What to Expect Your First Time

‘Firsts’ are a pretty big deal in most peoples’ lives. I can certainly remember many of mine, though in all honesty, there are a few I wish I could forget. We are part of a culture that likes to relive the past or think ahead to the future, and as a result, milestone events have become pretty damn important to us.

In my opinion, we put future events on the pedestal and allow them to consume our minds and dreams. More often than not, we worry about our next big thing… Too often we build it up in our minds, and suddenly, what we thought would be a defining moment in our lives pre-maturely flops! But we’re not going to go there, that is a conversation for another time and place.

What we do want to share is the one mind blowing ‘first’ that does live up to all the hype, dreams and stories. It is sure to exceed all expectations once you let go of everything you think you know and just embrace the hell out of it. And no, we aren’t talking about sex. Can you guess what we’re talking about now?

We’re a travel company— hopefully that gave you a clue—so one of the more widely lived out realities is the moment you arrive at your very first little dive hostel, down some crowded street in your very first foreign country, all alone with a slight pang of fear in your stomach; a long fucking way from home. You’ve been thinking about this trip for 6 months or maybe even a year, but you don’t even know what wanderlust is yet, this is country NUMERO UNO! The world as they say, is your oyster.

You go to check in, put your bag down and well friends that is where this story begins…

I was still wearing ripped blue jeans and a sweater. It was 32 degrees with 100% humidity in the streets of Bangkok for god’s sake – but I’d been too overwhelmed to change at the airport.   The overpriced taxi cab (I hadn’t experienced tuk tuks yet) dropped me off at the mouth of Kho San Road, and it was there I stood, jaw resting on the grimy streets, back pack in a white knuckle grip. This place looked like Vegas during a world fair, potentially on the precipice of a riot…or maybe that’s just how I felt on the inside.

 Mount Popa, Myanmar. From the KOSAN archives. 

Market stalls filled with deep fried bugs, the sweet smell of cooking meats and fish oil wafting through the air. An orchestra of conversations – friendly faces, determined faces, savage faces. Not to mention a fair few man buns.

 Mount Popa, Myanmar. From the KOSAN archives. 

Next thing you know, a Scottish lass and British fella pull up in a cab behind me. They stand a few steps behind me in what I can only assume is the same awe-inspired trance I myself am in. Suddenly I realize I didn’t have a place to stay and a thought crosses my mind, I should ask them where they are staying.

I think you know where this story goes… we all share a hostel room, go get a beer and Pad Thai. We share stories of where we come from, how we ended up here, we meet a few more people along the way and the next thing you know, we’re shooting snake’s blood in a back alley of a back alley, and by the end of night, the old me has died a small death. A re-birth was happening.

Sure, many a re-birth has happened at the bottom of a bottle of SangSom Thai whiskey. But if you “feel it” the next day when the jet the leg is actually kicking in and you can’t stop staring with big shiny eyes at absolutely everything, even a conversation with local shaking you down for a few extra bhat is more liberating than any lecture you can recall. You may be onto something.

It was Eckhart Tolle who said, “ The secret to life is you must die before you die” – I actually read that on my second backpacking trip and I think he was talking about letting go of the ego, the perception of self that has been developing from a young age based on experiences and how people see us and interact with us. Images, memories, impressions, beliefs even down to your attire—the blue jeans and black sweater– this whole entire physical and mental profile that we allow define us. But to die before you die is to realize you are not only defined by these physical attributes.

Now, let’s back peddle a bit before we go too deep down the rabbit hole, and simply say that the sooner we let go of the what we thought we knew and “give in” to the unknown and wild path we are now on, we’ll feel more alive than ever. We will be able to discover our true authentic self who is only just starting to understand the depth of our being, purpose and place.

So now that you’re out here, ponder away. If you’re entitled to anything at all in life, it’s the right to sit back, enjoy a cold one and think. That will never get old. It’s thinking we have the answers to everything that gets old (or provokes redundancy), and even though each new town, country, person you meet can evoke that “pondering” emotion in you, it may never be as powerful as those first few days. So soak it while you can, like the setting of a South Pacific Sun.

Thailand. From the KOSAN archives.

As for me, I always enjoyed the irony that traveling is quite possibly the one true experience that gives you that Startrek vibe of “Go where no man has gone before”. To me, it is one of the most deeply meaningful aspects of travel. The funny thing is, in actuality, this isn’t the case at all and you will not be discovering some new place no one has been before. There will always been someone else who has seen, done or shared the same experience you have, which is really so damn beautiful, if you think about it. In our world where we travel similar paths, we often do not take the time to celebrate these shared aspects of human experience. But we as travelers do because we get it – it’s the travellers bond.

Halong Bay, Vietnam. From the KOSAN archives. 

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