The narrative of self discovery through travel is a prominent one for my generation. No longer looking to accrue wealth through property, millennials are said to be disrupting the status quo and choosing the road less travelled. Experiences, not possessions, are the currency of millennials.
I grew up thinking that I can do anything. Prime Minister? Nah, that wasn’t for me. Doctor? No thankyou. Compared to my parents’ generation, the opportunities seemed endless if only I was willing to work HARD. I graduated high school with top marks, went on to do a year of university before realising I needed to go ‘find myself’.
Today, young people in the process of forming their own personal narratives have come to see travel, and particularly travel to exotic destinations, not only a holiday but almost as a rite of passage. Backpacking, particularly in faraway locations in the developing world, has become an opportunity for self-discovery
After living, studying and travelling in Europe for nine months, I came back poorer in pocket but richer in stories, experiences and acquaintances. It took a few more overseas trips through South East Asia and a bad tattoo in Thailand before I tried life coaching. My ah-ha moment was during one of these sessions when I realised I was saving all my pennies to enjoy a couple of months of the year. This person I had been searching for was really who I had been running away from.
The thing is, I never felt truly content while I was travelling. There were moments of elation, gratitude and appreciation for where I was, but coupled with just as many moments of anxiety, disappointment and regret.
I had been buying a narrative that happiness could only exist while on holiday from my 'normal' life.
I didn’t love or appreciate who I was, and so I filled my calendar with exotic holidays to prove to the world I was worthy of being heard and seen. I can now see how the way I attached myself to labels – the backpacker, the traveller, the anthropologist, the cool girl – was detrimental to my self esteem. Who was I if I didn’t have a flight booked somewhere? Or I missed the chance to tell a light-hearted and self-depricating story of travelling when I met new people?
I worked and studied full time to afford these short bursts of a perceived future happiness, that ended up being tainted by high expectations that could never possibly be met.
While I don’t regret the money I spent on those holidays, I do regret prioritising travel over personal fulfilment. It wasn’t until I began life coaching and more recently delving into the world of Tantra and embodiment practices, that I realised the heavy attachment I still hold to being the 'traveller'.
I used to believe that the best thing about solo travelling is being alone in a foreign city. With only yourself to rely on, and no one to bring up embarrassing stories about your past, I felt I could be truly myself. Where no one knows more about you than a couple of funny stories, what passport you hold, and where you are going next.
Each new place was an opportunity to reinvent yourself, and become whoever I wanted. But the truth was, I didn't need a holiday to reinvent yourself, and nor did I want to be a particular person. I just wanted to be seen and accepted for who I was, and to do that, I needed to get vulnerable, and be brave.
For some, bravery is embarking on a solo journey around the world, and discovering that yes, they can do it. At 18 years old, that was all the proof I thought I needed. But once I had done that – what was next?
When I get that urge to book a one way ticket somewhere, I ask myself - what am I searching for? And more importantly - what will I have to sacrifice now to be able to afford this experience in the future?
I have come to realise that travelling itself was never the issue here – it was the expectations I placed on the experience to revolutionise how I felt about myself. Merely changing my environment was only a momentary distraction. Through deep, spiritual reckoning and starting to walk the talk of radical self acceptance, I have begun to detach from these labels and realise that the journey inwards, fraught with mystery and endless possibilities, is truly the only way forward.
The search for oneself is never complete, because our capacity to reinvent ourselves exists in every moment.