So you’ve packed your bags and quit your job. You’ve closed your phone plan and advised your friends and family that you might go days without contact with the freshest memes and news on terrorism while you’re on some far-away hike. You’ve filled your first aid-kit, bought a dozen tiny travel gimmicks that that one travel blog told you to get, and your tickets and itinerary are printed and in a see-through folder.
In a word, you’re ready to go.
Maybe it’s your first trip alone, or a first time spending longer abroad. Maybe it’s your first trip in general. You’re excited and nervous and a little scared but mostly happy to be dusting off this tired old country off your shoulders and fill your shoes with the sand of a new land. You’re harbouring dreams of tropical heat and larger-than-life mountains, of holiday romance and new friendships, of anything and everything that goes with the adventure. You’ve read enough travel blogs to know that this trip is going to be life-changing in some intense, intimate, personal way. You can’t wait.
But one thing you’re all too quick to disregard is that as you’re packing your life away into that tiny backpack, you’re also packing in the weight that you carry around in your everyday life. No matter how light you travel, you will always take your emotional baggage with you.
Travel is often – and best – described as a refreshing escape from the humdrum everyday, a way to explore and experience things you could never even dream of if you stayed still. But the prospect of adventure is not the only force that drives us out into the world. Many are also taking their travel time as an opportunity to do some personal growth, learn new skills and figure out a direction for a life that doesn’t seem to have a clear way ahead. I’m not saying it is bad to expect that travelling will help you answer some unanswered questions in your life; I fully support the idea that travelling can help you untie or loosen some knots. Travelling can teach you independence, humility, confidence, money management, problem solving, patience and so, so many more valuable life skills. And it is true what they say: travelling is a truly life-changing experience.
However: you can’t expect travelling to solve all your problems.
Sure, it is a great way to discover things about yourself. Sure, sometimes the change in scenery can help you see solutions to your trouble more clearly than at home. Maybe your usual symptoms even stay away for a while, fooling you into thinking that you could’ve packed away your issues in those cardboard boxes labeled ‘HOME’ or ‘DONATE’. But let me tell you: they are only dormant, and they will catch up to you. Your mental illness, grief, broken heart, debt, insecurity, criminal record, trauma, bad childhood and trust issues will still be there. Travelling is not a replacement for antidepressants. Travelling can’t turn you from an introvert to a extrovert. Travelling will not cover your credit card debt, and anyone who ever said that you don’t need money to travel must’ve been out of their goddamn mind.
It seems absurd that you’d feel sad while sitting under palm trees or peering up the biggest canyon in the world. You might even feel guilt over it. You’re supposed to be having the time of your life, and instead you’re broken down, crying your eyes out on a curb somewhere outside of a club with mere two dollars in your pocket and a phone running on dead battery, feeling sorry for yourself. So many others never get a chance to travel – it seems so ungrateful to spend time wallowing in self-pity. You also feel a tinge of shame. You thought travelling would make you a new person, someone more fun and smart and brave, but here you are again, the same old you and nothing’s changed.
It doesn’t help that everyone else seems to be doing so fine, making friends left and right, shining bright, posting amazing selfies with exotic animals on Instagram. This image created by social media and fascinating stories we hear in hostel bars and common rooms can be incredibly hurtful, but you have to remember it is only the polished image that people want to present to the world. I don’t think it’s a fake or a false image; I do think, though, that it is only one colour in a story saturated with many different hues. We rarely want to present ourselves as troubled or miserable – especially when we’re travelling, and we are expected to be happy all the time – so we shut out the negative and only let it out to a few trusted friends.
You’re feeling deceived, homesick and sad because you expected everything to be as great as dreams. After all, you’re far removed from real life, right? That’s where you went wrong, and that’s why the weight of your baggage has hit you even harder than it would usually. It blindsided you. ‘Abroad’ is not a magical fairytale land separated from reality; it is part of your reality, even though that reality might be intensely more happy and exciting than the reality you’ve come to know at home. It is a reality in which you are an incomplete, partly broken, lost and confused human being. And that’s OK. You’re not the only one. Everyone is lugging around their own little demon, even when they’re dancing on table tops and racing through jungles on a motorbike.
It is important to acknowledge and address your weaknesses. Presumably, you know yourself quite well – after all, you’ve lived with yourself your whole life – so you know what your issues are. Don’t let them surprise you and ruin your holiday. Instead, accept them as a part of your character. Intend to cope with them the same way you would at home. Talk about them to sympathetic travellers – after all, the fast-paced, fleeting friendships on the road grant a certain anonymity to discussion, and as we all know, it is often easier to open up to strangers than to people who know you. If you do, you will probably find out that your newly-found friends are also struggling with their own problems. Realising that you’re not the only one who’s sometimes having a crappy time can be a huge relief.
Travelling is a wonderful aid to self-discovery and to most, it is an important shaper of character. However, even as some aspects of your personality may become accentuated or faded, deep down you’re still the same person you have always been. There are so many ways that travelling can make your life better, but don’t expect it to solve all your problems.
Hi and thanks for reading! Do you agree with me? Has travelling helped you get over your issues or even solved them completely?