Many an adventurer came about because they fell down the rabbit hole of existentialism. Travel is more often than we want to admit, a means of running away; escaping what we can no longer or want to endure at home. It’s a famous catch cry and cliche; getting lost to find yourself. But, it is true.
As I sit pondering what it is about travel that allows us to see ourselves in a clearer image, I am taken back to my first adventure and what I learned from it.
I was 18 and absolutely chomping at the bit to see beyond the Australian borders. I had dreamed about backpacking Europe and it became the illustrious goal that I set myself in place of following the crowd to uni. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I was tired of being asked to explain my choices. I had never left Australia before or even travelled on my own but I didn’t care. Adventure was calling my name.
Fast forward many months of canned food on the go, backpacks as pillows and sleeping on hostel kitchen floors and one day several months in, I found myself sobbing in the shower on my birthday. I had never felt further from home than in that moment; with the people who loved me most half a world away. It was a miserable birthday but one that gave me an education I could never have learned had I never left.
That birthday taught me about being special but more importantly about making people feel special. About letting someone know they’re valued, that their happiness is your happiness. It doesn’t have to be a birthday to make you reach out and let someone know how important they are to you. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, just a personal one. One that particular birthday, my family were on the phone with a list of truly terrible dad jokes. They wanted to make me laugh. They told me when the candles were lit and how many were left over upon the attempt to blow them out. They told me when to make a wish and oh how I wished I was at home with them in that moment. I can’t even recall the jokes that were told now, but I know they made me laugh. That was what was important. When I felt alone, I wasn’t really.
When we run away from home, wittingly or not, the world will serve up some hard lessons. At the time, they’re going to hurt and you’ll probably feel more lost than you did when you first set out. They’ll make you question yourself; as every good soul searching journey should. I like to think that shower sob and birthday taught me a deeper understanding and appreciation for those I love and how important it is to extend kindness and care on any given day to anyone – because on that day, I had never felt so alone.
For me, I thought an intrepid open ended adventure to Europe was an opportunity to SEE the world and to really, run away from the responsibilities of decision making. I did indeed see some spectacular pieces of it but I saw so much clearer how lucky I was at home. Lucky to have people who cared for me; valued my company, input and my sense of humour. How lucky I was to live in the community that I did – where I had opportunities, freedom and the safety to do whatever I wanted or be whoever I wanted. Decision making didn’t seem such a daunting task all of sudden when I knew I had home to fall back on if things didn’t go to plan. I had always known this but knowing and truly understanding are two very different places.
I’ve since put the homesickness to rest but each time I travel I learn something new. It might be about myself or the kindness of strangers or the repercussions of unsustainable tourism – there is no limit to the lessons we get served as wide eyed wanderers. The world needs us to have these experiences – how else are we going to be inspired to create change?
The tourism industry needs existential crisis’ – it’s good for business but you know, it’s also good for you too. So don’t be afraid to run away for a little while – you’ll know when you’re meant to come back.