What travel taught me about life

Four years ago I packed my life into a backpack and boarded a plane to Paris. A few months ago that life exploded back into my three-bedroom house  in Tasmania, with a surprising level of enthusiasm.

I have come full circle.

In the time in between I’ve often reflected on my journey, where it’s taken me and how it’s affected me.

Over time we all change. Travel seems to speed up the process. In some ways, it forces those changes, as we adapt to new and different situations. We leave the comfort and familiarity of home and throw ourselves into the opposite. Our confidence, resourcefulness and intuition is tested.

On the move, when everything is changing, it’s hard to see that happen in ourselves. But I have in many ways come back to my starting point. And there’s nothing quite like that to make you realise how different you are to when you left.

I’m more confident, passionate and resourceful, and think differently than I did four years ago. Exploring the world can do wonders when it comes to having a “big picture” view.

This post – written as my annual adventure anniversary article – was going to discuss those changes. Except it’s hard to pinpoint what might have been caused by travel and what was simply me growing up. I left Tasmania as a 26 year old who had only had one professional job after university, safely taken in the region where I had spent most of my life. I wasn’t naive by any means, but I had a lot to learn. So much has changed in the last four years, but that would have been the case regardless of where I’d spent them.

But there are lessons I don’t think I would have learnt if not for travel.

This is not a complete list – travel has taught me so much more than what I’m about to share with you. But I wanted to focus on what I’ve learnt that I apply in everyday life, not my tips on how to get your laundry done on the road!

Your career isn’t everything and a job title is meaningless

For a long time I considered my profession (journalist) to be a large part of who I am, as if it was a part of my personality.

What utter bullshit.

It is what I do. Or for most of the last four years, what I used to do. There are certain personality traits that make me a good journalist – my curiosity, interest in news and current events and my passion for writing and storytelling. But they would make me good at lots of jobs.

There seems to be pressure – whether it be from society, family, friends or ourselves – to have a good job. And often that’s not enough. We must then progress through the ranks to an even better job in the quest to “make something of ourselves”. This pressure can cause us to place too much importance on what we do for a living.

While I lived overseas I didn’t work in media. I actually never took a professional job. I waited tables and worked in youth hostels. And loved it. Hell, I got to live in a national park for a year! The experience taught me a valuable lesson. As long as I’m having fun and earning enough to get by, I don’t care what I do. Being able to live the life I want will always be more important than the title on my business card.

Theth, Albania

We are capable of more than we think

When I’ve talked about what I’ve got up to in the last four years – whether it be leaving my career and moving across the world, CouchSurfing with strangers, hitchhiking (just that one time!), or travelling alone – a common response is “I could never do that”.

I usually laugh politely, when what I really want to say is: “How do you know?”

Day-to-day life doesn’t test us all that often. It doesn’t rip us out of our comfort zones and rarely are we given a chance to see how’d we cope if it did.

But most people are capable of more than they give themselves credit for.

Until I left Australia to travel, I had always lived with a safety net – never leaving one job before I had another, never travelling without a return ticket.

During my travels I’ve found myself in unexpected, and sometimes confronting, situations. Four years ago I wouldn’t have known if I was capable of handling any of them. But the more I was exposed to challenges – whether it was moving to a new country with no friends, no job, no plans; being questioned by Turkish guards at a road side checkpoint in the middle of nowhere; or trying to order food at a restaurant with no English menu – I began to trust that I could handle anything.

Mosque, Adana

Pursuing your passions isn’t all or nothing

Following our dreams is often at odds with what we consider to be the “responsible” or “practical” path. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Find a way to make it work.

For most of my life I’ve considered “full-time travel writer” to be my dream job. There isn’t a lot stopping me making that a reality. It would take a hell of a lot of hard work, but I’d get there. Except there are other things I want that aren’t quite compatible with such a lifestyle. So I compromise. Let me clear – I am not compromising on my dreams or passion. Just in how I achieve them. I have a full-time job at the moment because I enjoy it, it pays well, and gives some level of security. It isn’t as creative as I would like, but that’s why I have this website. It’s an outlet for all of my passions – writing, storytelling, photography and travel. Even when I’ve spent all day at my computer in the office editing copy, fussing about grammar, layouts and deadlines, I can come home and happily spend more hours writing.

I was a journalist for four years before I started Pegs on the Line, and until I started that poorly designed page on Blogger,  I’d never considered writing in my own time – certainly not for free! But I’ve learnt that when you love something (and I think this applies even more so to creative people) it is never about money or recognition. It’s just something you have to do. A desire to create.

Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

Your home is still a place to explore

I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars (I really hate to think just how much) exploring more than 30 countries. Only a fraction of that has been spent exploring my own. Australia is a ridiculously diverse country. While I was away I became embarrassed at how little I’d seen. Great Barrier Reef? Nope. Uluru? Nope. Walked the Sydney Harbour Bridge? Nope. Even in Tasmania, which is not a big state, there were many places I’d never made time to visit.

In the last year all of my travel has been within Australia and this place keeps blowing my mind. Seriously! A long-term road trip around this country would be one of the best experiences any traveller could have – Australian or not.

Since I moved back to Tasmania I’ve been focusing on exploring my home state. Every chance we get, my partner and I set off on a mini-adventure. We might try a new hiking trail, enjoy a weekend away, or make a day trip to a town we’ve driven by countless times, but never bothered to stop. A couple of weeks ago we found ourselves with two unexpected days off together (our work schedules are crazy!) so we booked a night at Cradle Mountain, packed a bag and hit the road.

I haven’t used my passport in a year and I thought my feet would be itching like mad by now, but exploring close to home is keeping me busy.

You don’t need to travel far to have wonderful adventures and experiences – although I had to travel half the world to appreciate that.

Tallinn, Estonia

Hot air ballooning Cappadocia

Memories are the best souvenirs

This might carry more weight if it was coming from a mad shopper (which I am not), but the things you buy while travelling are never going to be as valuable as the experiences you have.

When I went to Japan for the first time – my first overseas trip – I bought so much stuff. I did it again in China a few years later. Oh the crap I filled my suitcase with! All this time later I don’t have a lot of it left. Most of it was meaningless and eventually I tossed it out.

I have some mementos from my more recent adventures. My favourite purchases are jewellery and art. Small, cheap and timeless. I have earrings from all sorts of places- an artist studio in Bruges, markets in Madrid and Turkey – and I wear them all the time. I also have a lot of postcards and small artworks that I’ll frame and hang in my house. That’s about it.

Instead I spent my money creating memories – on going places and seeing sights that still give me goosebumps to think about.

I look at some of my photos from my travels in places such as Iceland, Turkey, Kosovo and Albania and think “wow, I can’t believe I went there!” and end up smiling like an idiot. Find Tasmania on a map and you might understand how easy it would be for a little country girl to think she’d never get to visit those kind of places.  No single item will ever give me a kick like that.

Hassan, Turkey

Travel is about people, not just places

Ask me to share a favourite travel story and it will most likely begin with “Well, I met this person in [insert place name]….”

I’m a solo traveller, but I still love meeting people on the road and sharing experiences with them.

Some people I’ve met while travelling I’m lucky to now call friends. Others I’ll never see again, but those transient relationships are just as significant. It might be someone I met at a hostel and spent a day sightseeing with, or a man who strikes up a conversation on a bus. If I could give only one piece of advice to any new traveller it would be to talk to everyone!

Meeting locals is really important to me when I’m travelling. I feel like it’s one of the privileges of getting out in the world. I can learn what a place looks like thanks to Instagram. I can research its politics or news online. I could find a restaurant that serves its particular cuisine. But travel is a phenomenal educator. There is so much knowledge to be gained and fun to be had by talking to people and learning about their life and their home.

Plus the look on a Turkish grandmother’s face when she discovers you’re nearly 30 and not married is priceless.

Your turn – what has travel taught you? Share your story in the comments below, I’d love to hear it!

7 comments

  1. Hi Megan
    This is a great post. I love the ‘We are more capable than we think’. It is so, so true. I think in everyday life with the comfort of routine we underestimate our ability to be resourceful and think outside the box. It’s not until we are thrown into situations that you see what you are/aren’t capable of. I’ve been reflecting on how my confidence has grown during this trip I’m doing through Asia with my family and as a woman in my 30s I never thought I’d say that – but it does.

    Enjoy exploring Australia – I’m having fun travelling, but miss some home comforts!

  2. Pingback: How to travel without sacrificing your career - Career Chronicles

  3. I loved this post and nodded my way through all of the points. I especially appreciate your point about the all or nothing approach to pursuing passions – in my experience it’s doing the not so sexy bits that pay the bills that make the blogging and writing process all the more fun. Although I don’t enjoy freelance consulting as much as writing and blogging, I seem to appreciate blogging more when it’s not the only thing I do – it’s my refuge after a day of consulting and I feel more creative when I know I can pay the bills! As you so eloquently put it “I am not compromising on my dreams or passion. Just in how I achieve them.”

  4. Sarah

    Megan – I’ve been traveling for 2.5 months post Iquitmyjobandhavenoreturnticket and am writing this from the ‘other’ hostel in Uzice. Of course, I’ve been pouring over blogs and information before and the whole time I’ve been over here to much overwhelm. This little space you’ve created is wonderful. I can’t wait to enjoy many more afternoons with tea reading about your travels. 🙂 Thankyou!

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