“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine
If you had told me three years ago that I would be writing this now from a colonial casita in Merida, Mexico, I would have responded “Yeah, right…”. But just over three months into a seven-month trip, here I am – and I won’t ever say “Yeah, right…” again.
Travel has changed my life. And I think it could change yours too.
Travel (especially long-term travel) isn’t for everyone. If you’ve thought about it and are on the fence when it comes to traveling, however, I can assure you that the experiences, benefits and perspective you get are too good to miss. Here are some of the most life-changing aspects I’ve experienced over the past few months:
Attachment to Things
There’s nothing quite like living out of a backpack for several month to truly cure an attachment to things. The limited space (and my limited strength) has redefined my sense of what I ‘need’. At home, I used to think I ‘needed’ two weeks worth of underwear. Here, I realize that, while it might be more convenient, I don’t even really ‘need’ half of that.
Instead, I’ve truly come to appreciate the significance of experiences: I still go to the local mall here in Mexico, but I go to see a movie, people watch and take in more of the culture, not to shop.
Getting out of the UK and leaving behind everything that was familiar has helped me redefine my priorities based on what’s important to me, rather than what I think I should be doing. As a recovering perfectionist workaholic, one question that’s been really helpful for defining my priorities is the “10 years from now…” scenario. It goes something like this:
“10 years from now, am I going to be glad that I missed a night out with my partner in Buenos Aires because I chose to stay home and fix a demanding client’s ‘emergency’?”
“10 years from now, am I going to feel comfortable with the fact that I decided to skip a scenic hike to stay in bed and read?”
There aren’t any right or wrong answers to these questions – I’ve learned to go with what my needs are in the moment and listen to my gut response.
Respect for Resilience
In the second week of our trip, my partner and I got mugged by three men in Uruguay. It was a horrible experience, and it left me feeling shaken and suspicious of almost everyone for several weeks afterwards. I had nightmares, the smallest noise on the street made me jump, and I weighed up everyone in the vicinity for their ‘mugger potential’. When this was still happening three weeks later, I was scared that those feelings would never go away.
But they did.
That incident taught me a lot about my need to feel in control. Aside from staying in our hotel room all day, there was nothing my partner or I could have done differently to stop it happening, and that was one of the most terrifying things about it for me. Since then, I’ve come to accept something that I’ve never had the opportunity to accept before: that, sometimes, bad things happen – not because we deserve it (we don’t), or because we brought it upon ourselves. It’s not personal, it’s just one of the darker aspects of experiencing life.
Do I worry about it happening again? At times, yes. But I also know that my emotional resilience is stronger because of it.
Respect for Others
Despite the mugging, my travels have reinforced my experience that the vast majority of people are inherently well-meaning.
There’s the man on a motorbike who happened to see the mugging, insisted on coming to the police station with us, helped translate, and offered to call my phone to try to get it back. There’s also the people who have gone out of their way to help us get oriented and feel welcome. That’s not to mention the complete strangers who say hello on the street, wish us a good trip and make an effort to be friendly; not out of some ulterior motive, just because.
The Power of Permission
I gave myself permission to dream of long-term travel. I gave myself the permission to entertain the idea that the dream could become a reality. I gave myself permission to research flights, locations, accommodation and the practical details, and, finally, I gave myself permission to do it.
That’s not to say that there aren’t practical barriers in the way of traveling, particularly long-term travel. Finances, career, stability and relationships are all things you need to think about as part of the decision process. But from my experience, and having met and spoken to a lot of long-term travelers, those things are mostly hurdles to overcome rather than ‘no entry’ signs.
We can provide all the reasons in the world why we shouldn’t chase our ambitions, no matter how crazy or ‘out there’ they seem. But ultimately, the biggest barrier is usually ourselves. When we give ourselves permission to dream, and dream big, we realize that many of the barriers we see standing in our way are self-created.
What could you do if you gave yourself permission?