Did I get your attention with my title? It’s been a tough thing to write about. So what do I mean? This is the second post of my mental health series (you can find the first post on self care here). This time around I want to talk about change, like real I-quit-my-job-and-moved-across-the-world change, and the hard work that still needs to happen when we make big travel decisions.
Eat, Pray, Love.
You’ve read the book, or seen the movie, right? If you haven’t, it’s about a woman who goes through some seriously tough life events, and decides to make a complete change in her life. She sells everything, and goes on a year-long journey of self-discovery. It’s a great story, and I found it inspiring and emotive.
But the problem is, many people, myself included, have started to wander if all it takes to change your life and become an amazing person with zero problems and a fabulous lifestyle is to go travelling. Now, hear me out on this one. I love travel, I have been privileged enough to travel quite a bit, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. But, did travel change my life? I’m not so sure.
If you log on to Instagram or Pinterest, you will see so many captions along the lines of “I quit my 9 to 5 and changed my life”, or, “The digital nomad life in Bali”, accompanied by sun-kissed bikini bodies and glistening smiles. It’s super enticing. Not many of us can claim to love our bosses/jobs/studies/lifestyle enough to not even consider dropping it all to become a beach babe somewhere exotic, working 15 hour weeks and sipping complimentary cocktails.
I think we are being sold a false narrative.
If you are following people on social media that tell you how great and easy and problem-free their travelling lifestyle is, please click unfollow. Travelling is many things, but hassle-free simply isn’t one of them. Never mind the fact that the great majority of the people out there espousing this lifestyle look exactly the same. Go on, check your Istagram, I’ll wait.
Not much diversity, right?
Travel is not an elixir for your life’s problems. Nor is it an out to an easy life. Travel is an industry like any other. And I honestly believe that it’s only when we are self-reflective travellers that anything begins to change.
Travel didn’t change my life. I did.
When Chris and I made the decision to come to Korea and start pursuing a different lifestyle, it was just the start of what I’m realising will be a long journey. I was utterly exhausted in Johannesburg, and I didn’t find very much fulfillment in the multiple jobs I was working just to pay my half of the rent.
I kept thinking to myself: If I found out tomorrow that I had 2 months to live, without a question, I would pack up and travel the world. That’s as close to a life ambition as I have. I struggled for a long time with how selfish that ambition was. I studied social justice and human rights, I trained as a drama therapist with a huge focus on community work. Why was my heart not pushing in that direction?
Now, nearly 1 and a half years later, I honestly think I was burnt out. I had so little left to give, that anytime someone asked me to help, I was resentful. I felt completely battered by my Masters experience. I was lost.
So I have come to realise that moving away from the course my life was taking was not a selfish decision. I am so grateful that I have not become one of the multitude of community workers who become so hurt that they can only hurt others.
Moving away was self care.
But travelling and starting afresh in a new country has not immediately made me a better or even a different person. All of the little injuries I had picked up are still there. Sure, I moved away from the most immediate triggers, but still I have anxiety, bouts of depression, periods of disordered eating. These things were not miracle-d away the second I made the decision to change my life.
The decision to change my life was the start of a promise to myself that travel alone could not fulfill. The real change is in the daily work of self reflection, habit changing, self care.
It is not glamorous.
Although I’d like to have the perfect Instagram photos as much as the next girl. But it is real, and the process is mine. Travelling has taught me that I have agency in all things. I cannot necessarily control the curve balls, but I can control my reaction to them, and how much they affect me.
Travel has brought all my insecurities to the fore. I struggle to ask for help. Surprise! Now I need to ask for help in a foreign country and a foreign language.
I struggle with body image. Surprise! Now you live in a country that is a hundred times more image conscious, and you’re already just naturally 30 kilograms bigger than beautiful.
I struggle with feeling alone. Surprise! Try making friends when you move every year and you can’t speak the language.
Does it sound uncomfortable? Oh, it is. But what a gift. I could hide so easily at home. Now I am forced to grow and make mistakes and fall down and get back up.
Travelling is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
But my goodness, it has helped me to change everything.
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