There's definitely a huge cliché surrounding 'finding yourself' when going travelling. I think people interpret this as a lone figure standing atop a mountain, or walking down a deserted beach with an almost lightbulb moment occurring: 'My goodness! That's it! I have FOUND myself out here, the person I was at home was so trapped by the confines of society, and now I must continue on my journey with my newfound enlightenment!' Whether this new found enlightenment results in a complete change in personality or the addition of dreadlocks, tattoos and some form of accent is up to the interpreter.
I hate to break it to you folks - no lightbulb moment so far. A lot of learning though, and certainly some enlightenment in the form of getting to know myself better which I think is the real 'finding yourself'. Dealing with challenging, less-than-perfect situations has shown me that they're a trigger to me getting panicked and anxious. Whilst I did know this at home, what with various work situations and the like, it's more easy to relate A to B when these things happen frequently and your focus is your day to day life rather than getting swept up in a routine back home where things can all blend in to one and masquerade as a general feeling of 'life stress'. There is nothing but time whilst I'm away, to reflect on certain reactions, situations and experiences - time that I wouldn't necessarily have at home. I have found that I am actually getting to explore the aspects of my character that perhaps I have been eschewing with a firm hand at home.
I suppose going travelling at 18 vs 26, there are going to be inevitable differences. I think of who I was then, and who I am now, and it is someone strikingly different. Going away at 18 would undoubtedly be life changing, but you have so much growing up left to do at that point anyway that it's easy to have these supposed epiphanies and that's where the clichés come from. At 26 (nearly 27..!), I like to think I know who I am now. Or at least I have more of an idea than I did 8 years ago! This trip is helping me understand why I am how I am, giving me perspectives that may be too nuanced for an 18 year old, and challenging my beliefs and behaviours all the time.
As someone who writes to do lists every day and gets flustered when things don't go perfectly, slow travel is definitely taking some getting used to. An aim of this trip was to relax, switch off and attempt to not get stressed out by things. It's quite a learning curve, and in all honesty I don't know how well I'm doing. One day, I might be totally fine with turning up to a city with no hotel booking, having to search for a place to stay. The next, I'll be panicking about what happens if our connecting flight in 3 days time loses our luggage. Or I'll get irrationally upset that when trying to make a meal, all the rice noodles stick together into one inedible lump (seriously - if anyone knows how to cook damn rice noodles, PLEASE enlighten me). It is ridiculous how differently I can react to things, and out here, being able to relate each reaction to a specific event is really eye opening.
I'm trying to be less stressed, less reactive, less emotional. The truth is it's hard. I still write lists of things to do, including booking flights in the future, backing up photos, sending birthday messages to people back home. Sometimes things will pop into my mind and cause a wave of anxiety, so I put it on the list to deal with. This just means I have a to do list like at home, and I feel antsy if I can't work on it. This constant need to be working on something, or having something to do in the future is kind of weird. Whilst there are definitely important things that need to be taken care of, I'm certain that my list exacerbates this. Why can't I just relax? Screw the list, and take things as they come? Isn't that what travelling is all about? I know this, and yet I cling to my organisational roots. Perhaps it's my comfort blanket. It's something I'll be working on over the next few months, anyway.
Something else I am having to get used to is being comfortable with not doing anything. Now don't get me wrong - I am excellent at lying around and being lazy and yes, doing nothing. But when you're travelling, you feel as though you should be doing certain things. Experiencing the country and culture you're in. Of course, Harry and I do this - we go out exploring, we eat lots of food and drink beers, occasionally we'll do something touristy and see some sights - but a lot of our time is either spent on the road, or doing not very much at all.
Travelling is tiring. You cart around your backpack, moving from place to place, walking, catching planes, trains, buses... Journey after journey to get to your next bed for the night. Your shoulders ache, your knees hurt, your feet get cut and blistered. You might feel a bit sick, or have a dodgy tummy meaning moving around is the last thing in the world you want to do, but you have to catch that bus or you're stuck with no where to stay for the night so you take an immodium which clogs you up for the next five days but at least averts you from a disaster on the bus.
When you finally arrive at your new place, you throw your bag down and collapse. So happy to have arrived. You then face the question of what to do next. In some cases, you arrive in the evening and it's perfectly acceptable to eat and go to bed. Sometimes, you arrive at 6am and are expected to go out for the day and do things. All you really want to do is shower and sleep. Or lie there and read. Switch off, and relax. It's a huge internal dilemma that we have faced multiple times. Arriving to some of the most beautiful places in the world, and wanting to stay inside, on our laptops and in bed, rather than go exploring.
We are lucky enough to not be on a two week holiday. We're on a long journey, an experience we can afford to take slowly. Whilst it has been hard, I certainly have very recently learnt it is okay to switch off for a few days and do nothing. Previously I felt I had to keep busy, keep doing things or else I was failing as a traveller, but it's just not physically possible to keep it up. You need a few days off here and there to recuperate, letting your body and mind relax. Dealing with that guilt that you're wasting time is something that every traveller I'm sure has to come to terms with, and I'm happy to say that this is an area that I feel I'm doing well in. I'd be interested to hear if anyone out there has experienced similar emotions?
You meet a variety of people on the road. Including a lot of people who are the total opposite of us - packed itineraries for each day ticking off every Lonely Planet 'must see' before racing off to the next country. We've tried the Lonely Planet style and find that we don't enjoy going to tourist traps, handing over a wodge of money and taking the same photos as everyone else, before heading home and feeling slightly empty. We like to amble around on our own, doing less conventional things, and visiting a lot of parks... They're free! (Except in Japan.. Doh!)
Then of course, you have the travellers who whilst still the complete opposite of us, are at the other end of the spectrum - the ones who go completely off the beaten track and go on all sorts of mad adventures that leave you feeling like a total weiner because you only went to a park today whilst they sped off on their motorcycle for 100km, found deserted beaches and climbed trees to collect coconuts which they then husked and prepared for everyone to share at the hostel. Or the guy who was chased and shot at by Burmese guards when he accidentally rode his motorcycle over the Thai/Burmese border on his three day solo experience of the wild. Or the girls who bought a tuk tuk and travelled around Indonesia for three months in it, staying in local families homes and volunteering at animal rescue centres.
"What did you guys do today?" they ask, with eager faces, bodies exhausted from their adventures of the day.
"Oh us... Er, we... Didn't really do anything!"
"Sometimes a day off is what you need. What have you got planned for tomorrow?" as they smash their damn coconut, devouring the flesh inside.
"Er... We... We don't really know..." we shift uncomfortably in our seats, forcing out a giggle to try and make light of how utterly useless we are.
It's hard not to compare yourselves to others. Especially when a lot of the time, you meet people very different to you. Another thing I'm working on is not caring about what people think! I got fairly good at this at home, but out here, I'm back to square one. I think it's because some people are just so painfully cool. There's no holds barred here, and you meet people from all over the world, so us two sunburnt English fools (have you seen the ridiculous tan lines in the cover photo?!) are quite obviously different to the perfectly sculpted, tanned Scandinavians with flowing blonde locks (and that's just the men). Or the French girls who have half shaved heads, piercings and tattoos all over their bodies. Everyone has tattoos - everyone. Except us.
I sometimes feel like I've gone back to my school days, feeling like the uncool kid in the corner. I often find myself avoiding interaction with the super cool people for fear of being rejected, which is silly. I'd say 99% of the interactions I've had with people so far on the trip have been great so I should really just bite the bullet and say hello. I know this - everyone knows this! But in practice, it is quite difficult to get that courage and assuage those nervous, insecure feelings that remind me of school. Another thing to work on. The last time I did it turned out great - a chap from Oxford arrived at our hostel carrying motorbike leathers and was head to toe in tattoos. He was sitting alone and I plucked up the courage to start chatting, and we ended up hanging out with him for two days. He had just motorbiked across India for four months. This was very cool - cue nerves. But underneath his cool exterior was someone just like us - not really sure what to do now, and finding that he was doing nothing... And enjoying it! We laughed that it was because we were useless English people, which may have just a little bit of truth to it.
So, even though I've just written what seems like a diatribe about feeling anxious, guilty and insecure - I actually feel great for the most part. I am working on improving the negative feelings, and soaking up the positive ones. I love seeing new places and as is evident from previous posts, I am loving the food. It's really lovely to spend time with Harry. Whilst being together 24/7 has taken some getting used to, I think we're doing pretty well - a future post to look forward to. It's great to find moments of serenity, and to feel alive in the hustle and bustle of a big city. I've dived to the ocean floor and I've climbed to peaks of hills, taking in all the beauty that nature has to offer, and I can't wait to see more.