I am not someone who lets go easily. My masseuse has said on more than one occasion—through a held-in chuckle—“It’s amazing, your shoulders are just one solid stress brick of muscle.” It’s not that I’m anti-spontaneity. I can go with the flow, as long as I have a general sense of where the flow is heading.
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Now imagine how far from Zen I strayed when my perfectly planned backpacking trip through Thailand crumbled as I sat lost on a river without a paddle. Literally.
An unchecked box on my bucket list for as long as I could remember, I’d imagined this trip to Thailand a thousand times. But from the very beginning, nothing went at all like I’d hoped. Originally booked as a trip for three, life happened and Thailand became a solo vacation for the last eight days. Things unraveled from there.
From public transportation running hours late, to losing my GoPro while scuba diving, to arriving at my Airbnb in a remote mountain town to discover they never received my reservation—and the last room unoccupied was an open thatched-roof eco-hut, ironically the night before a storm was to hit. Cue Alanis Morissette. (On the plus side, I did get to experience a 100 percent organic mountain mist facial to start my day at 6 a.m.)
It shouldn’t have surprised me when I learned the bus I planned to take to the next major city no longer existed. As fate would have it, the only way to arrive in time for my flight was to catch a four-hour bus ride north, where I then paid a random man who didn’t speak English thousands of baht to take me to Chiang Rai via river on his long tail boat.
It was on this boat ride, sitting on wooden planks that made my butt sore for days afterward, where I started laughing hysterically. To my “captain” I’m sure this appeared completely insane. Yet, I couldn’t help it; the cosmos were determined to change all of my carefully thought-out plans, and it was just so damn funny. I gave a tip of the hat to Murphy for predicting this decades before my time. I had absolutely no control, and as I sat there speeding down the Mae Kok River, somewhere around hour two, a tiny miracle transpired. I let go.
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Not of the boat, but of the stress and the plans and the expectations of what I thought this trip was “supposed to be like.” As I looked around, what I saw changed. The moment, though admittedly less than ideal, was given a chance to be something special once I stopped comparing it to the day written in my itinerary. And I confess that the boat ride I never should have been on became a highlight of my trip.
Taught from a young age the importance of planning ahead, we often create this mental blueprint of how we imagine our lives should go… Graduate from a good university (go, Bruins!), land a job and work hard to advance year after year, maybe find a partner, marry, adopt a dog, buy a house… It’s a beautiful notion. Until you step back and find you’ve been killing yourself for the sake of staying the course, and perhaps you missed the riverboat detour that could have been an experience of a lifetime. Flexibility is something you need to practice in more than your weekly yoga class. Allowing yourself to stray from your blueprint will open a world of doors you never would have known to knock on had you not found yourself lost down a dead-end alley to begin with.
Although my trip to Thailand wasn’t what I wanted, it seems to have been everything I needed. Because when you can finally let go—whether from a job you wanted and didn’t get, a dream that hasn’t happened yet, a person, etc.—you’re no longer weighted down. And without shouldering all of that extra stress, you’ll feel like laughing for no reason. You’ll feel free.
So if you’ve never been graced with the wonderful inconvenience of finding yourself utterly lost in Thailand, I recommend you update your typhoid vaccine and give it a go. Things don’t always work out the way we plan, but that doesn’t mean things won’t work themselves out. (Did I mention an anonymous diver found my GoPro somewhere at the bottom of the Pacific, and it was returned to me just minutes before I boarded my ferry to leave the island?) Sometimes when things go wrong, the best you can do is let go, make peace with your Buddha offering and wait to see what the tide brings you back in return. What washes onto your shore next may just surprise you.
Megan Nicole O’Neal is a writer with a passion for storytelling, traveling and whenever possible, mixing the two. The UCLA alum lives in Los Angeles; more specifically westside coffee shops with equally strong wifi and dark roasts. Connect with Megan on Twitter at @megan_n_onealor her website mnoneal.com.