Lost and Found at Home: Confessions of a Trapped Traveller
“Will you be okay on your own?” the driver asked me, pulling to a stop.
“I’ll be fine, thank you.”
I’ve been doing this for long enough.
I yanked my backpack off the back of the buggy and wandered over to the little tent that was mine for the next five nights. I’d been solo traveling for months at this point, but still felt a jolt of excitement with each new place.
I turned to take in the view. Sparkling blue waters, littered with yachts, shone below me. Standing there alone on a cliff 12,000km from home, I had never felt more like I belonged.
The months passed and my expedition soon came to an end; colourful cities were replaced with suburbia, and I slipped back into old routines as responsibilities began stacking up – job, bills, study.
I felt myself losing grip of the person I thought I’d become while traveling, desperately chasing the feeling I’d lost ever since my plane home had hit the tarmac.
Solo travelling is persistently portrayed as a miraculous journey of self-discovery, a leap of faith leading the traveller to their destined path. These stories litter the internet, and I spent my high school years lapping them up religiously.
Upon graduation, it was only natural that I too would embark on an independent pilgrimage to find my place in this world.
At first, I resonated with these stories; I was a strong, independent woman making her way and saying “fuck you” to the laid-out path. I let whims and drunken recommendations guide my way; hostels and free walking tours became my lifeline.
I rode motorbikes through fog-covered mountains, I took rocky boats to new lands and I sat by train windows, watching rolling hills give way to vibrant cities.
The sensation set me free; this freedom gave me purpose.
I was converted.
I began preaching to everyone I met about solo travel. I was a new person, free from the anxiety and stress I had left behind. This new me could make friends with anyone; she was adventurous and spontaneous yet cultured and curious.
And she was made up.
This truth lingered somewhere in the air, not yet revealed to me but obvious as I look back now. I had jumped on a plane and abandoned all semblance of responsibility or routine to eat, sleep and drink my way across the globe and naively thought I would magically find my path.
I had wandered through sunny streets, marvelled at ancient sights, and pushed my body to its limits.
I’d studied scripture in the form of blog posts and travel guides but to mention life beyond travel seemed almost blasphemous. Thus, I was ill-prepared as the most amazing chapter of my life came to an end. I desperately clung to memories as external factors I didn’t realise I was depending on slipped away.
My beloved spontaneity could be credited to my lack of responsibilities, all of which were much harder to avoid upon running out of money and moving back home. My apparent unparalleled confidence boiled down to a mix of €2 beers and shared experiences; suddenly, it was hard to make friends.
I missed the high that travel gave me and readily started planning my next escape.
One month after I returned home, news articles began to pop-up about a new virus that had been found in China. I didn’t think too much of it. No one did.
Another few months and Australia had closed its borders to half the world’s nations, and I was anxiously waiting for what would come of it. Like most people, I assumed it would be over just as quickly as it came and naturally put my life on standby. Each month the estimated return date of normal life was pushed back until eventually the predictions stopped altogether.
The uncertainty meant I never accepted it, meant I never stopped waiting.
I didn’t know who I was anymore. I moved across the country, jumped through different jobs, and threw myself into study but nothing felt right. New people I met would ask me what my hobbies were, and I never knew how to answer because all I could think of was “travel”.
My journey was such a huge and expansive experience, which I placed on such a high pedestal, that any associated feelings became unattainable among everyday life. I had entirely attributed my highs to travel and thus I never attempted to isolate elements I could include in my daily life.
I didn’t know that was an option.
It took one and a half years, half-a-dozen cancelled flights and far too many existential crises for my faith to be crushed – for the rose-coloured glasses to finally shatter as travel fell from its pedestal.
I began to catch glimpses of the elusive girl I was while traveling. She appeared in the mirror whilst wearing my favourite outfit, she joined me on hikes deep into nature, and I have learned to surround myself with people who bring her out.
I have since realised that what I loved most about my travels was not the traveling itself, but simply maximising every moment. I do not need to be free from commitments to find spontaneity in my life, nor do I need to be in a foreign environment to marvel, indulge or explore.
The world is filled to the brim with beauty, so why did I believe for so long that I had to cross oceans to witness it?
Only I hold the keys to my own potential.
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz