Thank you to Women’s Adventure Magazine for publishing my story, When Relationships Are Challenged by Extreme Travel. My other title was “Sobbing While Snorkeling.”
By Lisa Niver Rajna
Five years ago when George and I flew into Thailand for the first time together, I thought I was going to cry in the airport. I gave up everything and everyone to travel with George for a year. It was a big risk to leave Los Angeles and my job, condo, friends and family; I started our trip with the fear he would leave me in Bangkok.
He threatened to walk away from me forever in the Bangkok Airways check-in line for Phuket. We had left Australia in the middle of the night the day before at about 3:45am–a terrible time to fly–and hadn’t been very nice to each other while we tried to stay awake waiting for our flight. We did not sleep much on the plane, and, upon arrival in Bangkok, decided to fly to Phuket. While waiting in the long line to buy tickets, he got irritated with my concerns and questions about where we were going, what would happen next, and we just both felt exhausted. His solution was to simply say, “do you want me to leave you here?” Since then, we have created new rules. We generally don’t take flights in the middle of the night or early morning, and, if we do have to get up early, we call a truce. No fighting. We survived that episode, and soon after went snorkeling off Long Beach, Koh Phi Phi. While in the water, I cried so hard into my snorkel the whole time and somehow thought he would not notice. I just did not believe I could do it—the relationship, the trip–and I lost it. I just sobbed and swam for shore.
I cried while snorkeling because I was afraid of the boats. I just did not feel like myself. I wondered about the tsunami victims. I could not sleep due to the large number of incredibly itchy bug bites. I lay awake wondering, “Is this paradise?” The beginning of Thailand was the hardest part of the trip for me. I questioned if I made a good decision, wondering if our relationship could sustain itself and if we would ever get married. However, George didn’t want to get married, so that wasn’t going to happen. Would it be enough for me to be with the man I love and not marry him? I decided to come on this trip, but I wondered if I would survive it?
Days later when we walked to Ton Sai over rocks in the water, George told me I was confident, competent and determined. I was not afraid! I felt like I graduated or won an Olympic gold medal. I never thought I would hike for six hours in Moorea or go sand surfing in New Zealand. Now I couldn’t wait for our next adventures. I had impressed myself with my courage. In less than two months, we created many memories from these adventures and experiences. This trip was like pouring miracle-growth on our relationship—hopefully enjoying what it flowered.
–Quoted from “Traveling in Sin” Thailand Chapter
What a difference five years makes, when I think about myself from the first sabbatical trip to this one, I barely recognize myself. So many times in our early relationship, I felt unsteady. George challenged me in many ways as I did to him. Choosing to be together required compromise, change and growth. It has been worth the effort.
After we snorkeled in Tanote Bay, Koh Tao last week, we talked about that day when I got so upset and how the whole first sabbatical trip was such a trial. At the time, I wondered would our relationship endure a year on the road? Now, we are married and we have traveled under many circumstances and we both know what to expect. Early morning flights often lead to fights so we have a truce to be nice or not talk on those mornings. After many bus rides, delays, and disputes, we have seen the patterns and the pits that cause fights. Sometimes we still fall in but we can climb out a bit faster.
We have made progress and we can work as a team. I feel fortunate George found me. I had to wait until after my thirty-ninth birthday but he has made my forties full of adventure.
Traveling in Asia is now our normal life; George, my husband, and I left the United States over a year ago. Last week while waiting for the ferry on the island of Koh Tao, Thailand a woman asked me, “Where are you going? And what is a visa run?” She flew into Thailand and received a thirty-day stamp on her passport. A visa run is when you want to stay longer, when thirty days is not enough, you have to get permission and pay to stay longer. It makes me feel greedy as we have already been here for over three months and now are staying another two weeks.
We spent over two months in Lamai Beach, Koh Samui finishing our memoir about our first sabbatical year in Asia before we were married and before we really knew each other. After traveling this year and staying in more than 122 locations, it was great not to pick up my backpack for weeks at a time. Settling into Samui gave me the chance to reflect on this adventure and think about how I have changed on the inside and the outside on this trip and on the one where we got engaged in 2009.
Be greedy! Go on a visa run and stay longer and know that even if you sob with fear in your snorkel, change is around the next corner.
About the author: Lisa Niver Rajna is a passionate writer, speaker and global citizen who has traveled to over one hundred countries and six continents. She and her husband, George, co-authors of Traveling in Sin, are spending a sabbatical year in Asia, follow their journey at We Said Go Travel.