Having the time of my life

19 Apr

Here’s the bit where I get around to reflect. On how books are better reads when you travel. How I no longer waste time, but simply have free time. And, in the end, I hand myself a gold medal for managing to pull free and go travelling.

We are three months into our journey. 90 days of far-distant places. Days in which I have had mango cocktails on the beaches of Phi Phi, climbed the temples of Angkor Wat, eaten pig intestines together with shamans in Luang Prabang, and splashed water on everyone in sight during Songkran in Chiang Mai. And right now, I have taken you with me on today’s flight to Mumbai.

A privileged traveller

Travelling long-term and seeing the world should come with an euphoric feeling of being on top of it. Because let’s face it – although often on a tight budget, all Western backpackers are part of a global elite. It only takes a few conversations with locals in the places we visit to realise it. Like the monk I spoke with in Chiang Mai, who dreams of seeing the birth place of Buddha in India, or this chat with our sixty-something taxi driver last week:

Him: “Where you go next?”

Me: “Bangkok. Have you been?”

Him, with a small laugh: “Oh no, I only Chiang Mai”.

But, butterflies can’t flap every day for three months. Although not blase yet, it is sometimes useful to have someone grab hold of you, shake you, and remind you that Alice is indeed dreaming.

And that is where my last read comes into the picture.

A privileged non-worker

Among the joys of this year is having the time to read. In many ways, travelling and reading are part of the same curiosity. A good book pulls you in, takes you wandering and makes you lose all sense of time. And, a good read becomes an even better read when the pages you soak up provides context to what you experience.

When travelling, I have therefore favoured books about the places we visit (ok, or any book by Agatha Christie). The reason is simple: double bonus. Reading is a pleasure and it takes me beyond the first impressions a short visit would normally offer.

But, next to the swimming pool in Chiang Mai, I read a gem whose pages gave some context to our journey itself.


In Zadie Smith’s NW, the character Leah sits with her “paperworkpaperworkpaperwork” in a boxy, cramped office.


This too will pass. Four fortyfive. Zig, zag. Tick. Tock.

I have backpacked before. But, backpacking at thirty comes with a different understanding and appreciation than at twenty. Mostly, because I now can relate to Leah and her concept of time. In her words, how it is to feel “time poor”.

Leah pushed the message again a few pages on.

In the end, only one idea reliably retained: time as a relative experience, different for the jogger, the lover, the tortured the leisured. Like, right now, when a minute seems to stretch itself into an hour. Otherwise useless.

Time nevertheless speeds up, but only to leave Leah late for her meeting with her friend Natalie. Sitting at a cafe, waiting, Natalie reflects on how she manages her children so that time is maximised. Always moving forward, thinking of the next thing. Only she, at that cafe, is allowed to waste time.

I paused when I read that. Wasting time. Here I was, four months and six countries after my last day in the office (Norway, France, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos – and now Thailand again). Completely taking time for granted.

There are no phones laid on top of the table. I have no meetings to rush to. My inbox contains fun messages from family and friends. Last week, my sister roared with laughter when I cut our Skype call short, “Oh, it´s almost eight. I have to go – we have an appointment to play UNO!”.

We chose – and continue to choose – to not plan our travels. We have it narrowed down to Asia. But, what we do one week is normally planned the week before. This flexibility costs a bit more money, but it leaves us with an even more valuable feeling of having all the time in the world. Time simply feels plentiful when the future is left entirely open. We get to do whatever we want. We can waste as much time as we want.

Back in the book, Leah’s colleague packs her bags.

The folder-shutting and bag-packing begin with an eagerness no different from when they were all six years old and the bell rang. Maybe that was the real life?

Meanwhile, equally semi-detached Natalie is desperately looking for something more than “pure forward momentum”.


There is an image system at work in the world. We wait for an experience large or brutal enough to disturb it or break it open completely, but this moment never quite arrives.

Natalie never got her experience. But in the remainder of the book she was determined to get the message across to me that I am clearly living mine. I am three months into a year of exhilarating moments.

By the time I closed the book, I felt like yelling, “YIPPEE! Can you believe this?! Look at me – I am sitting by a pool in Thailand during working hours!! We are travelling the WOOOORLD!

But that would have been socially awkward and inspiring only to me, so instead, I put down my book and made a promise.

Because at one point I will be back in the familiar, back managing my time, back dreaming of weekends. And when that day comes, I need this text. I need to have it written down in black and white that I knew how lucky I was when I was out there travelling the world, bashing in time and freedom.

So I might not be yelling it out loud, but I promise to enjoy this year to the fullest.

And now, onto Incredible Indiaaaa *chants CNN ad over-excitedly*!

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