I’ve been putting off this post for the last three weeks….you know the post about how it feels to be home after you’ve spent near to ten months travelling the world. The truth is I’ve been in complete denial that my feet are now firmly back on English soil and quite frankly the reality of coming home has been quite the emotional rollercoaster. That’s right…..the travel-blues suck big time.
Of course catching up with friends and family after such a long time away is always good fun, and getting back into my career again and being able to earn some money is obviously a big bonus too. But while I’m slowly, slowly getting back to “reality”, I can’t help but feel this overwhelming sadness about it all coming to an end (at least for now anyway!).
But then it occurred to me…if I had come home not feeling this way, then it would have meant I’d taken this whole experience completely for granted and that I had learnt nothing from it. And that is not what I set out to do when I made the decision a year ago to leave my life here and hit the road.
So what have I learnt from this experience? Probably the biggest thing is that travel is one of the most enriching experiences a person can have. A year ago I was absolutely terrified about taking the plunge into the unknown, but getting out my comfort zone was probably one of the best things I ever decided to do. And while it may sound overly clichéd to say this – travel really does teach you things about yourself (the good, the bad and the ugly!) and the world that you would have otherwise never learned.
So here’s just a few of those life lessons I learnt along the way…
You can survive on a lot less than you think
I remember in one of my first ever posts, the turmoil I put myself through when deciding what to take with me. But after a couple of months, I soon realised that I didn’t need half of the stuff I had packed! When you have to carry your life on your back like a turtle, you quickly learn the difference between what would be nice to have and what you can’t live without. You do not NEED a travel hairdryer in the depths of the jungle – trees and monkeys quite frankly don’t give a shit about your hair. Prioritising is a great life lesson to learn, and one that travel has taught me well.
You learn to be more adventurous
Skydiving in New Zealand; snorkelling with sharks in Fiji; camping in the wilderness of the Serengeti; motorcycling the busy streets of Vietnam; skinny-dipping in the Zanzibar ocean – these were all things I would never have imagined myself doing a year ago. I was raised to be a sensible and responsible girl, and was (by my own admission) the biggest scaredy cat/control freak I knew. But when you travel, you find your mind opens up to new experiences and you learn to be a bit more spontaneous. Suddenly you have the chance to try out new things that you may never get the opportunity to do again and saying “yes” rather than “no” gets easier.
You gain a new perspective
When you travel to new countries, you see first-hand just how different things are compared to your own country and culture. While volunteering in Tanzania, I had one of the biggest culture shocks of my life. It’s one thing seeing TV ad campaigns showing the poverty some African communities live in, but it’s another thing witnessing it with your own eyes.
While I was fully aware of the emotional challenges I may face when volunteering, what I didn’t expect was how it would not only make me appreciate how fortunate we really are, but how it would also begin to make me re-evaluate what’s important in my life. When you spend enough time with people who are actually living on next to nothing, but still lead happy lives, you realise that as long as you’re not living on the street or going hungry, you don’t “need” all the money in the world or the best-of-the-best possessions to have a fulfilling life. As they say, some of the best things in life are free (and for everything else, it’s way cheaper than you think).
The world is a wonderful place with wonderful people
On the road you get to meet so many amazing people, both backpackers and locals, from all different walks of life. One thing I found is that most of the time you will learn someone’s life story before you even know their name. Because relationships are so transient while travelling, I feel people tend to cut through the tedious crap and be a lot more open about who they are. And while travelling long-term inevitably means having to say lots of sad goodbyes, occasionally you will meet people who you form strong friendships with, and things like distance and time won’t matter. One of the best things about travel is meeting new people, getting to know them and sharing memorable moments with them. As someone once said, “a journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles” and I certainly believe this to be true.
You’re more adaptable than you think
There are occasions while travelling where you are likely to feel uncomfortable. Like the time you had to sleep on a hard wooden bench surrounded by cockroaches and rats while travelling third class in a train across Thailand for 15 hours. Or the time you got completely lost in the middle of nowhere and had to trust an elderly Vietnamese man to show you the way. Or the time you got food poisoning in the jungle and had to sleep next to not the most hygienic of toilets in a bamboo hut (with god knows what other creepy crawlys lurking around). The list goes on…and on. But the point is you find ways to cope with these situations a lot better than you think you would – because you have no choice but to!
“Hakuna Matata – what a wonderful phrase!”
It means “no worries” for the rest of your days – as once quoted in the Lion King. “Hakuna Matata” or “Hamna Shida” (which basically means the same thing) were Swahili phrases I picked up during my time in Tanzania, and the reason I love them so much is because I feel that they encompass probably one of the biggest life lessons I learnt.
As I’ve touched on before, I was something of a big fret-head and it always used to frustrate my friends how much I would overthink practically everything. But when you’re travelling you also begin to realise that there are much bigger things in this world worth worrying over, and life’s little complaints are a lot more manageable than you think. There’s only so much in life that you can control, and things rarely turn out how you plan them to…so roll with the punches and everything will eventually fall into place. Keeping a calm head can make dealing with stressful situations (which happen a lot while backpacking!) much easier to handle.
Have you recently come back from a trip? What were the biggest things you learnt from travelling?
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