Nearly two years later, and I have many questions. You see, I am a little confused.
Usually, when I hear of people who take off on an adventure some say are only fit for dreams, generally (and I’m not saying always!) but in my own experience, those people hit the skies and run from home to go “find themselves”. Amiright?
In fact, I have met a lot of people on the road who, similarly to our own story, decided enough was enough. That the home life and all the pressures that came with it are no longer sufficient in providing some much needed life lessons, satisfaction or, let’s admit, happiness. And so they ran. They bailed on their 9-5s, bills, rent, mortgages and prospects of children to find out if that is what they wanted from life. And anytime I found myself having this “oh, me too” conversation, I always felt an instant connection.
Now, I’m talking about those who have no plans to return home or are seeking to find a new life. I’m talking about the folks who booked a one way ticket and are now attempting to figure out what do with their newfound freedom, where to go and what opportunities may appear. Those with plans of travelling the entire world until their heart picks a place. Those who plan to forever live a life of travel and never ever return, the ones who want this to become their fulltime career, and those who are seeking something – love, reason, answers, or themselves.
You could say we can categorise as those people, but we left with a plan. We realised that it is far cheaper to travel on savings than live on a wage in Ireland and so we took off. The goal was to see the world, to teach English and earn some money in any way possible to then return home with more than we left i.e. a bigger savings account and possibly enough for a deposit to buy a house in Dublin. Ambitious but hey, it HAS been done.
We left with the idea that one day we will return home to hopefully slot back into our lives.
Yes Luke and I were happy in Dublin. Of course we were. But suddenly I yearned for something. No idea what. All I knew is that whatever it was, it was not in Dublin. I tried to settle in and continue along the path I had carved for myself, I tried to ignore the void. I really did.
I worked on projects outside of work; creating a little business for myself to contain my passion for music, adventure, unpredictability, creativity and success. I gave time to helping others (some thing we ALL should do!), in order to give back to society and attempt to change a small part of the world, or help that one individual in any way possible. Fundraising, volunteering, assisting charities and organisations, and anything else that entered my life.
I attempted to take on new hobbies, I exercised, I spent time with those I loved, I went on holidays (a lot!), I socialised and met new people, I spent money whenever I wanted, I saved money whenever I could, I had a good career and I job I loved. And that’s just on the surface. That is what is visible to those around me.
I am well aware that I had more than most.
Unlike so many of my peers, I didn’t take the ‘post-Uni-travel-train’. I am still not sure why, although as I travel these days I am glad I am seeing the world as I am now and not the drink-loving wild young woman who suffered greatly from anxiety, depression and addictive tendencies. After graduation, while many of my friends took off to “break” the States, emigrate to Australia, seek work in Canada, or visit the Credit Union for that one year adventure to backpack, inter-rail, or all the above; I obtained my degree in London, and instead flew back to Dublin to attempt to find employment during the height of the recession. My goal was to work and to save all so I could settle.
I dedicated the first seven years of my 20s to finding and building my ideal career. I decided that what I wanted from life was a hard-working reputation, a foot on “the ladder” and, eventually, a livable salary. I never wanted to “be rich”, own a big house, drive the latest car or have all of life’s luxuries. Some may laugh at that, but it is the truth. To be rich is not of interest to me. All I want is to be comfortable, as in not live from one pay check to the other, and I most definitely want freedom. In whatever form; creative freedom, freedom to travel, freedom to work my own hours, freedom to build a business, I did not want a life under the thumb.
Investing my time, the end goal was to become self-employed, that much I knew. However, as the years passed, and my experience grew, I discovered I could have both and so that is what I tried. The fulltime job and the side project. It was tough as, when it came to my own little business or side ventures, I was paid very little, or not at all, but it didn’t stop me. I loved it. Every second of it and I was sure that I had found my feet in the world. Passion was my pay, creativity my currency – as corny as that sounds.
Travel was and always has been a part of my life so, at the time; it didn’t exactly distract me from my own ambitions. I didn’t have the urge to go and travel long term because I found a balance. I could have both, I could have it all. The rising career, the content home life, and a number of trips away each year to discover little corners of the world. All with the knowledge that a sabbatical exists should I want a long term trip.
I also knew that I could turn to a career where travel was an essential requirement or I could seek employment overseas, should I want a change of surroundings. An option that a lot of people feel is not for them as relocating isn’t the easiest thing in the world, just the same as a job that means you could be living out of a bag. But that option excited me and as it lingered, like a ‘get-out-of-free-jail-card’ I was content.
Let’s shoot back to 2001 for a moment. I am 11 years old filling out my confirmation book; starting with the question “when I grow up…”
Nope, I didn’t write “see the world” because even at 11 my brain functioned in a way that facts and reality were of more importance than dreams and an overpowering imagination. I had decided from a young age that I wanted to be a journalist, but not just any journalist; I wanted to be a correspondent. I wanted to find a media outlet, and represent them around the world, entering war zones, adventuring across countries to find that extraordinary story, following the world news and being at the front-line with my pen and paper, and as I wrote in my extremely bad 11-year-old-joint-handwriting “…write the news for the lady on the TV”. Yes, I did say lady, I was an 11 year old feminist so it seems.
Maybe it was the fact that my parents, both once hugely successful in running their own pub in London from the late 80s until 1998 (the secret is out, I’m a born Brit!) thus quite wealthy at their young ages, and with only one child, could afford to take off on more than three holidays a year yet STILL be in control of their career.
Maybe it was that every summer, I was put on a plane to Ireland to stay with my Nan and Grandad for six weeks. It could be genetics and heritage thing, as my Dad always points out, our heritage begins in Tipperary where my ancestors were part of the travelling community; “it’s in our blood to travel, to keep moving” he would always tell me as we booked another holiday abroad.
Holidaying really was was big in our house, call me spoiled but I didn’t go one year without one and I had even more when my parents split. My Nanny would also take me away on last minute deals. My Grandad had passed and she too craved weeks in the sun, but never went it alone. Instead, she would bring me along despite the fact that we both had a holiday planned with my Mum in as little as two or three months. That was too far away. I’ll never forget our impromptu trip to Ibiza together, two weeks partying it up – the 15 and 67 year old.
I even went on my first holiday without any guardians at 17 years old, now there’s a wonderful insight into the relationship with my very trusting and open parents. Some might think they are mad allowing a 17 year old girl gallivant off to Alicante with her 15+ friends, my Dad handing me a key to his holiday home and trusting me to act accordingly. Soon after, it was the compulsory ‘6th year holiday’ and like all of us, or those I know at least, that was the turning point when the all-expenses-paid family holidays turned into a self-funded, self-deciding holidays, but that didn’t stop me. Just because I now had to pay for my own way in the world, it didn’t suspend my two or three trips per year.
My point being, travelling has always played a huge part of my life and my childhood. To board a plane is as normal as boarding the train to work. Jesus, how pretentious do I sound? But it’s true. My parents, my family and those who had huge influences throughout my life worked their asses off so that they could travel or holiday.
But I have recently discovered something. To travel and travelling are different. I loved to travel a.k.a taking trips that always had a return date, and I think that is why I never gave my full attention to travelling. Travelling, for me, is on a whole new level. It is opting in for a life that doesn’t stop. Whether you decide to go travelling for six months, one year or for the foreseeable, you never ever stop. It is in no way relaxing. It is extremely tough work. It is essentially a full-time job. Blog or no blog, digital nomad or not, you are always switched on, never settled and forever going forward.
So what changed? What made me realise that my life was missing something despite the fact that I had a good life full of excitement?
What the hell was wrong with me that all of a sudden, I wanted more? Why was it that I wasn’t happy, even though I was genuinely smiling? At the time, I had no clue.
It wasn’t until, back in 2016, we took a five week trip to Southeast Asia; dividing our time between Thailand and Vietnam. I discovered a new world. Sometimes, I still had to pinch myself that I was only 16 hours from home and not on a completely different planet altogether. It was here that I realised that every waking moment was spent learning something new. This was the moment I realised that I was, in fact, unhappy with life in Dublin. The epiphany that to travel throughout the year was not the same as travelling because to travel throughout the year was when I took a break from life, a break from learning and switched off in order to enjoy something new. Whereas, in my own head, travelling is the complete opposite as it means being out of your comfort zone, being open to new experiences and being ready to learn something new every day. It is enjoyable, but unlike a short term trip or holiday, that is not the objective. Travelling is when you step into the lives of others, and adapt to that way of living. You are not taking a break from your own life, you are changing it, upgrading it, adding to it, stripping it down, evaluating it, criticising it, but never taking a break.
After that short stint in Southeast Asia, I started to think that ‘maybe that is what I am missing here’. That I had to fill the inquisitive, new and ever-growing hungry hole in my head, the one that started to steal my heart’s pleasures. The hole that began to suck the life from my soul, and the bloody black pitt that infested my mind creating doubt, anxiety and a sense of insecurity. I wanted to change the phrase from “I love to travel” to “I love travelling”.
And so it happened, I booked the front seat on the “go find myself” bandwagon.
You could call it wanderlust, the easily predicted word to use and probably the most overused word when it comes to “travel lovers”. But even with wanderlust as the perfect definition, it wasn’t just a craving to travel but a craving to learn in ways that no school, university, job, book or even endless searches the internet can teach you. I didn’t know what I wanted to learn, I just knew that I was antsy. I had an itch and nothing I tried to do in Dublin was a satisfying scratch.
Majority of us want to travel. Kudos to those who are so content and comfortable with life as they know it that, other than the family holiday or city break, travelling fulltime or long term is not appealing. Sometimes, I envy you.
However, for me, this was different as I wanted to use travelling as a resource to find out who I was and what I wanted from life. I wanted answers. Don’t we all?
Especially now (April 2018), as I start this blog while sitting on the most beautiful hillside farm high up in the hills of Barbosa, Medellin, in my favourite country that I have ever visited – Colombia. My happy place.
My teeth are bared in smile because my memory has dragged me back to the last seven years and although I decided to pack it all in to travel, I did fear that everything I worked hard to build was now over. I now feel content that all that hard work and endless hours brought me here. I thought I had “found myself” I knew what and who I wanted to be. But alas, there is always an expiry date and soon I found myself in need of something new.
You see, to travel is a funny thing. The pressure we can put on travelling can have serious implications. Sometimes you expect it to have the answers, to help you reach conclusions and to “find yourself” yet it may have the opposite effect which could really mess with your head. Because what travel has taught me more than most is that no matter where you live, who you are with, what you do or how you spend your time, there will always be that black hole. That hole that constantly screams to be filled. And while we tend to chase the filler itself, I have discovered that the scary, dark, growing head-itch is in fact a beautiful thing. It is purpose. It is the definition of ‘the next chapter’.
Whether you choose a life full of career opportunities, one of freedom, one filled with family, marriage, children, hell if it’s a life with nothing but a bloody microwave dinner and a tonne of cats – I firmly believe we will forever have a void to fill, and isn’t that wonderful? Whether a passionate and ambitious person or not, we all are craving that little something. Like when you gag for a nibble of chocolate after a savoury meal or hang for a can of coke when hungover.
What I’m trying to say is, I haven’t exactly found myself – I have actually lost myself. I left, although quite content with what I had in the palm of my hand in Ireland, to run from certain responsibilities while attempting to fill this ache. I thought the ache was travelling. But after nearly two years of non-stop backpacking from Latin America to Southeast Asia – I am more confused than I have ever been and that big black hole is bigger than I could have imagined.
And that is OK.
As I said, I started this blog back in April 2018 while at my happiest on the road. In Colombia, a place that I could easily call home. Yet as I finish this blog five months later, sitting in a small city that I cannot even pronounce in the north of Vietnam, I’ll admit I am the least happiest I have been while on the road, the irony. However, still, I am smiling, laughing almost. Because within those five months, not only have my surroundings changed but also my view and thinking, even more so. I started this article with a point of how travelling may not fill all those needs you so eagerly crave. It will not turn you into an individual you yearn to be and you may not exactly find yourself.
Yes. You will change. Drastically. You may become a better person, hell you might become a right arsehole but either way it will open you up to so many possibilities that will help you evaluate yourself. Like an expensive psychologist who strips away the distractions and focuses you to hone in on everything – the hurtful history, the exciting memories, the future ambitions, the realities and most importantly, your feelings and emotions.
You may not like the results. You may not reach your hopeful conclusion. You may discover something you didn’t want to learn. You may be truly disappointed, or better yet, pleasantly surprised.
For me, I have realised a lot – some days I even find that I have been open to too much, clouding my already overly busy head! Especially about myself. But the one thing I can take from the last while is that it will constantly change, I will constantly change. What I think today may not be the same tomorrow. What I expect from tomorrow may not be the want of next week. And my plan for the next five years can and will change at the drop of a hat.
The one thing I can confidently say about travelling is that you will discover. Whether you like it or not, you will discover.
And isn’t that a wonderful thing?