Back in 2014, I boarded a one way flight at London Heathrow for Boston, MA. So began a nineteen month long trip around the world. I was only 21 when I left.
What I’d like to muse upon here is what was I thinking on that trip? How does it differ from how I feel now about doing a similar thing again?
I didn’t particularly enjoy my time at uni. I felt robbed of the fun experience that many of my schoolfriends had enjoyed because the culture at Imperial was so… scholarly. The thought of jumping straight from that lamentable experience into a serious grad scheme didn’t sit right with me. So I dreamed of travelling around the world.
One thing that definitely hasn’t changed is that I love travelling. It feels like a bit of an obvious thing to say on a travel blog I’ve been writing for years, but being in an unfamiliar place, with a random assortment of people, learning about different cultures and histories… I’m addicted to collecting those experiences.
One thing that definitely has changed since that first trip is my self-confidence – which is tied closely to my queer identity. I came out aged 19 and it was not an easy experience. I remember my time in Australia, where I reluctantly went for a job in a gay bar (I only took it thanks to a lot of cajoling from all the people around me). Looking back, my hesitance clearly came from not being comfortable with who I was. That job opened my eyes to what it meant to be queer. Suddenly I was surrounded by LGBT people all the time – I’d never had that before. I even worked with a few drag queens, who I initially found very intimidating! 😀
For so long I had been reluctant to insert myself into the gay world. I thought – “sure, I like guys, but I’m not interested in all of that. That’s not the kind of person I am”. I slowly realised that I could belong to an amazing welcoming community if only I let myself. Travelling helped me with this. I still struggled with it even for years afterwards, but my time in Sydney was the initial stimulus. Now however, I feel so much more confident in navigating that world. Being a member of the LGBT community is one of the best things about my life and travelling with this in mind feels like a superpower. Meeting LGBT people around the world not only motivates me to travel but also affords me countless new opportunities. Consider this; there’s a group in every city I visit that I belong to through shared experience – that’s something the majority of heterosexual people cannot claim.
Another thing I remember about that first trip was how much I worried about whether what I was doing was frivolous, selfish and basically a huge waste of time. I worried about this so much that it heavily impacted my mental health and affected my enjoyment of the trip as a whole. It took my break up with the boyfriend I travelled with to learn that for a lot of the time I was away I was quite depressed. I hid myself away and avoided opportunities to socialise and try new things… it’s a shame that I stopped myself from making the most of that time. BUT. Going forward, things will certainly be different.
I lived with the belief that my life story had me moving towards a defined outcome that surely was what I wanted (home ownership, career in the city, blah blah). I worried that my first trip was me deviating from that course, which only served to breed doubt and anxiety within me. I’ve since learnt that my life needn’t be like that. I believe that this next trip will help me to realise what it is I want to do next with my life. I no longer feel that travelling is keeping me from achieving some goal I feel pressured into. Travel is the goal. I don’t know what it is that I’ll do after this trip. But for now, I owe it to my past self to go and make the absolute most of it. I can’t wait to say yes to all those opportunities I would have turned down in the past.
So actually in retrospect, it feels like my motivations now are pretty similar to what they were before. I’m going because I adore travelling and I feel that the life I’m expected to lead by friends, family and peers is just not the one for me. The way I’m approaching the trip this time is very different though, and I hope that my previous experiences will lead me to enjoy this one twice as much.
Now if this pandemic could blow over soon – that’d be great.
It’s so true Charlie that travel does instil one with a certain confidence. The idea of leading an unconventional life has always appealed to me and I think by and large I’ve generally stuck to that principle, spending the rest of my days in Nottingham was never going to work. I was bitten by the travel bug at 23 with my first trip around Europe, after this I figured that if I could build this sort of thing in to a job/lifestyle that would be great. So, after graduation, I went off to work overseas where I spent most of my working life (Nigeria, India, Japan, Hong Kong). Never looked back and of course going back to UK was difficult. Tried it a few times but it didn’t wash and so I moved permanently back to Hong Kong – no regrets! My two penny’s worth therefore is to say – go for it!