life lessons learned traveling, part v

by Holly on April 6, 2011

in seriousness,travel

On September 1, 2007, I boarded a plane bound for Bangkok, Thailand, unaware of just how much the next 8 months would change my life.

I was nervous.

I was going to teach English to 1st graders in Thailand.

I was excited.

I was going to travel my strong, independent self around Southeast Asia.

I was terrified.

I was going to run away from my seemingly carefree 22-year-old life, which had, unbeknownst to most people, broken into a pile of shattered glass. That pile of glass had once resembled a shiny, glossy mirror but after a bad break-up (and quite frankly, a bad relationship), had shattered into painful shards that cut my life into a rather sad, dark place.

Despite the deepening sadness, I arrived in Bangkok and put on a good face.

Inside however, I was struggling just to make it through the day.

I cried. A lot.

I kept talking to my ex-boyfriend regularly on the phone.

I laid on my cartoon sheets at night thinking, “Where the hell am I and how did I get here?”

I trapped myself in a self-preserving cocoon of loneliness and kept from doing fun things like going out, meeting new people and ENJOYING my living abroad experience. Instead, I relegated my normally extroverted self to weekly pedicures, foot massages + outings to the local market and spending far too much time in Internet cafes pondering (and over-pondering) life’s meaning in search of some semblance of happiness. All usually alone.

Besides Mama Everythingtarian + some of my best friends, not many people knew what I was going through. I can be a really good actress when I need to be, if I do say so myself.

I kept laughing, even if on the inside I didn’t feel like it.

Then, in a fateful turn of events, a new teacher from New York arrived at my school.

And perfectly placed in my life was a person who liked me. Who treated me well and with respect. Who I had things in common with. Who I laughed with. Who I could talk to. Who challenged me. Who fought through my “I’ll-carry-the-bag-myself-because-I-am-an-independent-woman-of-the-21st-century” self to grab my bag and respond, “Why can’t you let anyone do anything nice for you? Give me the bag, and stop being so god damn stubborn.”

That shut me up.

And honestly, that is not an easy thing to do.

Slowly but surely, after his grand December arrival, I started to regain the sense of self-confidence I had completely lost in my previous relationship. I looked to him for help, but more importantly, he helped me help myself. I ventured out a bit more. I went out drinking a couple times. I stopped talking to my ex-boyfriend. I opened myself up to the people around me. I allowed myself to have fun. I even made friends with a dog.

Yes, things were still complicated in my life.

But somehow, for the first time in a more than a year, I felt hopeful.

Then, the universe somehow figured how I had found hope and sought to test me on it.

In the span of one month, I ended things with my ex-boyfriend (one word: messy), found out I had an infected sebaceous cyst, had three surgeries (one under anesthesia) to drain the infected cyst, visited the doctor everyday for three weeks straight, found out my school never submitted my health insurance information, got a case of the worst bedbugs known to man and declared January 2008 the worst start to a year. Ever.

But ya know what?

I made it through.

What didn’t kill me (having two McGyver-style surgeries in sketchy back rooms of Thai hospitals with doctors that barely spoke English) only made me stronger (and $1500 poorer when I finally paid out of pocket at a decent, English-speaking hospital for the final surgery).

In my last two months in Thailand, I made a list of all the things I wanted to do before I left.

I took weekend trips to Ayutthaya and Lopburi.

I took a Thai cooking class.

I visited the Grand Palace, Kanchanaburi and learned how to barter with tuk tuk drivers for free rides (hint: let them bring you to tourist shops in exchange for a fee-free lift). Most excitedly, I planned a two week vacation before I headed back stateside, which included a week of solo traveling through the tropical islands of Southern Thailand.

And, because I truly believe Mama Everythingtarian when she says, “What goes around, comes around,” my final night in Thailand was spent with the person who helped me more than he will ever know and who I adore more than he will ever realize (probably because I’m too hard-headed to ever actually admit this to him).

After almost 24 hours of travel, I arrived back in Wisconsin.

Hugged the people I love most in the world.

Started taking care of myself and taking pride in who I am.

And somehow, things started to fall in place.

That’s not to say I haven’t gone through my fair share of stress, heartache and tough times since then or that I’ve magically come to accept myself wholly and completely for who I am. I am continually striving to be okay with who I am – always have, probably always will.

But I realized that I am so much stronger than I ever give myself credit for.

Most likely, so are you.

And that is the most important life lesson I learned in Thailand.

part iv

part iii

part ii

part i


Amber April 6, 2011 at 9:42 pm

you are amazing my dear girl. Just think how much stronger you are because of all the things you have been through and done.

Liz April 6, 2011 at 9:45 pm

I loved this post! thanks for getting me through my week, your reminders are things we all think we know and yet never remember… you are awesome :)

Beth @ Beth's Journey to Thin April 6, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Wow Holly what an amazing post. You are such an incredible person, and getting to meet you a few weeks ago made me SO happy. It’s so easy to get caught up in your own head and let the things going in your life bring you down, but I can say from the outside that it’s hard to believe someone as amazing as you ever struggled with self confidence or not knowing your own strength!

Erica April 6, 2011 at 9:53 pm

awwwwwww! You must tell him! This is one of my most favorite posts of yours!!

Kristie April 6, 2011 at 10:00 pm

This is beautiful (well, maybe not the cyst + surgeries part) Holly. So glad that teacher from NY knocked some sense into your gorgeous, kick-ass head ;).

Susan April 6, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Beautiful. And further proof that out pain and struggle comes amazing growth.

Danielle April 6, 2011 at 11:00 pm

You are one of the most incredible beings I know. Thank you for being you, for being so strong and amazing that you allow yourself experiences such as the one above and come out better than ever before. I’m so grateful to call you my friend :).

Lauren April 6, 2011 at 11:04 pm

This is a beautiful post :)

I actually have my BA in Art History and I chose to spend most of my time learning about Thai and Indian Art History! Sadly, I have not been to Thailand or India but someday I will make it over there.

Who did you work for? My life is sounding like how yours was and I would love to go and do something like this….

Brenna [fabuleuxdestin] April 7, 2011 at 2:08 am

That’s so cool – I’m teaching English in France now. A lot of experiences I’ve had here make me think – if I can do this, what can’t I do?

Adam April 7, 2011 at 2:54 am

This was one of the greatest things I have read this year. Nope, it is THE greatest! It is so weird but I feel like I can relate to your travels and life-situations pretty closely! You are obviously a strong, wise individual for all that you have gone through, and making it through to come out with such strength has made you the funny, warm-hearted, outrageous person you are today! You are truly an inspiration to a lot of people, and I am proud to call myself one of them, I only hope that in a few years I will be able to look back on my life as a 22 year old with as much admiration and respect for myself as you do now. You da best.

Jen April 7, 2011 at 5:33 am

You are amazing and I love this post!!!

Lauren April 7, 2011 at 6:00 am

This is one of the most beautiful posts I’ve read from you.

Gillian April 7, 2011 at 6:51 am

This is such a beautiful story. You are so brave and strong and this seems like such an adventure. I’ve always dreamed of travelling Asia and teaching there! I love what happens when you open your heart.

your auntie April 7, 2011 at 7:03 am

a beautiful work in progress!

Madeline - Greens and Jeans April 7, 2011 at 7:22 am

Love love love. That is all.

Chris April 7, 2011 at 7:30 am

WOW. Best. Post. Ever.


Katie April 7, 2011 at 7:35 am

Hey, you’re kind of amazing! This was so well written. It’s funny how (for me) stepping out of my comfort zone is usually really scary, but that’s when the most progress is made – ya know? Big hugs, girl. xoxo

Kaleigh April 7, 2011 at 8:04 am

You are pure awesome.

Ashley @ 365 things April 7, 2011 at 8:12 am

How cool! Thanks for sharing that. I hope one day to travel overseas. Sounds like your trip taught you a lot about yourself. Thats what traveling does. :)

Lauren @chigallauren April 7, 2011 at 9:08 am

Thanks not only for writing such an inspiring post, but for also posting it. I’ve recently written a very personal post about hardships earlier in my life but have been struggling about whether or not to post it. Your post has inspired me to take the plunge and put myself out there, in hopes that awesome readers like yours will find my post and be inspired as well! So happy your experience helped you realized what a strong, awesome woman you are!

Stephanie@MyThornsHaveRoses April 7, 2011 at 9:23 am

What an amazing woman you are! This was more inspiring than watching Eat Pray Love for 40 hours of my life. Seriously…this post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I made a big decision today and my actions here on out are truly going to test my strength. Thanks for the reminder that I have it.

Mackenzie @ Whatever, Gatsby April 7, 2011 at 9:57 am

this is why i adore you. you’re aware in your stubbornness. i think stubborn can be good and bad, but that kind of stubborn is the best sort. it means you’re open to possibilities but still relentless in getting your way. i’m with you on that one, soul sister :) i’ve had my fair share of nasty travel experiences too, and i think each one helps you gradually open your heart to their possibilities and that’s the beauty of it to me :)

is it also bad that i really hope you meet up with that thailand man that helped you see the light so you guys could totes live happily ever after? ’cause i do. and i’m stubbornly proclaiming that. so there.

grace b April 7, 2011 at 11:31 am

Holly I absolutely love your blog and this post is amazing.

Thank you for reminding me that we are always stronger than we think we are. And that big adventures are never negotiable.


Sami April 7, 2011 at 11:46 am

this is absolutely my favorite post in the world. <3 you are so awesome.

chelsey @ clean eating chelsey April 7, 2011 at 11:56 am

Absolutely amazing. You are so worldly! I cannot even imagine how awesome of an experience that trip must have been.

Shady surgery though? Yikes!

Angharad April 7, 2011 at 12:58 pm

This was beautiful. I’m glad to know that we have in common going through Thai hospital-stays and experiences in the vein of “what doesn’t kill you..etc”.

Love this.

hippierunner April 7, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Wonderful! Thanks for sharing this! :)

Kate April 7, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Holly- on a day where I feel like I’m living more of the ‘rough’ part of life, I so appreciate this post and your honesty.

Love it.

Elizabeth April 7, 2011 at 2:01 pm

This is FANTASTIC and I can relate 100%!!! Going through the rough stuff, the adventures, the tears, the smiles and laughs has made life that much better. Life is GOOD. Every struggle, every failure makes the successes SO sweet. We are challenged so that we can be the very best we can be. Keep smiling Holly!! :)

kelly April 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm

What an inspiring post.

Gavi @ Gavi Gets Going! April 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm

You are an inspiring, lovely, talented person. Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts and writing.

Megan (Braise the Roof) April 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Oh, and you lived through the crazy ants in your apartment! I think that part actually WOULD have killed me after I threw myself out of the window. ;) Such a great post- I heart you.

amanda April 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm

this is, to date, my fave healthy E post. like no joke. it’s amazing how much packing up and going to another country can teach you, eh? i am envious about your teaching abroad. i’ve thought LONG and HARD about doing such a thing after college. but i couldn’t find a program i truly felt connected to. i volunteered in Ecuador for a few weeks in college and it was the most mind blowing experience ever. i can’t even imagine the beauty it would be after 8 months.

the bed bugs part freaks me out. and so does scary surgeries in not so pretty hospitals. but that sassy picture of you at the end goes to show you’re a rockstar that can make it through even the toughest of things! even a rotten ex in the usofa.


Alex @ IEatAsphalt April 7, 2011 at 5:07 pm

I wish that I could find the words to tell you how much I needed to read this.

Lauren April 7, 2011 at 8:08 pm

best post ever, lady. I’m going to study abroad soon and this gave me chills!!!

Amy B @ Second City Randomness April 7, 2011 at 8:54 pm

You are wonderful.

It’s hard being somewhere new. There are all kinds of ups and downs involved. Thank you for this post. It not only explains that, but is proof you can relax and love the ride…

caitlin April 8, 2011 at 7:48 am

Wow- this is an amazing post! You are a very strong women and so inspirational :) Im glad everything has worked out for the best. I wish only the best for you!
:) Happy Friday!

Michelle @ A Voracious Appetite April 8, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Thanks so much for sharing this! It must be hard to put yourself out there but you’ve learned that it can have amazing results. You’re so strong and inspiring. Great post girl!

Kristen - Anywhere There's An Airport April 8, 2011 at 2:30 pm

There are no words. You are inspiring!

Sarah (Running To Slow Things Down) April 9, 2011 at 6:07 am

Wow. You are so awesome, Holly. Thank you for your open, honest posts. This was so beautifully written and you’ve officially given me the travelers bug.

Mallory April 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm

random thoughts whilst (totes underused word if you ask me) reading this post:
… wow, my thoughts exactly (except for the part about thailand… and southeast asia) as I was leaving for scotland
… so, I’m not the only level-headed, smart chica who let (lets..) a not-so-good ex stay in her life, despite knowing he’s a not-so-good kinda guy?
… DUDE. giraffe. thisclose to her face.
… yep, i’m liking the sounds of this guy
… thumbs down for sketchy medical experiences :/
… aww, tell him!
… you ARE strong, and pretty kick-ass if I do say so myself.
… how bout i start thinking the same thing about myself?


Katia April 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Wow! I love you’re blog, you’re amazing!
I usually don’t comment but this post was truly inspirational :)

emily April 24, 2011 at 10:52 am

Oh, Holly. So I’m admittedly a bit…okay, really far behind on the everthingtarian and catching up over coffee on this Easter morning. I just love you. Everything from learning to say no (I just did it, for the first time to a freelance opportunity, and it almost caused me physical pain — I’m really bad) to this incredible story of transformation. The story of my early 20’s also has some deeply painful parts and is saturated with travel, and reading this had tears falling down my cheeks in recognition — but not sadness, just the immensity of the feeling, the power of transformation, being able to sit here now and look back at a pain that in the moment I thought would never end. And let me just say, I know a lot of girls, and there are not many who can hang out by themselves on a Saturday morning, and cook for themselves and dance with themselves and look in the mirror and love themselves. Of course its never constant, we all have our fears, but you truly seem like one of those women, and the personal journey it takes to get there is. not. easy. And I think you’re amazing.

so yeah, that was a novel. proud to know you!

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