There is nothing like getting lost on the streets of Bangkok. Temperatures are hotter in Bangkok, compared to any major city, and humidity is often at 75%. Wearing American Apparel red or blue short shorts, I navigate from Sukhumvit to Rama IV. Sweat beads across my forehead and trickles down my legs.
I am trying to find Bangkok Self Storage where I have been storing my suitcases for months. I pass a tiny, polluted canal enveloped on either side by trash, tropical plants, fruits, and stray cats. The sidewalk of the next block is a solid wall of vendors selling pirated DVDs and software, sex toys, knock of sunglasses, and other trinkets. I turn left down Soi 23 and find myself in a maze of narrow alleyways.
I make a left, right, and then double back. I know these main streets are parallel, but I am lost. I ask a tiny black cat with a crooked tail, if I am on the right path. She doesn’t answer and decides to chase a cricket instead. Smiling men in orange vests, signifying that they are moto-taxi drivers, laugh at me as I walk back and forth trying to find my way. Finally i ask a group of older men standing at the mouth of an open warehouse. They instruct me to walk through the warehouse to the other side then make a left. Incredulous, I ask them again. They laugh, yes through the warehouse and make a left.
I navigate through huge wooden crates of large metal Buddhas. French, Italian, and German surnames are scrawled across each box. I wonder what this warehouse is all about, finally I make it out to the other side and can see Boss Tower hovering above the palm trees and scattered sky scrapers. 30 minutes, 1km later, and I am almost there…
As I was flying home from Bangkok to Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, I came across an article in the inflight magazine that really made my neurons fire - despite being brain dead from the 2 day journey home and lack of sleep and nutritious food. It was part of a series called “We Are Travelers” translated from Korean to English and seemed to describe something I had been doing, subconsciously, for most of my adult life. That is planning a trip, or haphazardly falling into one, based on the spiritual properties of my destination.
For instance, when I was in my late teens I may have hopped a greyhound bus North to San Francisco for the weekend - if I wanted to be intellectually stimulated. Or I might have planned a quick trip to New York - if I wanted to be adventurous or inspired. This began a life of perpetual mobility and wanderlust. In fact, my stepfather often jokes “Where is Aimee” - a pun on “Where is Waldo.” These days I might go to South East Asia, if i want to lose myself in a slower, more feminine, gentler way of life. Or I might head to Western Europe if I want to find structure, culture or a sense of history.
I am not sure when my traveling to self medicate started, but I definitely remember a few co-workers, at my first job, rolling their eyes at me as I explained I “just needed” to go to LA for the weekend to restore some balance in my life. I know I am not alone in this behavior. Many of my closest girlfriends have described the feel of a destination for their upcoming trip, sharing their need to be near the ocean or promising to bring a bit of Santorini magic home from their next trip to Greece. These days travel has become so important to me, so integral to my life, that I have often forsaken paying rent for months or years, to continue to move cities constantly, from week to week - living at hotels, friends couches, my parent’s extra room, or with a lover. Pausing for a brief time, inhaling the flavor of a place, just to pick up my suitcase and move again…
I was happy to read that this sort of spiritual pilgrimage has been going on for ages and was especially common in medieval Europe. I am not alone. The author of the article notes, “Pilgrimages were at the heart of therapeutic and medicinal activity, with whose help the sick and troubled would stand a chance of being restored to health and virtue. Long before one even started to consider the logistical aspects of a trip, one was expected to make a visit to a priest and submit oneself to close examination of one’s mind and body. Every ailment called for contact with a specific holy place…There are places that by the virtue of their remoteness, vastness, climate, chaotic energy, haunting melancholy or sheer differentness from our homelands can exert a capacity to salve wounded parts of us.”
So in the therapeutic theory of travel there is a perfect destination, or likely many destinations, that can reconnect me to that missing part of myself - what ever that might be today, tomorrow, or next Spring. I laughed out loud as the author ranted about the current state of the travel industry, “We lack atlases of destinations which which we can match to tables of neuroses…We suffer from an absence of therapeutic travel agencies. There are yet no experts in both neurotic disorders and tourism, in both the leading theories of psychoanalysis and the hotels, nature trails, museums, bird sanctuaries, and hot springs of the six continents…The travel industry should not be allowed to escape the seriousness of the area of life it has been assigned to oversee.” At this point I am smiling from ear to ear. I am laughing and simultaneously wishing that there were such a travel agency.
So all my entrepreneurial friends out there looking for a great idea - take note. A travel agency for the soul. Just look at the ridiculous success of Eat, Pray, Love. I had to laugh last year when I was in Bali, that local people and long time expats call the enormous boom (as well as the increased traffic and crazy crowds) over the last ten years, “the Eat, Pray, Love economy.” It just goes to show you, the market for pilgrimages may be bigger than you think!
Success isn’t simply a matter of rearranging files and appointments. It’s about mental strength. From letting go of control to taking smart risks here…