Last night, over dinner, I was having a rather pointless conversation with my boyfriend about the things I could have done if I hadn’t gone backpacking around the world for a year. I became suddenly wrapped up in the fear of being 25 (almost 26!) and analysing every single decision I’d made over the past 5 years.
You see my blogging friends, before I jet set off around the world back in 2011, I had a great job opportunity handed to me on a silver platter straight out of university – how convenient, I hear you say! A job that, career-wise, probably would have put me ahead of the ranks by now. But, instead of reconsidering my plans for the year, the stubborn 21-year-old version of myself barely noticed that opportunity: nothing – absolutely nothing – was coming in between me and my well-thought-out travel plans. They were my escape plan, my year’s work. I was getting away from my standard, routine-based lifestyle and not even a job offer as the head travel writer of Lonely Planet could have stopped me, (that wasn’t the big opportunity, but you get the picture…)
I was getting way too wrapped up in the where-I-could-have-been speech when my oh so loyal and rational boyfriend, Moe, brought me crashing right back to reality with what was a rather insightful statement that went something along the lines of, “You’re probably a different person because you travelled.”
This struck me as an interesting observation, hit me like a freight train – the thought that a year of different experiences had changed the course of the person I had become, overwhelmed me. So, today, I thought about it most of the day. It’s the reason I was able to compile this rather extensive list;
1. Travel taught me something about healthy escapism
Before I travelled, my life focus was working 40 – 50 hours a week across 2 jobs and stuffing as much money into my savings account as possible. I’d fall asleep most nights at 8 pm absolutely exhausted from working and attending University at the same time. I lived in a house with separated parents who didn’t speak to each other unless it was through me. I don’t remember anything much other than coasting through – numb enough to cope with the chaos around me, working towards the glorious end-game. Travel changed my entire outlook. Instead of tip-toeing around my life I was thrown from one excitement to the next, making new friends, eating exotic food, and feeling completely alive. It gives me goosebumps even now to remember the pure thrill that coursed through me that first freezing winter’s night in Guangzhou, China. The first night of the year-long, planned adventure. That feeling, that moment, that healthy escapism has never left me.
2. Travel taught me how not to be scared
I’ll be honest and admit that I grew up an anxious person. A very anxious person. I’d be tempted to call myself a cautious catastrophiser. I can’t say for sure that I’m fully recovered, but travel certainly helped to alleviate the fear from my life. For the first while, everything terrified me – flight delays, men with guns at airports, a suspicious look from a local, walking down the street in a foreign country all alone. But, even though I was scared, I started to break free from the fear until I wasn’t anymore. It just happened. And, let me tell you that I was a different girl all together.
3. Travel taught me to live in the moment
When you’re standing on the Great Wall of China staring out at an ancient wall snaking into the distance, with no one around you, it’s hard not to live right in that moment. It’s hard to know what happened before that moment or care about what might happen after. And, there have been so many of those moments in my life. Getting soaked in the rain on the Antrim Coast in Ireland, standing at what felt like the edge of the world on the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, eating the best pizza in the world in Naples, being chased by monkeys in Malaysia, being scalded for not doing my Spanish homework in Panama, staring up at the permeating dark sky from an igloo in Finland, riding a water buffalo in Vietnam, eating macaroons at the Palace of Versais (one of my favourite places on the planet) in Paris. I could go on forever. For each one of these magic experiences I truly appreciated what it meant to live exactly in the moment. To feel a complete sense of overwhelming joy and appreciation.
4. Travel made me see myself as an independent adult
The past years I’d defined myself as my role in the family. The eldest sibling trying to be perfect and meet 1000 expectations all at once (and miserably failing might I add). When I was travelling I no longer defined myself like this, I simply lived as Rosie, the nothing-special-happy-traveller. And, I bought this attitude home with me. I’m stronger than I ever was.
5. Travel made me appreciate people for who they are at the time
For an entire year of my life I travelled with someone who I no longer see. It has taken me a while to realise that I am still allowed to reflect happily back on the holiday. Travel has forced me to realise that sometimes life brings you together with someone for the purpose of enjoying those experiences.
6. Travel taught me to respect and appreciate diversity
Let me tell you that travel blew open my world views in a way I never expected it to. All those pre-conceived ideas and perceptions that I had about other cultures and religion were thrown out the window and I felt myself understanding and appreciating difference at a level I never had before. I still do.
7. Travel made me understand the importance of experiences
There are some things that money just can’t buy and never will, and instead of collecting things, travel has taught me to collect moments. There are days, even now, when I sit at my office and my mind floats back to one of my many travel encounters and for that entire thought I feel completely at ease. Floating in a world of happiness.
8. Travel taught me new things
Ok, so I may have forgotten most of the Spanish I learnt in central America, or how to make the perfect Vietnamese rice paper rolls, but travel has filled my curious mind with so many different skills that I never would have learned if I hadn’t decided to become a globe trotter back in 2011. I know how to say thank you in at least fifteen languages, how to stay calm in a country with no road-rules whatsoever and how to eat a miraculous carby meal without feeling guilty for 24 hours. Travel had taught me so much about myself and my desire to drink in the new.
9. Travel introduced me to people from all walks of life
I can’t tell you how wonderful it has been to meet the chocolate-box variety of people I’ve met while travelling. It is other people that have helped me see the true value of living the life you love. I met so many people who had just quit their jobs, sold their houses in the name of travel and happiness. That, to me, is something they should never regret.
10. Travel took the princess out of me (mostly)
Before I went backpacking for the first time, the majority of my experiences travelling had been in five star hotels with plush pillows, ensuite bathrooms and staff ready to cater to my beck and call (well, my parents beck and call). I remember totally freaking out the first time I had a communal shower at a hostel in Istanbul. By the end of the trip, my hair was long and unkempt, my standard for hygiene and luxury had dropped into the minuses and I was too busy to travelling to worry about what a hotel room looked like. I got bed bugs on several occasions, was sleep deprived from snoring men in dorm rooms but loved, at least, 80% of the #hostellyf.
Since 2011, I have been back overseas twice to Europe and Vietnam as well as done several domestic trips. I’m on an endless journey of cramming as much travel as I can afford into my life. I have no idea where a house will fit into those plans, or a family – or any of those ginormous life decisions, but for now I’m happy.
Really, travel had freed me like nothing else could. I needed travel like an anti-depressant, like a year in therapy, like nothing I’d ever needed before.