“Not all those who wander are lost”. – JRR Tolkien
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to travel. To pack up and head off, leaving behind everyone and everything I’ve ever known and live a life of adventure. Having just finished reading ‘The Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George’, it got me pondering over the mysteries of travel. Why some people are filled with wanderlust and some aren’t, the reasons behind why people travel, how I’ve benefited from my own travel experiences and what travel means to me now.
The teenage years
In my late teens, I applied for a job as a holiday rep. Not because I was heavily into the 18-30’s scene, or thought arranging family activity days sounded like fun, (quite the opposite), but because I just wanted to go. Anywhere. I’d always dreamed of travelling the world, but back then I don’t think I even knew what that really meant. If you’d have asked me where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see, I might have been able to rattle off a couple of countries, but there wouldn’t have been any substance behind why I wanted to visit them.
Growing up I was socially awkward, an introvert and I lived in the shadow of my popular best friend. It wasn’t until I went to University that I started to find myself and become comfortable in my own skin. Going away the year after my friends and making sure I was living a couple of hours away from home did wonders for my confidence. A year later when I left University because I decided it wasn’t for me, I stepped things up again by training to be an aerobics instructor.
It was after teaching aerobics for a couple of years that I realised the nagging feeling of wanting to travel wasn’t going away, so I applied for a job on a cruise ship. I attended an open day, had an interview, took a test and handed them a video tape (that’s right – a video tape) of me teaching a step class. I got accepted, <high fives all around> but a few months before I was set to sail the high seas, I met my (now) husband.
When I informed the cruise ship I wouldn’t be joining them, the woman I spoke to sounded really disappointed and tried her best to change my mind. She didn’t. But at least 16 years later Ian and I are still together. Over the years, I’ve obviously questioned my decision and wondered if it was my one big chance to see the world, but in hindsight, I think perhaps it just wasn’t the right time.
Why do some people like to travel?
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”. – Helen Keller
For adventure, to feel free and to see new things. To immerse themselves in different cultures, to find themselves, to feel alive and to meet new people. The list goes on and on, but as far as I can see, the pros for travelling far outweigh the cons. It brings new challenges, helps you look at things with fresh eyes and can give you a zest for life you thought had gone. You can make the adventure as big or as small as you want.
I’m a planner. So, for me, it’s not just about experiencing new things and having adventures I wouldn’t have at home. It’s about the planning stages as well. Where should we go? Should we book a hotel or an apartment? How long should we stay for? Do we need a car? Should we do a bungy jump or a skydive, or both? I love the excitement of the whole process. Yes, I finally get to visit the places I’ve been drooling over but I also get to plan it exactly how I want. I love the feeling of freedom, of not feeling tied down and I relish in the fact that I don’t have to deal with all the crap that goes on back home. I feel peaceful.
We’re more inclined to try new things
“Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage”. – Benjamin Mee ‘We Bought a Zoo
When we’re out of our familiar environment, we’re more inclined to do things that we wouldn’t necessarily do at home. In New Zealand, I did a bungy jump and a skydive. Would I have done a bungy jump at home in the UK, off a crane towards a tarmac car park? Hell to the no. But, in Queenstown, adventure capital of the world? Hell yeah. My 20 seconds of insane courage came when I went on the internet and booked our bungy jump, and then again a few minutes later when I booked our skydive.
Travelling can help with fears and phobias
Before we went to Australia I was terrified of spiders. Like, sitting on a worktop, hugging my knees and crying, while staring at a spider in the middle of the floor terrified. But after spending 3 days in the rainforest, going on a nocturnal walk, moving a huntsman out of our motel room and seeing dead spiders fall out of my hair whilst in the shower – it turns out catching a spider at home, isn’t nearly as scary as catching a spider in Australia.
Dealing with a big, hairy, hand-sized spider was really significant for me. And not freaking out while spiders were falling out of my hair? I deserved a bloody medal.
Travel isn’t for everyone
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page”. Saint Augustine
I have a friend whose ex-boyfriend was content. As she put it: “He’s just happy with his lot in life”. When they were together it really annoyed her that he didn’t want anything else. He had a job for life, a house he would probably live in until the day he died and no aspirations beyond what he already had. My friend on the other hand, much like me, was always striving for more. Not happy or content, she had dreams, goals and aspirations. But a couple of years after they split up, she admitted she almost envied him. He was happy, he’d found his bliss. He didn’t have that constant yearning for something – he was happy with his lot – and she wondered what that felt like.
I hadn’t experienced anything like that until several years ago. Ian and I decided to go to Australia and New Zealand for a month, and we were met with mixed reactions. Some people were really pleased for us, some were envious (obviously), and others just couldn’t comprehend our decision: “What do you need to go all the way over there for? There are so many beautiful places in the UK to see, you don’t need to go anywhere else”.
It was like speaking to Manhattan Guy from Sex and the City. He hadn’t left Manhattan in ten years because everything anyone ever needed was right there – including cabs at 3am.
Just as they were unable to comprehend our decision to go, I couldn’t understand their reaction to our decision. Yes, of course, there are beautiful places to see in the UK, but there are also many wonderful places beyond the UK. Why wouldn’t anyone want to experience other countries and what they have to offer?
What can we gain from travel?
“To travel is to take a journey into yourself”. – Danny Kaye
Confidence and knowledge, experience and stories, insight, clarity, courage and adventures. So much to gain, not so much to lose. Getting away from it all, taking a step back from the stresses of everyday life and taking time out sometimes helps to make things clearer.
Clarity and insight
When Ian and I went to Australia I was in the middle of doing a lot of soul-searching. I’d been unhappy for a while, losing direction, jumping from one thing to another and I couldn’t quite figure out which way to turn.
I’d dabbled with photography numerous times over the years, and it was something I found myself going back to again and again. I treated myself to my first DSLR and a decent lens for our trip, and on the plane journey I read the camera manual from cover to cover. Ian found it really amusing, but I was determined to learn as much as possible about my camera by the time we landed.
While we were in Sydney I dragged Ian down to Darling Harbour during the day, then back again in the evening and then back again the following evening. For the whole of our trip my camera didn’t leave my side and by the end of it, I’d decided photography was something I should pursue.
We returned home, I found myself some second shooting opportunities, booked myself on a business course, starting building up my portfolio and started my own business. I’ve simplified it of course. It didn’t happen overnight and it’s been hard work with a lot of tears, tantrums and long hours along the way. But without that time away from everything, I doubt I would have even bought myself a decent camera, let alone think about starting my own business.
Exploring new places under the cover of darkness, abandoning the map and taking a wrong turn in the wrong neighbourhood, learning to be brave and doing the things you wouldn’t get to do at home. Showing up, making decisions and turning every day into an adventure.
Whether it’s immersing yourself in a different culture, trying new food or learning a new language. Doing a bungy jump, running through Death Valley, getting married in Las Vegas or snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef – when we’re out of our comfort zone, sometimes, that’s when the good shit happens. Being away from home relaxes you, a lot of fears start to disperse and it’s easier to say yes.
When Ian and I did our bungy jump, it didn’t quite go to plan. In fact, I nearly didn’t do it. Fear kicked in and I really thought I couldn’t go through with it. But after realising the only person standing in my way, was me, and a group of wonderful strangers shouted words of encouragement, I managed to pull another 20 seconds of courage out of the bag.
What travel means to me now
“Wherever you go, go with all your heart”. – Confucius
Over the years, my idea of travel has changed, and while I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had so far, I haven’t visited nearly as many places I would like to. For a long time, I wanted a life on the road – full time, travelling indefinitely from place to place. These days, my idea of travel would be to spend a couple of months away from home, a few times a year. Although that ideal picture isn’t possible right now, we’re slowly putting things into place that will hopefully get us there in the future. But for now, I look forward with anticipation to the adventures that have yet to come.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. – Lao Tzu