travelling

Life after travelling

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.

Shut your eyes and see

It took me three years to realise that I was wrong.

For a really long time, I believed that the most important things in life are captured by the eye. It’s kind of like a window to the soul thing in which your eyes allow for you to discover the world and read people and learn things and expand horizons. I thought that you could feed your soul through feasting your eyes on amazing and beautiful places and things and people.

But I was wrong.

It has been almost three years since I first read James Joyce’s Ulysses. There was a sentence that stood out as if it were being shouted at me…

“Shut your eyes and see.”

I re-read it at least fifteen times before my brain was able to wrap itself around the confusion.

Shut your eyes and see.

I’ve been wrestling with it ever since…

What I see through my eyes are signatures of all the things I have been placed on this planet to read. But somehow there is a limit to that. There is a limit to what can be seen. Limits to discovery. Once you’ve seen it all, you are done. It is done. You have done it. You’ve seen it.

You’ve travelled to Germany and you’ve seen their giant pretzels and now you can tell everyone about it and show them the pictures when you get back home.

But really you did so much more than that.

There is something bigger than seeing everything.

There is something to which there really is no limit.

Something you can never exhaust.

Because there is no limit to what can be felt.

And that is why, when you shut your eyes, you really see.

You discover more. You delve deeper. You understand better.

You comprehend.

That is why, when you shut your eyes and allow yourself to experience and to feel, I imagine you create the most powerful of memories.

It is huddling around that table in the freezing cold enjoying a glass of Glühwein with people who speak in your native tongue.

It is standing in the rain in Amsterdam with a friend you only met twelve weeks ago, but who somehow has become a soul more connected to you than even some of your lifelong friends.

It is climbing trees in the Gooise forest with the sound of summer hissing from the treetops.

It’s not about where you go or where you’ve been or what you’ve been taking pictures of.

It’s about the one thing no-one can take away from you.

It’s the memories.

It’s eating a bowl of bitterballen in a restaurant in Utrecht not because you’re hungry, but because they have heaters that will help bring back the feeling in your hands.

It’s listening to Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 – the saddest classical symphony of all time – over breakfast with friendly strangers in Belgium.

It’s stroking your fingers across the rough sand of the North Sea.

It’s dancing so joyfully the soles of your shoes tear off.

It’s cycling against gale force winds in aggressive rain and complete darkness through the narrow paths of ‘s-Graveland.

It’s falling off bicycles.

It’s thinking about the people you loved when you were home.

It’s the nostalgia when listening to that song from that drive to the ocean that day.

You must remember this.

It was all I had.

All I’ve ever had.

The only currency.

The only proof that I was alive –

Memory.

9 Countries | 19 Cities | 365 Days

There’s a song I listen to every time I’m about to leave a place. It gives me a feeling of coming home. Like all the Lego blocks fit just right to build up a little place for my soul to rest in.

For a long time I believed that home was something I would find looking out from atop mountains or sitting next to rivers or peering across endless farmland. I thought I’d find my home hopping across countries and oceans and continents. I thought that it would have a name and that it would have a little space for me to live in.

But once I found it wasn’t a place, I started thinking that maybe home was something you build inside yourself. Through discovering what you want from life and what kind of person you want to be from here on out. It takes a really long time and a lot of hurdles before you reach a point where you can go “Yes. This is who I want to be. This is someone I can be proud of.”

But as soon as you’ve reached that point where you can look at yourself in the mirror and smile without cringing, you somehow find that, still, that is not enough. Being content with yourself is only one little Lego piece needed to build the home you’re so eager for.

Because after a year of pondering its meaning, what I found home to truly be, is the people you surround yourself with.

It’s all those souls you meet along the way who make you feel less alone in this world.

So this is my goodbye to the home I built here in Neverland. To my replacement family who gave me more than I could’ve hoped for. To the folk I met on my travels who gave me all the memories. And most importantly, to the friends who helped me live through this year with no single ounce of regret.

Doei, Nederland! Het was echt een leuke feest!! I love you and I’ll miss you xxx