How 18 months of travel changed me

  • I’ve learnt that it’s okay (and sometimes a good thing) not to have a solid plan. I thought I’d know what career path I wanted to take after travelling – I don’t. I thought we’d follow a strict route when travelling – we didn’t. Sometimes getting lost leads you to the most interesting places, and feeling your way through can be best. Relinquishing control isn’t something that comes easily to me, but it’s something I try and live by more post-travels.
  • I’m more patient and slow-paced. Waiting hours for transport, waiting days for the rain to stop, spending 20+ hours on a bus, doing little in a day other than eat, read, walk around, and do laundry… Your success criteria slips, and time melts and slows. There were still rushes and stresses to make transport connections, fit everything into our one month visa etc. but when there wasn’t a rush on, those slow times became enjoyable, rather than a source of impatience.
  • I’ve conquered some fears. I used to be too scared of fish to snorkel, and too scared of the open sea to ride on a boat smaller than a ferry. Now I’ve spend two days out at choppy sea in monsoon season on tiny boats in the Philippines, and dived 20+ metres under the sea to come face to face with giant fish like sharks and rays, and I’m totally hooked.
  • I’m more comfortable outside of my comfort zone. We started travels fairly insulated, and we barely socialised at the start. After a while we’d happily approach / talk to other travellers, let down our barriers and forged close friendships pretty quickly. Similarly I became happier to talk to locals, barter for good prices (something I used to find incredibly awkward!), I attempted to learn a bit of every language, do more active stuff like trekking (I was previously definitely more of an ‘indoor’ girl!), and tried weirder food in more suspect-looking restaurants that I previously would’ve judged and avoided.
  • I’ve learnt to let things go more. Drunken fights, losing stuff, things breaking. The second half of our travels was definitely a more relaxed affair, and we learnt to let things go a bit more. We realised we’d rather look back and enjoy that time/experience/place rather than being hung up on something that ultimately didn’t matter much.
  • Learning to take the rough and the smooth. I realised that there will be tough days, things will go wrong, you will be frustrated and tired and occasionally sick of it all, but these times only make the good days better, and everything will pass.
  • I’ve learnt that me and Sam will probably be alright, and will stay together long term. We’ve smoothed out the edges of our relationship, tested it in every way possible, and learnt coping mechanisms that will stay with us for life. Even if things sometimes go wrong, those things are now firmly in perspective. Having an argument no longer terrifies me like in the tender first couple of years of dating, and often we’ll just laugh them off.
  • Becoming less vain is super liberating. Ditching make-up, sometimes going days without mirrors, not bothering with accessories, wearing just what’s clean, putting less effort into looks… gives you more time and energy to focus on the outside. Being happy to sit in an empty bar even if it’s uncool, a rough-around-the-edges local restaurant, walking around a bus terminal with no shoes on, no bra, wrapped in a shawl, because it’s comfier. Not caring feels good.
  • Without the constant background noise of work stress, concerns over living situation (where to live, cost of living etc.) and social calendar (with what I’m doing in the next month or so laid out in front of me) there’s more time for thoughts to wander, people-watch, and have conversations that could lead somewhere interesting (insider tips on what to do or a cultural backdrop to that place) I can already feel this slipping away now we’ve been back in the UK a little, and it’s sad. That familiar creeping stress is back!
  • I’ve become more attuned to who ‘my kind of people’ are, through hardened experience of meeting countless people across the 1.5 years – and have become more decisive about the who to gravitate towards.
  • It’s a cliché, but my eyes are now more opened to how other people live – not just being exposed to poverty, but also how simpler societies function so well by pulling together rather than competing, creating their own support network. An insight into different religions, and people living in extreme conditions like the Amazon River, on glaciers, in rice paddies, in the jungle or the desert, gives you a new perspective on home comforts.
  • I now know my priorities and values (at least for now) are in creating a more simplistic, happy life with less stress. I’ve seen that the happiest people aren’t the people who have the most, but those that have the most fun, that connect with each other, that take pleasure in the small things, that have control over their small business, their family, their home. Life is about people, connections, and freedom. I know now that I get most energy from people and exploration – and I want to keep these values central to how I live my life.
  • Living with less is freeing. Carrying your life in a rucksack and realising how little you need to be comfortable is really eye-opening, and I didn’t feel weighed down by all the possessions I’ve come back to and realised (in many cases) I don’t need at all. Now I just wish I hadn’t bought half my stuff in the first place!
  • I’ve got a far deeper appreciation for the world’s beauty and nature. I love being outside as much as possible now, and I’ve come back to the UK wanting to hike our hills, and dive Europe’s oceans. Being exposed to so much beauty on a daily basis feels like a surreal never-ending carousel of dream destinations (Galapagos springs to mind as a particularly surreal two weeks!) and this craving to see as much as possible will stay with me for life. Living in a city feels pretty stifling now.
  • I realised that people are generally good. Although we came across some scam artists and persistent hawkers, mostly people are genuinely happy to help you if you’re lost or in need of advice. Especially in smaller towns (rather than cities where tourists are commonplace) locals often want to chat or have a laugh with you. You’re a novelty to them. We came across countless maternal figures in hostels, in towns, looking out for us. Helpful strangers. And at the very least, it’s normally funny to chat with locals, even if they’re just taking the piss out of you!
  • I’ve learnt the power of delayed gratification and discipline, which is now helping me to save up all over again. By carefully controlling spend, and only indulging every so often, we learnt how easy it was to save money – and how far that money can go. Now, back in expensive London I wince at spending loads of money on lunch or beers and I see every £5 as a night (or two!) in a hostel in a dreamy location, so I watch my spend accordingly. I see my bank account as a big piggy bank, just waiting for the next opportunity to travel!
  • Related, but a lot of London living now looks a bit crazy from the outside. Choosing to spend £5 for a pint of beer and drink it standing up outside on the pavement, rather than drinking at home, or spending £5 on four cans of beer and sitting in a park – struck me as odd during the Summer we returned. Restaurants that charge £8 for avocado on toast, that probably costs about £1 to make at home. Fad cafes that serve grilled cheese sandwiches or fancy crisps / novelty breakfast cereal for a crazy price… the list goes on. After you’ve eaten amazing street food for less than £1, paying £10 for average Thai curry kind of stings.
  • And that’s without even mentioning the crazy costs of housing (buying or renting) in the capital. I get why we all have to be money-driven in London, because the cost of living is so high. This has a knock-on effect of feeling the stress of establishing a career path, getting promoted, pay rises, etc. This pressure creates a certain self-obsession, as it’s not just enough to earn money. Career is so important. I already feel more job-obsessed after 8 months back, and it’s a feeling I really dislike. But unfortunately, whilst we’re living in a city where you’re forced to spend a huge whack of your earnings on rent/a mortgage, it will remain top of mind.
  • I question more than before. Just because that’s what everyone’s doing, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. This could stretch from what people do when travelling a country, to how people build and prioritise their lives back home.
  • My standards of living have dropped massively. I’ve spent nights sitting in the aisle of a bus, on broken seats, sleeping on train platforms or open-air ferries. I’ve spent months using ice cold bucket showers and squat toilets. Sleeping in a cheap single layer tent on a blanket using a lumpy rucksack as a pillow. Now, even though me and Sam are living with his parents with only our bedroom as private space, this feels like relative luxury!
  • Having LOTS of time to kill meant I had time to explore subjects and arts via podcasts and Spotify, that I’d never done before. Whether exploring a whole music genre, listening to Desert Island Discs with important cultural figures, or binging a whole season of Serial, travelling slow meant tons of time to indulge in the arts, without feeling pressured or guilty. I’ve noticed it’s a lot harder to focus on stressful commutes since, but maybe that’s just me!
  • I’ve become spoilt. I’ll be the first to admit it, travelling really does spoil you. Every day you spend working in an office will now (in your head) be a day you could be climbing a mountain, diving a coral reef, swinging in a hammock or exploring an ancient temple. You’ll know (forever) that you could be having a far better time, and spending far less money, on any given day of the year. You’ll probably be totally addicted to travelling, and getting out there again as soon as you can. This makes ‘real life’ a bit tough. Luckily we have amazing friends and family that make us happy to be in London, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t think about travelling every day now. I look back through our photos all the time. But this will only act to spur me on to our next adventure. Onwards and upwards!