So – it’s less than 3 weeks until I hop on that one-way, 15 hour flight to a place I’ve never been to before, with no real idea of what it will be like or when I will return.
It’s hard for me to describe what it’s like living inside of my head right now.
I made this decision roughly about a year ago, as I was reaching the final stages of my undergraduate degree. It was a time of information overload and intense guidance. Many paths were being laid out for me on what I could do next with my career. And I found it all terrifying!
I’d just committed 4 years of my life just trying to get through University, and now I was expected to know where I wanted to spend the next so many years of my life now that it was over?
We’re given this life model as children and teenagers on how we should be behaving and what goals we should be achieving in order to be successful adults. Get good grades at school, go to college, go to university, land a job in a high power/high salary career. And yes, this is all important stuff. These are milestones that a person should be proud of achieving. I’m so proud of my degree! But the thing that scares me most about this interlinking life model we’re given, is that the further into it you get (it seems), the harder it becomes to take a step out. Maybe not for everyone, there is such thing as career breaks etc. But, for the most part, from the people who I’ve spoken to – especially those older than me and further into their careers – travelling is something they “wish” they did, or “regret” not doing. Travelling is an idea and a dream they’ve given up on now.
I think generally people are always waiting for the ‘right time’. Not just to travel, but for everything. Relationships, settling down, starting a family, looking for a new job, buying a house etc etc etc. Bad timings and perfect timings that never happen have become a simple fact of life. We’re all just waiting, but we’re not really sure of what the circumstances actually are that we’re waiting for before we’ll take action.
I liberated myself from this waiting game via a hippie heart, and accepting the very real truth that there is in fact no time at all. Yesterday has happened. Tomorrow may not come – for all those who have lost someone close to them the reality of this notion is all too painful and clear. So what we’re left with is today. This is the only time I have to follow this inner instinct that’s telling me to take a step out. Step out, and step into the unknown. I’m lucky in the sense that I don’t have all the boxes ticked to an accomplished life: no high power career ties, no significant other, no children, no house of my own, no debts or financial commitments. Where some might see failure, I see opportunity and freedom. This has in no way been an easy decision to make, but I know it’s easier for me to make this decision than it is for a person who has those boxes ticked. There’s less resistance for me to be okay with leaving them to one side for now.
However, still, this path is not a simple nor an easy one. If I leave all of those unticked boxes behind, what am I accomplishing instead? Am I accomplishing anything? And instead of waiting for the right time, am I just wasting my time? I’d like to think that I’m not, but it’s definitely something that goes through your head when you’re planning to up and leave for an undetermined amount of time, with no plans for what will happen next.
Despite the fears that come with making a decision like this one, I still know that it’s the right one for me. The only thing harder than leaving is staying. The amount of women from the generations before me that have said they “never had this opportunity when they were younger” just emphasises for me how important it is for me to take this opportunity now. We live in a world that still suffers massively under patriarchy. Even the Western world seems to be currently taking steps backwards instead of forwards when it comes to gender equality and women’s rights. I have an opportunity now that I wouldn’t necessarily have had if I was born a couple of decades earlier. An opportunity that we can’t say for certain our future daughters will have in a couple of decades from now. I’ve been told it’s not safe for girls to travel the world on their own, but it’s okay for boys too. So I’ll travel even if it’s just to rebel against the hazard that comes with being born with a vagina.
It doesn’t get any easier after making the decision either. Then comes the doubts. Then comes the need for determination to take action. It’s all well and good deciding to take a step out, but then you actually have to do the stepping, and trust me – it’s not a simple right-leg-out-left-leg-in motion. All of the excuses are there waiting for me to grab one and run. “I can’t afford it.” “I’d get too homesick.” “It’s supposed to be dangerous there.” “I can’t afford it.” “I couldn’t leave all of my friends.” “What if I get sick?” “I can’t afford it.” “What if I don’t like it?” “I can’t leave my dog.” “I can’t afford it.”
All of these are relevant fears, and it would be naive to think that you shouldn’t worry about these things when travelling. But fear is your brain telling you that the outcome could be terrible, not that the outcome will be terrible. Fear comes when stepping outside of the comfort zone and into the unknown. And not doing something because it’s scary is self-limiting, and can lead to missing out on so many opportunities to find happiness. If the outcome is terrible, then that’s too bad. But that’s life, sometimes it’s amazing and sometimes it’s terrible. But all of these things at the very least lead to personal growth, so that the next time you decide to step out of your comfort zone it won’t be terrible. The only alternative to feeling the fear and doing it anyway, is staying where you are and feeling the same things every day. That’s cool if it really makes you happy. But I’m 23 and I’m already unhappy with being comfortable, so I’ve decided this is worth the risk.
So I found the determination to take action. Within twelve months I’ve paid off a £1,000 student overdraft, paid off £1,000 worth of catalogue debt, paid for a TEFL course in Thailand, paid for flights, travel insurance, VISA, luggage, COLDPLAY TICKETS IN BANGKOK, dreamy travel plans, and saved up enough money (not a lot but enough) to start me off in another country. Let me just emphasise on the word enough. I’ve had to really learn what that word means this past year. I mean truly, absolutely understand what it means to have enough. I’ve done all of those things listed prior on a minimum wage job. A minimum wage job that I was hired on an 8-hour contract when I first started. I reached out for the amount of hours that I knew would be enough, but then always tried for more when I could get it. Every month I always saved up enough money to reach my goal, but always tried to save more when I could. In order to do this I had to make a lot of sacrifices. What did I already have enough of? What could I live without spending money on? I’ve had to say no to a lot of things so that I could say yes to this. But many of those things I had already done enough of to not really feel like I was missing out on them every time that I said no.
I reached the conclusion that even though I may not have as much as some, I’ve always had enough. I’ve actually got more than most. I’ve got two parents who have been prepared to take care of me through university, and continue to provide me with a place to sleep and food to eat so I could do all of the necessary things to reach this point and be able to start my journey.
It’s all been a matter of shifting my perspective. So much so that the journey towards reaching this goal has had a massive impact on me as a person, and what I now understand to be the ‘important things’ – and this is all before I’ve even started the main event.
So I’m scared and I’m excited and I’m sure and I’m unsure. I have second thoughts and third thoughts and a hundred million thousand thoughts every second about whether I’m doing the right thing. But for those who know me, they know that writing is a huge part of my life, as much a part of the functioning of my body as breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide. The famous Henry David Thoreau said: “how vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.” After four years of University developing my craft, I think I know enough – for now – about how to sit down and write. Now is the time for me to stand up and live.