4 months ago I started a new job on the other side of the world. It was, by pure coincidence, exactly 1 year since leaving the UK. It was tough.
The first week was a whirlwind of intensity, I was busy being trained by a lovely colleague, who is also a complete chatterbox. My cousin very generously let me stay with her family while I looked for a room to rent in the evenings, and at the weekends I went away with my friend Pete who was over on holiday. Being constantly with different people was hard, I’d gotten used to being solo. I was pretty exhausted, more than ready to stop with the traveling. I couldn’t wait to settle in one place, at least temporarily. 3 weeks later and I was settling into my new house, starting to get used to the early mornings and the 7-3:30 work hours, and I discovered a huge urge to ‘nest’ and decorate my room. I resisted on the basis of it being a temporary arrangement and having low funds, with the exception of a picture frame and photos of my travels with friends and family. At the same time, I was sad to put away my backpack, which I have a huge fondness for after living out of it for a year.
It was past the time for me to stop though, I could feel myself growing lazy, traveling became an effort and my appreciation of visiting new places and having new experiences was diminishing.
Life back ‘in the real world’ however, has given me a gradual understanding of several things about my life, which rather than giving me answers, has in fact led to more questions about what I really want from life. What does anyone want really?
Ok, happiness. Everyone wants to be happy and actually I really do believe that being happy in yourself, in your choices (good and bad) and in the life you create for yourself is the most important thing in anyone’s life. Achieving it is pretty difficult, and of course, no one can be happy all the time because sometimes bad things happen, but I also believe that those times, when we’re sick or ill or sad or angry, make the good times even better. Working out what makes you happy is unfortunately not as straightforward as you would hope.
I believe that I am generally a pretty happy person. I have been content throughout most of my life back in the UK. I enjoyed my job, have great friends, and an awesome family. I truly believe I am lucky in that. But I’m greedy. Wanderlust was a slow burning itch that I knew I had to scratch, which meant leaving all of the good things in my life behind. I’m selfish. There have been things that have/ are happening in the lives of my family and close friends, and I am not there to help if they need me. Skype is amazing, but you can’t give someone the physical support and completely underrated of something as simple as a hug. It hurts me, but I would much rather be here, traveling and exploring the world than back at home for people who need me. Luckily they have others to be there, but I still feel guilty.
I’m not as happy as I was when travelling though. I like my job and my colleagues, I like my housemate and where I live (although Central Heating really needs to come to New Zealand) and I’m reasonably content. But I had more passion for life when I was on the road. It was exciting not knowing where I’d be sleeping (OK, sometimes that was stressful). It was liberating to have at most pretty vague plans, to have no ties, to be completely independent. I loved it. I miss it, although I appreciate my need to stop, so that when I do continue I will enjoy it as much again. I relished in the challenge of getting to grips with a new, completely different culture. I wander if I would leave now to do more traveling, if I could afford it. The answer is a definitive YES.
Stopping has made me question other things in my life too. I graduated with a degree in Biochemistry in 2008. I spent 5 years working in a small University Lab acquiring a vast array of skills, and my current job is in a similar field although I’ve transition to industry. but I’m still on the bottom rung. I like working in science, but I’m not sure if its the career I still want. Travel has become such a part of me that I dream about being a professional travel writer, although the reality is no doubt pretty different to my ideals. I’m also thinking about working in conservation, but its such a broad field that I don’t know where to even start, and I’d love for there to be a lab aspect to a job in that field, but its popular, so I don’t know where to start. What do I do career wise, and how important is it to me to have a good career, or do I just want a life that enables me to travel. Yet I also dream about a future husband and family. Where does that fit in with the work/travel balance. What if I don’t meet him until its too late? (OK, I’m 28, I have plenty of time, but what if? ) I can only control my lifestyle and choices, but which is right?
I’ve started to think more seriously about what will happen when I return home. When I left I barely gave it any thought, in fact, ‘I’ll probably have to live with my parents, or possibly my sister and just get a job’ was pretty much the extent of it. I’ve been away for 16motnhs though, and it is likely to be another year or more before I return home. Granted, it’s premature to worry about it, but what if the UK isn’t as I remember it, or what if I return and realise that it’s not a country I want to live in. It was never a choice before; it was all I knew. Will it be different when I see my old friends and family, most of whom I’m terrifically bad at keeping in touch with. will the time and distance feel like nothing, or will our lives have grown irrevocably apart. It’s hard starting again, I have a few friends here, but its very different to my life was pre-travel. When traveling everything is magnified, so much more intense than real life that after spending 2 days with someone can seem like 2 weeks, and a few weeks traveling with someone gives you a life long friend. It’s much harder to get that when everyone is working and busy with a ‘normal’ life, and I actually miss that.
Ultimately I have no idea what I want, apart from to travel more. I just hope that its a plausible dream and that I won’t miss out on too many other things while I pursue it. Or maybe its just a bit of a reality bites/tiny mid 20s crisis. I felt like I had grown as a person during my travels, now I feel like I’ve lost that, and I liked that version of me more. I guess that straying from the traveling path has led to me getting a bit lost.