My first love, like how it was for anyone else, was messy and had happened by pure chance.
It was in early December 2014 and I was planning a hiking trip to Mt Rinjani at the end of the month but being the highly spontaneous and impromptu individual that I am, it was almost impossible to get anyone on board the trip at the very last minute. I would have still gone ahead with my plans only if the local agency had accepted solo hikers in the first place. So, left with less than a week to go and no concrete plans anywhere near in sight, I started feeling befuddled in my head. And it was in such a state of mind that I decided to just book a one-way flight ticket to Taiwan, a country that did not even cross my mind until five minutes before I made the payment. And there you go; unexpected, uninitiated and what the hell, my first proper solo trip which turned out to be my first love too.
You thought you were going to read about how I fell in love with a girl so beautiful inside out, didn't you? I am sorry, your feelings had just got cheated on.
This is my story about how I truly fell in love with an experience that was only the beginning of an amazing chapter in my life. So, sit tight and ride out this journey with me.
To give you a sense of how hastily this trip was prepared, I was actually queueing up to get my passport stamped at the Taipei's Taoyuan International Airport when I suddenly remembered that I didn't check the visa requirements. So, there I was, standing in the line waiting for my turn while my heart was pounding really hard. "Holy shit, this must be the most epic travel failure if I am forced to turn back because I didn't get a visa," I thought to myself as I handed over my glossy red passport to the customs officer. Then almost instantly, she hit the passport, smiled and greeted me, "Welcome to Taiwan, Sir, and have a pleasant stay with us." I was grinning from ear to ear like a 5 year old as I made my way through the baggage clearance.
Lesson number one that I had learned from this trip is to break away from the rigidity of a fixed itinerary. I admit that I didn't have a single clue on what to do, see or eat in Taiwan before I flew in. So, I paid for a bed for ten nights in Taipei alone and that was the start of a series of bad decision making. I thought to myself that maybe after I got a place to stay, I could build an itinerary around it. But on the second night, I came back to the apartment feeling a little bit at loss. I had already traveled all over the city and seen everything that needed to be seen in a single day. So what was I going to do for the remaining nine days? I slumped onto the couch feeling defeated in the empty hallway. Then a fellow Taiwanese guy came through the door, saw me in that state I was in and sat down next to me. We chatted for awhile before I told him what was bothering me. I felt like I was tied down by the accommodation booking that I had already paid for, which prevented me from altering my itinerary. But instead of being sympathetic, he actually laughed so hard for a good full minute leaving me bewildered as ever. Then, with a single pat on my back, he dropped all last signs of humour on his face, looked at me seriously and said, "I advise you to just screw your itinerary away now and get out of Taipei. You will lose some money but that's okay because you can experience more outside of the city which will compensate for your loss."
That was the start of a new lesson for me, one that I will hold onto until today whenever I go for any trips. You can have a basic skeleton plan if you must but the best experience only comes when you allow yourself to go where the trip brings you to.
And just like John Steinback said, "... people don’t take trips—trips take people."