The clock said 4 a.m. when I loaded my suitcase into a cab. From looking at the size of my suitcase, the cab driver knew I wasn’t planning on coming back anytime soon. He asked a lot of questions about my plan, just like anyone would if they discovered a young teenager traveling alone.
I kept the answers short, hinting that I wasn’t in the mood to talk. I spent the whole ride looking out the window and holding tightly to my passport, boarding pass and a map of Seoul. My heart pounded faster and faster as we neared the airport.
I breathed in and out slowly in an attempt to calm myself down; I had never felt such fear before.
I had absolutely no plan. I didn’t know what I wanted to get out of the trip, I didn’t know how long it was going to be, and I didn’t know where I would stay. I left home not really knowing what was out there. I just knew there was something I needed to see, something I needed to learn.
I grew up in Bangkok, the city of eight million lives and mine was just one of them. I lived and breathed trying to compete with other people. I had to get up at four in the morning to beat the traffic to get to school; afterwards, I traveled for an hour to go to tutoring classes. I only lived life as a normal kid after 10 p.m. when I would arrive home. I needed to yeild straight A’s so that I’d get into a decent, affordable school. I always had plans.
I woke up to an announcement saying we had arrived in Seoul. It was pouring, but on the other end of the city the sun was trying its best to shine — reminding me that the rain won’t last forever. I breathed in fresh Seoul air and realized that for the first time in my life, I had no clear path.
A couple of days later, I managed to secure a gig at a travel agency owned by a Thai couple. They gave me a place to sleep, some food to eat, and paid me to go to touristy places in Seoul. I worked the morning shift so I had time in the afternoon to study and learn Korean.
Seoul offered me a different life. I had the chance to sit down and peacefully eat my breakfast while reading the papers. Every other day, I would have time for a long morning run — a luxury I never thought I would get in my teenage years. For the first time, I was living a life undefined by grades or the amount of extracurricular activities I did. After awhile, being lost - physically and mentally - wasn’t such a big deal anymore.
I let it all go.
I am an overachiever and I suffer if I’m not on top of my game. Before I packed my bags and ran to Seoul, I spent half of my life mapping out where I wanted to go. Letting go of plans was never my thing.
The life I had in Seoul made me realized that “success” can only truly occur internally because it’s rooted in emotion. At the most basic level, success is your relationship with yourself. Most people are living a lie. They purposefully ignore and distract themselves from what they truly want out of life - defining success in a way they don’t truly understand.
The thing is, I can’t blame myself in Bangkok for not being able to find my purpose in my life. The city you live in influences your lifestyle and behaviour, but it doesn’t define you. For me, who you are and what you live for is all about the ability to create a purpose for yourself, regardless of your surroundings.
I don’t travel to find the best place on earth and fantasize about living a perfect, more impressive life there. I travel to see the world and better understand myself and my happiness in its reflection.
The more you go, the more grow.