“Coming back to where you started isn’t the same as never leaving.”
I read this quote about a month before I was set to leave on my trip. I was beginning to develop cold feet, asking myself why I chose to leave in the first place? And if I even needed or wanted to go anymore? But the plane tickets were bought, the visa was secured, and all I had to do was step on the plane and go.
I could sit here and talk about all the emotional turmoil I was experiencing because of my parents’ divorce or how I fell in love with someone at the same time I decided to leave the country (timing is my enemy, per usual). But really, sometimes it’s not about the why you left. Those reasons don’t matter once we’re gone.
To me, what mattered was what I could bring back with me when I decided I was ready.
To my overachievers and over thinkers, this one is for you. I, like you, can’t stop the constant stream of thoughts throughout my day. I always feel the need to be productive, to have a goal, to have it together. Traveling didn’t allow that. It took time, but I learned to accept that I need to breathe more. Sometimes you need to let your hair down. Not every moment, every day or even every week has to be productive or goal-oriented. This imaginary race of life that we as youth culture have cultivated is toxic. We think it has to be “pedal to the metal” if we ever want to be successful one day. I lived by that my first year of college and burned myself out in a year. That’s why I left. Sometimes, you have to learn to give yourself slack. It is the highest form of self-love to love who you are when you are not at your best. We need to have a more forgiving nature towards ourselves. Comparison is the thief of joy; just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t mean you need to, especially if you’re not ready. Your intuition is your lifeline – listen to it.
Sometimes overachieving is bred through ignoring our innermost feelings. I wanted so badly to prove to everyone on my socials that I was having the time of my life. When I quit my nanny job, when I grew painfully homesick the entire month of September in Melbourne, Australia, when I lost loved ones while I was gone, it grew exhausting to deny what I was feeling. We must stop invalidating our feelings because we deserve to feel what we feel. Denying them only suppresses our true emotion; it doesn’t actually ever make it go away. I was depressed, lonely, and oftentimes scared of not knowing what my next move was going to be. I traveled on a whim, which was both liberating and terrifying. If I didn’t like a place, I’d stay only for a night and change locations the next day. I moved from Gili Trawangan, Indonesia to Lombok, Indonesia to Ubud, Indonesia to Canggu, Indonesia to Seminyak, Indonesia all in a two-week span. I stopped being afraid to admit to myself when I wasn’t having a good time, or didn’t like the people I was around. When we are our most genuine selves, you’ll find that there are plenty of people who feel the same way. It’s where I found my most fulfilling travel companions. The conversation always began light-hearted, but you realize what you’re both looking for is true conversation; why are we actually traveling? Why did we choose to come here? Are we running from something, or are we running towards something that we haven’t found yet? Why now?
The biggest lesson I took away from traveling is this: you might be alone, but you are never lonely. People really are friendly. We’ve painted the world as this place that’s out to get us, a place that’s unsafe, not trustworthy, full of pain and betrayal. Which is true, don’t get me wrong, I’m not an idiot. But what I’ve found is that what we put out into the world is what we will receive back in due time. If you’re genuine, friendly, honest, and open, it encourages others to be the same towards you. I remember all of the random night ventures on Gili Trawangan: biking through the woods, watching the sunset on horses, getting dinner with the locals’ families. All of the people that I did all of those things with I met the same day at breakfast. When in Australia, everyone in the hostels cooked, drank, and ate together, no matter if you knew each other or not. There’s friendship to be found in places you’d never thought to look before.
You may be alone, but you are not lonely because who you are should be entirely enough for yourself. The volume of the voice in your head goes on full blast while you’re traveling. Take the time to really get to know every part of who you’re turning into. Many people can’t break out of their need for people to prop them up and be their support system. While important for mental health and development, what’s more important is realizing that even without those people, you will still always be you. You do not need others to “complete” you.
All of this to say, who are we if you’re not being your genuine self? Traveling is where you learn the most about yourself. When the culture changes, you’ll find yourself readjusting and transitioning your behaviors in ways you never thought you would. For example, I definitely am not afraid to admit that when I was on Gili Trawangan, I didn’t shower for like, four days. You also get to see who you are when the people around you don’t have any preconceived notions of you; in the US, there’s an established stereotype about light-skinned, curly-haired girls that are rooted in the racism, colorism, and sexism of America. However, abroad, without as many of those existing structures, I was able to be seen, like really seen, as just a human.
Looking back, my six months abroad by myself were simultaneously the best and worst time of my life. I missed life at home, my loved ones, my lover, and my culture. But what this trip showed me is that I’m far more capable of things than I thought; the doubt that I’ve instilled in my mind is my only limitation. Nobody talks to you more than the voice in your head- make sure it speaks of strength, positivity, and encouragement.