Why I (A GIRL!?!) Went to Cambodia Alone for a Month

You know how some people are afraid of commitment? I don’t have any problem with commitment. I think it comes naturally if it’s right, and then it turns regular magic into some new kind of beautiful. That’s not where this is going. I am afraid of co-dependence, which can be a side effect of commitment. Co-dependence scares me because everything in this world is temporary, and relying on someone else too much without taking the time to realize that you are an individual capable of providing everything inside and out for yourself means that there will come a time that you will be destroyed. DESTROYED. Do you like being destroyed? I don’t. I can handle it, but I’ve started taking some preventative measures as I inch further into real adulthood.

I’m not saying I don’t dive into love like a dolphin, I do. I love love, especially when it appears in its misty mystic way. But the bubble life, the one where you lose your identity in your relationship, that’s what I’m calling co-dependence, and that scares me. In response, I decided to go to Cambodia for awhile. I had been spending so much time with my boyfriend, and I was loving it so much, it scared me. So, reason number one: I needed to reaffirm to myself that being swept away by love was not altering my ability to function in society as an independent human. I highly recommend this method of dealing with unwanted co-dependence. I missed him a lot, especially because I was alone, traveling in a country that derives its values and functions from an entirely different system of thought than where I’m from, not to mention speaks a language that I can neither read nor comprehend in any way whatsoever. But, it’s important to miss the person you love sometimes. It helps you realize that missing someone is something you’re able to handle in a variety of ways, like meeting new people and spending all night with them at a beach party to watch the sun rise and turn the island paradise world purple for an hour, like looking inside yourself for the answers and realizing that they’re in there, like putting faith into humanity and the kindness of strangers, like finding real value in the beauty you see in front of you—the jungle waterfalls, the turquoise glass sea, the views perched from a rock after riding a scooter to the top of a mountain, without having to share it with anyone.  It’s easy to forget that you don’t need anyone next to you to feel the weight and joy in beauty.

I also went because I had never been there before, and I wanted to spend some time alone in a new place where I knew no one, to see what happened to me. I was a little bit scared, I suppose. I read about not drinking draft beer in Southeast Asia because of the chances of getting drugged. I read about how guys treat scantily clad women. I read about being kidnapped, about the permissiveness of rape comparatively to where I’m from (which at this point I’m seeing as questionable), I read about gastrointestinal issues and Dengue and blablabla. But everything is always different than it appears on the internet.  I’m going to say it again, because this is so hard to staple down inside: everything is always different than it appears on the internet. This I’ve learned myself. So, it was cool to read about the issues other people have come across, just to know them, but I wasn’t scared of any of that stuff. At no point did I feel like my life was going to be in danger, because I wouldn’t put myself in danger, and I would make decisions on what to do when those decisions were upon me. For instance, I opted out of hiking across Koh Rong, a Cambodian jungle island inhabited by King Cobras, because the nearest medical care was hours away, and the idea of an amputated leg wasn’t worth the risk. Set me on a white sand beach with my book, instead. Set me floating face up on the still surface of the Gulf of Thailand, breathing thick forests and humid salty air.

What happened to me is that sometimes I was lonely. One night, in a treehouse, in a tiny river village called Kampot, I lay in my bed crying because I suddenly felt so alone. Why? Weeks of traveling on planes and trains and buses by myself, meeting people that could fleetingly keep me company, but never enough time to get comfortable, perhaps it adds up into a night like this. I tried to distract myself, but no one in the guesthouse wanted to mingle with me that night. The light in my treehouse was not working. I was in the middle of nowhere, in a treehouse, in the thick forest, in the dark, and it was raining. So I just cried myself to sleep.

In the morning, around 7am, I started off on foot down a road in the direction of a hostel I’d heard rumors about from other travelers, because I would not have another consecutive night like this. I arrived, and they had a bed for me, and a hike to a waterfall with a local expat was scheduled to leave in an hour. Wow, right? The smallest amount of action can change the game so much. So I felt ok about my previous night, because being lonely is its own kind of magic, especially in retrospect 🙂 It’s in loneliness that we reach a destination that is as full of mystic strangeness as love. I felt even more ok that I found my way out of the loneliness with some simple problem-solving. I already have seen that I can do this. Doing it again felt more like reaffirmation. Yes, you can be alone and do more than just survive, you can figure out how to make your time, wherever you are, experientially rich, Jessica. You’re good at this, remember?

Why was it so important to me to take this trip alone? I guess thematically here, it might already be clear. I take my independence seriously. I like to make it hard on myself sometimes so that when shit gets for real scary, I might have the intelligence and power to get out of it. Also, it forces me to interact with more people. If I am lonely, my only option is to be outgoing and find someone to talk to. The more people I talk to, the higher chance I’ll have a really cool connection with someone, or I’ll learn something really cool from them. It could be anything. Traveling alone is the only way to optimize this experience. There is nothing to fall back on but yourself: your personality, your skills, your ability to adapt. You learn what makes you uncomfortable, what’s easy, how you cope, how you find ways to chill in the face of total newness and overwhelm. And I think that once you know all of this stuff about yourself, you open extra spaces to learn about the world around you. You are not the center of the universe, not even close. Life across the globe is probably super different from anything that you are used to, and knowing that, living it for awhile, understanding it from the inside, makes you a better person for your ability to feel genuine compassion and respect for the vast variety of cultural ideologies that exist.

One really quick example of this is grocery shopping. I am from the US, where massive grocery stores with shelves filled with 30 kinds of ketchup and whole aisles filled with cereal varieties are the norm. But it’s not like this in Barcelona, where I live. It’s not like this in Cambodia, where I just spent a month. And while I may have found this frustrating at one time (because I’m from a place where I can have what I want whenever I want it, pretty much), it’s now liberating. Having limited options means spending less time deciding which ketchup to buy, because there might just be one or two available—which invariably means more time to spend doing anything else. I LOVE THIS. I don’t love spending time in fluorescently lit mega grocery stores. I love sitting on the porch and watching the rain with my friend or my dog. I love listening to music in the dark. I love singing loudly into the fan. What at one time felt stifling, now truly feels like a blessing, a new kind of freedom. It’s not just something to say. It really feels different living and understanding something so basic like this.

But aside from the differences, you know what is really amazing? To really get it that despite all these varieties in culture and ways of life, that people are always just people. Teenagers are mopey and pouty and smart-assy everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Cambodia or Spain or the USA, you’re probably having semi-frequent existential crises if you are between the ages of 18 and 35. Somebody in Cambodia is just as obsessed with cycling as they are in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Don’t forget that. Maybe if I hadn’t been traveling alone, I wouldn’t have met so many people to remind me of this. I met them, I hung with them, I drank beers on beaches and in parks and on balconies under the sun and under the moon and in the rain and talked and talked and talked until sleep took over, and I feel lucky to have been traveling alone and pushed and moved to connect with these people from everywhere, to place this solid truth in my heart, that a human is a human is a human, the end.

The last really cool thing, definitely individual to me in my own right, but relatable in other ways as people use travel for their art, is that I have lots of new international episodes of Sex on Sundaze resulting from my trip. To me, this is phenomenal for so many reasons, the first of which is sharing poetry with more people!!! And the second is that I needed to take the time to get to know my subjects in a way close enough that I could write a poem on them. I loved it, and I can’t wait for the coming weeks when all the fruits of this labor will post.

And as a female, I want to reinforce that this type of traveling is in no way limited to males. Be smart, that’s all, male or female. My dad always says, keep your wits about you, and be safe out there.  I think that’s all I’ve ever really needed. I stay aware, and I evaluate risks accordingly. With those things, and it doesn’t matter your gender, you can do anything, go anywhere, without anyone else. I’m so happy I spent June alone (but not really alone) in Cambodia, to be reassured that I’m an independent person not absorbed in a bubble of love, even though I’m so in love, to have furthered my understanding of life in Southeast Asia, to have gained a handful of new friends and ideas and philosophies. To be home in Barcelona, where I have fallen in love again with the feeling of home.