Several months after arriving back in Los Angeles, we ask our intrepid explorer Vince Robbins to reflect on his ten weeks “On The Road” in South East Asia… here are his highlights and life lessons learned (don’t worry these don’t include “finding himself”).
For me traveling is often an experiment; I use the time away from home to test new ways of thinking about my life and to challenge the mundanity that inevitably creeps into a repetitive routine. My most recent trip was a 10-week trial run of living more minimally and nomadically while continuing to work along the way. The idea was to explore new places while maintaining the momentum of my creative work that I’ve been pursuing in Los Angeles. I set out with a small backpack and a one-way ticket to Mumbai, India where I’d meet my good friend Franklin. To document, I kept a personal blog and also teamed up with Urban Travel Blog to start the “On The Road” series (yet another experiment!).
After a trip like this – a three month trek through India and Asia – comes the inescapable questions like, “what was your favorite place?” and, “was it, like, life changing?” I don’t mean to dodge these types of questions, after all, I appreciate peoples’ genuine interest and curiosity, but they just don’t really have answers. Was it life changing? Yeah, I suppose it was. But every day I spend in Los Angeles is life changing. Most books I read are life changing. My visits to Seattle have been life changing. Going to the Hollywood Bowl is life changing. You get the idea; life is (at least should be) constantly changing for the better. I guess those questions are really getting after the density of new experience that I packed into a short amount of time. In that way, sure, those 10 weeks definitely stand out against the canvas of the rest of my life, but “life changing” to me implies some sort of epiphanic awakening of which I can’t claim to have had. I am, however, immensely grateful for the opportunity to explore places and meet people that are so far removed from the majority of my previous experience of planet earth.
As far as a favorite place, my canned response is now, “Thailand. It’s really amazing.” Which is completely honest. I found Thailand to be absolutely fantastic in most ways, but choosing favorites also doesn’t work for me. It’s like picking a favorite colour – I never understood that. Life isn’t monochromatic and neither is traveling; each place wouldn’t be the same without the experiential context of everywhere else I’ve been, on this trip and prior. But okay fine… Thailand is the best.
I also learned some things along the way. In particular, I feel like I streamlined my travel process; I will never travel with more than a backpack again. Even if you’re not going to go uber dork-mode and obsess over stupid gear to pack into a 20 liter backpack (who would do that?…), I think that traveling light is a surefire way to improve your travel experience. The lack of physical bulk makes moving around much easier, and the mental freedom from ridding yourself of excess material possessions provides a sense of clarity that allows you to really focus on the moment and the place. Alright, enough of my transcendentalist diatribe.
Here are some other things I learned along the way…
17 Things I Learned On My Travels:
- Monkeys will steal your mango lassi. They can also open water bottles.
- Din Tai Fung in Taipei makes the best dumplings on this planet.
- Fresh Buko (Filipino coconut water) is better than any coconut water ever bottled.
- Indian weddings are beautiful and welcoming (based on a sample size of )
- The Philippines national dish is a boiled hot dog on a plate with some rice.
- More often than not, your masseuse will try to give you more than a massage.
- Boracay Island is like a twilight zone of alcohol tolerance – 15 shots becomes possible.
- If you visit one of the world’s tallest buildings, just pay whatever it costs to go to the top. It’s money you won’t regret (i.e. Taipei 101).
- There’s an 12 year old in Kerala, India who will probably play in the NBA.
- Travel agencies in India have air conditioning, but they dislike you napping on their couches.
- Filing a report at a police station in Saigon is an absolute joke. It feels like an after school boys detention facility; one guy is asleep behind a desk, one is watching old reruns on a tiny TV, and nobody is interested in doing police-type activities.
- Souvenir rice paddy hats are watertight enough to drink out of, but because of the taste they impart, this is ill-advised.
- Steering a boat with a long stick in the backwaters of Kerala is not as easy as it looks; the chances of losing your balance and falling into the water are alarmingly high.
- Russians love Goa, India.
- A country’s lawlessness can be measured in their traffic patterns (theory still in development).
- British girls are terrible at painting American guys fingernails (based on a sample size of ).
- Tennis rackets are considered “blunt weapons” according to Philippines airline security laws.
The Run Down
For would-be travelers to any of the places I visited on this trip, here’s a quick reflection on each pit stop.
India: For what it lacks in comfort and “fun”, it makes up for in natural beauty and cultural tradition. I’ve never been to a place so starkly different from where I’m from. The heat, crowdedness, and lack of infrastructure can be taxing at times, but the history and natural beauty are unmatched. The Taj Mahal is incredible.
Thailand: You already know how I feel. Bangkok was one of the most alive cities that I’ve spent time in; great public transportation, bustling marketplaces, excellent food, river rides, parks, historical architecture. In contrast, the Gulf of Thailand looks like one of those stock desktop backgrounds that just frustrate you because they can’t possibly be real. Oh it’s real.
Vietnam: Motorbikes on motorbikes on motorbikes. When in Saigon, righit? Our road trip to the Mekong Delta was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Vietnam is less polished than Thailand, but is extremely cheap and once you get out of the congestion of the city is one of the most beautiful countries you will visit in Southeast Asia. I would love to go back and explore the north side of the country.
Malaysia: To be fair I can’t speak much on Malaysia as a whole, or even Kuala Lumpur in much depth. But from my limited experience, KL seems like a pleasant, modern city. Like I said in my KL post, I feel like I owe this city and Malaysia as a whole a proper visit someday.
Singapore: Not really my style, but if you are a business type and you have a bunch of money, Singapore seems like a really nice city to live. It’s immaculately clean and doesn’t cut corners in the modernity of its infrastructure. It is, however, prohibitively expensive for the budget traveler.
The Philippines: Surprisingly rough and underdeveloped (to be fair I didn’t know much about The Philippines before going). Like India, the climate, pollution, and generally chaotic feel of Manila make it a tiring place. However, we made some of the strongest connections with Filipino folks out of anybody on our trip; I found, in my experience, people to be genuinely friendly, helpful, and generous. Additionally, Boracay island was one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever been.
Taiwan: One of my favorite places I’ve ever visited, Taipei has a mix of natural beauty and urban organization that puts it, in my opinion, among the top most liveable cities in the world. It’s not as crazy as Bangkok or as romantic as Paris, but Taipei just seems to be doing pretty well across the board: multicultural cuisines, excellent city planning, public transportation, parkland, shopping, mountain gondolas, tea houses, and entertainment. I think it flies under the radar as one of the world’s top cities.
I look back on all (…or almost all) of my travels over the years with sentimental recollection of hilarious moments, thought provoking conversations, memorable meals, fascinating historical sites, etc. This latest arrangement of those types of experiences was densely packed in, and will no doubt sit prominently on my proverbial bookshelf of travel memories. I’m glad that I had the opportunity, through the Urban Travel Blog “On The Road” series, to share a few stories and a little bit of advice with some folks that I wouldn’t have connected with otherwise. I’m excited to see the “On The Road” series continue with other adventurers in other parts of the world!