To travel is to open your eyes to all the world has to offer, to all you can potentially be and to return with the tools to make that happen.
Do you know what I really hate? When I’m discussing traveling with someone and they start their reply with the words “You’re so lucky”, followed by a number of what are fundamentally excuses for why they can’t do it. Luck has very little to do with it. All it comes down to in the end is whether you are brave enough to book a flight and take that first step through the customs gate. The house/car/job/friends/family are replaceable, or will still be there when you return, but you can’t put a price on the experiences traveling will give you.
In my case, the first time I went on holiday was to have fun with my friend and work in some cool countries. The second time I was just running away. I did achieve these things, but also so much more. Through traveling I found an inner self-confidence I never knew I had. Some people think traveling creates this self-confidence, but I prefer to believe it’s always there and it’s the requirements of traveling bring it to the surface. When you arrive for your first night in a new hostel and have to walk into a common room area filled with a group of laughing ‘cool’ people; it is scary! At first, you put on a bit of an act, pretend it’s ok and your confident. However, you’re really fighting every natural instinct you have that says to flee immediately! After 10 times of doing this you begin to realize, actually it is ok and you’re not acting anymore. You now have many interesting new friends from all around the world and learnt how to make a good first impression.
You learn skills such as time management, (throwing £50 down the drain on a missed bus is a mistake you will only make once!). You learn money management, after the missed bus incident you realize the night out on the town that caused it has left you broke and now you only have £50 a day to live on (including hostels) until you arrive at your next job. This is all part of the experience. It is through the good moments, sat on a beach drinking beer, watching the sunset after a day out hiking up a mountain that you learn your strengths. It is in the bad moments, when plans go awry, that you learn your weaknesses.
At the age of 25 I have so far been traveling 3 times. When I was 19 I left with a friend for my first 1 year trip around the world. We started in Australia where I worked as a cowgirl, followed by a 2 month stint backpacking the east coast. From there I went to New Zealand and worked on a family farm, then backpacked both islands. We also stopped for a cheeky couple of weeks in L.A. and San Diego on the way home. At 22 I spent 7 months in Europe, 4 months in Germany at a private showjumping stables and 3 months backpacking, mainly Eastern Europe. More recently, the boyfriend and I traveled around Western Europe in a red van (containing his motorbike), towing an ancient caravan called Delilah, with my slightly antisocial Rottweiler and his eternally wandering spaniel. I also might include that said van was a FIAT (Fix.It.Again.Tomorrow) Scudo which made for some ‘fun’ moments.
A prime example of one of these moments occurred when after a long day driving on terrible Italian roads we arrive, in the dark, at our campsite in Florence, only to discover it’s closed. So we follow our old, trusty Sat Nav as directed down a narrow, winding, enclosed lane all the way down to its conclusion and some large concrete, solid, immovable bollards. Said bollards nicely blocked our entrance to the main road leaving us thoroughly trapped! After a few hopeless attempts to reverse out ended in us surrounded by smoke and the worrying smell of burning rubber that plan was ditched. It was at this point our saviors arrived in the form of an Italian family out for a walk to the nearby look out point. Upon learning our rather dire situation they proceeded to spend hours of their evening ringing round rescue companies, police, and even the mayor’s office before finally getting the fire brigade to cut the bollards down with a huge disk cutter! We escaped, for free! All thanks to the amazing kindness of locals.
On another occasion I arrived at a hostel in Lake Ochrid, Macedonia, off a late bus; only to discover the doors locked, no night staff working and no one answering the phones. So there I was, sat on my bags in the dirty hostel doorway feeling very alone and sorry for myself when out of the dark appeared another rescuer. This time in the form of 18/yo local girl, called Emilia, who spoke perfect English. Upon learning my rather dismal situation the lovely Emilia invited me back to her own family’s house for the night! She gave me food, drink, her own bed, sightseeing tips and my own personal guide back to the hostel in the morning. This was another example of the kindness of others, something I found most of all in less visited Eastern European countries. In a time where we’re so often in such a rush it was refreshing to find so many people (particularly the younger generation) all too happy to spare you a moment, and even with a smile! Whether it’s to; direct you, show you to the right bus, tell you about their town/country and its history, or just for a friendly chat to practice their English. Perhaps it’s evidence of the truth in the saying that the less you have, the more willing you are to give.
Traveling, I found, is not all about where you have been and what you have seen, a huge part of the journey is who you have met along the way. One of the most important lessons I have learnt from my travels is not to judge a book by its cover. Being forced into a situation where we have to mix with all kinds of people, such as on public transport or hostel rooms, means we learn how to do just that. Through doing this you learn how to work around language barriers and make infinite improvements to your people skills. You never know you might just discover some true hidden gems. For example, you know that batty looking 70 year old women staying in the hostel who keeps singing in the kitchen? Well, after a 12 hour train journey I discovered she has dedicated her whole working life to helping educate poor and troubled teenage Mums in America, many of them victims of rape/violent homes. Upon retiring she has accumulated a travel record that would put the average nomad to shame, and all in true backpacker style. This lady hikes, kayaks, swims, takes Zumba classes and has beat cancer twice. She also has an Argentinian boyfriend that lives in Spain who she sees when she has a spare moment.
A great way to get a truly authentic feel for the country you’re traveling is to work there. Whether for a wage or as a volunteer, this is something I would suggest organising before you leave to ensure you get the most out of the experience and end up in a trade you enjoy, traveling is meant to be fun after all! Working gives you the opportunity to see a completely new way of life and immerse yourself in the country’s culture. Usually rural work will mean living as part of the family you work for. This provides the opportunity to compare lifestyles, try new foods, and perhaps begin learning a new language. Often people use this to try completely new career ideas or experiences, either way it’s guaranteed to look great on your CV.
For me working on a cattle ranch in Australia and on a family farm in NZ I had to step up the challenge. Having worked from a young age with horses I thought I knew country living. I was wrong, that was nothing compared to the Australian outback or the NZ family living in the bush. Being 40 minutes from town with no mains electric, these people define TOUGH! These were real people, farmers, desperately trying to etch a living from this brutal, uncompromising land in which they lived. They couldn’t afford to make allowances for me, for any other reason and they didn’t. So I just had to shut up and get on! Climb that 40ft windmill and balance on the teetering, rotten, plank of wood whilst you hang out the side to fix it. Health and Safety? What’s that? Ride out mustering all day in 40 degrees heat with no water, amazing how quickly your body adapts.
Learning the harsh realities of life as you drag the freshly severed leg of a horse you’ve spent months caring for across a paddock to feed the dogs. He had an unfortunate accident, the working dogs have got to eat! Farm life has a whole different meaning over there, but you will constantly surprise yourself with how quickly you adapt and learn. It’s only by pushing your body and mind to its furthest limits you discover how much you are capable of. It makes them illusive perfect moments when it all goes to plan that bit more special. Racing my boss around the racetrack as the sun rose at 5am one summer’s morning, after finally mastering how to control that damn horse. Releasing a herd of young mickeys you just spent days drafting, then mustered 30km to the correct paddock without losing them once! Removing my first horse shoe. Flying around the Australian outback on the dirt bike with not a soul in sight, just endless clear blue skies, cattle dosing peacefully under trees and the odd wallaby hopping on by. It’s these, and numerous other surreal moments, that stick in your mind and always make you smile!
There is an incredible variety of work options out there. The important thing is to be open minded, and embrace every new opportunity that comes your way as you never know where it may lead. I’ve met plenty of travelers that have never come back, or at least doubled the length of their trip! Whether it be from falling in love with a country, job offer or a fellow traveler, one of the most exciting things about traveling is you never know where the road is going to take you.
One thing you can be sure of is the person you are when you return will be a totally different one from who you were when you left. Everyone gains something. For me it was a sense of identity, learning who I am, and more importantly who I want to be. Now I have the confidence to just be myself. For others they already have that self-confidence and they go traveling just to have fun with friends new and old. Do it now while it’s harmless, before you have the pressures of a career, family and household to take care of. Let off some steam and return level headed and ready for life. For some this is their first time living away from home or the sheltered campus life and now they have to try being self-reliant. By the end of the trip you are guaranteed to have learnt the skills to be independent, sink or swim. The main difference is everyone will come back a more mature person and hopefully a little wiser. So I guess the question is are you brave enough to book that ticket and take the first step through the customs gate? Go on, do it, you only live once. As a wise person once said
“When your 90 years old, sat on your deathbed reflecting back on your life, it’s not the things you did do you ‘ll regret, it’s the things you didn’t do.”
The only thing I regret is that I didn’t travel further. There’s still time yet!