Did I become a cliché and ‘find myself’ after travelling?
There were just 8 days between me leaving a job I had hated, endured and which was a major catalyst for a few mental breakdowns and packing as much as I could into a 70 litre backpack on route to India, the first country on a six month trip around Asia.
I had been working out of an office in Sheffield, UK for four years, each day feeling like a small part of me was dying as I was over charging and over selling products which were of no interest to me. Luckily I was surrounded by a few good colleagues whose senses of humour managed to keep me sane!
I could have left the job earlier than I did but made excuse after excuse and found myself stuck there, with the only light at the end of the tunnel being a trip which had been talked about for years and finally booked with my long term girlfriend and now fiancé.
Before this trip I had been fortunate enough to see a good portion of Europe and had spent a couple of months in the USA with my two best friends but even on that trip everything had been fully booked and organised before we had set off so I’d never felt like I had travelled spontaneously before.
The idea of a spontaneous trip scared me to death, we had just one night of booked accommodation following our arrival into Chennai airport, southern India.
We had chosen India as our first stop having never really experienced any culture too distant from our own and we felt like if we were to complete this journey properly we would start in the most extreme country included in our vague itinerary.
Having heard horror stories from friends who had previously been there and the myths banded around the internet, I adopted the mindset of ‘anything bad that may happen (to a certain extent) could make for a funny story a few days later’.
This mindset grouped with the parting words given to me after a few leaving drinks from a friend “life begins at the edge of your comfort zone”, I was as mentally prepared as I could be to set off, despite the provided quote being nauseatingly cheesy!
With the week of saying goodbye’s to friends and family over, we boarded the plane at Manchester airport and set off on the trip we had dreamt about since getting together almost five years to the day before.
Now before I get into the point of this article and before you read any further I would like to point out that this is not going to be a story of my travels, I have written a separate blog/journal detailing our time in Asia here.
This more an account of how I, to vaguely reference the article’s title, ‘found myself’ or rather, found my true calling.
My friends had used this term as banter before I set off, taunting me saying “the next time we see you, you are going to return with dreadlocks, a vegan and having found yourself… dude”.
I have, since my early twenties had a pretty solid sense of social identity, who I am and who I want to be and I won’t change who I am for anybody, possessing a trait inherited from both parents, that being plain stubbornness.
I discovered my social identity, not through travel but when I was forced to come out of my shell, moving away from my quiet village in the countryside to Birmingham, the large city where I attended university.
These three years didn’t help me so much academically, through no fault of the university, that was again down to my laziness and love of the party, but they did teach me the social skills to talk to people outside of my close friendship group or family.
Travel has allowed me enough breathing room and time outside of a routine, something that has always aggravated me, to discover what I need to have a successful life.
My idea of success may not be what somebody else’s is but that’s OK because I am not somebody else.
I have had the time to look back on my previous employment and think about what it was about that job that I hated so much, it was a combination of routine, doing the same things at the same time daily, being at times (due to my training) a stern salesman with my customers, having no creative freedom and spending 45 hours a week working within an industry which held no interest to me. Despite the money being alright, this doesn’t sound like my idea of success.
Setting off on our trip, I had hoped to find an idea of work which would interest me but was looking in the wrong places for that answer.
A large part of who you are, is what you do for a living, as this takes up a large percentage of your time and it is safe to say that I, personally, didn’t want to be particularly known for being in that industry.
There was that infamous lightbulb moment when everything fell into place after I had received compliments from various people who were reading and enjoying my blog, which had initially been set up as a journal where I could look back on and remember my trip.
The blog had never been promoted further than to a few interested friends and family but when somebody with no relation to me or anybody I knew liked a post, I looked at my blog stats for the first time and saw that over a thousand different people from across the world had read it. Admittedly, 1000 is a very small number of viewers when you look at successful travel blogs but after all, it wasn’t my intention to write one of these.
It was then when I realised that the enjoyment I was getting out of creating and publishing the blog alongside the improvement in my writing through practise, that I first thought about pursuing writing as a career.
It was also at this time that my personal idea of success came to light. For me, it is not particularly earning an incredible amount of money or owning expensive possessions but working on my own terms in a role where I could be creative whilst earning enough to live comfortably and have the freedom to do what I want, when I want, where I want.
Ironically, I had started journalism at university but after a month I had transferred the much ‘cooler’ sounding course, The Music Industry. Now, it is nearly ten years later and I am still not any closer to working at Domino Records!
Not long after the ‘lightbulb turned on’ we were in a rusty old van, hurtling up a mountain road somewhere in South East Asia and I was frantically writing inspired notes into my iphone of avenues that I could take to make this career happen.
Not many weeks later, we were joined by a close friend from home, who was in the process of becoming a freelancer having previously been a self taught and successful business owner, not a bad brain to pick whilst we continued exploring this beautiful continent!
Travel, in the sense that we have been pursuing it, is not for everybody and I am sure that a lot of people pursue it as a break from work. Spending a prolonged period of time away gave my brain enough time to decongest and discover what I would like to change when I get back to some routine and reality.
In no way was this the reason we took the trip, in all honesty and quite simply, I enjoy holidays and just wanted a really long one but its funny how things turn out and as well as the incredible memories and experiences I now have, I have gained something potentially as important, a viable career plan.
I am happy to say that I am now on track, admittedly still in the starting blocks, to find my own personal success and become a freelance writer.
This is not something I would have even considered before I left home but is something that I cannot wait to further educate myself on so that I avoid going anywhere near the 9–5 life again.
So to end; travelling hasn’t changed me, I am still the dry, sarcastic guy that my friends back home know and hopefully love and I haven’t grown my hair into dreadlocks or turned vegan but it has been so beneficial for me to take a long time out of reality in the UK to appreciate and learn what I want. I don’t know if this means that I have ‘found myself’ but if so, I have become a walking cliché having returned from my travels a changed man, but I don’t mind that one bit.