I didn’t find myself.
But I had one hell of an introduction.
I’m what you would call an experienced traveler. Like most naive, young things, my first dreams of traveling involved jet setting off with a backpack, shacking up in an Ashram somewhere and finding myself in my very own version of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Instead I floated around aimlessly in paradise during one of the worst pandemics of our time, wondering why my overseas excursions didn’t match the picture I had in my head.
And while I still prefer being out there somewhere instead of being locked up in my boring Leeds flat, it isn’t always sunshine and roses even in the midst of unspeakable beauty.
Because those same little self doubts, indecisions, dramas and plain ol’ laziness still find a way to torment you, even when you’re supposed to be having fun.
Now you might be reading this thinking I’m a self-serving, ungrateful prat that is moaning about being on the beach.
And while that may be at least partly true, the truth is I think it speaks to some wider issues that may be more common than you think. I think many of us have an ‘idea’ of what long term travel is supposed to look and feel like.
It’s very much romanticised and hyped up, but nobody ever talks about the unexpected psychological roller coaster that comes as part of the package.
And rather than lying down on a sunbed feeling hard done by, I took the opportunity to reflect.
What was this ‘stuff’ that was going on in my head? Why did it feel like a constant tug of war between how I was supposed to feel and this internal dialogue that barged its way into my thoughts from time to time?
What I identified were common themes in my thinking that were the source of some of my ire.
Had I had known about some of these before I embarked, I probably would have taken more time out to meditate, reflect and just be gentle with myself.
So what were the themes?
But what I found is that as I got older, my tastes changed a little, and while I still hang out in hostels, shared rooms don’t always do it for me. So that makes it that much harder to get talking to new people. Some places don’t have hostels anyway, instead they focus only on mid-range guesthouses or hotels. Needless to say, it is much more difficult to strike up a conversation in the hotel lobby.
So there were times when I felt quite lonely, as I sat and watched all of the happy couples and family groups mingling around me. Part of the draw of traveling is meeting weird and wonderful people from all over the world, and when that doesn’t happen, it can leave you feeling fairly empty and disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong – traveling is easily one of the most powerful and insanely interesting things you’ll ever do. But like everything else in life, it has its moments.
What helps me to cool down a little is remembering that I’m in a foreign culture, I’m on vacation so there’s no urgency and this is just the way life is where I am.
Essentially, I try not to take things too seriously, and I reconnect with gratitude. Travel is out of bounds for a lot of people at the moment, particularly during Covid, so just remembering how lucky I am to even be traveling in the first place, helps to ground me a little.
Living without electricity or running water, foreign languages, unusual foods and even the weather can all take some time to get used to.
Actually that’s the point. Traveling is supposed to take you outside of your comfort zone. However, once you get settled and you start meeting really cool people and doing awesome things, those things don’t bother you as much.
I’ve struggled with introversion all my life. While traveling has certainly brought me out of my shell a little, I often find that constantly striking up the same conversions with new people and making multiple introductions to a constantly changing flow of people can be a little exhausting at times.
While I love nothing better than striking up random conversations with fellow backpackers at a bar or beach, sometimes it feels like I’m a character in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with the ongoing ‘What’s your name and where are you from?’ intros.
Sometimes my energy levels are a little low or I’m caught up in a remote work project, so I’m not always as good at socializing as I ought to be.
Remember: it’s OK to take a little time out for yourself. If there are days when you just want to curl up on the beach with a book or lounge around by the pool – then that’s OK too.
We often judge ourselves harshly in situations where we are forcing ourselves to do the status quo. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel much better when you just stop judging yourself and take a little time out for yourself every now and again.
This is related to feelings of loneliness and introversion. It’s also related to the times when my confidence in my proven ability to plan and execute spectacular adventures wavers a little.
Meeting other travelers that seem to have everything figured out can sometimes lead to a little travel envy where I start questioning my own abilities.
What really helps to get me out of that rut is owning those feelings, giving myself a little space to re-adjust to my experiences and remembering that even with the ups and downs, I’m still co-creating the best moments of my life.
Indecision is killing me right now. At the time of writing, I’m sitting at a bar in Paje Beach, Tanzania, desperately trying to decide where to go when I check out tomorrow. The nature of travel is such that sometimes the best adventures you’ll have will be times where you just surrender to destiny and rock up in a random place with a smile on your face.
But there are times when you will literally end up sleeping on the streets or in a shitty hostel if you don’t figure something out in time. That’s the situation I find myself in now. I often feel indecision when I’ve already done most of the things I planned to do in a country and there are few interesting options left.
What often happens is the clock starts ticking, and I end up having to make a snap decision when all other options have disappeared.
Newsflash: that strategy very rarely works in your favour. It’s better to make a long list of things you want to see and the stuff you like doing before you get on the plane. That way, when you touch down in a country, you’re already one step ahead of the game when you end up with more time on your hands.
This one hit me unexpectedly. Right now in the UK, there are extensive, miserable lockdowns. Online, frustrated and bored friends and family from England are fighting among themselves about who the biggest Covid super-spreader is and yet I still feel a little homesick.
Maybe the swarm of mosquitos, burning hot sun, power cuts and malaria threats, out here in Tanzania are making me a little soft.
Quite often, I dread getting back on the plane and ending my overseas paradise – even without the crazy pandemic. But nowadays, I’m feeling a little nostalgic, and I’m actually looking forward to the superior infrastructure and stable laws of England.
But for me, this whole homesickness thing comes in waves. Right now, the waves of homesickness are relatively few and far between. Whenever that feeling gets a little too strong, I simply step out of my bungalow and look at the intoxicating blue waves of the ocean instead.
Nowadays, switching on the news and getting a dose of the crazy Covid escalation back in the UK serves as an instant cure to those homesick feelings.
Nobody will be surprised to hear that life is full of ups and downs. But for some reason, this surprises people when it comes to travel. Like anything else, an adventure will be full of surprises – not all of them good.
We take our thought patterns, behavioural tendencies and emotions wherever we go, so of course, these are not going to magically disappear the moment you step off the plane.
I’d be lying if I said there was a way to avoid those feelings completely. Hell, there’s probably a whole bunch of downers I haven’t even mentioned yet.
The key is not to avoid them – but to be gentle with yourself. Most of these emotional discomforts come from judging ourselves too harshly.
We can be incredibly harsh with ourselves when we’re forcing ourselves to have fun.
But ignoring yourself, suppressing your feelings and pretending they don’t exist usually backfires spectacularly. Life itself is an adventure and expecting it to feel great all the time is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for failure.
Instead of shaming those little bubbles that question your paradise – own your feelings. Some people believe that if you acknowledge bad feelings, you’ll attract more of it. According to that ‘wisdom’, it is better to suppress unfavorable emotions and immediately replace it with a good thought.
If only life were that simple eh? The truth is, it doesn’t work that way. We don’t work that way. I used to try that and I’d just end up more miserable and burning myself out. Lying to yourself can only work for so long – and often leads to self-shaming.
I often find it’s much better just to be gentle with myself and surrender. Own your feelings, let it hurt and then..let it go.
Understand that things don’t always go to plan when you embark upon an adventure. It’s normal to have doubts. As long as you don’t dwell on the negativity, then you’re really not doing anything wrong. It’s better to gently prod yourself back into the light, rather than drag your feelings kicking and screaming into someone else’s idea of normality.
Sometimes, it’s tempting to be a control freak and to try and micro-manage every aspect of your trip to make everything perfect. But the best adventures are the ones you can’t plan for.
I really didn’t find some magical, new aspect of myself. But I think I’m ok with the current version.
Chaos, crowds and humidity greeted me as I stepped off the plane in Nepal and landed at its main airport, Tribhuvan. After a two week