The well worn idea that you hit the road and travel in order to “find yourself” is undoubtedly the single biggest cliche about travelling that there is and it is a notion I have scoffed on countless occasions; when I left home and hit the road absolutely no intention whatsoever of finding myself.
I mean, firstly the reality is that a good deal of contemporary travelling entails getting wasted with other English speakers, engaging in novelty activities (such as paragliding and bungee jumping all of which are merely pale substitute’s for a good game of football) or even worse, frequenting ashram’s that exist entirely for the benefit of westerners studying ancient superstitions. It just seems improbable if not plain ridiculous to me that the “self” which people seem unable to locate in their home country and their day to day life is suddenly located in a Thai massage parlor, surf beach or hostel bar.
Yet is also clear to me, and apparent to all who know me, that travelling does stimulate and even force personal growth and development like nothing else can promoting change at an unparalleled rate in limitless areas.
I first hit the road in 2014 just as I was turning 30. My twenties were drawing to a close and the life that I had constructed (or allowed to be built around me) had come crashing down around me (or maybe I tore it apart from the inside). Either way I had no particular place to be and so I hit the road.
Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend
Come the day of my first backpacking trip I still had my doubts and misgivings and that niggling sense of unease deep within my stomach that we have learned to call “fear”. In fact, I was even more afraid that I was excited and doubted whether the backpacker’s life was one for me. Yet I did it anyway, I acted in the face of this fear, believed despite my doubts and forced myself to board that airplane. And to cut a long story it turns out that yep I am very suited to traveling and it was love at first sight.
When I returned to the town where I was born (note I don’t use the word “home”as I no longer felt I had a home and that was actually pretty fucking liberating) it wasn’t the case that I rocked up thinking “Well I really found myself out there!” and to be quite honest I didn’t feel all that different to how I had before I left. But that is because life just doesn’t work like that so why the hell should travel?
Travel is a great teacher, perhaps the best there is, and like all great teachers it does not deliver it’s lessons in bitesize chunks and spoon feed the revelations it has for you. Rather, like all great teachers, it simply plants a seed which is watered with each passing mile and in time flowers and blossoms. Sometimes it can take years for this seed to come to fruition and a traveller can have been back home a long time before they fully realise just what their time on the road taught them.
It was only through my interactions with old friends in familiar places that I was able to realise the changes which had manifest inside of me and people around me commented that I seemed healthier, happier and altogether more relaxed.
For my part I could sense that I had become more assertive, self assured & less prone to stress. I had also grown more tolerant of certain things such as sleeping on a couch and having no personal space but moreover more tolerant of people and I even managed to convert some long term nemesis into friends.
On the flip side though I had become less tolerant of things which I knew I did not want. Particularly when it came to work.
Ditch Your Desk
I took a 9 -5 job (the details of which are irrelevant) with the intention of saving for an epic trip across the entire American continents from Alaska down to Tierra El Fuego in Chile. But I just could not stick the tedium of work, the repetition of labour, adherence to oppressive structures and focus on trivial goals. I felt more isolated than ever performing tasks I found redundant and I felt alienated from my colleagues (who I liked) but whose hopes, fears and horizons just were not mine.
So I quit after just a few months. I had actually written my notice of resignation on my very first day and kept it near me at all times to remind myself that I was only passing through and my time there was fleeting and all of my toil, stoking the fires deep in the engine room, was all for the greater good of carrying my vessel across further seas to new horizons.
When I quit I had saved up only enough for a flight and a few months spend in a 3rd world country; my financial position was not particularly stable.
But fortunately things were looking up, life has tossed me the ball and I was now running with it as fast and as far as my legs would carry me. Following a chance meeting with an Editor in South America, I contributed a guest post to an emerging travel blog. This was very well received and so I was invited to contribute more and this then developed into a deeper and deeper involvement growing into an actual job. My role is now that of the writer, general counsel and generator of zany idea’s for the greatest budget and adventure travel blog in the world (no, not mine) as well as a regular content contributor to a number of respected 3rd party travel sites.
I had come full circle here for throughout my life the people around me be they friends or family teachers had told me I was a writer and should pursue this. Yet I had seemingly dedicated all of my life trying to be something else. I guess I just never quite got how being a “writer” could pay the bills and it never seemed feasible to me that something I enjoyed, a gift that came so naturally could turn into a profession. After all work is supposed to be drudgery isn’t a man? (“and man shall toil the earth” Genesis 3:19 ).
When people now ask what I do I say “I Am A Writer” and I say it with conviction, enthusiasm, intent and with pride (not the sinful kind of pride mind). In this sense I can happily say that yes, through traveling I truly found myself.
Back home in my previous, “real” life I had been lost without even realizing it. Yet as soon as I stepped out onto the road into strange place, without so much as a map for guidance, I found that I belonged and found that little shard of being that had thus far eluded me which I guess I will call “my self”.
Freeborn Aiden June 2016