This has been a really hard post for me to write. I started drafting it back on Koh Tao a few weeks before my impending departure, but I kept erasing and rewriting it because my feelings about leaving changed by the day. I’ve been in Atlanta for a few days now and I’m still struggling to find a way to conclude this first chapter in my “digital nomad” journey…
At first, there was anxiety, then sadness, then ‘last hurrah’ moments and Christie coming to visit (!!), then the relief of making it back to the States after a looong journey…
So overall here are my thoughts on saying goodbye to Koh Tao, my home of the past 10 months, and how it feels to come back to America:
“You’re living the dream”
I can’t deny that I did in fact achieve my dream. I wanted to go back to Thailand — and specifically to Koh Tao — for FIVE YEARS. Like I was actively trying to figure out how to get back there ever since leaving in 2013. Then I actually made it happen, and completely on my own terms while supporting myself through freelance work.
If you’re expecting me to say “the dream” isn’t really “the dream”, I can’t. It totally fucking is.
My life on Koh Tao felt absolutely charmed most days.
My quality of life improved tenfold since leaving Atlanta last December; I could suddenly afford hour-long massages and eating out every single day and — best of all! — paying rent for my own apartment.
I couldn’t believe I got to wake up in the morning to a view of palm-tree covered hills. I could walk to the sea in 10 minutes or hike to a viewpoint in 30 and see a breathtaking sunset over the ocean. I could buy a fresh watermelon shake or entire coconut to drink for two dollars. I could walk out my door with no plans and somehow end up in one adventure or another with friends I would run into on this tiny little island, or with new people I had just met. People from all around the world.
My life on Koh Tao was socially rich. I went from spending most of my time alone typing into my computer while living in Atlanta to constantly surrounded by people. Living on Koh Tao I was never lonely and only alone if I explicitly chose to be.
I got to watch my sweet pup Bear grow up over the past four months and our adorable neighbors’ kids learn how to talk and how to ride a bike.
It was indulgent, it was fun, it was stimulating and exciting, the nature was beautiful…
You’re waiting for the “but”. There is no “but”.
I wanted this, I worked for it, I got it, and it was transformational. There is, however, an and. My life on Koh Tao was all of this AND more…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: every single lifestyle comes with pros and cons. This lifestyle was no exception. Things weren’t perfect; there were pros AND cons.
Over the course of the 10 months, I struggled a lot with the never-ending dramas of social life in a “small town”. It’s not hard to make friends on Koh Tao, but it’s hard to make loyal, trustworthy, REAL friends. I don’t know if it’s the type of people who are attracted to living on Koh Tao, or the transitory nature of living there as a Westerner, or something else entirely, but I found people were not super kind or caring to others.
There was a lot of gossip, emotional manipulation, betrayal…
Both entertaining at times and deeply distressing at others, the drama taught me how to have thicker skin. I learned how to not let my emotions carry me away so much and how to sustain and even enjoy superficial relationships with people I may not 100% connect with.
(Which is all cool but I do wish people were just overall better to each other.)
The work-versus-play scale was heavily weighted on the ‘play’ side. It was too easy to get by being lazy and I feel I need more hustle in my life. I don’t know yet if I can build that on Tao or not.
It’s a small island, which for the most part I love, but there were some periods of time when I felt somewhat…trapped. Especially when it was raining or super cloudy for a stretch of days or weeks…It felt like the walls were caving in on our little rock in the middle of the sea.
I missed access to certain things like movie theaters, malls, certain foods, books — just culture in general.
So yes, this has been the dream. Or at least, it’s been my dream. For me that doesn’t mean it was perfect; it means the pros of my lifestyle, overall, outweighed the cons.
Some creeping anxiety
As the end neared, I found myself overwhelmed by anxiety. Part of it was the stress of an upcoming long travel and the transition in general, and part was feeling like I was supposed to have accomplished something. I felt like I was supposed to have something to show to the world to prove I made something of myself this year.
I don’t have that thing, at least it’s not something tangible. I can’t say “I grew my business by x%” or “I now make x more dollars a month from my blog when I started” because I haven’t been that productive in that sense. I’ve mainly just been enjoying my life. I’ve been working on myself and feeling confident and comfortable in my skin. I feel like I’ve come a long, long way in terms of personal development and growth…but maybe not productivity or business.
I also moved across the world and started a new life in another country. I tend to not give myself enough credit for that since I’ve done it before in the past. But considering the disempowered place I was coming from, it’s a massive change and an accomplishment to be proud of.
Honestly the sadness of leaving Koh Tao dissipated pretty quickly once I left Koh Tao. That’s a sign to me that it was absolutely time to go. The anxiety melted and since arriving home, I’ve been able to enjoy all the comforts I was craving, like
- Cheese, olives, avocados, bread, vegetables, kombucha, and other joys of Whole Foods
- Cool weather
- Wearing clothes and shoes
- Doing my hair and makeup
- Seeing my parents
- Driving (and singing in) my car
- Taking a bubble bath
- et cetera et cetera
I still have a lot of reflecting to do. I don’t know where I will go from here, in both a literal and figurative sense. After home, I have a return ticket to Bangkok and I’m not sure if I will continue to build a life on Koh Tao or move on somewhere else in Thailand or Southeast Asia.
In reality, Koh Tao tends to be a sort of “Bermuda Triangle” for travelers. People gravitate there with plans to leave and then just…never leave. So I do think there’s a good chance I will end up back there, statistically.
I need to make some decisions about money because despite some very longstanding goals to earn a consistent surplus while freelancing, I never made it there.
Also, I don’t want to be doing client work for the rest of my life. I need to decide where my other income streams are going to come from. I do still want this blog to be one of them. I say it over and over again (at least to myself and my friends) but clearly I need to hustle smarter and continue to break down personal barriers (like the discomfort of self-promotion) to achieve those goals.
Don’t get the wrong impression though: I’m decidedly not lost. Not at all.
I feel more found than ever, and I feel like it’s only going to get better from here. I love the freedom of lifestyle I’ve created for myself and feel so incredibly at home in the entrepreneurship space. I enjoy the challenge of building a lifestyle that fulfills me, even with all the bumps along the way.
Beautiful photos of you and Koh Tao. And your style of writing is, as always, clear, concise, and immensely pleasurable to read. I just read “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson, which was a diary of his experience walking The Appalachian Trail. It was educational, harrowing and yet stunning, and at times, beyond hilarious. Try it….maybe a book is on the horizon. Anyway, I certainly with you the best of luck and good Karma in your present and future endeavors. Much love. xo M
I read that book about a year ago! That one and Wild both made me want to go on a wilderness hiking trip so badly. Thank you for all your compliments and love. You’re always invited to come visit wherever I am in the world <3
Many are in admiration for your bravery and sense of adventure. At least I am.
Thank you Arwen <3