Southeast Asia is always teeming with Western backpackers, and there’s a silent competition among them to appear the most relaxed. You can get an idea of who’s been “in country” for some time based on how unfazed they appear in sketchy situations. Something that rattles you on the first day in Bangkok—a taxi ignoring a red light, a housecat bedding down beneath your table in a restaurant, a motorcycle using the sidewalk to sneak past a traffic jam—seems mundane a week later.
So when you’re on an overcrowded boat that seems as if it’s about to capsize with every wave, some of your fellow passengers can appear almost supernaturally relaxed. It’s hard to know who’s truly at ease in the tumult, and who’s trying to look like they are.
But you know that some of them really have achieved a Keith-Richards-like level of easygoingness, because you start to see it happening to you. You learn you can actually relax on purpose. In fact, it’s necessary to some degree, because in a foreign country you are usually a passenger with no control. As you spend more and more time being chauffeured in unlicensed boats, taxis and tuk-tuks, it begins to dawn on you that the ability to enjoy yourself is directly related to your willingness to kick your feet up (maybe just figuratively) and relax into the warm bath of passengerhood.
You have to remind yourself to do this, otherwise your mind habitually retreats from the moment around you, into an uptight inner world of catastrophizing and contingency-planning. Instead of basking in the marine air or gaping at the jewel-blue Andaman waters—or otherwise doing what you came here for—your mind is straining for some sense of control over the uncontrollable, by quizzing itself on the Blue Cross emergency number, or gauging the swimming distance to the nearest island.
The essence of relaxedness is a “good passenger” mentality—a willingness to actively enjoy the moments between “destination” moments. We often fixate on future moments that promise resolution to our current needs, such as when you get to the front of the line, or the end of a workweek, or the far shore, as if it is only in those moments that you can drop your luggage and finally be where you are with your whole heart. Read More