A Bali Fortnight – Groundhog Day, but in a good way

Getting sidelined with a cold pulled me out of my dreamy Bali tunnel vision. For the past two plus weeks, I’ve done almost the same thing every day and it’s been a great fortnight – possibly the best I’ve ever had. It doesn’t feel like real life at this point. My Groundhog Day existence looks like this (but subsitute a frustrated Bill Murray for a happy Bill Murray):

  • Early Morning – Wake up with the sunrise, go jogging (or change my mind and sleep in), eat breakfast at my hostel, slather my body with multiple coats of 110 SPF sunscreen
  • Morning – Walk down to the beach, go surfing (see also: attempt to surf), hang out, drink coffee, go surfing again (continue wiping out), drink a fresh coconut
  • Late Afternoon – Head home, shower, maybe nap, go to a cafe/restaurant to eat and write
  • Evening – Go out for drinks or go to bed early – like 9 pm early – maybe eat yogurt and granola on my bed

Then I got sick, and suddenly I couldn’t do the things I’ve been doing for like 16 days straight. Stopping the routine made me realize that holy f, almost three weeks has passed and I have done WAY LESS than I planned on doing. I feel like I just got here. How did time fly by that fast? What happened!? I wanted to file way more stories, see way more places, try way more restaurants.

Even though my days aren’t filled with the sort of variety I predicted, one perk is that they have been filled with damn good meals. Indonesian food is a dream; it’s so good that I haven’t missed Thai food yet. One of the dishes I’ve eaten is so incredible, I wrote about it for Vice.

Ok, so more reflecting on life after leaving Bangkok.

It has been interesting adjusting to backpack life. I thought that by packing 95% black clothing, it would be easier to wear the same thing all the time. Instead, I feel more like a gothic outfit repeater in a sea of Bali’s well-dressed beach goddesses.

All I want to do is surf or sit on the beach (go figure), so it’s harder than predicted to be proactive with my freelance work. By the time I do get to a cafe to write I’m exhausted from an active day in the sun.

Once I got sick, I had the chance to take a step back and reexamine my productivity game plan (aaaand see that something needs to change). As I recover from the cold, I’m trying out new routines to coax myself into working more while still soaking up ample beach time. (Insert quote here about life lessons or progress or something, idk)

So what next? I have about two weeks left in Bali until I fly to India where I’ll spend nearly three weeks stuffing my face with naan while simultaneously trying to avoid Delhi belly. Once I’m healthy, I imagine I’ll fall back into the surf-eat-surf-repeat routine until I wake up one morning and have to catch my flight. I booked a ticket back to Bali after India so I can come back and do more of the same, this time with my mom who will be visiting me again.

Freelance life: so far, so good.

Goodbye, Bangkok!

TL:DR – I quit my job and am leaving Bangkok to be a nomadic freelance writer around Southeast Asia. 

In something of a manic act of spontaneity, I decided to drop the nice little life I’ve built up here in Thailand. In June, I’ll officially swap stability for the great unknown. First stops in this new life as a roving freelancer: North Thailand, Cambodia, Bali, then India.

“Wait, what about your luxury perk-filled job?” “Wait, what about Thai food?” “Wait, what about your friends?”  “Wait, what about money?” “Wait, what the actual F are you doing?”

These may be some of the valid questions you have. This is the second time that I’ve made a snap decision to completely change my life in every way, throwing caution to the wind in one impulsive swoop.

Smart? Maybe not.

Big ol’ Bangkok

This step comes some 8 months after I moved to Bangkok, another relocation that required leaving behind a good thing I had going in San Francisco. The way I’ve been operating these past few years makes me feel like a crazy person. I go through quite a bit to get to a certain point in a career, then have an immediate change of heart. I set a bomb to detonate. I wipe the slate clean. I choose to fall to the bottom of the totem pole, to pass go and not collect $200.

There’s something sickly riveting to me about being dropped back at square one. I have always loved the challenge of finding a job, of overcoming the obstacles of starting fresh. With freelance writing, I get to do just that over and over again. There’s always someplace new to pitch, always a new goal to accomplish. I have to constantly impress editors to make sure they keep paying me to write.

With freelancing, I also don’t have to be a total asshole and quit a job when I get that extreme desire to bounce.

So the latest decision. Here’s what happened:

We (my mom and I) arrived in Bali on a Friday morning after I had just a few hours of sleep (thanks to staying up late freelancing and an early flight time). Even through my grogginess, I could tell that we had landed somewhere special.

LUSH BALI! 

I had been to plenty of Thai beach towns, but something about Bali just mesmerized me. I loved every part of it, even the part when it started to pour rain during a bike ride through Ubud. The island was so green and enchanting, so much more relaxing than the Bangkok grit. The food was great. The beach was great. The jungle was great. The people were great. The climate was great. The music was great. You get the idea.

The thought of leaving was unsettling.

Indonesian goodness

I decided that I needed to come back, and not for a weekend trip. Since vacation time in the real world is so limited, I realized that I’d need to leave my job to spend any real time in Bali. Over the next few days, I slowly made the choice to return to Bangkok, quit my job the following day, and fly back to the Indonesian island a month later.

The move means abandoning a truly fantastic job that I just started (a very f-ed up act on my part, and for doing that to my generous employer I feel horrible), but the idea of not moving feels worse.

Leaving the sweltering chaos of Bangkok a few weeks ago made me realize how exhausted I was. For nearly five months, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. I’d head to my day job (first at HotelQuickly, then Prestige Magazine), work all day, then go home to do freelance work most nights. On the weekends, I’d chase down stories, edit photos, and write more. Obviously there were many fun nights and weekends that weren’t straight work, but I was getting burnt out.

Nighttime in Bangkok 

Thanks to those months of hustling, I have a nice little chunk of change saved up to afford such a risky move (for a short amount of time at least). So that’s it. I’m taking that risk and saying goodbye to my safe life of routine. I’m pretty confident that I can support myself on my freelance salary (again, at least for a while).

To be honest, a huge motivator for the move is the idea of breaking free from a desk job. I know I must sound like a spoiled Millennial, but I cannot stand being at a desk all day. I feel like a dog on a leash, but more importantly I feel incredibly unhealthy. Rotting away at a desk stresses me out, my body gets rigid and I leave at the end of the day feeling like I need to cry or sprint down the street – and I would too, if it wasn’t so damn hot outside.

Typical Bangkok commute

The thought of leaving a desk job is so exciting to me that I can hardly contain myself. I keep picturing myself jogging down the beach in the morning, going surfing after, posting up at a cafe to write in the afternoon. It sounds like a dream, and one that isn’t too farfetched to make happen.

See also: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Even though the decision feels good and right, it’s also totally f-ing scary. It’s very possible that things won’t pan out, that I won’t be able to sustain the life financially, that it will be too exhausting to not have a permanent home base. I could fail and have to go crawling back to the United States. I could have my laptop stolen. I could come down with dengue fever. Who knows! The great unknown is terrifying.

Despite the fear, I’m taking the leap and doing it. I’m sad to leave Bangkok, a place that has been so good to me for so long. I can’t really call it the end of an era because it’s only been 8 months. That hardly counts as an era.

On May 29, I’ll finish up my last day of work and make my way north for what may be one last Haley-filled hurrah in Thailand. We’re going to go explore Mae Hong Son where I can hopefully find something to write about and kick off this freelance career I’m betting all of my chips on.

After that, it’s down to Cambodia to finally see Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap. A quick trip back to Bangkok and I’ll make my final preparations to leave the Kingdom. I need to figure out a way to make my life mobile like a backpacker without actually looking like one. If anyone has any advice on being a professional-appearing nomad, please send those tips my way.

To everyone who has made my time in Bangkok so special, thank you.