It’s inevitable, as the year ends, that we look forward. We create goals, think about what we’re aiming for, set new rules for ourselves. But at the end of the year, it’s also good to look back, on what we have achieved, and what we learned from those achievements.
I wrote this article a while ago, but it’s especially relevant now, as I’m working out my next step. Hopefully it will be helpful to you too!
If you think that travelling is just a holiday dressed up in gap yah clothing, think again.
It’s not just an endless opportunity for envy-inducing Instagram shots. It’s not just beers on the beach and sunrise hikes. It’s not just playing with elephants and zooming around on scooters that you are not qualified to drive.
It can be all of those things, of course. But it can also be so much more than that. Assumption-challenging. Confidence-building. Comfort zone-expanding.
Figure out what is important
It’s easy to say that travel is just the pursuit of hedonism. That it’s a way of escaping, of ridding yourself of something; that it’s just born of a desire to be free from the fetters of career and education. And I can totally see the truth in that.
But then, there is no denying this other truth, either. The truth in travel’s capacity to build someone into a different, better, stronger person; its capacity to force someone to become an explorer, navigator, organiser, team-player; to mold them into the hero of their own story.
It is only when you have tumbled into a world characterised by unfamiliarity that you are able to disentangle the things that really matter, and the parts of yourself that are really important.
When you travel, you question everything.
Fear shouldn’t be an obstacle
The girl I was before I set off to backpack around South America is not the same person as the girl who has just spent fifteen months backpacking, working and living around the world. So much has changed.
And part of that is just the usual transformation of getting older and growing up.
But for me, especially because I have been travelling intermittently since the age of 18, travel has immeasurably shaped the way I have grown. Almost nothing scares me now.
(Although I am still freaked out by fish. Seriously, they are just so horribly unpredictable.)
And I figure, if I can conquer countries in far flung corners of the earth, if I can carry my life in a bag on my back, if I can live with no permanent home and limited possessions, then I can sure as hell kick arse in day-to-day life if and when I decide to settle down somewhere.
Although I think the settling down is still some way off yet.
What it is I actually want to do
People are lucky if they know what path they want to follow early on in life.
If you want to be a doctor, a firefighter, a teacher… a recruitment consultant, whatever that is… you know what you have to do to get there. You study certain subjects, work hard to get a good internship, get the right work experience.
I’m not saying that it’s easy. But if you’ve got an end goal, you know the direction you have to take.
It’s harder if you can’t pinpoint your future.
It means that you have to spend a lot of time doing jobs just to have work. Jobs that don’t inspire you because you have to pay the rent. Figuring out what it is that you don’t like in order to stumble across something that you do.
I just don’t particularly want to do things that way.
So instead of moving to London to follow my friends (because I have unbelievable FOMO), I decided to figure things out from the other side of the world. Travel has always been on my long-term agenda, and it is in itself a pursuit that is immensely gratifying in the challenges and experience it presents.
But it’s also been incredibly valuable in helping me to sort through my priorities.
Running a blog started as a hobby, an online diary, a way to reassure my mum that I hadn’t been murdered by drug lords in Ecuador. But it’s taught me heaps more than I ever thought it would: technical skills like SEO and social media management, elements of design work in creating graphics and a pretty website, and good working habits like creating regular content to a weekly deadline.
And it’s improved my writing no end.
I cringe when I read back over my first few blog entries, but they make me a little bit happy too. They make it (glaringly) obvious how far I’ve come – and give me hope that I will continue to get better, too.
Sometimes you just need space to reflect
Travelling gives you a lot of time to think. Whether it’s on a 17 hour bus ride through jungle-clad valleys in Sumatra, or walking home at 5am after a night of exploring Melbourne’s hidden cocktail bars, you get the time and space to work out what it is that you want.
For me, it’s writing.
There’s always been an inkling in the back of my head that this is what I was meant to do. As a kid I spent innumerable hours happily plunking away on our chunky Windows 95 PC, filling pages and pages of Word documents with stories about unicorns with protagonists called Jimmy. But I always sort of dismissed pursuing writing as a bit of a ridiculous notion (getting paid to do exactly what I want to do, what I do for fun anyway… is this real life?)
But now I think, maybe I could actually give this writing thing a go? Maybe I should give it a go – even if just to try, and fail, and come up with a plan B somewhere down the road.
I cannot describe the thrill I got when I landed my first paid gig as a writer – even if it is just regularly writing 500 words of mildly confrontational clickbait. Hey, there’s skill involved in that, too.
And now my blog is getting more traffic than ever before, and people are messaging me asking for travel advice, and I’m writing articles on buses and glorying in whole mornings spent in coffee shops crafting the perfect blog post.
Travel has helped me realise all this. And I definitely could have worked it out through the medium of a stifling entry-level office job, sure, but I like my way better.
(I’m not knocking entry-level office jobs, by the way. If they help you get where you’re going, full steam ahead!).
I’ve realised that travelling hasn’t just taught me how to navigate public transport in countries with no discernible system, when I don’t speak the language, and how to deal when I crash my car into a kangaroo. It’s taught me how much I can accomplish, what I want to do with my career, and a whole lot about who I am as a person.
What has travel taught you?
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