The digital nomad journey is lonely, and hindsight is 20/20. I constantly find myself thinking about things that I am doing right now or reading about new ideas and think, "Why didn't I do this earlier?" Why didn't I rent out my apartment to AirBnb when I was away for summers during college? Why didn't I quit my stressful job earlier? Why didn't I try online teaching earlier?
In senior year of college, my roommates told me that my freshman self had called and asked my parents for permission for my roommate to ask her gay guy friend over. I was like...what? I did that? Was I that much of a good girl? I wasn't a homophobe -- was I? I had absolutely no memory of that event. But then again, I do remember joining the Catholic club briefly for my first semester at Berkeley and singing along to Catholic songs. I must have been a different person then. I'm probably a different person now. Things that would have seemed crazy to my just-out-of-high school self are my daily life now. Hell, I've traveled to more than ten countries across Europe and Asia, some of them solo, and now I virtually teach kids in China from home while wearing pajamas. This from a teen who was so shy and awkward she sometimes took a full day to come up with a response to the small amount of people who did actually talk to her.
Even back then I wanted adventure though. I just didn't know how to get it. Some overprotected Catholic girls go to college and run wild. Me, I finally embraced the wild notion that I would write. I also embraced a member of the opposite sex for the first time. That was nice.
I keep wondering when this crazy journey crashes and falls, and I have to go home and be "responsible" again. Neil Gaiman has the same fear, so in a way, I already have something in common with a famous writer. Which will also lead me to becoming a famous writer.
Gaiman has a speech on Youtube where he talks about goals being like a mountain. Imagine the mountain as your goal, and whatever decision takes you closer to the mountain at the moment, you take it. I feel like I'm climbing that mountain, and when I look back I start to see parts that could have been climbed easier and with less effort. On one hand, it makes me smack my forehead. On the other hand, does that mean I'm growing? I hope so. I'm a 26-year-old American with the hopes and dreams of a young, idealistic boy. Also with the financial savings of such a boy. Gotta keep climbing.
Five minutes after I close the laptop, I get a ping and look down at my phone. "VIPKID here you cooooome!" says a first email in bold, followed by "Mock Class Passed!" in a second email. That's all I have a chance to read before I'm jumping up and down like a frat boy on coke, smiling wide. I run down and tell my friend's landlord's four-month-old puppy, "I did it!" and dance around with him, his paws in my hands, his smile enthusiastic as my own (this was the case before and after my mock class). The mock class was a one-hour online interview in which I taught English to an interviewer in Michigan pretending to be a Chinese kid who didn't know English. I prepped hard the week before and felt like I was in Berkeley again with the amount of time I prepped. I watched many mock classes on Youtube and practiced in front of the mirror. I was anxious because the alternative to getting this job was that I would have to apply for a physical teaching job. This would mean I would once again spend most of my hours in a conventional teaching environment, trapped in one location yet again in the good old 9-5. But I did it! I passed Mock 1 without having to do Mock 2 which is the common route for most applicants, and I managed this despite being late about one minute to the interview and pissing off my interviewer. My past years as a behavior therapist paid off. I've spent two years practicing calm and patience in the midst of temper tantrums while working with clients with autism. Hence, even when my interviewer was pissed, I was able to mask my stress and behave friendly and apologetic enough to win her over to my side. I don't recommend being late though; my lateness was due to a tech issue which I will make sure to resolve for next time. Wi-Fi in Vietnam sucks. Yay, my first online job! Tomorrow I print materials and start working on getting bookings. Since I'm considered an independent contractor, I'm responsible for building a client base and opening up my available hours. One hurdle passed. Stay tuned in the life of Princess Chicken, Conqueror of Chicken-Eaters. I'm going back to Europe next month.
I loved my experience with Helpx. One of the reasons I loved it was my hosts were away for 99% of my last two weeks here, leaving me free to dance along to my favorite songs in the kitchen while I cooked mushroom omelette. Then I played Assassin's Creed II on the Xbox, or went to hold the chicken while staring at her feathers, feeling the sun dance on my skin. There was no one to explain myself to, no one to force myself to smile at. My least favorite time was my first week here where I socialized with my hosts during every meal and in-between. Sometimes I got bored but wanted to be polite so I forced myself to listen and converse. After four days listening to people, including a child, tell me about things and how to do things, my mind was screaming for solitude the way waterlogged lungs scream for air.
Socializing in groups for more than two days nonstop is hard. A fact in the life of Đinh Hòai-Trâm. I love people (sometimes) and find them fascinating (occasionally), for certain amounts at a time. Then after my social battery is dead it doesn't matter if you are the Dalai Lama or want to give me a million dollars, I'm done. Well, you can give me the million dollars first.
My reflection as I explore affordable methods of travel are that I enjoy my right to solitude. Hostels are good because I can still leave whenever I want to get my alone time at a secluded park or church. I'm not obligated to talk to anybody or stay within anyone's space. Whereas work-for-travel methods such as farmstays are okay but not ideal. I mean, I can do it, but I don't enjoy being at someone's constant beck-and-call. I might as well be back in California working for actual money. At least then I have my nights and weekends off from people.
I'm lucky I had an unconventional Helpx experience where I was basically just house sitting and left alone. I loved biking in the countryside while listening to my favorite music, eating choux puff pastries and all the French cheeses, and drinking red wine. I loved talking to myself and the dog and the chickens and the goat and horses about my experiences. I felt some loneliness, but ironically a few days after my hosts left the house I started enjoying my solitude more. This makes me wonder if loneliness is really a case of missing people being around. Or is loneliness a state of disconnect to one's surroundings? When my hosts were here, I felt lonelier. When I am browsing social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram aimlessly, I also feel lonelier. Maybe loneliness is less about who's around, and more about feeling disconnected. I've been off Facebook for a day now and it feels great. Two more days of my social media fast. This post will automatically share to Facebook, but it'll be nice not to check who views it or comments on it.
Maybe house sitting is something to explore. Hostels are confirmed good on my list, whereas work-to-stay situations like Helpx, WWOOF, and working at hostels are now last on my list. House sitting is a gray zone yet to be explored. I loved it this time.