I don’t know if I like the word “rebellion” or if World Travel resonates with me that way. But the words that follow do hum and buzz with my nomad soul.
In Singapore (where I live), I am slapped with many labels and shoulder several roles: the responsible mother, the objective journalist, the good Catholic girl, perhaps role model, “media personality” etc. But I was never fully aware of these till I took a year off to backpack around the world.
When I left the familiar to venture into the unknown, I felt for the first time in my life that all the invisible labels and roles that defined me in Singapore were suddenly stripped away.
This did not happen immediately, of course. It took a while. But there comes a moment when you realise nobody recognises you in these foreign lands and you stop putting on makeup, you stop putting on a show.
At some point, I started walking at my own pace, without being pushed along against my will or dragged back. I started paying attention to what made me smile, the sound of my own laughter, what made me frightened, what upset or annoyed me, what mattered to me.
I remember being alone in Bali and strolling along an unfamiliar road in Seminyak (looking for coffee!). It was late afternoon, and I chanced upon an obscure patch of grass. It was quiet and serene, and nothing much was happening, except for a couple of ducks quacking after a tropical rain. I stood there for a good 20mins, doing nothing, just soaking it all in.
I can’t even label this experience. It cannot be pigeon-holed into any category of “nature” or “urban landscape”; it’s even hard to bring up in conversation because it’s so insignificant. It’s simply my little moment. And even if it holds no meaning to anyone else, it left a lasting impression on me. It’s now a part of me.
You only realise how little you know yourself and how much you are running on defined roles when you’re torn away from all that’s familiar, and you have nothing to grasp at or fall back on.
I’m not saying roles and labels are bad or wrong. I’m just saying they don’t define who I am. And it’s important to have such an experience of liberation from them – even if you do go back to assuming them out of necessity – because at least you know what it feels like, smells like, looks like, in that sacred space free from them.
To me, many short trips do not equal a long continuous one. I realise that people who travel frequently do not necessarily understand this experience that long-term world travellers understand. It’s because short vacations often don’t allow you to fully shed these labels and roles, especially if you are traveling with loved ones.
You need to fall off the grid completely for a time. But if you can’t afford that luxury, then do a solo trip, or choose to get off social media completely.
One thing I’m learning: You can’t expect to experience something different – something life changing or liberating – if you keep doing the same thing, over and over again. You need to do something different.
And if travel is rebellion in its purest form, then I’d say rebel at least once in your life. You never know till you take that leap of faith!