The internet is full of bloggers and websites telling you how quitting your job, selling your possessions and travelling will fix all your problems. Most of the various social media personas brag about their successful career switch or their amazing lives as digital nomads obviously accompanied by beautiful pictures of tropical beaches, cocktails in bikinis and incredible palmed sunsets. It’s easy to slip in the trap of thinking that life on the road or away from home is easier.
Last year, when I quit my corporate job in London, I was also guilty of that or maybe I was just naive enough to think that my uncontrollable anxiety, broken heart, memories of violence, control issues, insomnia, addiction to tobacco, episodes of depression and many other things, will magically disappear from my life as soon as I set foot on that plane that was taking me away from my normal life and comfort zone. Eleven months have passed and among many other little things I’ve learnt on the road, I also acknowledged that despite travelling is an enlightening experience, it cannot solve your personal issues. My big and small troubles have not suddenly disappeared, they didn’t solve themselves once I arrived in the Emirates, nor when I was doing sun salutations in India or catching sunset waves here in Australia. No, if I’m honest to myself and you, travel has in fact amplified them.
Why do we think that travelling has a soothing power?
If you have nothing inside you, you will never find anything outside. It’s useless wandering and looking in the world for what you can’t find in yourself. Tiziano Terzani.
Travels and migrations have always been part of the human history, the desire to leave the known for the unknown has characterised the human species since ancient times and the most amazing minds of the past and the present have shared important thoughts on this subject. I am no-one and my purpose is far from adding something new to the topic, but to share what I’ve learnt in my almost-year-long adventure so that you can make a conscious decision if you choose to travel long-term.
The ways we move today have radically changed: we no longer take dangerous long boat trips to reach the shores of another country, no longer we need to cross deserts with camels and our own legs to find a suitable spot to settle, neither we have to sustain months-long train journeys to see a relative; we are now able to cross continents in a matter of hours, but the spiritual and personal purpose is still exactly the same: we were and are old and new peregrines, we aim to conquer even a small patch of land that hasn’t been discovered yet, we are searching for good fortune or hunting for something deeper that will change us, we are all anxious to leave a mark on this planet, to make memories and to be remembered. Some of us leave with a set return date in mind or a plane ticket booked; others, like me, leave, without knowing when or if they will be back. For some, the exact purpose of travelling is coming back, for others is just about going, leaving. Some travels to return home and tell their tales of what they have done and seen, counting countries as they were boxes to tick on a ridiculous seen-it-all list. Others are driven by the need of nomadism, of being free of the usual existence.
But I believe there is something that unites all who travel. We all travel to see new things, meet new people, learn a new language but deep down, we travel to become better people, a better version of ourselves, a self which we love and respect more. We travel to see if we there is a solution for that issue, to recover from our broken hearts, to lose weight, to forget someone and to become healthier.
Why do we leave our homes hoping to come back as better people?
And there are new kinds of nomads, not people who are at home everywhere, but who are at home nowhere. I was one of them.
― Robyn Davidson
Seneca didn’t think so as he wrote: “Why are you surprised, as it it were a novelty, that after such long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind?” and Socrates put it even better when he remarked: “Why do you wonder that globe-trotting does not help you, seeing that you always take yourself with you?”
They were both probably right. The only person that is truly, constantly travelling with us, is ourselves. Your problems will follow you wherever you will go, they won’t stay behind, because they belong to you and you are the only person who can indeed make them disappear. As Seneca continued:
“You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate. Thought you may cross vast spaces of sea, and though as our Vergil remarks “Lands and cities are left astern”, your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel”.
I need a career change. Travel will tell me what to do with my life.
Most people decide to leave their jobs and travel, thinking that away from home they will have some sort of illumination that will make them millionaires or they will come across an idea that they never thought of and finally find the purpose of their life. My friends, it doesn’t work that way and if you trust me a little bit, do not your leave your job if you are looking for a career change but have no idea of what you want to do with your life. Invest in a short sabbatical if you can where you can start thinking about a new career, meet people, share ideas and stories, but don’t expect travel to give you the answers to the questions hanging on your head. Sure, you will meet loads of people with different backgrounds, jobs and lifestyles, you will learn from them and be inspired sometimes. But unless you leave with a rough idea of what you want to do or you’re going to end up right back where you left. Jobs and ideas aren’t just going to pop up in front of your eyes while you are admiring a sunset in Bali or drinking caipirinha in Rio. They only happen with an effort on your part. Personally, even before leaving my corporate job, I had already set my own business up with a rough plan ahead. I had very little knowledge of starting a freelance job, but I used all my spare time asking around, reading online from people who had done it before me, I designed a website, wrote countless pitch, approached thousands of companies even before booking my plane. I was not sure about the future, I had no idea if it would be sustainable and that’s why I saved every single penny of my London life as soon as I took the decision to leave three years ago.
I have no money. Travelling is cheap.
Whatever you do, don’t try and escape from your pain, but be with it. Because the attempt to escape from pain creates more pain. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
That is partially true. There are countries in the world where a Western average monthly salary is what a normal Southern Asian person would earn in a year. There are other places like Japan, Australia, New Zealand, US, Europe where your money will last much less. If you are deep in debt and are trying to escape it or leave behind a bad spending habit, travelling – once again – won’t fix your issue. At the contrary, travelling in a poor country will make you feel richer than you are and you will end up spending more than you think, because “It’s so cheap!” What you need to do is try to fix your financial habits and problems at home, before leaving and setting a very clear budget and spending target at your disposal.
Travelling will turn me into a healthy person
So many people, including myself, think that leaving home will put them in the position to eat fresh mangos and drink papaya juice every day in between a run, a surf and yoga session. The truth is that while you are travelling, alone or with friends, time becomes very limited. Yes, exactly like at home. While I was able to run my 5K in Sydney every other day, I dropped my newly acquired healthy lifestyle on my first longish trip across the Australian outback. There was no way for me to run across the desert in +40degrees temperatures or to squeeze time on a already planned schedule with other 16 people. I’ve given running up in April and I haven’t been back on my yoga mat since June. Exercise and healthy habits, I learnt, are easier to acquire and maintain when you have a routine in place, when your time doesn’t depend on other people and when you can be flexible with your schedule.
Even if I have been very bad with the fitness side of things, I’ve finally learnt to eat slowly and appreciate what’s on my plate without thinking about what’s next or ready to leave, exactly as I appreciate the present moment without making plans for later, tomorrow or next year. I briefly managed to stay away from cigarettes too, but fell into the trap again when I faced a few professional challenges back in May. My addiction remains my weakest point and where my willing power constantly fails me. I am still working on it and I hope one day, I will be in the position to update this paragraph with positive news 🙂 I’ve been literally on the road since April non-stop, I’ve eaten more tuna cans and tin food in the past four months than my entire life and I’ve realised that eating healthy and exercising are both very difficult to do on a regular basis while traveling (which for me does not mean a couple of weeks on a resort, but the type of trips I do). All in all, in the past 11 months, I broke all my walking and hiking records instead, I’ve climbed more mountains and surfed more waves than ever. I feel healthier and lighter than ever and even my skin seems to say so.
The truth is that fit people at home will be fit people on the move and if you wish to be healthier, start a routine at home that you can take with you wherever you go. Once again, don’t expect travel to make you healthy.
I want to be a digital nomad and work from the beach. Oh dear!
Starting an online business while being based in a cheap destination is a very smart idea indeed. Having to face a lower cost of living is also very handy when you are starting off. But what are you starting? Do you have an idea? I have met countless people asking me to hire them because my job seems too cool to be true. So many backpackers and travellers think that what I do is to sit on a beach while I write (have you ever tried?), or make millions with my photography. I’m not complaining, but it’s not so easy.
You need to have an idea in mind of what you want to do. Possibly, you need to start you new adventure while back home in the safety of your job so that you can test the waters and possibly adjust your plans.
I’ve also learnt that to run a baby business you need to give it time and attention constantly. It is certainly impossible to do while travelling and that’s why I’ve decided to postpone or even refuse some jobs because this trip for me is more about my personal growth than my newly-born business.
I want to forget the past
When you know yourself you are empowered. When you accept yourself you are invincible.
I hear you. Some of us have scars and memories that are hard and painful to dig out from the memory box. Some of us have a void inside that seems to never fill. As a victim of violence, I know how you feel and how strong you think that moving away can heal your wounds. But it’s not true, I am sorry, I’ve run away for ten years and only now I know that I was only running away from myself. Travel can help you a lot on the surface, but it won’t help your under-the-skin scars. You need to start an healing process alone – or with a specialist – to really solve your issue for good. But the main step is to admit to have a problem. To yourself. No one else. Once you’ve done that, you are half way through and you will really be able to go on with your life. Travelling, as mentioned, has amplified some issues since sometimes you put yourself in situations where you don’t want to be, or where just being outside your comfort zone can make you feel extremely unsafe. But you will learn to feel better. You will feel stronger every day out there.
Travel is the best thing that can happen in your life. But it’s not a solution to your problems. Everything depends on your attitude. If you leave home expecting life and yourself to be totally different just by going you are going to be deeply disappointed. If you choose to travel to dedicate precious time, so hard to find in our normal lives to yourself, then, you might be on the right path for a better life, a better you.
Eleven months later, working on myself with the clear goal to become a better version of myself I learnt many things. I learnt that I can’t do everything by myself, I learnt that asking for help is not a weakness, I know now that if there is something bothering me, I need to let the steam out before I explode. I learnt to control my emotions, I learnt that whatever people think of me does not affect me because it’s none of my business. I learnt to appreciate those still, lazy moments of calm, because I’m no longer afraid to stop and think, in fact I cherish those moments with jealousy and look forward to them in excitement. I’m learning to accept people who are totally different to me (except lazy individuals who will never have a place in my life!), but I’ve come to terms with people who have a different lifestyle to mine. I no longer judge myself or others based on appearances or the job they do. I’m trying hard to stop comparing myself to others. I try to feel equal and no longer less than others today.
So, did travel made me a better person?
Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart. Haruki Murakami.
Partially yes, but certainly not because I was chasing sunsets in india, or waves in Australia, I managed to solve my problem, because it was the first time in my life when I HAD THE TIME to do it. I made the time to face my issues. I decided to pick them, one by one and lie them on the table and carefully analyse before proceeding to come to terms with each of them. It sounds easy now, but it wasn’t. It was a slow, painful, scary process; it has been difficult, depressing at time, very often frustrating. But this was for me the only way for moving on, the only way to really travel within me and let go. It was also the first time where I accepted that no, I am far from being perfect, but it’s ok, I love myself very much anyway. It’s the first time I want to spend time with myself, without feeling lonely or sad, I actually love the time I have for myself, I crave it after weeks with strangers or new friends. I need it. Because the time with myself are the ones when I grow. I learnt to think since I’ve been away. To elaborate my thinking and loving each part and bit of myself. To get lost in my thoughts and travel within them, a sort of Inception but while day-dreaming and I discovered the power of thoughts all over again. I’ve dug deep into my past and forgave (some) people who hurt me, I apologised to others I’ve hurt, I’ve picked memories I thought I had lost long time ago and decided to nourish them like little plans in the garden of my memory. I decided to love myself and to love others, I recovered from my broken heart and prepared myself to love again, to welcome a new person in my life with open arms, with no prejudice, no expectations, no constrictions, but just love and acceptance.
You can still enjoy travelling lightly if that’s what you want without getting lost in some dark tunnels of your mind, but remember that turning your back to your issues or crazily skipping from country to country hoping that they will just disappear, won’t do you good, but quite the opposite.
I know I am not perfect and I will never be.
I accept this and I love myself even more for it.