How Travel Restored My Faith in Humanity and Myself

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Everyone has a dream. Some dream to fall in love, to marry the perfect man, to have the best job in the world, to be rich and to live in the perfect house. Not me. My dreams are slightly different, and that is OK.

I was a warehouse manager for an international company. Although I loved my colleagues and meeting new people, my daily routine was sorting files and sitting in front a computer! This was not the dream I pictured for my life. I knew, deep in my heart, that I was destined for more.

In November last year, I got retrenched. I still remember the day when I got my formal letter.

"Dear Mariska, we regret to inform that ....blah blah.....the company is closing down."

At the time I wasn't sure how I felt about it. I was getting numerous messages from family and friends telling me that they are so sorry to hear about my sad news. But in a way I felt lucky. I knew that my dreams of travel could finally happen.

After my retrenchment, I told my parents that my partner and I will be travelling through Southeast Asia for two months. Their response? 

Well, for you to understand their concern let me first tell you a little bit about me.

I grew up in a small town where I had to go to boarding school. We are Afrikaners, brought up to believe that if we want to be successful in life, we need to go to university, get a job, get married and have children. In South Africa, a “stable” job can be hard to find. Naturally, people want to focus on their careers to provide for their families.

There I was, almost 30, with no employment and only a little bit of savings. I was suddenly missing “the career” part of having a successful life. I mean, that is the next step after going to university right? Naturally, my parents were concerned.

"What will you do when you come back?" was a question that popped up numerous times. Some people suggested to get a holiday job until the "real" one came my way. Then, after I made my millions, I can take a two week vacation! 

But I had a different plan. Since my first trip to Thailand in 2012 my feet was itching to explore again! And for me, the timing seemed perfect.

Our private beach on Koh Chang island

Despite what everyone told us, and their ideas for the “perfect life”, we got onto the plane and headed to Bangkok. On the back of my mind, thoughts of doubt were starting to sink in. “What if I am making a mistake? Maybe I should have gotten a job? Is travel really necessary? What am I going to do when I came back?" I decided that these thoughts will be left alone for now and that I needed to enjoy my adventure.

Seeing the sunrise over Angkor Wat

For almost two months, we travelled through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. We had some scary and amazing experiences.

The view from our private beach

We tipped over on a kayak in the open sea in Koh Chang, Thailand. My first thought was that I will probably step on some sea anemone, my foot will get infected and then I will have to eventually cut it off to stop the infection from spreading! (Sometimes, I can be the “worst case scenario” girl) As we tipped over, our belongings went floating down to the ocean floor. I quickly popped on a snorkel mask to see where it landed. As I looked down, I saw beautiful corals only two metres from the surface. We then spotted a little piece of private beach, pushed out to shore and relaxed in the water. 

I learned that there are moments in life that I cannot control. These moments might be scary, but in the end, if you can get through them they will reward you. We had to swim to a small little private beach were we got to do some amazing snorkelling.


We almost got scammed at the Poipet border (apparently one of the worst in Asia). The tour bus stopped at a little restaurant a few kilometres in front of the Cambodian border. Here, they tried to sell us a visa on arrival for much more than we expected to pay. We only had enough money to cover our visa at the border. Luckily this lovely Cambodian lady and her father assisted us. As we got to the border, they showed us exactly where we had to go. We spent the rest of our journey to Siem Reap with them. They gave us tips on things to do and even their contact details for any emergencies that we might have. 

Getting lost in Phnom Penh and discovering interesting architecture

I learned to trust my gut and to trust strangers. We got lost. Quite a lot! But we found some little gems on the way. We met strangers in Saigon that we had drinks with, a couple in Phnom Penh that gave us a free Lonely Planet guidebook, and a hotel worker in Siem Reap that gave us a free lift on his motorbike back to our room.

Riding on the back of a motorbike in Vietnam

I trusted a guide, to take me on a motorbike while my partner rode by himself, for a week through the highlands of Vietnam.

We lived in places where nobody understood us. Somehow we managed to communicate with the locals without speaking a word of English to them.

Ordering food in Vietnam without speaking English

All of these experiences taught me that my journey is far from over. 

Before I left, I felt that I did not fit in. I did not feel brave and part of me felt like a complete failure. “Why did I not have a perfect career by now? Is there something wrong with me? Why do my dreams seem different?” I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to change the world.

This trip was exactly what I needed. I have learned to be brave and to trust my gut. If I want to change the world, I can do it by being kind and lending a helping hand. Just like the strangers on the road that helped me. Kindness has its own language. It might not change the world, but little pieces of it can.

Getting ready for a day of riding in Vietnam

When I came back, I started to share my stories on my travel blog. Friends and family all messaged me to say how I inspired them. People are now contacting me for travel tips and even my little sister booked her first big overseas trip!

My parents are proud and keep telling me how brave we are. They love hearing about our travel stories and learning more about journey. Suddenly, that 30 year old girl with no employment, seem to be on the right path!
I have accepted the fact that people just want you to be happy, but you should never change yourself or your dreams for anyone. Always trust your gut and dream big! In the end, just go for what YOU want! Somehow it will all work out.

Has travel transformed you too? Share your experience in the comments!

Bio photo

Mariska is a South African traveller and a firm believer of Vietnamese coffee. Magic is present at any given moment, and she would like to share these "moments of magic" – through stories, travel ideas and photos. She is currently based in Cape Town but she sees the world as her home. Follow her adventures as she take small bites from the universe on Pokkeloks.


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