Fast forward to the present day situation, and I have now travelled to over 30 countries at the age of 23, approx 20 of which were over a 6 months period this year.
So…what on earth happened in between?
Truth be told, I felt like I was living life too safely. And whilst some say security and safety should be a goal, I personally saw it as intensely limiting to exploring my capacity and capability as a human being.
I wanted to grow and I wasn’t growing, I felt stagnant and boring. I mean, we all don’t need to travel the world to do and realise these things, but I just knew that it was going to be the thing for me. And whilst people promised me my time would come later, I did not want to take that chance. If I have learnt one thing, it is that life has a way of creeping up and pulling the rug out from under you and changing your plans so frequently that I knew I had to seize the opportunity whilst I could.
So I did a crazy thing, and declined my internship offer, telling my friends and family I was taking the year to travel the world.
This decision did not go down too well. Basically everyone thought I was having some form of a crisis, or that it was not safe, or that I was running away from my problems. Heck, even my med school dean who was my research supervisor asked a mate if I was unwell (I was not).
People simply could not fathom that a decision like this could be made purely with a motivation to enjoy life and the world. This was perceived as selfish, foolish and unnecessary.
There was no going back however, and once I had declined the job, the only thing I could do was start to prepare and plan for my time abroad. So it was with mixed emotions of fear and hopefulness that I created a plan to get myself overseas.
I worked my toosh off in a mindless job for 5 months just to save the funds, I exhibited a surprising level of self control to sacrifice material things to keep the bigger picture in mind.
And sooner or later by some miracle I was off on a big jet plane across the world to start my 6 months off in hip Berlin.
Did I have some pin drop moment or realisation over the course of the travels, that ‘ahhhh this is what life is’- Master Oogway sort of metaphysical realisation? Hell no.
But I did learn so many things along the way that collectively made for a progressive experience overall, and I want to share some of these simple things with you, so that maybe you will consider taking time to travel alone at some point in your life too!
I learnt how to be alone
I’ve touched on this subject in a previous post, but the art of solitude is really tough to put into practice in a world where connectivity and communal is the celebrated norm, portrayed as the ideal and a sign of being a celebrated individual, having personal success and being happy and healthy.
But being alone and challenging this idea that we should always be connected, it can be actually quite liberating, albeit scary at first. It helps you realise you should stop falsifying your life and pretending to be happy. Surrounded by but disconnected from people is not living, and travel forces you to come into your own and to be comfortable with yourself and yourself alone.
I began to enjoy being alone, having a tea in a cafe and writing and people watching whilst alone. It was so freeing. I felt liberated from the restrictions of the false self assurance I would give myself to preferentially be OK with mediocre company over being alone. This was a beautiful moment for me because it represented learning to love myself enough to be OK with being alone and not succumb to loneliness.
I wondered the streets of Barcelona alone one day. I did spend about 100 euros on makeup so maybe I do need company around so I don’t become a broke ass b*tch everytime I step outside, but it was such a beautiful day. I did nothing but leisurely wander.
I’ve eaten lunch alone. It is the BEST. I didn’t need to talk. I could sit on my phone. I could eat all the food myself.
Had I not travelled alone, I would have never in a million years told you that I could be alone, and shock horror, actually enjoy it.
I learnt how to let go
I’m a perfectionist. And whilst that’s my go to answer for ‘what are some of your flaws’ in a job interview (ha), this trait, is really inflexible, rigid and restrictive a mentally to have when travelling, almost debilitatingly so.
In theory, planning and preparation are foundations for avoiding disasters. But travel, it’s a whole new ball game of things will inevitably fuck up no matter how hard you want them to not fuck up.
Part of travel is letting go of your expectations, having some scaffold in mind but knowing things will not always go to plan. You can google the BEST hostel in Ljubljana, and it will still have bed bugs and you will wake up looking mauled. You can research your train to Rome 14 days in advance, and it could still cost you more than your daily budget. You can lose your 120 euro Zara coat in Bolivia (if you see some random in a gorgeous khaki coat in Corumba, give me a call y’all, I want my coat back!).
Letting go is freeing. It enables you to keep the bigger picture in focus, and practice patience, tolerance, and just letting things be.
I started relishing the small things and learnt how to be present
Whilst I saved a relatively large sum of money, it needed to last for several months. I wasn’t able to buy things like we all normally do on holidays. I had no choice but to savour my moments in a new found way.
Sometimes this meant feeling the coolness of a cup of freshly squeezed OJ against my sweaty palms in sweltering European heat, and savouring the tangy and sweet pulpy goodness sip after sip.
Other times it meant enjoying the silence and stillness of a 5 am sunrise In cappadocia as hundreds of hot air balloons take off into the changing hues of the Turkish sky.
Or just straight up a cheesy ass pizza with bocconcini and fresh vine ripened tomatoes after a long day hiking, the kind that is so stringy it gets all up in your face and you don’t even care.
Being forced to live in the present moment is a grounding experience. I began to realise the simple things I tuned out on a daily basis in search for some bigger hit of WOW. Really, all I had to do was focus in on the present moment and everything I was searching for was already there.
I connected with people all over the world
A big fear people have and the most commonly asked question is always, ‘Aren’t you afraid you won’t meet people? Or that you won’t get lonely?’. These were definitely legitimate concerns I had.
But seriously, if you’re staying in hostels, there is no chance that you will meet noone. In fact you’ll be hard pressed to find a quiet moment. They are rare!
Being alone also forces you out of your safety net of known friends, and you have to seek out other people you may normally not talk to if you were with a bunch of your old mates or disengaged from the world consumed in facebook on your phone!
The realisation of the commonality of the human experience is one of the biggest treats of travelling, at least for me. For example, girls all over the world deal with idiot guys in their lives all the time, and having a vent sesh with a girl from Brazil about her boy troubles can be a strangely connecting experience!
People all over the world share similar hopes and aspirations and discussing this, learning about different people and new cultures, really opens you up as a person, challenging or adding to your pre existing ideas of the world.
There is something about people who travel the world. Generally speaking, they have an inherent priority to put their thirst for knowledge or appreciation of exploring the world ahead of the 9-5 just to stay alive mentality. And this self confidence, strong sense of self assurance, happiness, fulfilment, and go getter attitude is contagious.
I met so many truly wonderful gems of human beings on my travels and I am so grateful for those moments we connected, even if they were fleeting.
I developed gratitude, renewed perspective & newfound purpose
There was a large part of me that had lost sight of what was already in front of me. I wanted to run away a bit from my dissatisfaction with the mediocre and empty life I felt I was living.
Travelling abroad enables you to stop thinking about the grass being greener on the other side, and actually see the lawn for what it is. And the world, is beaut. But it helps you to put your own world, and your little microcosmic interpretation of life into the grand scheme of things. And to realise hey this is or isn’t so bad, and to develop gratitude or change the things that left you feeling unfulfilled.
For me, it allowed me to develop immense gratitude for things like having a home, having parents who feed and clothe and look after you and your education, your friends for being there through thick and thin. It helped me to figure out what I wanted from life, how I wanted to feel, and how I could implement steps to get there.
Fulfilment and happiness should never be emotions felt only in carefully curated temporary situations or circumstances. We all deserve to feel in awe, amazed and content every single day of our lives. Travelling helped me realise this. And I am forever grateful for the shitty circumstances that led me to hitting decline on that job offer, because I have come back much the richer for it.