While I’ve always loved travelling, it was only through difficult circumstances that I realised quite how transformative it can be.
After finishing school, I found myself on an unplanned gap year due to a mental breakdown, in the most medical sense of the term. I’d hidden the symptoms of mental illness for years, burying them until they had nowhere left to go, so I decided to set myself a recovery goal: to be well enough to spend a few months solo backpacking. It became the driving force behind my healing, and after six months of hard work, both financially and emotionally, I was ready to go.
I began my trip with no expectations, writing on my blog at the time: “I only have one goal for this trip and that is to have an experience. It may not be one that I always like, or one that I can cope with all the time, but if it teaches me something that’s all I need”. I’m pretty sure I met this infallible goal. I used my travels to relearn who I was, my identity had been broken into an array of signs and symptoms of disorder in therapy sessions, leaving me with little sense of self.
Early in my trip I realised that if I wanted to have as many adventures as possible, I’d need to find people to adventure with. This meant joining backpacker Facebook groups and putting a somewhat uncomfortable level of trust into strangers on the internet. However this paid off and after spending a day with a group of solo travellers in the Blue Mountains of Sydney, I came home feeling like I’d known them for years. That evening I wrote: “this pushed me further than I think I’ve ever been pushed before”, and it still rings true. After having crippling social anxiety in my teens, voluntarily meeting and spending a day with strangers, away from a WiFi connection, was a pretty massive contrast. Freshers was a breeze compared to this.
The next stop: a marine conservation project on the remote tropical island of Fiji. Making friends was easy here after being thrown into it in Australia, and I found my learning curve moved towards self–care. Almost an antithesis to the western world, Fiji has an incredibly relaxed culture and the clock is always on ‘Fiji time’. Wellbeing is the primary goal of life and money and success are merely a tool to get there. This attitude, and the people I met, greatly influenced my mindset and taught me a different way to value life.
I returned from my trip little short of a new person. While I wasn’t learning about myself, I was considering what the new and improved me wanted to do with my future. I realised that while I had planned to take up a deferred place to study chemistry at a university topping the league tables, it wasn’t for me. Instead, I decided to pursue environmental sciences. I made lifelong friends from the 7 countries I visited, and met my partner who I’ve now been with for 18 months. I discovered what it was like to exist in a world so much bigger than I had previously experienced, and I haven’t looked back since.