For me, its a gnome that was gifted to me by my best friend as part of a care package when I was moving out of San Diego in 2012. It was a spin of the mascot from Travelocity, the “Roaming Gnome”. Seeing how we both were embarking on our dreams of living aboard, her in South Australia and me in South Korea, it was fitting and hilarious. I took pictures of it in front of famous landmarks and mountains capes throughout the city of Seoul.
I was nearing the beginning of my third year in Korea, having been teaching ESL and yoga for expats. The streets remained covered in snow and we found reprieve staying indoors playing games, eating kimchi pancakes.
It was hard not feeling a little cabin fever and very homesick for the warmer west coast, where throwing on a hoodie was the most you needed from the ocean breeze. But working and living abroad allowed me to travel and explore other parts of Southeast Asia, so I took it as a chance to ask myself: where would I go next?
It wasn’t until my last year in Korea, when the cherry blossoms sprung and I had finally acclimated to the four seasons (learning how to wear many, many layers) that I won a sweepstakes to attend a yoga retreat in Bali! Winning something and going to Bali were both a first.
The trip was barely planned, only my airfare purchased and first night in Uluwatu booked. I was enticed by the idea of being in tropical island weather. And I felt excited and somewhat nervous about traveling solo and the destinations unknown. I googled vehemently about things to do for yogis in Bali.
I was a few days into my trip, traveling from having seen the beaches of Padang Padang (scene of Liz bicycling through rice paddy fields in Eat, Pray, Love) to Seminyak before I would eventually reach my final stop in Ubud for the retreat. By then, I had bonded with fellow travelers over some Gado Gado and Bintang (local Balinese dish and beer) and felt welcomed by the sweet and welcoming demeanor of the Balinese not to mention the vastness of the lush landscapes, peaceful bamboo percussion playing every morning, floral offerings on every street and all of the vegetarian eating.
I rented a moped as soon as I arrived in Seminyak, set my Waze destination to a local yoga studio and started to meander through the city. Driving and witnessing life on the streets, I began to think of how I could share this experience with others:
How I could bring this moment back with me to Korea and show others the possibilities of freedom in experiencing the charm of Balinese culture while traveling, exploring, and living like a local.
It has been five years since I packed up my bags and headed out to Bali, to an island unknown to me. At the time, I didn’t know I would return to Bali another time again and it would inspire me to go onto Thailand, Philippines and other remote parts of Korea.
But I understand it now. I had needed to go out and explore and by doing so, changed my perspective and changed myself.
While my travels were not luxurious by any means, it did reflect exploration which is what I was drawn to. For me, travel is being able to make space to explore and all the extra things — nice accommodations, fancy meals, exclusive sights and of course the Instagram worthy shots — are side perks. I traveled because I wanted to stay curious and find connection between myself and things larger than me (and my big problems) out in the world. My travels taught me that we need room to explore and that is actually a big part of being wholesome — and happy.
The best things in life are the things we found while we’re headed somewhere. The sticky mango cart you found when you were lost. The fellow traveler you bumped into on the train. The local coffee offered at a random lodge you had booked last minute. The private beach you happened upon while hiking along a trail.
I am reminded of the “Roaming Gnome”, the year I would boldly set upon my travels, all the people I met along the way, and how I visited new parts of the world that ultimately uncovered new parts of myself.