I’m not a callous person. I’m the sort of girl who cries at charity adverts on the television, who can always be relied on to coo at a picture of a cute animal and enjoys hugs with her mum.
But, when it comes to uprooting myself from family and friends and travelling solo to far-flung places I’ve never been, I amaze myself by being able to do so with minimal emotion.
“How do you feel?”
I’ve been asked several times over the past few months and weeks leading up to my next big trip, this time to Perth, Australia. I think people expect me to admit to a level of nerves, anxiety and of course, excitement. But what I feel and express is somewhat apathetic.
I feel ok.
I’m alright with the thought of my impending adventure. I’m fine with not knowing what I’m going to do until I get there and not bothered about a lack of a finely tuned plan.
And most of all, I feel unperturbed about doing all of this alone.
Packing my belongings, travelling to the airport; family and friend hugs, goodbyes, kisses, promises to stay safe and keep in touch. All of this flashes by and suddenly I’m at the departure gate and realise I have yet to cry, to feel nervous, to feel much overwhelming emotion really.
Wow, what’s wrong with me? I must have a heart of stone, surely? Nobody could be so unfeeling about leaving their loved ones behind and embarking on a independent journey?
Perhaps this girl is some kind of sociopath that we should steer clear of, seriously.
Well, firstly, it’s not that easy to say goodbye. Of course it was hard to leave my parents, my family and friends. Of course I will yearn for my own cosy bed in a quiet, comfortable home surrounded by my belongings, photographs, memories… The familiar routines: work, drinks with friends, pets, supermarket shops – all these wrap around you like a comfortable blanket and life feels good.
So why leave it all behind? And more importantly, why is it completely ok that you should feel ok with it all?
The desire to travel propels you
You’ve had this idea to travel. But actually, it’s more than an idea, it’s a feeling inside of you that started out as a subdued hum, and continued to build until it crescendos into an almighty roar that fills your entire body, your head and your heart until you cannot ignore it.
So now you really want to travel. You excitedly pick up brochures in travel agents and gaze at the glossy images of far flung locations, you trawl so many blogs and websites that your bookmarks and Pinterest are chock-a-block, you speak to people who’ve already been travelling, you read guide books. You drink in as much knowledge as you can about the places you wish to visit – but above all else, you just know you want to go there. Because it looks awesome.
And that desire will fuel you throughout all the slightly scary – but amazing – moments such as applying for your visas, booking your flights, getting your jabs, packing and getting to the airport. And it’ll be there every step of your journey because everything will be new, exciting, and completely up to you.
You’re allowed to feel excited
If, like me, you have been afflicted by the desire to travel and see new places – even if we’re just talking a week away or a full blown backpacking trip – then lucky you!
I feel excited about things all the time. I don’t know whether that means I have the simple mind of a child, but I’m pleased that I do. I get so giddy about the thought of travelling, about what is around the corner and all of the places yet to discover that I can’t seem to stay put in my own life. I’m always jetting off someplace new, just to check it out.
How great is it to feel excited? I think that as we get older we lose that innocent shine of excitement that lights up a child’s eyes. Excitement should be part of your life, otherwise wouldn’t it all just feel a little stale?
Your trip means your way, your rules and in your own time
This is a big one. Whether you’ve just decided to embark on your first trip or have been travelling for years, this is probably one of the only times in your life that you can be completely self-absorbed and travel to suit yourself. Love a particular place and want to explore or met an amazing crew in your hostel and can’t bear to leave? Then don’t worry about it. This is your journey.
Don’t listen to those people who suck air in between their teeth and say “oh, so you’ve been in [insert country] for so long and you’ve not seen [insert city, landmark, cool bar] yet?” There will always be people who believe their trip is better than yours because they’ve managed to cover the entire country twice over in the time it has taken you to walk down the street. Don’t worry.
This is your chance to indulge in some serious ‘me-time,’ so make the most of it and go with the flow and with your gut instinct. Take time to linger when you’re loving a place, allow yourself to be swept up in the energy of the other people you meet: anything goes.
It gets easier with practice
Like a muscle, the more you travel the more flexible it becomes. I say it becomes easier, but I caveat that with the inevitable hiccups you will encounter on any trip: flight delays, sickness, overbooked accommodation, all the inexplicable missing socks or the odd towel (just where do they go?). In the first instance, all these seem daunting, but it’s rare that catastrophes happen, and even rarer all at the same time.
Planning, packing, preparing to travel and saying goodbye to those you love will become less stressful the more you do it. It’s not like you’re saying goodbye forever, you’re just going to backpack in Europe for the summer, and I believe that your brain allows you to put the sadness you feel at the time of departure in context. It’s not forever, you’ll see your family and friends again, and in the meantime, you’ll discover, explore and learn so much the weeks will whizz by.
Staying in touch is not difficult
I can’t imagine how daunting it would have been to travel many years ago when the only means of keeping in touch was by letter. Nowadays there is no reason to be out of touch with your loved ones, and if the thought of being away from them makes you anxious you can talk to them every day using the internet or roaming plans on your mobile phone.
Use these when you need them to give yourself a little boost, but don’t rely on them so much that you spend more time talking to the people who are on the other side of the world than those people around you.
Even though they will miss you, those you love will support you
And what about those you leave behind as you jet off into the unknown? They’ll have put up with your travel dreaming and scheming for so long that they will know how much it means to you. They inadvertently become your support crew, sitting on the bench and cheering encouragements as you land in that foreign country, swim with dolphins or trek through a jungle. They will like every post on Facebook and picture on Instagram, guaranteed.
Chances are they will worry, and yes, they will miss you, but their lives go on every day you are away. Before they know it, you’ll be back and full of stories of your adventures.
Saying goodbye is not the end
Saying goodbye in the context of travel seems to be an action akin to ripping off a plaster; short and sharp then it immediately feels better.
Saying goodbye is good for you. It’s healthy. And it allows you to get your head in the game and be in the present moment, which is key when you are travelling.
Lingering over goodbyes and letting the emotions of fraught partings follow you into your travels will only hang over you like a cloud and dampen your time abroad.
And what about all the goodbyes you experience whilst on the road? All those incredible new people you meet with whom you shared laughs, tears, trials, tribulations and a lot of adventures with? At some point your paths will split, just as randomly as you were bought together. Saying goodbye to those people can also be really hard. But, just like saying goodbye to those at home, it’s doesn’t have to be finite: it’s not goodbye, it’s until I see you again.
Are you just about to embark on a trip? How do you feel about it? How difficult do you find it to say goodbye to people? Does it hold you back or not?