I’m currently sitting in a McDonalds in Ao Nang, a fairly tourist-heavy resort town in Krabi Province, southern Thailand. This wasn’t the plan.

Rewind a few days and I’m in Railay, renting kayaks and enjoying the incredible views:

A panorama of Railay's east beach

The plan at that point was to move to Tonsai beach, the smallest and quietest of Railay’s beaches. I’d hoped to settle down there for a few days, enjoying the beach and doing some writing.

This all unravelled when I got food poisoning (which, I’ve since found out, is pretty common in Tonsai).

My few days in Tonsai turned into 3 days in bed, with occasional walks to the shop for water and the medical clinic for charcoal tablets (which seemed to help). Things did not go to plan.

 

Finding positives between the pukes

It’s pretty hard to take any positives from an experience like food poisoning — it wasn’t fun and I learnt very little. But this morning I got on the earliest boat available to Ao Nang and I started to be reminded of how new plans can form as quickly as old plans were trampled on.

A Belgium guy waiting for the same boat had just been to Koh Lanta, telling me about how it was big enough to make cheap accommodation plentiful with beaches long enough to not feel crowded. He also told me it was cheap and easy to reach from Ao Nang — something I didn’t realise.

I touched down in Ao Nang, found somewhere to sit with my laptop and looked up hostels in Koh Lanta. I found a cheap room and then walked a few doors down the road to book a 2-hour ferry for this afternoon. Total cost for ferry and room — 600 baht / <£15.

Things fall into place.

 

What’s the lesson?

Travelling without an agenda is a great luxury — it means I can be as flexible as I was today. I’m lucky enough to be doing this for a few months, but eventually I’ll be back to living in a more structured way.

When life is more structured, it sucks a little more when things don’t go to plan. It can be disappointing and make you feel like you’ve wasted time. So what’s the lesson?

I fell on my feet today because I was able to grab the best option available — I was able to improvise. Improvisation in ‘real life’ (not backpacking) is often frowned upon — making things up as you go suggests a lack of thought and planning. But that’s just missing the whole point, which is that you have to improvise in real life! If you don’t, you’re just constantly battered by setbacks and plans gone awry.

In his book The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb talks about how opportunity in life is found in serendipity — you just need to be aware of and open to serendipitous encounters.

I was open to serendipity today because after 3 days spent in my bug-infested jungle hut I was pretty desperate to have a conversation with another human.

A typical setback scenario back home in ‘real life’ would be sitting around due to a train delay. My normal reaction might be to turn inwards a little, feeling sorry for myself and swearing under my breath about the useless train operator.

The better, serendipity-maximising alternative? Turning to the passenger next to me and using our shared dislike of the train operator to start a conversation. Who knows where it could lead — things fall into place.

 

For those wondering: I just bought a thing of fries at McDonalds. Seriously salty but pretty sweet for a stomach on the mend.


Also published on Medium.