Why I Gave Traveling a Second Try
I went travelling because I felt I needed to redefine myself, to find the essence of my life. I use the term ‘redefine’ intentionally because I had spent the past four years flying high on a wave of confidence, driven by an ambition to succeed and immune to distraction. However, caught up within the insular world of a dorm that was a 50-minute walk from the town centre, I had gradually lost hold of my sense of purpose.
Today I know that it is not the places we have literally been, but the mental state of mind we’re in, which shapes our perception of the world. When I left home to begin a three-month tour around India and Southeast Asia, I felt nothing–not a spark of excitement, nor any apprehension. The night I arrived in Delhi I had nothing but the rucksack on my back–no acquaintances, no means of contacting anyone, no hotel reservation, no plan. Yet I still felt nothing.
Where was this vibrant, exhilarating traveller-lifestyle the gap years all bragged about? I hadn’t found it though I had persevered.
It’s often said that India is a country people visit in order to “find themselves,” implying that they arrive there lost. Well I’m going to counter that cliché because rather than find myself, I began to feel increasingly isolated in India, lifeless and lost. This has since made me question why, when we’re feeling alone and want to despair, do we run away from everything that defines us, and everyone who has ever given us comfort?
But for better or worse, this was exactly what I did last year. Why? Because, as a friend put it, when I begin to feel comfortable, I start worrying that I’m becoming dependent, and respond by throwing myself out of my comfort zone and fiercely reasserting my independence. It’s as though I need to prove a point to myself.
It was only when the plane touched down in the New Delhi airport that the grave implications of my naivety began to dawn on me. Life isn’t all fun and games. It’s as much about downs as it is about ups, and without the downs, there would be no ups. It’s all relative. But it was too late for this realisation – I had to deal with the situation I had gotten myself into, and carry on with the conviction that I would soon be swept away by the ‘ultimate’ experience known to backpackers.
India was part of a long process – one that I guess you could call a lifelong process– and it was a significant part of it.
On my blog posts from India, I sound upbeat, and when I reread my writing after my trip, I felt so uplifted. Though I didn’t know it at the time, while I struggled in India, I was learning so much about life and, in turn, about myself. I’m tempted to write that, after all, I did “find myself” in India, but it is not quite so simple. India was part of a long process – one that I guess you could call a lifelong process– and it was a significant part of it. I want to be able to go back and shout at myself, “Pull yourself together and stick in there!” But I can’t because I gave up.
I was in India for two weeks, only because my flight to Malaysia went via the subcontinent and I thought it a shame to miss the opportunity to visit it. When I finally arrived in Malaysia according to schedule, I felt no different from when I’d arrived in India. Where was this vibrant, exhilarating traveller-lifestyle the gap years all bragged about? I hadn’t found it though I had persevered. I was anxious that I was wasting the summer on a ‘project’ from which I felt I wasn’t gaining.
I logically concluded, or so I thought, that travelling for travel’s-sake just wasn’t meant for me. I needed a greater sense of purpose than deciding which exotic cuisine I was going to sample that night for supper and where I would board a train the next day.
I want to be able to go back and shout at myself, “Pull yourself together and stick in there!”
After just two nights of roaming about Kuala Lumpur and trying, but failing to meet other travellers, I flew home.
And now for the crème de la crème of the plot – two weeks later, after relentlessly beating myself up for “giving up” and “failing,” I broke the bank and flew back out to Kuala Lumpur! So I write this now having spent another two months travelling from Malaysia to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and then back into Thailand. By the end of summer, I considered not coming home. My transformation was surreal.
It was a tremulous summer, in which some would say I made mistakes, but I don’t believe in mistakes. As it says on my inspiration-themed calendar, “There is no such thing as a mistake if you can learn from it.”
Travelling isn’t necessarily fun, but the saying, “You get out of it what you put into it” stands as true for travel as it does everything else in life. Persist, no matter how miserable you are, but find solace in people. We need each other at some point or another whether we like it or not.