One tiny, seemingly insignificant, life-changing decision.

It's incredible to look back at your life and trace the steps it took to get you to a specific moment. Most often there is a chain of events that led you in a certain direction; a multitude of intertwined decisions that, when all working together, brought you to where you are today. But every once in a while, you can pinpoint one tiny, seemingly insignificant thing you did that made a huge difference. For me, that tiny, seemingly insignificant thing was bringing earplugs to a handsome, sleepy traveler as he relaxed in a hammock.

Let me back up a bit.

This is me at Erawan Falls, three years ago today.

After teaching in South Korea for a year, I decided to take the long way home by spending nearly six months winding my way through Southeast Asia and Europe. My first stop was Thailand, and by March 5, 2011, I had been in the country for about six weeks. The first two weeks were spent traveling with my parents. We visited temples and got daily massages in Bangkok, zip-lined in the jungle and visited the night market in Chiang Mai, and soaked up the sun and relaxed on the beaches of Phuket. The next four weeks were spent volunteering at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (GRP) in the tiny village of Bang Rong in Phuket. Here, I woke up early to feed small apes and clean their cages, learned and taught others about wildlife conservation, and camped in the wilderness with minimal supplies. The experiences I had in Thailand were exciting to say the least, and transformative if we're being completely honest. Yet little did I know that the most life-changing moment of all was yet to come.

Exactly three years ago today, I was traveling with a girl I barely knew. She was the childhood friend of a mutual friend who was supposed to be traveling with us, but who was stuck in Korea because of a broken leg. This situation left me in charge of planning the rest of our Thailand trip, and because I had been to a handful of Thailand's must-see places with my parents, I decided we should go to Kanchanaburi, a destination a little more off the beaten track, and recommended to me by one of the Thai employees at the GRP.

We stayed in Kanchaburi for only two nights, signing up for an excursion to visit Erawan Falls and the bridge over the River Kwai on our only full day. There were a handful of other travelers on this excursion, and throughout the day we mingled with them as we walked along and swam in the waterfalls, enjoyed a lunch of Thai noodles, and visited the Burma Railway, learning about the 100,000 Asian civilian workers and prisoners of war that died during its construction. At the end of the excursion, a few of us decided to take the train the whole way back to the city. A handsome French/Dutch traveler and I were two of those people, so we, along with an Italian couple and a Japanese girl, talked away the afternoon as we admired Thailand's lush scenery from the train's hard, wooden benches and reveled in the warm breeze floating through the open windows.

This is the husband sitting on the Burma Railway, three years ago today.

The handsome traveler and I were staying at the same guesthouse, so our conversation continued as we walked back from the train station. When we arrived, we were invited to a dinner planned by some of the other travelers on the excursion. We both accepted the invitation, and so our conversation continued into the evening, through dinner, down the street to a bar, and finishing with a walk back to the guesthouse.

As the night came to an end we said our goodbyes, wishing each other good luck for our travels. We were both leaving Kanchanaburi the next day to head to Thailand's southern islands. I returned to my room, feeling very content after a day full of exploration and good conversation. But then, just as I was about to put in the earplugs that I rely on for a good night's sleep, I remembered that the handsome traveler had complained about being kept up the night before by his noisy neighbors. Looking out the window, I saw him relaxing in a hammock, and decided to go out and give him a pair of earplugs to ensure that he would get a good night's sleep as well.

And that was it. That was it! That tiny, seemingly insignificant decision I made to bring earplugs to a handsome, sleepy traveler ended up being the most important, life-changing moment of my life. For as I approached the hammock, the handsome traveler reached out his hand, placed it on the back of my head, and kissed me. And from that kiss stemmed emails, a few days on the Thai island of Ko Tao, a week in Bali, a weekend in France, two years of trips to Minnesota and Amsterdam, emails and video calls, a wedding, and now a life together. I never could've imagined that this tiny decision would be the best one I ever made ... but it was!

Now as I mentioned before, there is often a chain of events that create your life's path, and this is certainly true for this story as well. My dad, for example, likes to take credit for getting me to Asia in the first place. You see, he was the one who showed me the link to a job opportunity and encouraged me to act on it. Also, had it not been for my parents' trip to Thailand, I probably wouldn't have ended up in Kanchanaburi at all. In fact, had I not volunteered at the GRP and acted on the recommendation from an employee there, I wouldn't have gone to Kanchanaburi either. And then, of course, there is my friend who broke her leg. Had she not injured herself on a pre-school sledding field trip (true story), thus leaving me in charge of our itinerary and also encouraging me to go to Bali for a week while she recovered on a beach in Cambodia, well, who knows how things would've played out.

But, in the end, regardless of how I got there in the first place, it all comes down to the earplugs. For had I not decided to give them to the handsome, sleepy traveler as he relaxed in the hammock, I wouldn't be living in Amsterdam today, celebrating my three happiest years with the love of my life.


  1. What a sweet and lovely story! I had never heard it before and it was so fun to read. It is crazy how just one little decision can determine the rest of your life!

  2. Thanks, Laura! I'm glad you liked it ... it was fun to write as well :)