Traveling as a Worldpacker in Japan and Thailand

Travel stories don’t always have happy beginnings. Mine didn’t.

Worldpackers thailand

I decided to travel after being fired from the company where I had worked for the last 5 years, a company I really loved – so I dare to say, it ached like a divorce. And like most divorcees, the last thing I wanted was to "compromise" myself again.

In addition to that, this moment of lucidity made something obvious that no one had ever told me: once you start working, you may never be able to travel again for more than a month (or actually, you might not even be able to take off for a whole month).

So I didn’t think twice: I decided to take a sabbatical.

I finished all the paperwork and bureaucracy in early May and started "planning" my trip - in quotation marks because it wasn’t really all that planned.

First, I decided on a Yoga training course in Phuket, Thailand, where I would stay for 30 days. I decided to go visit Bangkok, Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai before the course.

Then, since I was already going to be in Asia, I wanted to extend my trip and go to Japan for another 45 days. I bought the tickets, and was ready to leave a few weeks later and only come back in October.

When you get your flight tickets, there’s that amazing feeling of "it's real", and also the cold feeling in your stomach – "and now"? It was going to be my first international trip alone and I couldn’t have been more anxious/happy/excited.

Looking for hostels in Bangkok, I discovered Worldpackers and thought the idea was just fantastic. I found Matchbox, a cool hostel with the funky theme of "beds in little boxes" (hence the name) that needed help with photography.

What? Do something I love and get a nice bed and laundry service in exchange?
Nice to meet you, Mr. Perfect Way to Travel. Call me Flá, we'll get along splendidly.

I didn’t know anyone who had traveled using the site and didn’t have the time to do much research before I was already agreeing to another awesome exchange in Japan. When I typed "Japan" into the search bar, it was love at first sight: K's House Ito Onsen, part of the K's House chain which has hostels around Japan, but this one was different from the rest: the hostel is on an estate listed as a historical heritage site, because the centuries-old (and absolutely beautiful) property used to be a bathhouse (or "onsen" as it’s called in Japanese).

The deal there was to work as a helper-handyman, and in return, stay in a typical Japanese house, sleep on the futon stretched out on top of a flawless mat, with breakfast, laundry, and onsen baths for my use. Hey, it’s Mr. Perfect Way to Travel again!

Everyone has their own way of traveling. My preferred method is to spend more time in one place rather than a short time in many different places. I like to get a feel for the local culture, create bonds with the people that I know, spend time in more traditional environments, and really experience the place that I visit.

I spent about a month and a half in Thailand and the same amount of time in Japan, doing everything I could to absorb what I could from those wonderful places.

In Bangkok, at Matchbox, I had an amazing host (who was once a monk!) who showed me the city, explained how everything worked, and gave me tips on how to continue my journey - an amazing experience.

In Japan, I found K's House Ito a second home, with an extremely welcoming environment and incredible people who taught me so much about the Japanese “way of being” and “way of doing”, which connected me even more deeply to my roots. I can seriously still smell the place.

I could spend paragraphs and hours on end talking about my experiences in these places, but I’d prefer to tell you over a green tea or a sake. What I really want to tell you is how this trip changed my life.

Today, almost a year after this adventure, I realize how this time backpacking, alone and in completely different environments from what I was used to, changed my outlook on life: whereas before I would be anxious, worried about my next job or money, after this experience I feel that I can let go and be much more trusting, to just flow with life and roll with the punches – do you really think you can even plan every minute of your trip?

Life is so fleeting, and backpackers learn to understand this quickly, maybe because they throw themselves into the world to get themselves moving.

Another incredible thing about this trip was the connections I made with people so inspiring that they create beauty just with their day-to-day lives.

People who sweep their neighbor’s sidewalk because it costs nothing, that go to the fair and bring you organic vegetables as a gift, who change what they cook when they learn that you’re vegetarian, who notice when things are cheaper at the market and bring you all the drinks you love, who take you in their car and out for walks, who run around train stations to help you, who go to clubs and take care of the others at the hostel who drink too much, who cook for everyone, who lend you their shampoo, who talk about politics, economics, religion, and culture openly and without prejudice, people who restore our (corny but true) faith that human beings are essentially good and that borders are just an illusion. People who show you that you can travel thinking that you’re alone, but really, you’re always in the excellent company of other adventurers – my favorite people.

Can you do all this just as a tourist? Possibly. But, trust me: when you travel as a worldpacker, everything changes, because you and your host establish a relationship of trust and exchange that far surpasses any purely financial transaction.

You’ll form much deeper emotional bonds. "Working" in another country allows you to get to know the culture from the inside, and besides, helping amazing people isn’t work, it's fun.

A year later, I'm back here in São Paulo, but living life with the free spirit of a worldpacker, far from labels that limit me.

Today, when people ask me what I do, I only have one answer: I do my best. And this is the happy middle of my story as a backpacker. It's not over yet, because I just found my next destination.

By the worldpacker Flávia Sato

Available positions with K's House Ito Onsen

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