In April 2011 I made the decision to leave my job and walk away from the life I had been building for myself in Norwich. At the age of 26, I squeezed myself back into my childhood bedroom in Reading. I cried my way through that summer doing a series of menial, minimum wage jobs to try to save some money, constantly wondering whether I had just made the biggest mistake of my life.
A month or so later, I walked into an STA office in Reading and booked a one way ticket round the world to depart in September. Fast forward a few months and I stood alone at a departure gate in Heathrow Airport boarding a flight to Bangkok.
Since then my life has been irrevocably changed.
I believe my desire to hit the road was a reaction to the semi-stifling panic of ‘is this it?’ that I feel is quite common for some people in their mid-twenties. However, I never viewed myself or my life as something that needed to be fixed. I never set out to ‘find myself’ or to do any kind of soul searching whilst I travelled. There was nothing wrong with my life at the time (or since) and for that I am grateful.
No, I wasn’t running away. I was running towards new experiences, new challenges, new countries and new cultures that I felt may potentially slip out of my grasp the longer I stayed in one place in the UK. The presence of the world loomed beyond the walls of my house, the end my street and the outskirts of my town.
If I didn’t take the opportunity then, I may never get the chance again.
So I chose to travel.
Beginning Life As A Traveller
As I began feeling my way through those first tentative months of travel, it was like my life had not only been illuminated but a switch had been flipped and my world was now in techno-colour.
The sights, the sounds, the temperatures, the tastes, the languages; everything was simultaneously terrifying and alluring, overwhelming and reassuring. As the weeks slipped passed and my confidence in myself grew, I began to realise that I wasn’t just enjoying my travels, I was shedding an old skin and embracing the new girl that was emerging from within.
Just Who Is This New Girl?
This new girl is a dreamer, a drifter, a semi-nomad who craves a home base but can’t resist the call of the road. There is a loose definition of what home is in the back of her mind because, like a chameleon, she excels at blending into her new surroundings, assimilating the culture and visualising a life for herself in each new place she visits.
She dreams about putting down roots in these places, but like a seedling taken by the wind she can’t fight against the tides of change. There is always something else out there, new places to discover, new horizons to explore.
Sometimes she wonders whether years of travel has turned her into a loner. She expects to say goodbye to beautiful people, beautiful places and happy memories so she steels her heart against the inevitable sting. So used to travelling alone, she can go days without speaking to other travellers because a fleeting connection just isn’t enough. She craves longevity, stability and familiarity yet changes her surroundings so often this isn’t often feasible so becomes more withdrawn and reliant on her own company.
She has met so many incredible people along her path that she sometimes feels like she now spreads her love too thinly. Her love for each and every one of these people is fierce and she stays loyal to them even though their paths infrequently cross because she is united with them by a shared love of travel. She recognises the similarities between these people and herself; can see how they are all still lost and searching for their place in the world even after they finish their travels.
She longs for love but is scared she will never find it. She assumes that her nomadic lifestyle and self-reliance repels any potential suitor. She dreams of falling in step with someone to build a future together, however every plan she makes is based on moving through life alone because that is what she is used to.
She is afraid that her life over the past six years has turned her into a work-shy commitment-phobe. The thought of taking a job with a contract that lasts longer than six months sends her heart racing. She has become selfish and can’t commit her time to anyone but herself. She has weakened her career by not dedicating her time to developing herself through work, but has strengthened her employability other areas.
She takes work as and when she needs it and moves on with the seasons. Her employers do not care because to them she is just another face in an endless procession. But this relationship is mutually beneficial and there is never any animosity.
Money takes the place as a necessity to live and to travel yet doesn’t overly motivate her decisions. Possessions are few and expenses are reserved for travel so the amount of money she needs to get by remains fairly modest.
The Contradictions Of Travel
I didn’t set out to intentionally ‘find myself’ on the road. I didn’t view myself as a problem that needed unravelling, like a dropped stitch, to pick up and work through again. There was nothing wrong with my life before travel; just an insatiable yearning wheedling at the edges of my daily existence until it became too hard to ignore.
At the time I began travelling, I didn’t even think about the opportunity it presented for reinvention. I didn’t appreciate that I would change as a person as the years rolled on. I didn’t realise that travel would take me by the hand and teach me anything, least of all about myself.
But what have I learned? Who have I become? Who is the girl who travels? As I write all of this all that stands out are a series of juxtapositions:
This girl is simultaneously scared and confident.
She is both an aimless wanderer and a determined one.
She wants to settle but also give into her wanderlust.
She is both outgoing and introverted.
She is both motivated by personal goals and hopelessly laissez-faire.
It turns out that this girl has morphed into a mass of contradictions and is now less formed now at 32 than she was as a nervous, newbie traveller at 26.
I Thought I Was Supposed To Find Myself Travelling?
So what next?
I am standing on the verge of a new start in England and I am more terrified at what lies ahead than ever before. Normally buoyed up by the thought of travel on the horizon, I have no plans to go anywhere in the immediate future and that leaves me breathless in fear.
Life as I know it over the past six years is shifting and the future remains out of focus.
Please don’t ask me what I am planning to do next.
Please don’t expect answers, coherence, a plan.
I am nothing but my backpack and can give you nothing but six years of stories.
This girl is heading back to the country she calls home, but where she will eventually be able to carve out her place in the world remains to be seen.
This girl is more lost than she ever was before.
Over to you. Did you set off with the intention to find yourself travelling? When you began to travel, did you realise that this presented you with an opportunity to take a long look at yourself like never before? Has finding yourself travelling led to new opportunities or horizons for you, or do you feel more lost than ever before?
I’d love to hear that I am not alone. Leave your thoughts in the comments, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Share this with someone you think may be a little lost after travel to reassure them that they are not alone.
Love it? Pin it! (Note: Image below is half sized. For a full sized image, click the Pin It button on my floating social media share menu.)