I was the only person who hadn’t thrown up.
The ferry lurched up and down on the water – gaping degrees high, and then thud, back on the wave. I’d had three hours' sleep that night, having travelled to the Malaysian coast by bus overnight, so fell into easy slumber almost as soon as I lay down on the boat. The motion of the ocean didn’t bother me, because sleeping anywhere is my gift. But I was awoken by the sound of somebody retching, and as I opened my eyes my gaze adjusted to the twenty or so other people in the cabin, all leaning forward into uniform black plastic bags, a chorus of vomit.
And that’s how my vacation began.
I’d been so grumpy about leaving Bali. My original plan for this trip – the plan before I decided not to go back to London at all – was a month in Indonesia then a month in Malaysia. That was for visa reasons, but also because my parents come to Malaysia every year, for a month (!) and so we all wanted to hang out together.
(How’s this for TOTALLY FUCKING COOL: right now, I’m on Langkawi, Malaysia, my parents are on Lombok, Indonesia, and my brother is in Myanmar. Like… we were never this family growing up. We vacationed in the Canary Islands in an all-inclusive hotel, and now, somehow, we’re… world travelers? About to meet up on an island on the equator? That makes me so goddamn proud. We did good, Williams clan. Real good.)
Anyway. I love Bali. Ubud. I love the yoga and the green juice and being able to hear my own thoughts. And flying into Kuala Lumpur, I had to mentally coach myself through it: Laura. Other people would kill for this trip. A month in Malaysia! You don’t get to be pissed off about a month in Malaysia! Shit! Enjoy it! Who the fuck are you, complaining to yourself like this? GET SOME PERSPECTIVE, WOMAN. You’re not even leaving forever! Just four weeks!
But, I didn’t. Enjoy it, I mean. Kuala Lumpur saw me get followed through China Town by some creep who I accidentally made eye contact with, and then I cried at a dead duck being roasted because I’m insane. I didn’t feel safe, and I’d paid for a really nice hotel because I’d saved some cash through January, but then the hotel wasn’t as fancy as the website suggested so I felt a bit… done. Like, I’m a big fan of value for money. If I’m gonna pay a pound for a shirt, my expectations are different than if I pay a hundred for something designer, you know? Same with hotels. I DO NOT LIKE TO FEEL RIPPED OFF.
And, I was looking for excuses to be pissed off.
Because I am spoiled.
And didn’t want to leave Bali.
And did I mention I didn’t want to leave Bali?
Arriving on Tioman Island two days later, then, in monsoon rain on a boat full of people chucking up their breakfast, I was so upset. The photos on Google had looked so perfect! I thought everywhere was sunny in this part of the world! It never occurred to be to check the weather report before I decided to go there!
The place was a ghost town. I was one of a handful of people, and the only solo traveler. There was an empty bar and a cold room, with a view over not very much because the sky was all cloudy and misty and wow. I’ve sighed up for ten days of this? I thought. They didn’t even have proper wifi.
Travelling alone is… liberating. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, and backpacking solo forces me to grow my “safe” zone. So I talk to strangers and do things that scare me, until they become less scary and I am braver.
But then. I have nobody to watch my bag when I need to pee at the airport. And nobody to split the cost of a room with. It’s just me who can deal with the rowdy drunks next door, or figuring out the bus timetable, or finding the funny in the misery of ten days on a desert island in the pouring rain.
I was, in short, very, very lonely.
Do you know what loneliness feels like?
Failure. Loneliness feels like failure.
I did the only thing I could do.
I approached the two German guys drinking beer at noon, in lieu of anything else to do, and I said, can I join you?
Because misery likes company.
That afternoon the rain stopped and we went out to the rocks and listened to music and talked about our lives, and I forgot to be unhappy because isn’t that just the way? That it comes, and it goes, like the clouds?
That, as if I needed to learn it again, we’re only uncomfortable til we’re not? Lonely til we reach out and make ourselves heard?
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