My initial plan when I first purchased my flights was that I would be gone for eight to twelve months maximum, and then I would return to the UK cloud and rain, move to London and get a job. From there I could spend my days climbing some career ladder or other, becoming increasingly proficient at Microsoft Word and the art of networking. As long as the job was related to politics in some way and I was using my expertise, then I would be happy.
But then came the Amazon rainforest, the white sands of Fiji, the winter wonderland lagoons in Bolivia, the yellow cabs of New York, and all of the interesting and varied people that I have met along the way, and suddenly this dream of British professional success just isn’t cutting it anymore. Not only that, but for the first time in my life I can see more paths to my happiness than this singular white collar dream.
And this is something many people who travel end up feeling: they don’t know what they want to do or what will come next, but they know that it could be almost anything.
It’s hard to put your finger on why but I’m going to give it a go:
Firstly, it occurs to you for the first time ever that there really is something more to life than economics and social staus. “Well, it’s a job and it’s money, isn’t it?” people would say to me back home as I sat slouched in my office chair, miserable and exhausted.
Nowadays I am happier than I ever thought possible. Traveling allows people to put wellbeing above everything else; your biggest obligation is to enjoy life and make the most of every day. (This is why traveling often helps people suffering with mental health problems.) At home, people think it’s perfectly acceptable to sink, miserable and suicidal, in the name of a mortgage and two week holidays.
Secondly, the pressures to succeed are substantially lifted. Here in Auckland, getting a position in the local supermarket is a cause for joyous celebration. There’s no judgment if the post doesn’t fulfill the rankings of professional success – the job does not define your worth – and there are no friends’ parents to compare you. We don’t care if you’re a lawyer, a sales assistant, or a cleaner, every job deserves the same degree of respect and recognition. And if a job is not working out and is ruining your time abroad, you are free to quit and start afresh because you have fewer material and social obligations, and no one blames you for sacking off sadness out here on the road.
Thirdly, as I explained before in a previous post, traveling enlightens you to your own strenghs and capabilities, meaning that you reach for more than you ever did before.
Finally, you meet people and experience ways of life that make you question your own ideals. You may get talking to someone who has an incredible job that you’ve never heard of before, or you may stay in a remote village in the middle of nowhere, but suddenly you don’t want to value what you valued before. Much of my time has been spent casting a critical eye on both my own ideals and those of my homeland.
However, meanwhile, at home in the UK, Cameron is still in power, bills increase, the price of bread goes up, the media still distinguishes the undeserving from the deserving poor, graduates flail in the job market’s ruthless waters and listlessly wonder how their successul classmates have made it.
The result of all of this is that when travelers return home they often feel strange and different. A little out of sorts, if you will. The social norms and pressures and economics that existed before they left are still in place, but their attitudes to those structures and ideals are altered. Consequently, travelers often talk about “finding themselves” whilst those living back home roll their eyes at the naivety of it all (“When are you coming back to reality?” they want to know.) The result is a strange sense of displacement and possibility.
This is why I will always recommend traveling to anyone struggling with every day life: possibilities are opened up as you rip yourself away from the norms of home, see the most incredible things, and as you also realise that the world isn’t all bad and is actually pretty damn amazing. You don’t so much as step out of reality – you change it.
Go figure it.