I don’t know about you but I have a hard enough time resisting the urge to pigeonhole myself without the added pressure of being crammed into other people’s boxes. Being on the road means that many of the relationships I have with the people who I meet are fleeting and the depth with which we get to know each other is slight. For that reason, it seems people are, understandably, more prone to making quick and snap judgements about the people that they encounter.
One of the things that I’ve really noticed on my travels is how quickly people want to put me into one box or another. I’ll give you some examples. Yesterday was my first day in Singapore and after my early morning swim I pounded the streets of this fair city with all of the intensity of someone on a weekend city break. The lady who runs my hostel had seemed delighted to scrawl all over my map with directions and arrows to a variety of must see places and I was only too happy to comply.
After six hours on my feet and with a post still unwritten, I headed back to the hostel to lock myself up in my dorm room for an evening of writing. After about 2 hours, I don’t think the hostel owner could resist her curiosity any longer and she stuck her head around the door. “You not go out?” she enquired. “No I’m working right now”, I replied and what followed was a question that set off a train of thought that led to this here post. “Are you travelling or are you working?” she said with a tone that implied I’d somehow misled her previously. “I’m doing both” I replied with a smile. “Oh!” she exclaimed and with a confused look on her face she promptly turned and left the room.
Doing what I’m doing is by no means unique but what I’ve discovered is, that it is sort of rare. I’m neither a backpacker, living it up on cheap beer and sandy beaches, nor am I a business traveller, here for a convention or meeting. Some people might call me a digital nomad but I’m almost loathed to put myself into any box because I do have a tendency for claustrophobia.
Whenever I arrive somewhere new, one of the first things I look for is a gym, pool, yoga studio, park to run in or anywhere that I might be able to do some exercise. So many people have asked me why I do this. “You’re on holiday!” they exclaim and holidays, for most people it seems, means a complete cessation of looking after your health. Thank god I’m not on holiday, I always think to myself and then I explain that this is my life, not a holiday or a trip but how I live and then I get the bemused look I saw on the face of the hostel lady yesterday.
The one that probably makes me smile the most, however, is my perceived age. I’m 35 but I’m lucky enough to look younger than that or so I get told. In England some people might put me around 30 rather than 35 but on the road most people assume I’m in my early to mid twenties. I think this comes down to context and the fact that I am travelling, which, for whatever reason, tends to be the domain of people in their twenties or the over fifties.
My favourite example of this was when I was in a jeep with 5 other people and one girl turned to me and said “are you at University?” I couldn’t help laughing as I explained that I graduated 13 years ago and that I was in fact 35. Everyone in the jeep immediately spun round in shock and disbelief at what I’d just said. Now there is a huge part of me that loves that people think I look young but there is also a part of me that feels uncomfortable that in this scenario, more than ten years of my life experience, learning and growth is simply wiped away by other people’s perceptions.
Essentially what all of these examples show me, is how quick we are as humans to judge, label or make assumptions about each other. A few years ago I probably would have felt uncomfortable about being seen as different or not conforming to the norm but if I’m honest, there is nothing I love more than to see the look on people’s faces when I completely contradict their perceptions or expectations of me. As a result I’m also learning not to make assumptions about other people before I’ve got to know them. It can be hard not to sometimes, but overall it’s a much more interesting way to live.