*Photos: Natalie Malheiro

By Natalie Malheiro

If you asked me a few months ago what I was expecting from my travels to South East Asia. I would have explained that I was leaving the comforts of my cozy Canadian home to “soul search”. I needed to find out who I was and expressively live it. I felt that my busy work schedule and my Vancouver lifestyle was redundant and stifled my character. I wanted to live off the bare minimum, rarely shower, possibly get a dread, make wild decisions just to say yes and see what happens. Amongst these free spirited ideologies, I had one strict rule. No love. Period.

Between my backpacker buddy and I we agreed to rejecting any glimpse of love, romance and heart eyed emoji’s that may have been sent our way. We were going to focus on ourselves, and develop who we were as young women. We were looking for change with a large Chang in our hands and Top 40 blasting in our ears, while we danced and tried to make meaningful connections in backpacker bars.

As you may have guessed, plans changed (as they always do). Within the first few weeks into backpacking Thailand, I met someone who I was quickly falling for.

My travel friend found herself in a similar situation. Thank you to Tinder, which we only started using to meet fellow backpackers and accept an ego boosting comment here and there. This decision completely derailed our anti-love claims. I felt our wild child trip of enlightenment was taking a turn I did not plan for. Before I knew It I was moving into my girlfriend’s apartment and a stepmom to two cats.

With my completely unplanned new lifestyle, I was feeling a little lost. Months before actually arriving to Thailand, I knew I was going to be a backpacker. I had the time to over prepare for all the strange situations I would be facing; which clothes to bring, which countries I was going to explore and how I was going to get there. Because of one excited swipe right on my phone, the months of planning and preparation swiped away too.

I knew how to be a backpacker, but I am not too sure how to be an expat. I’m not even sure if I am qualified enough to call myself an expat.

My days used to be filled with uncertainty of where I would sleep that night. Now I was unsure of what I’d do at all. At first, this freaked me right out. I like to know that my life is headed in a certain direction. While backpacking, I knew that I would explore exotic countries for an extended period of time. When I decided to go back to Canada there was familiarity and a general idea of where my life would be headed next.

You maybe thinking “Is this chick seriously is whining about too much free time?”. I wouldn’t say I’m whining but expressing concern. I am thrilled that I can wake up whenever, do whatever, whenever the hell I want to. I was happy to do this for about a week, but then it got old. I started feeling lost, annoyed and very bored. I became frustrated with simple things. It irritated me that I couldn’t tell the cab driver my destination, order food within my diet restrictions, or easily decide how to get from one place to another. I was relying on people around me to help me, which was difficult to accept as a former city slicker.

While backpacking, all these small frustrations are fully acceptable and expected. It is one of the best parts about traveling. Every moment is a surprise. Sometimes these surprises good, sometimes bad. In the end it’s fun and exciting.

I realized I was mindlessly craving adventure. This is when I decided I needed to mix my backpacker life and expat life together. I need a purpose and adventure, but I still wanted Netflix and chill with my girlfriend.

Once I started thinking of my new life in Bangkok as a traveler and expat cocktail, I felt more adventurous and accepting of new opportunities and experiences. I made a list of all the things I wanted to do in Vancouver but I didn’t have enough time for. The list ranges from life goals to tourist attractions.

Everyday I get to see a new piece of Bangkok as a wanderlust traveler. I’m exploring temples, galleries, and cozy cafes. At the end of the day I get to go home to a familiar room filled with two of the weirdest cats I’ve ever met and an amazing girlfriend. Instead of heading to a hostel filled with strangers suited up in elephant pants. Its truly the best of both worlds. This lifestyle is a new practice, I know there will be moments where my frustrations will rise. I find comfort in knowing that I created a place for myself in Thailand, where I can be a enthusiastic backpacker and queer expat hybrid.