My year abroad taught me many things. About life and about the world and about people and about contentedness. I’ve been back home 6 months now and thought it apt to reflect on the decisions, the journey and what I’ve learnt being back home.
Life before travelling
Before I started pursuing my travels, I was your average eight-to-five-and-sometimes-later’er who spent Friday nights celebrating the end of a brutal week with a double and a sharing session with friends. Sure, we enjoyed our jobs and we had good fun embarking on local adventures and participating in local activities.
But what I think served as a shield from enlightenment was our lack of that sense of awe of the world and of the universe. Life had become such a day-to-day thing that our tunnel vision left us, to some extent, in the dark.
I’ve written quite a bit about how travelling changed me and my mindset, but it seems that it had this profound impact because it was such a significant upgrade on the outlook I had on life before I broke free.
Why I went travelling
By no means was I unhappy.
I think I just needed to learn to appreciate everything around me more. To wake up in the morning with fresh eyes. Because we tend to stare out across foreign oceans with more awe than we do our own. Which is pretty stupid on our part. But it remains inevitable.
I imagine many of us young folk have this desire for adventure. We have a picture in our mind of an inconspicuously placed wooden swing under a palm tree on a flawless beach with turquoise water. Or a rooftop scene with a small table and a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with two glasses and a full moon. It’s what the internet people want you to imagine. It’s how they sell trips.
What I desired was to know more and see more and feel more and nothing quite makes this happen for me like looking out of a train window across a landscape I’ve never seen before. Or walking through a new street and absorbing that foreign feeling of hearing a new language all around me.
For me, it was less about a getaway and more about living the life. I wanted to, for at least a little while, be like them. Live like them. Talk like them. Be them.
I wanted to live a different life. If I lived a different life, maybe the quarter-life crisis and the doubts would fade and the questions would be answered and I would finally know my true self. Away from peer and cultural and religious influence. It would be me making decisions based on the self I really was and not the self I was expected to be. Just a pure me. The me I want to be.
It’s like Eleanor Roosevelt said:
It’s your life – but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.
Life while travelling
Loved every minute ‘cause it made me feel so alive.
It was perfect. Most days. I built a new support system on my own terms. I chose friends who shared my outlook on life. I chose to carry myself with confidence. To venture to new places alone. To dive into adventure.
Travelling taught me that you can find friendship in the strangest and most unsuspecting of places. That you can connect with strangers on a level far deeper than lifelong friends. That you can find your place in this world through connecting with others like you. And that it is up to you to reach out and connect and grow with those around you in order to find that sense of belonging.
It also taught me that “having it all” isn’t something to try and achieve but something to try and develop within yourself. It’s not about things. It’s not about places. It’s about you and the self you build and the reasons you believe you can be proud of that person.
Life after travelling
So what, then, do you do when you come back home and you find yourself right back at the dawn of question number one and two – who am I and what am I in this world?
Inevitably, travelling cannot be a lifelong thing. Somewhere along the way you have to stabilise your life in order to fulfill other desires such as having your own little place where you can play your piano. Grow your vegetable garden. Cultivate your spices. Raise your dogs.
So you find yourself sitting on this fence in the midst of responsibility and adventure and your being is torn through its centre.
But what I’ve learnt, as time has gone by in my little hometown, is that this new me that has surfaced – the individual whom I have developed on my own terms and in my own pursuit of meaning – has outgrown the old me. I do not want the same things anymore.
And the toughest part of that realisation is admitting that the life you need to build for yourself from here on out will not compare to the one you lived before you left. And through this process, you might lose some friends and you might go through a whole new level of self-discovery. And it’s not easy and some days you will feel more lost at home than you did before your journey started.
But it’s your responsibility to cultivate this new appreciation for life and for yourself and to be strong in your conviction that you have everything you need to build the life you desire. A life built on your own principles and your own confidence and your own vision.
Your adventure never ended.
It has only just begun.