I arrived by bus around noon, walked up to the airport counter, and said, “I’d like to get on the next Jetstar flight to Singapore. I saw online that there’s one at 2:30, but it’s too late to buy it on their website. Where can I buy my ticket?”
The response I received was a wall of blank stares by all three of the information desk customer service team members. A few moments later, one of them said, “You don’t have a ticket?”
“No” I replied, “I want to buy one now.”
It turns out, Jetstar does not sell their tickets at the Phuket International Airport in Thailand. I had to buy one online, and it wasn’t the 2:3o flight. Unfortunately, I was going to have to wait for six hours for the following flight in an airport consisting of one small gift shop, a Dunkin’ Donuts (which I was excited to see because it had been nearly a year since I’d been to one), and a Subway sandwich shop. I read a lot, sat on a few different benches, and ate a sandwich.
So, how did this happen?
I flew to Southeast Asia from Australia in January. I planned to meet a friend in Bali to spend five days there and five days in Thailand. We had it planned months in advance, and then I didn’t know what would happen after she left.
After the initial plan was created, another friend of mine told me that she was thinking of booking a flight to Thailand for about ten days at the end of January into February. She wanted to go to Phuket and the surrounding islands. My first thought was, “am I still going to be in Thailand at that point?” but instead of expressing that, I said, sure, book it, I can stick around. Meanwhile, I figured I could always move on if it was too much time in Thailand for me, but I didn’t think much further into it (and I didn’t think to tell her that I had this thought). I had a lot of other plans between then and the trip to SE Asia, so I wasn’t planning much further out other then the plan to meet her in Phuket.
Fast forward to after my first friend left Thailand and I was there alone: I ended up going to Ko Tao with someone I had met at the Full Moon Party. From there, I went back to Ko Samui. I was feeling pretty exhausted already from all the bouncing around. I had been all around Bali, to Bangkok, Ko Samui, Ko Phanang, back to Koh Samui, to Ko Tao, and back to Ko Samui already, and I hadn’t even flown to meet my other friend yet. This had all been in a matter of two and a half weeks, so I had covered a lot of ground in a short time.
When we met up, we realized that Patong Beach was one hell of a place, and I don’t mean that in a nice way. It was worse than Bangkok as far as the in-your-face sex trafficking of young girls and people trying to force you into buying things every step you took. That part of the island was a sad, disgusting place (in my opinion) and we decided to get out of there ASAP. We went to Ko Phi Phi, which was an island we both wanted to see. When we got there, we ended up taking a hotel room with no AC, just a fan. I thought it would be fine because I stayed in another place like that on another island, but this place had no ventilation. There was no escaping the heat. We were out in it all day and then could hardly sleep at night.
I started to realize that I wasn’t up for everything that my friend wanted to do, and it was stressing me out. I had spent a lot more money than I expected during the first two weeks in SE Asia, and I REALLY wanted to go to Vietnam and Cambodia still. I also wanted to get back to Melbourne to work on the business that I started prior to the trip, and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Since my friend was on vacation, she wanted to do a lot more than I had energy for. Now, I know that traveling is vacation as well, but because I was doing it full time, it didn’t feel quite the same. I needed more down time and was moving at a slower place. I had already been at it for awhile before she arrived (even before SE Asia I had been traveling around Western Australia), so I was having trouble keeping up. I felt bad not wanting to do everything since she came to travel with me. I was in a tricky situation: do I leave like I want to and go see the other countries I came to see, or do I keep going so as not to leave her, even though this isn’t what I want to do right now?
I wasn’t interested in seeing the other islands right then. It was expensive to take the boats from one place to another, and crazy as it may sound, I was kind of islanded-out. I started looking into flights to other places just to get an idea, but I really didn’t know what to do.
After a day feeling sea-sick on a boat tour that I wasn’t really up for and a bunch of drinks that night, I had a breakdown. I reacted like an idiot and wished I had expressed my feelings sooner instead of letting it all build up for so long. I explained everything: that I never really expected to stay in Thailand for all that time, that I felt like I wasn’t interested in doing the same things, that my current travel situation was at a slower pace than the vacation-pace that I was trying to keep up with, and that I felt really terrible, but I wanted to leave.
Leaving a friend in a foreign country alone is a pretty mean thing to do, but I guess my perspective at the time was that I wanted to make sure I was taking care of myself as well. I was so used to traveling on my own during that time that going with friends was a big adjustment of compromise that I was struggling with.
During that talk, my friend, through her reaction, reminded me of how great she is by being understanding of how I was feeling. She wasn’t particularly happy that I was leaving her since she had the expectation that we were on this trip together, but she supported my need to do what I felt I had to do.
The other factor in all of this was this weird problem that I was having with my eyes. For weeks, I wasn’t able to wear my contacts. Every time I went to put them in, I had a burning in my eyes like never before. They turned red and I couldn’t even open them. I was really starting to worry. I couldn’t wear sunglasses which was killing me in the sun, and trying to snorkel blind was not so fun.
After consulting my relative doctor, I was even more scared about potential issues such as corneal ulcers or some other horrible infection that I didn’t even know existed before I spoke to her. I needed to see an eye doc, but I didn’t know how that would go in Thailand. I figured, if anywhere, I could maybe see one in Singapore.
Not long after the talk with my friend, we packed up our stuff and while she took a boat to another island, I went back to Phuket. That’s how I ended up at the airport, and that’s how I ended up eventually getting on a flight and seeking refuge in the lovely city-state of Singapore. I spent three nights resting, enjoying the comforts of AC and a culture that felt more familiar than anywhere else I had been since Australia. I took a slow pace of seeing a few sights in the area, but mostly I stayed in my comfy hostel bed. I went to an eye doctor, and it turned out I just had the most severe case of dry eyes that I had ever experienced. I had bought drops in Thailand, but apparently they were only making things worse. I got a prescription and was on my way. (Later I bought prescription sunglasses which really helped with every bit of the problem… Vietnam is the best place to buy glasses and all things North Face!).
I thought a lot about what I had done, and I was praying that nothing would happen to my friend who wasn’t as used to solo travel at the time, especially not in a place so different than where we’re from.
I got myself together in Singapore and planned my next move, which was to Vietnam, and thankfully, my friend seemed to enjoy the rest of her time in Thailand.
After that trip, I was really nervous about traveling with people. Sure, I met people all the time while I was traveling, but since we met while we were on our own paths, we could always separate and it was no big deal. As for arranging things together, I was worried that my selfish ways were going to interfere with making plans with people that I used to love traveling with. Luckily, this proved wrong when I tried it again in New Zealand with a different friend, but I realize now that communication in travel plans, as with everything, is the only way to make it work. Expectations need to be spoken about before plans are made, and that was my big mistake.
I made some unfortunate decisions then, last year, but I’m happy to say I’m still friends with everyone, though I don’t know if they’re as willing to travel with me as before. I’m happy to see that my friend has been on multiple solo trips since then which is wonderful.
Though I’m no longer traveling full time, I continue to do most travel on my own. I like the flexibility. I have gotten better, though, at planning and compromising – at least I think!
I may never again arrive at an airport without a ticket, but I hope if I do, it’s for a fun and spontaneous reason rather than a somewhat desperate fleeing out of a country that I needed a break from. And, from my mistake with my friend, I now know how to better communicate about expectations before signing up for something without thinking it all the way through.