we’re continuing our journey of learning and appreciating all that is around us.
We’ve sought out more opportunities to spend time and learn from locals than ever before, have practiced saying “yes” to more things & people, and have started conversations with anyone we come across. The experiences and lessons we have learned as a result have been life-changing.
It can take some time to work up the courage to try new things and to venture into the unknown, but it is so rewarding (and something you will rarely regret)! A journey abroad can be a whirlwind of new relationships, unforgettable moments, and of course epic adventures, but it can also be filled with many of life’s most important lessons.
Check out part 1 of The Traveler’s Journey Series where we discuss the importance of leaving your expectations at the gate.
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