In January 2018, I made the decision to travel for a year. I didn’t have any plans but I just wanted to escape the reality of what I perceived to be my very boring life.
I had the overly idealised outlook on travel that many people have. I had dreams of how freeing it would be, how much I would change and learn about myself and I was so excited to meet and embrace many different cultures. And while not all my grand notions were fulfilled, my year away has been amazing, unexpected and thrilling in many different ways.
The important thing to remember is that travel is not a fixer. Travel cannot make you happy if you were unhappy to begin with. Happiness is not about where you are in the world but more about your attitude and perspective to life around you. Travel has transformative power but probably not in the way that you expect before you leave. The last thing I expected was to be excited at the prospect of going home and re-embracing the life I was so eager to leave behind in the first place.
Travel has completely altered my perspective and while I don’t think I am fundamentally changed as a person, I certainly have a new lease on life. No more will I complain about my lifestyle at home when I truly know how good I have it.
If you plan to travel, don’t think of it as a way of running away from your problems. Instead, embrace every opportunity that comes along with open arms and you will end up being surprised by what these experiences will mean for you. These are the things I wish I had understood before I started travelling.
Travel is not glamorous
Thanks to Instagram, there is a very strong notion out there that travel is extremely glamorous. It’s all about endless sunsets and palaces, wearing flowing dresses and living by the sea. Instagram is great at curating the best bits of travelling but rarely do you see the true glamour of waiting for hours at a bus stop in the blistering heat, missing your flight or losing your luggage.
For me, these are the actual realities of travelling especially if you are backpacking long-term. You share a dorm room with up to ten or twelve other strangers and soon you forget all notions of privacy. Simple things like having a private bathroom or a good Wi-Fi connection is something to be excited about.
Getting into taxis and on buses with a giant backpack and several other stray items is the well-known method of getting around (and getting lost is par for the course). Your clothes become destroyed by endless severe laundry cycles and looking after your hair or putting on make-up is a luxury that you suddenly stop caring about. Clothes become practical rather than fashionable and you rely on your personality to make lasting impressions rather than your clothes or looks. You feel perpetually grubby and soon completely forget what luxury feels like.
And yet it is in these moments that the true value of travelling lies. It’s in the adrenaline rush after you escape a tricky situation or the relief of successfully getting to your next destination in one piece. It’s the self-assurance you get when you travel for a month completely solo or go on a tour and make endless new friends.
Travel is not about stunning beach shots in designer dresses edited to look like a fairytale. Yes, we all put the best parts of our travels on social media but travel is really about all those small, intricate experiences that challenge and scare you. It’s in these moments that you will realise the true potential travel has to alter your mindset and perspective on life.
Travel will not change you
You will find endless testimonials online about the transformative power of travel and while I do think that travel has potential to do this for some people (think Eat, Pray, Love for example), for the majority of us it will simply broaden our experiences.
Some people are more cut out to travel than others. Many people can live in transit for several years and never feel more at home. Others can keep their wanderlust at bay with just a few weeks of travel per year. What you get out of travelling and how you travel is defined by your own needs and habits.
I have met many people who have found their calling while travelling whether it was working with local communities or deciding to open up their own hostel in Peru. These people will say that travel changed their life, and this is true. But travel did not change them as a person, it just gave them the scope to realise what they wanted to do in life.
For me, I wanted travel to change the aspects of my personality I did not like. I thought that it would make me endlessly confident and I would feel more at peace in myself. I don’t want to say that travelling did not make me happy (it absolutely did) but it did not fundamentally change my insecurities or shortcomings, these are things I need to tackle by myself.
What travel did do was show me how capable I am. If you can travel by yourself for weeks on end and be okay then I feel like you can do anything that life throws at you. It also made me deeply appreciative of everything that I have and gave me a new found sense of determination to become the best version of myself. In this way, travel did not change me as a person but gave me the push I needed to realise that everything I need to be successful and happy in my own life, I already possessed it.
Travel will test you
Travelling is so much fun but there are also so many moments where you will just want to break down and cry. Getting around and seeing new places everyday is exhausting and testing and there will be many times that you just want to give up.
The tests come in those moments when you get lost in a new city or you have the terrible experience of having something stolen. There are obviously much worse things that can happen but for most, it’s the little trying moments that can push you over the edge. Experiencing poverty and challenges by people that live all over the world is a real eye opener and can really highlight the privilege we have to be able to travel in the first place.
But overall, being away from friends and family in a foreign part of the world was the one big challenge for. The more time you spend away the more you feel comfortable in your ability to tackle anything thrown at you all by yourself. But also, you come to realise that there truly is no place like home.
There is no right or wrong way to travel
Everyone has their own ideas about what it means to travel. Some people think volunteering and working with locals is the best way to truly experience a place. For others, staying in nice hotels near a beach is the perfect way to spend time abroad.
Then there are backpackers trying to see as much as possible on a limited budget. Some people want to party every night and others want to hike everyday. And then there are some who try to do a mixture of all of these things.
One thing I have learned while travelling is that there really is no right or wrong way to do it. Once you are trying to engage with locals and respect the culture of the area you are visiting, then I believe you can travel any way you want to.
I have done the weeks of partying and weeks of peaceful hiking. I have volunteered in local businesses and spent a few days in nice hotels. For me, travelling is about doing what makes you happy and comfortable.
It is always best to try and contribute to local businesses and it is important to always be respectful of people and their culture, but do not let anyone tell you that are not truly ‘travelling’ because you prefer to stay in hotels or because you have not volunteered yet.
Travel is about experiencing the world but it is also about you. After all, it is your hard-earned cash that is being spent. You will meet people who will never approve of your way of travelling and who do not understand why you would rather go to a beach than live in a hut in the middle of the jungle, but remember travel is your experience and no one else’s.
Meeting people easy
Before I left home to travel, the concept of making new friends seemed to alien to me. This might sound strange but for so many of us we just don’t have many opportunities to make new friendships in our day to day adult life.
Unless you are regularly taking up new hobbies or starting a new job somewhere, there is actually limited scope to forge relationships especially when you consider how busy everyone is. I think this is a reality for so many of us and it made me start to believe that meeting people and striking up conversations with strangers is terrifying and difficult just because I did not do it everyday.
The thought of walking up to a stranger in a bar and talking to them felt like something really bizarre to do when it is actually something so natural. When we already have a great circle of family, friends and accomplices in our life, it can be easy to become complacent about meeting new people.
I allowed this line of thinking to affect my anxieties about travelling, especially about travelling alone. However, one thing that travel truly taught me is that talking to people and meeting people is normal and easy. And in the majority of cases, people are actually nice and friendly and just as eager to chat to new people as you are. I wish I had known this before I left on my travel adventure because it would have saved me endless hours of anxiety over travelling by myself.
It is arguable that the backpacking landscape is easier to meet people than in regular life as it is so often full of solo travellers and people open to new people and experiences. However, I have truly developed the belief that a quick smile and a hello is a simple way to meet someone new, someone who could potentially change your life. And if that person does not want to talk back to you, then that is their problem and not yours.
Something I am so eager to retain when I get home is the ability to just talk to anyone. I am so content to be that strange person alone at the bar chatting to strangers. In fact, I actually really want to be that person.
Travel will alter your perspectives
The most fundamental gift that travel has given me is completely changing my perspective on just about everything. Before I left, I was completely disillusioned by my life and I was not appreciating just how good I had it. I am extremely lucky and am now excited to embrace life with my whole being.
I understand that happiness and satisfaction is not something that can be attributed to the scenery. It does not matter where you are in the world, if you feel unhappy in your life you need to do something about it. Running from it will not fundamentally transform whatever it is that is making you feel the way you do.
I am so thankful for my travel experience because it allowed me to truly understand this. I am approaching life with a new found sense of motivation and enthusiasm that I have never felt before. So even though I feel like I am not completely changed by my travel experience, I have a new found sense of contentment that I do owe to being able to explore the world for a year.