Last year I made a split decision that would have a pretty big effect on the rest of my year. After spending many months being unhappy in my general life situation, one night I found myself driving past an adventure store and promptly did an illegal U-turn to try and make my way to it. Half an hour later, I walked out with a backpack and idea that I would be spending some time backpacking through South America. Yes it was impulsive, and I’m sure many people would have lumped me into the typical Gen Y-eternal-wanderlust seeking category, but I didn’t really care. Nor did I particularly care that my parents weren’t too pleased about the whole idea, and that I would be putting my non-existent career on hold to go chase some South-American fantasy. I made a choice that felt so intuitively right at the time that all of that outside noise just seemed irrelevant.
For those of you that are planning your own trips, this isn’t a ‘What to pack’ blog post, because you can find a million on Pinterest. This is me telling you all the things I found out about myself along the way, and perhaps a few things I might have changed.
- Be discreet
I have this really bad habit of being so excited about my plans, that I need to tell everyone about them immediately. The issue with this, is that it actually puts a lot of pressure on those plans to materialise, and if something happens or feelings change, you might feel even more disheartened. I know what it’s like to just want to prove something by making a statement of what you’ll be doing, but if you’re doing it for the right reasons there won’t be a need to advertise it to the whole world. I’m not saying just smoke bomb when you leave the country because you have the right to be happy about your decision, instead tell the people whose opinion you really value. Personally, working in a really close-knit community, I’m constantly being asked what my plans are (it happened 3 times today). I used to get so irritated by it, and almost always like a violent outburst of verbal diarrhea, I would blurt out a plan even I didn’t really feel comfortable with. What I do now is just keep it simple and don’t say much, and as a result I can focus on what I want to do, and not be influenced by expectation.
2. Plan, but don’t plan
I really admire those people that can map out big trips months in advance and have every detail covered from transport to tourist attraction, but it ain’t me. When you know you’re going to be away for a large amount of time, you’re undoubtedly going to grow and feel differently at certain points. That’s why in my opinion, it’s better to make loose plans so you can be more open to possibilities and chance encounters that might happen. For instance in my case, a trip to Sao Paulo that was organised the night before, resulted in me meeting three pretty special people that would have a profound effect on me and my time away. You can be organised and plan things that are crucial, but don’t sweat the small stuff and try and let go of any anal/OCD tendencies. Also, when you stay at hostels or meet other travellers, you will be open to a world of travel advice and believe me it will direct you to places you might never have considered.
3. Know your intentions
I read this quote the other day and it went something like this ‘A person who longs to leave the place where he lives is an unhappy person.’ While I think Milan Kundera is a beautiful writer, I have some problems with this statement. Not everyone who wants to travel or live somewhere other than where they’ve grown up, is unhappy. Certainly we can say there is some disastisfaction going on, but being able to recognise that you’re unsatisfied and trying to rectify it is something worthy of celebrating, not debating. When I said I wanted to travel because I was bored and in need of inspiration, I was met with looks that suggested I just hadn’t tried hard enough here. And yes I can tell so much from a look because I can see through people’s bullshit. I knew why I wanted to leave, but a big part of me wishes that I had remained true to that intention, instead of getting lost in others. After I left South America, I headed to Europe and truthfully it felt premature simply because the adult and Australian thing to do was to find a job in London and make a go of it. I never vibed with London even before I went there, and one thing I might have done differently was spent more time with my backpack, instead of trying to navigate my way through a big city with a suitcase.
4. Make mistakes and move on
You are going to fuck up, sorry to tell you but it’s going to happen. For instance, you might miss a plane, take a wrong turn and get mugged or leave your passport at a restaurant table. What is important in any event of a potential travel fuck up, is that you don’t spend too much time dwelling on it and just adapt. It’s so crucial to be able to bounce back quickly so you’re not missing precious moments wherever you are in the world. Also, most things when put into perspective aren’t really that bad and are quite salvageable, so the less time you spend freaking out the more likely you are to find a solution. During my time in Brazil for example, I found myself in hospital after falling offer a scooter I didn’t know how to drive in the first place. Not being able to carry a backpack when you’re backpacking is a pretty major setback, but lucky for me there are some nice people in the world and I found ways to transport my backpack without crippling myself further. Whatever happens always come back to the fact that you’re doing something you have dreamed up and followed through with, that counts so much more than any ‘mistake’.
5. Go offline
I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but it annoys the hell out of me when people feel compelled to document every movement, every check-in and every photo on social media as it’s happening on their travels. I totally appreciate sharing things with friends and family as a shared experience, it’s just a fine line between doing that in reflection and doing it to be visible. When I was away I was bloody excited to be away, but for anyone that has me on social media, I rarely shared much of what actually happened on my trip. I have hundreds of photos that haven’t been seen, and for me it was really nice to be able to show them to my family when I got back and reflect on it as a memory. In general, it seems like if you don’t share photos of an event it didn’t really happen, but it just comes down to what you value. Believe me when I say, staying away from the internet and all of that online noise, is the best possible way to get the most out of what you’re experiencing. When I did the Inca Trail for instance, I didn’t have internet access for four days and it was such a wonderful thing to be able to take it all in and have that experience all to myself.
It’s nearly been a year since I left, and truthfully I feel like a completely different person to Maria circa September 2015. I can’t say whether or not it was all owing to my travels, or just a matter of perspective, but either way I am so glad I was able to do it. I have my sights set on bigger things and while I’m tempted to write it all out, I think I’ll take my own advice and keep my big mouth shut. For those of you that have a little idea in your head don’t be afraid to bring it to light. Travel is seriously one of the best things you can do for yourself, and it doesn’t mean you’re confused or wasting time, it just means that you aren’t afraid of exploring greater possibilities.
Do it. And do it now. Except if you don’t have the money..save and then DO IT.