Shit’s about to get philosophical around here so you’d better fasten your seatbelt, although you probably won’t need it because I’m a sensible driver. Over the last year or so I’ve surprised myself with what I can achieve. I can’t stand the cliché of going travelling and ‘finding yourself’ because it conjures up images of 19 year olds returning home with braided hair and patterned parachute pants and henna tattoos and stories of mind-altering experiences smoking weed at some grotty full moon party, none of which I would like to be associated with, particularly the parachute pants. Annoyingly though, as is the case with all the best clichés, there is some truth to the concept.
However, what you see on Instagram or in the travel blogs about the nomad lifestyle is a yarn told very much through rose-tinted glasses – as is always the case with social media (a concept I already dissected a few months ago). There are some really challenging parts to this travel thing that I think should be talked about, because I like to keep it real over here in Bella’s corner of lazy sociological musings. It’s not all lounging your way around the world to sip undisclosed beverages from coconuts in sunny locations. I know, I’m as disappointed as you are.
My day-to-day involves a frustrating amount of packing and by packing I mean breaking into a sweat while ineffectually forcing things into my suitcase, dusting my hands off smugly when I finally get the zip closed, then turning around to discover I forgot to wrestle in my hiking boots, towel and sombrero so have to start the whole process all over again. I find myself being homeless a lot or inhabiting peculiar living arrangements, for example I write this to you now in what is essentially a garden shed. A shed in a garden in Auckland. I quite regularly have so little money that, after a while, once I transcend the stress, it becomes, well, kind of hilarious and I’ve learned to live without a lot of things, such as food (just kidding, I eat every third day). There is a formidable stream of constant change and uncertainty that can be really testing if you’re not a skilled Buddhist monk or a piece of seaweed capable of going with any current no matter which direction it takes you. I’ve had countless moments when I’ve asked myself what the hell I’m even doing so far from home on my own and I often have no idea what my next move should be. And there’s nothing alluring about being on a bus for 11 hours or being constantly lost or shuffling through airport security. There is the odd trip to the beach, though, to, you know, get away from it all.
Despite my incredibly unglamorous existence I’m still here, doing the travel thing. Why? Because I am hooked on the feeling that I am doing something, living life at its uncomfortable edge and slowly but surely metamorphosing into the best version of myself – the person I always hoped I would be one day but wasn’t sure how to get there. However, I live in a paradox that I call Schrödinger’s Traveller, because I seem to be simultaneously achieving a lot and achieving nothing. A lot has happened and much has changed, but I don’t have anything to show for it. It’s mostly because the biggest challenges I face are actually battles waged in the depths of my own head. I think these internal challenges are harder to overcome than material difficulties, like financial circumstance or needing somewhere to live, because the battle is so psychological, personal, you’re often alone in the struggle and facing your own fears and shortcomings in life is, quite frankly, scary and uncomfortable. Yet, refusing to confront these inner fears, yielding to the excuses, or defending your reasons for not trying means you risk remaining paralysed where you are; never progressing, or seizing opportunities when they appear, or feeling happier in your life.
At some point in the murky past it suddenly became incredibly important to me to slash through the things holding me back; doing the windmill with two medieval swords if necessary. Being stuck and unhappy was just not an option any more. So, I took a huge gamble and walked away from my life in fair England, hurling myself face-first and woefully unprepared into the muddy swamp of solo travel, which is pretty tough if I’m honest. Nonetheless, I must have done something right because when I think back over the last fifteen months I realise I’ve been pushing the boundaries of what I thought was possible in my life. I’ve been doing things that I never saw myself doing back when I was trapped in a stuffy, grey office in my ugly corporate clothes, daydreaming about sipping undisclosed beverages from coconuts in sunny locations. Stuff I always wanted to give a go, but assumed I wouldn’t be very good at, wasn’t confident enough to try, or simply wrote off as not possible to achieve. To get to a place where it’s possible to start doing those things, for me, at least, involves working through whatever it is holding us back (usually fear and doubt). But once you’ve burst through the plasterboard of your comfort zone like a contestant on Takeshi’s Castle, you suddenly have this momentum with which to keep raising the bar of what you thought you could accomplish. Because, well, why not? You have nothing to lose. Like me, you may surprise yourself.
So you’re probably wondering what’s been happening in this long, drawn-out, slightly boring experiment I call my life to make me think so profoundly about the experience. Well, as you know, it’s in my nature to ponder social constructs and use myself as a guinea pig in my research, but I guess living in a shed and possessing none of the things that people typically use to define success is also a good way to make one reflect.
Okay, let’s see… Some of the stuff I’ve done was lurking way, way at the back of my bucket list on some high shelf under a mass of dust so thick Eskimos would have to come up with a new name for it, labelled ‘would love to do that, but will probably never happen’. Living on a ranch and being a cowboy for six months was one of those. I’ve had a go at other stuff that I assumed I wouldn’t be good enough for or was too self-conscious to even consider trying, for example hip-hop dance classes. And there’s the odd thing that I ruled out altogether as ‘Satan will be supping a fruity sorbet in the underworld before you catch me doing that’ – namely long distance running. Yeah, I can’t believe it either. Even living overseas for a year was something I used to think was important to do at some point in life, for the broadening of one’s perspectives and character, but I had no idea when I would ‘have time’. Here’s a tip: you will never ‘have time’. If you want to do it, you just have to bloody do it!
There’s this interesting dynamic between these tangible, clearly measurable achievements and intangible triumphs that are more abstract and subtle (feeling happier, for example). They’re inextricably linked and one feeds the other, which feeds the other and so on. For me these are feeling more self-assured; more able to do, well, whatever crackpot idea I come up with next and scrawl with a crazy grin on the bucket list using ink squeezed from the things on the bucket list I’ve already achieved. I’m much more able to find happiness in any situation, and, for the first time in my life, I can say that I genuinely like who I am.
I’ve concluded that it is a mindset. It doesn’t take any special skill or life experience to conquer the inner fears and get out there into life and do what you want to do. It’s just mind over matter, which is a concoction of determination, belief in yourself and the will to have a go. It takes time to build the bravery to jump, so don’t be hard on yourself and don’t panic if you’re not there yet. Sometimes life gives you a nudge. Or it ties your shoelaces together and trips you at the top of a flight of stairs, but, either way, take the opportunity as a gift.
All this philosophising is making me thirsty. Could I PLEASE have a beverage served in a coconut, like I see people doing on Instagram. Preferably something rum-based. And I’d like a stripy paper straw and a little cocktail umbrella because I bloody love those.