Why You Should Travel
Tonight I am sitting in a hammock, sucking on a piece of handmade Guatemalan chocolate and listening to the soothing sounds of the river as it rushes by just a stone’s throw away, if you’ve got a good arm. Tomorrow, I am set to go exploring tropical caves by candle light. About five months ago, I was on disability assistance for panic attacks, which resulted in my being fired from every single “regular” job I’d ever had. I was stuck in a bed-bug infested shoe box apartment due to my budget, which meant I kept my clothes in the fridge, and to visit me meant stripping at the door and putting all of your things in a plastic bag.
It is no wonder I only had one very understanding friend visit, who was also going through a bad time. We ended up resorting to a semi-permanent state of drunkenness just to keep from thinking about how unhappy we were. There was a sort of twisted romance to feeling that bad with someone. Thanks to him, I have some beautiful, incredible memories within the painful ones, but while we were good at being positive for each other and pulling each other back from the edge, we both knew something needed to change. I was plagued by health problems, guilt, shame and depression – utterly disheartened and defeated by the world around me.
I’d wanted to just pick up and leave for as long as I could remember, but since I’d always struggled in my hometown making ends meet, it didn’t seem sensible to think that I could survive anywhere else. I think when life feels like you need to make a change, it starts by gently nudging you. If you ignore it, it pokes, shoves and if you still won’t listen, beats the living shit out of you until remaining the same finally seems harder than anything else you`re scared of (and I was scared of nearly everything all the time, so it had to beat me pretty bloody until I got the point.) I became sure that if I didn’t leave, I wouldn’t survive, or wouldn’t want to.
Just making the decision to go was huge for my emotional state. Suddenly, there was something in my life that I could be proud of. One thing having bedbugs and an inhabitable home does help with is forcing you to become less attached to possessions.
On little notice, I ditched most of my crap and with less than $800 set off to a little Caribbean island in Panama. My intention had been to set up a life there, gathering myself in a stationary place sans bed bugs and extenuating circumstances. But things weren’t much better. I was horribly ill for a solid month, the place I thought I’d be living at fell through, and while the island was amazing, it wasn’t what I had expected at all. Again, life shoved me, until finally I gave in and just decided to put expectations aside and stop trying to plan things. That’s when my life improved almost instantly.
Why do I share this sob-story, you ask? Because I desperately want to get through to other people who are feeling lost and hopeless and get them on the road. There are so many different ways to live your life and so much out in the world worth facing the worst parts of yourself for.
I have been to a plethora of mental health professionals and repeatedly been told, begrudgingly, “We don’t know how to help you.” I’ve been forced on a variety of drugs to even me out to no avail. Talk therapy is valuable and sometimes drugs can be a leg up (though never the whole answer), none of it helped me as much as travelling. The past five months have been the most rewarding, emotionally stabilising, healing and enriching of my entire life. I vastly improved my self-confidence and connected with people, even my family, in such a sincere way that I finally feel known.
Having material things and the security of the familiar is worth fuck all if you are chronically unhappy. The thing with low-budget travel and letting go plans is that it constantly forces you into the present, to react to whatever’s thrown at you. And when you’re able to go with that flow, you are taken incredible places. It’s even hard to have regrets when you can trace so many of your favourite experiences back to things that screwed up. Plus, when you’re going through a hard patch, you’re among peers – fellow travellers who have gone through exactly the same thing.
Nothing is permanent, but it becomes so much easier to embrace this concept on the road, because you’re always aware that your relationships and experiences are going to be short. You learn to take notice of the beauty in the world and open up to people quickly. All of this creates a sense of a global community and soon you’re convinced that you can show up anywhere and know you’ll have friends who’ll have your back. The other thing you learn is that money isn’t the world’s only currency. There are so many places happy to give you board in exchange for your time and effort. I’ve “paid” for a roof over my head with activities like cuddling monkeys, sloths and a baby armadillo. Not a bad way to make a living.
If you’re like I was – lost, scared and ready to give up – please, please go out and explore other cultures and climates. I’m not going to say it isn’t hard, but given a little bit of dedication, it is so much easier than what you’re going through. The biggest difference is that when you’re getting to know the world, you’re moving forward, so even when you have miserable, suicidal moments – which I still do sometimes – you can look at your life and say, “Okay yeah, but what I’m doing is amazing,” and it’s easier to let those feelings go.
With this experience in my back pocket, I have decided to return home and conquer surviving there for a while to prove to myself once and for all that I can make it anywhere. From there, I’m definitely not done seeing the rest of the world. It’s so amazing to actually feel engaged and excited for the coming months and whatever they bring. It’s totally possible that at some point I’ll spiral out of control and end up back on disability, miserable and stuck but the thing is, even if I did, my life will have been so much richer and full of happiness.
Cover by Tim Guow