Some ponderings on my wanderings
How did I do it?
The logistics were the easy bit. It took around 9 months of plotting, planning and action – a large task but managable with enough time. I was fortunate to have a forward-thinking employer that released me for 6 months. This allowed me to have a break and was an opportunity for self-development. What I discovered from this process was how hard it is to extract yourself from day-to-day life for a temporary amount of time. It was also a really healthy experience because it forced me to tie up loose ends, give lots away to charity and spring clean my life.
The key thing was deciding to go. Firstly a discussion with my mum helped put things into perspective. She simply said to me “how about taking a break”. Just voicing those words was enough. It sat right with me and I knew it was exactly the thing I needed and wanted to do. I could then throw all my energy into it.
“The key thing was deciding to go”
The next bit of inspiration came from a story about Moses and his wooden staff – a simple object in Moses hands that could make things happen. I took from this the idea of looking at my own hands and asked the question: What is in my hands? What do I have that maybe others don’t have? What can I do with what I have? This turned what had seemed to be negative things into positives.
I was single – so no ties or responsibilities
I didn’t own a property – therefore no mortgage commitments
I didn’t have children – no restrictions
I had some savings – amazing, why not use them?
What did I discover from travelling and taking a break from paid work?
Happiness and Fun
I wanted to remember what it felt like to be me, without a job title and all the expectations that were put on me and without the stresses of everyday life.
After 2 months I really got back to a happier self and I started to re-discover my love of learning and being creative and enjoying the moment instead of worrying about the future. I had fun. I fell in love again with the simple things in life like a beautiful flower, laughter, a friendly cat, a glass of red wine, fresh air and fresh bread. I felt alive and thankful and happy.
“I fell in love again with the simple things in life”
Make the most of the moment
I realised on a few occasions whilst starting my travels that I missed unique opportunities to try things, buy things or speak to people in more depth. When you are on the move, you have a limited time and it makes you focus and prioritise and take opportunities while you can. This taught me to put myself forward, to have a go, to try new food, to have those conversations and make the most of my time spent with people. A good lesson for life.
“it makes you focus and prioritise and take opportunities while you can”
Adapt to change
Travelling ensured I had to embrace change on a daily basis. A change in plan, landscape, culture or language. You learn to navigate both a landscape and a society very quickly. You have to find out the dangers, learn the scams, understand the customs, discover what to see and do in a very short time. In short it makes you very adaptable. It also forces you to talk to people to learn – from taxi and tuk tuk drivers to fellow travellers. These conversations can give such valuable insights and bring about great connections.
“You learn to navigate both a landscape and a society very quickly”
Travelling through multiple countries allows you to compare and contrast ways of doing things and see patterns or differences. What do I mean by this? An example is corruption – in the countries where ordinary people are struggling due to lack of proper infrastructure, opportunities or services – the answer to why this is happening always came back – corruption at the highest levels. I saw this particularly in the Philippines and Cambodia. Also in Thailand – where votes can be bought from the poorest people by promising to give them something, like a chicken. The countries that prospered economically, for example Singapore – had Governments that were in power to at least try and serve their people.
When you are carrying everything on your back, catching flights and getting up and out of hostel dorms early – you have to become pretty good at being organised. I don’t think I ever completely perfected this, but I certainly had a go.
Fear and Trust
The very nature of travelling means you are on the move and anything could happen. Whether its trying street food, crossing a Vietnamese road or taking a bus into the mountains of the Philippines. You discover life is a risky business, but rather than doing nothing and avoiding risk you have to find ways to deal with it. You often have no choice. To get to where you want to go or to try something new, you often have to (with a little common sense) step out and trust and hope things will be ok.
Think for yourself
In developing countries I quickly learnt never to assume anything. I constantly had think for myself. I had to ask myself – what would I do if xxxx happened? This was mainly because no one would look after you. In many countries I visited there was limited health and safety, health care and emergency services. Walking along the pavement you have to be aware of the unexpected – anything from trip hazards and cows to motorbikes taking short cuts passed you. In larger scale emergencies, I discovered you cannot assume the Government will have an organised plan. You have to think on your feet and be prepared for anything. It made me admire the resilience of the people I met, who had often lived through cyclones, landslides, earthquakes and just got on with it.
“You have to think on your feet and be prepared for anything”
Whether it was in the night markets of Vietnam and Thailand or the souks of Dubai – bartering is a fairly new concept that I have had to pick up and I actually really enjoyed. It makes shopping a lively and memorable interaction. Sometimes you get a great deal and sometimes you pay way too much, but you have to accept its part of the game.
I now have a greater appreciation of things I used to take for granted. Decent health care, clean water, trustworthy police, a stable government, rubbish collection, electricity, peace, job opportunities, fair working standards, freedom to walk or talk, free schooling. We have so much in Europe and at the same time so many people have so little around the world. Just remembering this when I see the problems in my life or feel like complaining is really healthy.
What would I do differently?
I have no regrets about deciding to take a sabbatical. It has broadened my understanding of the world and other people and is a great education in life. The only things I would have done differently is to take less stuff, go for longer and try out home stays where you really get to meet the local people and participate in their lives.
“The only things I would have done differently is to take less stuff, go for longer and try out home stays”
This is the process I am experiencing now. I fortunately had a home, friends and family and job to return to, which have given me some structure, routine and familiarity. The shock of the cold weather and time difference have now worn off. I have tried to keep things simple and do one thing at a time. Unpack. Get my car back on the road. Get slowly back into things at work. A key thing I have tried to do is sleep and drink lots of water. When I was on the road I survived often on little sleep because I knew it was temporary. Returning back I have deliberately kept my diary fairly quiet both at work and home and I am allowing my body to rest and adjust. Its a good opportunity to meet up with friends and make time for phone calls.
The inner adjustment is about dealing with the change in perspective. Your vision and territory changes from whole world thinking where I am constantly meeting new people, learning new things and seeing larger scale concerns to a much narrower perspective of everyday life where many things haven’t changed and everyday worries and fears start to flood back.
“The inner adjustment is about dealing with the change in perspective”
The other struggle comes from the change in levels of adventure, freedom, challenge and direction. Its important to not be too hard on yourself, to look at all the good things in your life, to take time to reflect on your experience and also to channel the energy and confidence gained from travelling in some positive way. You won’t have all the answers, but it is ok. Just doing one thing to move your life forward in some way can really help.
“channel the energy and confidence gained from travelling in some positive way”
I have actually enjoyed doing nothing, just watching a movie or staying at home and pottering – things that you don’t get a chance to do very often when you are constantly mobile. A key thing I did was create a list while I was travelling of a few things I wanted to do when I returned. This helps keep me focused and positive.