Valerie: ‘The Girl from Texas’
Gili Trawangan & Canggu, Bali.
I met Valerie through some sweet English girls I bumped into at a hostel, who ended up being in my room at another hostel on Gili Trawangan – the party island of Bali. Valerie was next door and I remember being introduced to her through the British girls (in the pic above). She was sat in the far corner on the bed as we were getting ready to go out. I instantly felt her warm presence and chilled vibe. She told us she was from Texas as we all did the classic travel spiel of where were we from/where had we been/where were we going etc.
“I remember you playing with some street cats on our walks on the island. We would play card games in a huge group on the picnic tables at our hostel, My Mates Place.”
It got pretty chaotic at times. Right down the middle of the outdoor area was a Game of Thrones-style table as long as a ship, where everyone partied, drank shots and congregated after they emerged from their rooms in the afternoons, having slept off the hangover from the day before.
What I remember most about Valerie was our dinner on my last night on the island. We had a really good talk about work, about our life directions. I remember her telling me about her high-powered job that she’d quit to go travelling and I really admired her for that.
She also told me about Austin, Texas, and I was surprised about how liberal the city was since the state was so seemingly red. We chose a classy-looking Mediterranean restaurant that looked right out onto the sea and we ordered fancy white wine and good food, which was such a treat. I felt like we bonded a little that evening and it felt nice to have a break from the constant drinking and bar hopping, swapping that out for some genuine, raw conversation.
Valerie soon came to Canggu, where I had gone afterwards, and ended up staying in my room at my hostel! I had only a few days left before I was due to go home and it was nice to be with a familiar face – in, you guessed it, another party town.
I remember us taking part in a giant beer pong tournament in one of the bigger, rowdier bars on the beach and our team name was ‘The Girl from Texas’ – and – the night becomes blurry as you can imagine, but I think we won! The crowd grew as the competition became more intense and it was a lot of laughs. Valerie was a lot of fun, but low-maintenance at the same time so you could just really relax around her and be yourself.
I recently got back in touch and asked about her time travelling. She told me about how much she loved Myanmar:
“I was obsessed with their hospitality, food, and sunrises. I don’t know if I hyped this country up so much in my mind, or if I knew I was leaving Asia soon, but Myanmar had an overwhelming number of special moments. Moments that went by in slow-motion for me. Moments I can still feel, two years later.
Valerie also sent me this beautiful photo of herself and a fisherman at Inle Lake, Myanmar:
Given the current situation there, I also asked how she felt about the civil unrest in this beautiful country, happening as we speak:
“Sadly, I have seen pictures recently of protests happening on that same lake [pictured above] I was visiting almost 2 years ago. It’s so sad looking at pictures of protests happening on streets on which I’ve walked myself.
“I just remember having so much respect for the Burmese because even through all of their past history, they were so hospitable and just wanted travellers to love their country. I hope one day they attain a civil democracy like they deserve so badly.”
I asked her what she found particularly special about travelling:
“It’d be running into someone you met down the road. Whether it be the pad Thai lady you went back to 6 months later who remembered your smile, a friend you met up with in another country to experience different memories, a couple you met a week prior walking down the street in a completely different town, or running into an old co-worker from the states in northern Thailand at a random hostel.
“All of these memories I hold close to my heart because they remind me that relationships can be continued, no matter where you are. This crazy world is so small in some aspects. I don’t like goodbyes, but with those memories of being able to run into people you’ve previously met along the way, reminds me that a goodbye actually is just a “see you later” as cliche as it sounds.
“That’s why I love what you’re doing. Getting insights to travellers you met along the way. I met so many people that made an impact on my travels that probably don’t even know it. Whether it be travel recommendations, advice about life, or just a great human-being to be surrounded with, I have so many fond memories about people I met.”
Valerie, like myself, had also hiked up the incredible sulphur mine Mount Ijen, in East Java and has some solid advice should you ever find yourself in Indonesia…
“If you were to visit Bali and want to do just one hike, I would highly recommend making the trek over to Java and hiking Ijen. I did a combo Bromo/Ijen trip and thought Ijen blew Bromo out of the water.
“We started our trip at 2 AM in order to start our hike and get down into the crater while the sun was still down. As we were walking down into the crater, it was pitch black and we were navigating through headlamps. We were also able to hike back up and watch the sunrise behind the crater.”
It’s important now more than ever to remember the times we had out on the road, not in with blue-tinted lenses, but ones of appreciation and gratitude. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll ever be able to travel again at the moment, but taking Valerie’s advice will help us look forward to making even more precious memories in the future. She told me about a German word that pretty much sums it up:
“’Fernweh’ describes my feelings well. [What I miss most about travelling] is being in different environments and learning to adapt. Meeting people from all over. Constantly being out of my element. Writing out these answers have sparked so many memories. I miss it so much.”
‘Fernweh’ directly translates to wanderlust. The familiar ache all travellers have in their blood. One which is more potent now than ever. But we must remind ourselves this is all temporary! I asked Valerie if there was a particular person who had had an impact on her travels:
“I met Flo when I met you in Gili T. We ended up meeting up in the Philippines, decided to take on Taiwan together, and then met out one last time in Thailand. Our personalities complemented each other and I had so much fun with her. Whether it be surfing on a Filipino island or going to a drag show in Taipei, she was my chica.”
I asked her what she is up to these days and where she is living:
“I am currently living out in Denver, Colorado working in logistics but taking a coding course that finishes in July. My goal is to work fully remote for a company flexible with hours so I can go live in other countries hopefully in the next 3-4 years. I want to change the country I’m living in every 4-6 months. I’ve met people that have made it work, so I’m optimistic for my goals.”
The morning I was set to leave Bali, Valerie came for a farewell breakfast with me at one of the brunch places on the main street. The night before I’d been in a – what could’ve been pretty serious, but I got away with it – scooter accident, so I was feeling pretty shaken, but Valerie was her softly-spoken, level-headed self which made me feel a lot better. We had a goodbye hug and last exchange of words and that was it!
More recently, I asked her to whittle down all the things she’d learned on the road into 3 points…:
1. Travel light. “Travelling really opened my eyes to what I actually needed living out of my backpack for 8 months. There was no room to have something just to have it. If I were to buy a piece of clothing, it had to be versatile enough to make sense for me to make space for it in my bag. I’m actually big on collecting and writing postcards now because I didn’t have room to carry souvenirs.”
2. Eat where the locals eat. “Some of my favorite food spots are actually the ones I least expected. If you pass by a spot on the street with plastic chairs and it’s packed with locals, eat there. Trust me. Also, never trust a restaurant with a binder of close to 100 entrees.”
3. Take time for yourself. “If you’re traveling with someone, take some solo days here and there. I didn’t have that issue while I was traveling because I was mainly traveling solo. People/friends approach you more if you’re solo versus in a group. I think it’s less intimidating for someone to come talk to you, whether it be a local or another traveller. But if you’re traveling with someone long-term or maybe just for a couple of weeks, take time for yourself and take a solo day.”
If I learned anything from Valerie in our very brief time together, it’s to just fully embrace the flow of life. We’re still in contact on social media and – when things open up again – I’d love to catch up with her again, but this time with a much fancier (and expensive – cause damn it we deserve it) bottle of wine and a similarly delicious platter of food.
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