There’s a quote doing the rounds on social media following Anthony Bourdain’s passing.
I don’t think a quote has ever spoken to me more deeply. Travel. The greatest privilege of my life and as far as my #50Wisdoms project goes, top-of-the-pops in regard to what I’ve learned about living the best possible life. Because travel changes you profoundly and deeply, for the better.
When you explore the world, it’s not only about confronting external differences – sometimes of such an epic scale it scares the shit out of you – but it’s the personal, deep changes that really matter. Total transformation, even if you started off pretty happy with yourself before.
However, I do need to say something before I launch into the amazingness of travel, and it is this. Not everyone was born with an insatiable desire to explore the world. Many many people are happy with life at home, in nature, surfing waves, or doing different things, closer to home.
We are all different and must honour ourselves, versus feeling an obligation to do something, because everyone else says we must. Besides, I’ve never been very good at doing what I’m told, so why should I expect anyone else to be?
If my words do not resonate with you, bravo for knowing who you are. That’s all that matters anyway. We don’t all need the same experiences to become the best version of ourselves. We need what we need. For me it is travel.
Therefore, I am writing this for those like me. People with an insatiable desire to experience the world. Those amongst us who know they can only be truly happy if they get out there and quench that thirst for discovery and difference. Those who know that by making themselves extremely uncomfortable, that they give themselves the space to grow. Because travel can be VERY uncomfortable.
I went of my first trip in 1992 – to Egypt, Jordan and Israel. I was almost raped several times, I was mauled, groped, stared at relentlessly, and because I’m a fighter, I punched a lot of fellas during that time too. Let’s just say, no one was grabbing my tits/arse/other and getting away with it!
However, no matter the dark experiences – which were so few within the context of all the amazing experiences – this time in the Middle East was the beginning of a love affair for otherness that changed everything about who I was.
That was my first journey and I haven’t stopped since. I’m completely addicted to it. I am addicted to the world and I never feel more alive than when I’m in a developing country – countries that barely have their shit together. And they are plentiful.
A country in that state – while uncomfortable in meeting the most basic needs (i.e. suitable toilets) – is beautiful, because it’s usually so raw and humanity is operating at a different level to what I’d always known in my comfortable home-country of Australia. There is something primal in these experiences and I couldn’t help but get drawn into it. It also makes it really hard to go home, because being comfortable loses its appeal.
Sigh…. That’s the downside. Disconnection from your roots. It’s worth it though.
Transformation goes deep
With travel, the biggest transformation for me was within. Most of my adventures in the early days were predominantly solo, and it gave me weeks and months of silence, to confront my own thoughts.
When you do meditation or work with a spiritual teacher, the number one thing they recommend is shutting the external noise down, so you can face yourself. Having spoken to many people in this field, they tell me their customers don’t like to face the silence. They don’t like to face themselves. It’s too frightening.
Well I understand, because it’s certainly intense and it’s hard sometimes too, and lonely, oh it can get very lonely… but I didn’t find it frightening to face myself. Ultimately, I understood how liberating it was. Which is why I did it and did it again and again and again, because there was a lot of shit in my mind that I came to understand wasn’t mine at all. I knew I needed to face it – which I could only achieve through silence – so I could become who I wanted to be.
A detox of ideas not your own
I’m talking about the programming we all get different variations of from birth, and while many get good programming, I found a lot of my programming left me full of ideas not aligned to who I wanted to be on a deeper level.
Those months on the road solo, saw me pulling down tendrils of thoughts, ideas and opinions, and gave me the chance to look at them and ask myself – is this my idea? Do I want to continue owning it or does it need to get tossed?
So many ideas went on the scrap heap. The religious education I had all through school got broken down, jumbled around and mostly rejected. It wasn’t all bad, but there were many ideas I did not buy into, now that I had the opportunity to question them and work out what ideas weren’t my own.
Family stuff. My parents divorce and the anger I held on to for years afterwards. Gone.
Families can be a shambles, but this time of reflection helped me to understood that everyone was just trying their best in their own unique way. I also really started to understand the gift of the experiences of my childhood – all of it! And so much was awesome – music, cycling, fishing in the mountains, travelling, body building. Fantastic for a gal.
Every part of my childhood experience shaped who I was and I finally appreciated I should be grateful for all of those experiences to date – the good, the bad, the ugly – because without them, I wouldn’t be me.
Politics, business, the world, all of it. What were my opinions on things, what were the opinions of others – and which ones should I keep, which ones should I reject? It was like the ultimate detox for your brain and heart. Incredible.
Opening up to new ideas
And all the way through this painful and lonely process – which never stops once you start by the way – I discovered me and, in that discovery, I opened myself up to new possibilities, new ideas and other ways to look at things. Crikey, I even started to like different sorts of music! Yes, even my music styles were too rigid.
I went from black and white in my thinking, to seeing everything in many layers of grey. I learnt to listen to new ideas and question them from every angle. I took nothing as truth and tell my boys today, there is no single truth. There are only ideas and you’ve got to discover your truth and then be ready to change your mind again and again.
I believe there is no one person on this planet that knows all. None. We all have a view and I’ve discovered that if you can try to see the world from other people’s world views as well, it changes the game.
Obviously, it wasn’t just the silence that helped me, it was the experiences I was having every day too. Other people’s lives, lived differently, but still, so much beauty everywhere. I saw alternative lifestyles I would have shunned before and realized how narrow that was. As long as you’re smiling and doing no harm, enjoy I say!
Those long months of silence and incredible experiences, usually digging deep into history, gave me the opportunity to gain so much more clarity – a path I continue to be on, because you never stop learning if you stay open, right?
That ability to step away from everything I’d ever known, and not only confront differences externally, but to face up to the thoughts in my head – while enduring so much silence. Such a gift. I am forever grateful I took myself out there and in return, discovered a better version of myself – a more open, less judgemental, more forgiving version.
I want to encourage everyone to find this place for them. Even the people from the most beautiful childhoods can learn and grow if we step back and see life from a bigger perspective. I believe this.
Travel is magnificent
How could I not be addicted to travel when I gained so much more in return? But there is so much more to it than that.
When you travel, you constantly see the kindness of strangers. And kindness in humanity is everywhere. From fellow travellers helping me out when I got in a bind – being robbed, nowhere to change money so I couldn’t afford a hotel, etc… – to the incredible kindness of locals every place I visited.
I always remember the Egyptian lady in Cairo who gently showed me how to cross one of their crazy roads when I first arrived. I’m now a master road crosser anywhere. Or a chemist in Cairo, who took me into his shop, gave me water and took care of me because I lost my way in this maze of a city, and he didn’t think it was a safe place for a young woman to be walking alone.
Or another in Shanghai, who took me to some of the best places to visit – off the beaten track – just to show me her love of this amazing city.
Or the gorgeous deaf and mute man in Calcutta who sold me toilet paper and kept an eye out for me, along with another man with a hunch back and a HUGE smile, who got me taxis any time I needed them. These two men were everything to me as I fell in love with that amazing city.
The small curious children everywhere, fascinated by this person who looked different to anything they’d known before. Did that interaction with me have an impact on them too? It certainly changed me.
Or the people learning to speak English in China, back in the mid-90s, chewing loudly in my ear and spitting tea on the floor, as we all cramped together in a shitty train for hours and hours and hours.
Or the boy in Mexico, who wanted to have his way with me, in his little hut nearby, and somehow, his eyeballs pulsed when he looked at me. I didn’t know eyeballs could pulse until that point.
So many people, from all walks of life, all faiths, all cultures – just human beings at their best, helping, guiding, showing and expecting nothing in return., except the boy from Mexico – bless him.
You learn so much
When you travel, you learn to become vulnerable and to accept your own vulnerability, because you must. You have to learn to trust others when you are out there, facing the world alone.
Equally, you learn to pay attention to your intuition and trust it when you believe someone is a threat. My intuition is very very good, and I could spot danger a mile away, and it got me out of so much trouble. But still, I always met so many more amazing people than I have people wanting to do me harm.
I saw laughter everywhere, but definitely the happiest place on earth – Istanbul. My word the Turks can laugh. I hope they still are.
Israel – its history blew my mind, but there is a dark side. A sinister side. You have to keep your wits about you there.
Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa in Honduras and Managua in Nicaragua – three of the most dangerous cities in Central America apparently – never had a moment of fear as I wandered the streets alone. I had to. I was alone. I met amazing people there.
So many countries, so many thoughts for every place I’ve been privileged to visit. I should write a list!!
The emergence of real strength
But the final gift is strength in oneself. When you travel alone, facing internal demons and some external challenges, you learn to fight and stand up for yourself. You learn how to get around with barely any language at all. You learn how to cope, and you learn how to thrive. You get to know yourself and believe deeply in your ideals. It grounds you. It connects you to your values. You get fully in touch with you.
Not so easy on the man you’re going to marry one day in the future, because you don’t need a man looking after you…. Until you realize you do, because we all do. Being taken care of by someone you love is awesome. So I suppose travel taught me all of the above, but Steve taught me another layer of true vulnerability – thank you my love. It’s so nice to share the journey with you.
So yes, if it’s in you, please, make travel a priority if you want to live an amazing life. That’s one of my wisdoms from this journey. Travel has been a core priority for nearly 30 years and while I don’t have any tangible, valuable assets to shout about, bloody hell I’ve got some great stories!
Because I’ve been in the technology industry for so long, someone once asked me what my investment portfolio looked like. I’m like what investor portfolio? And then I told them I’m an investor in memories. It’s always felt like the only investment worth making.
Be free if you must
So if you want to be an investor in memories too, and you just know that you’re one of those people that must explore to open your mind, then do it! And if you’re up to your eyeballs in stuff and all you’ve got is debt, well get rid of the stuff and be free. Go, go, go…. Don’t let anything stop you!
I personally believe the only thing that matters in life is doing the work to get to the best version of ourselves. Everything else is just a distraction from that. The journey is different for all of us, the destination to, but if we can find our path to that joy within, wow, that’s a life worth living. My quest continues, but the ride has been a blast. I hope it continues!
If you got this far, and travel is your path to that version of yourself, go book that ticket.
What do you reckon? What does your journey to yourself look like?
Yours, without the bollocks
Thank you for reading my ramblings. My brain and heart are a work in progress, always. I’d love a comment if it stirred any thoughts or feelings and of course, please feel free to share it with anyone you know who might be interested or entertained. I sure do appreciate it when you do. If you want to connect, I’m on Twitter here, Google+ here, Instagram here, YouTube here, and Facebook too. I share loads of stuff, not just my own xxxxx
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