What Travel Does To You, And Does For You.
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
I had never really been “into” the travelling scene, with holidays normally being Spain, Turkey, Mexico, all inclusive breaks away from study. Then during my degree, fields trips away staying in hostels, was surprisingly, amazing fun. There is something incredibly special about being in a bunk bed, in a sleeping bag (after having had a luke warm shower on tip toes trying to avoid the suspect hairs all over the floor because you forgot flips flops in Scotland in February), laughing with your friends at 2am, completely sober. Maybe thats when something sparked.
Before I went in 2014 I “um’d and er’d” over an internship I had in Malaysia. I was pretty naive at this point, I should point out. I talked it out with my mum and then boyfriend, should I go, was it safe, f*ck it, you only live once, I’ll go. Night before I went, I freaked. I was travelling somewhere three times further than I had ever gone before, and I was going on my own, to a muslim country, I was blonde, I was female, I was going to die. Long story short: tears, trip advisor reviews telling me how unsafe it was, a fake wedding ring firmly on my finger, a cap covering my blonde locks, I waved good bye to my boyfriend with Avicii wake me up playing in my ears, kissed my Mum goodbye and got on the plane. I had a terrible knot in my stomach, I thought it was that something horrible was about to happen to me. I guess really, I knew that deep down, that from that moment my life would change forever and in some ways that was horrible, but undeniably, incredible.
My first three days, were pretty crap. I arrived in a smelly, hot part of Malaysia, unable to actually get to the Island in which I was heading for my Turtle Internship. I was tired, upset, missing home and also pretty bored waiting for my boat. I thought I had made a massive mistake and in that moment it seemed so easy to leave, to jump on a plane and even come back home, to my life. But I got on the boat.
I arrived on Lang Tengah, walked up the white sand beach into the opening. As I walked into the shade of LTTW camp, a huge butterfly swooped down, I looked around at the tarps and I felt like I was in paradise on earth. I felt completely at home immediately, maybe thats when something sparked. Lesson I learnt then: it will be ok.
My two months on Lang Tengah changed my life completely. They were some of the happiest times of my life. I realised soon after arriving that I could never return to my life as it had been. Every last thing about Lang Tengah not what I had at home. New friends, endless fun, the project really hit my buttons. We’d play all days, snorkelling (which is my favourite thing anyway), we’d cliff jump, do ecological research, party at night, wait for Turtles, it was just a magical happy dream come true.
You see, three years before, my poor Dad died of cancer, on the weekend that together we were going to move me into my University halls. I started my degree the day after his funeral. Everything in those three years at university, was great, but something felt out of place. Sometimes you just have to get on with life, as it can throw shit at you- but you can’t let it beat you. I had to go to uni, the next year the fees were doubling, it just didn't make sense to take my year out then. I graduated with the suspicion, that then was the time that I would really feel it.
When I returned home from Lang Tengah in 2014, my mind had opened. I was no longer with my then boyfriend. I was different. Or maybe I wasn’t different, maybe I was more… right. You see, travelling forces you into moments alone where you have no choice but to think. My life had been so full, with people and things, that only when I started to travel, that it began to empty. I had time to process life. My mind was opening, to everything including dealing with my fathers death, the end of a seven year relationship, and the start of something with someone very special.
I stood on the top of Table Mountain and cried. I sat on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific, in Fiji and cried. Life was beautiful and amazing but utterly unfair. I had none of my excuses (work, study etc) to not think about life…
I haven’t really stopped travelling since. Travel is the ultimate, tough love therapy. You have times to sit and think but you also HAVE to pick yourself up, you can’t mope.
Travelling has highs and lows. Whilst travelling you meet so many new people (if you stay in hostels- which you MUST!) You see new, weird crazy things. You learn to deal with sometimes the weirdest, the most dangerous, the most stressful, and then the happiest euphoric situations. You look after no-one but yourself. It’s unbelievably free-ing. Nothing to tie you down, you can focus on whatever you want, without the responsibilities or worries of “normal” lives. You have 9 hour stop overs where you have to sit and stare at a wall tied in with snorkelling with sharks and turtles. Thats where I gained a better sense of patience.
You learn about yourself, you learn what you actually want to do. What you actually want to eat. You learn who you like, who you don’t really.
After all of this, you come home, and work like I did, in a normal job, you notice that the weird things are so important to people. Money, for one. Drama, is the second- the littlest things can be blown up for the fun of one person who enjoys that. It’s hard to understand, when you’ve actually been in serious situations, been through so much that someone would actually WANT to actively cause a problem. When you’ve spent most of your life making things run as smoothly as possible without hiccup. I have found, that most of those people have never really travelled, and have to create excitement for themselves in different ways. I don’t need that…
The more you travel, and as more time passes, you’ll notice more and more that you change, you are less and less interested in materialistic things. Things that matter to me now, are my friends and my family. I don’t miss the money I’ve spent, I miss the people who can’t be with me, or the people I can’t be with when I’m away. But some friends will begin to settle, and you’ll become more unsettled. It’s a really hard reality. When I returned last time, I had a full month of adjustment, to Western-ism. It was really hard, but just another challenge. Many people go travelling, and come home to jobs and carry on with their lives, but some people (me) will get bitten by the travel bug and things will never ever be the same again, and when you travel properly that is a risk you have to take, but it’s SO worth it.
It’s so hard to describe what travel will do to you. Everyone takes different things from it though, when done properly. Sure, some people will go to Thailand and drink buckets of ethanol for a month and if thats all they want and need, then great for them. But for me, the real travelling, is quiet evenings in thinking, meeting new people and chatting about their lives, sharing a beer, then the quiet evenings that turn into all nighters, seeing things on my own, eating new things, pushing my own boundaries. Dealing with situations calmly and properly and then screaming my lungs out when having the time of my life jumping out of aeroplanes.
Since travelling, my life has become far more grounded but all up in the air at the same time. Travel is my therapist, where I can work through with my own shit. I have become far more patient and a big believer that everything will be ok and not to worry so much.
But travel is addictive, there are so many places, so many new things to learn about myself, so many people to meet. It’s a painful reality, I can be a home in England, but my heart is scattered around the globe and I always want to be somewhere I’m not. And it's also a sad reality that there isn't many others, who aren't afraid to be different.