This week, Kayleigh Gibson, a long-term traveler from the UK, shares how travel answered her ‘Big Question.’
From teaching English in China to exploring New Zealand, and wandering around Mexico, to skydiving in Australia, backpacking around Europe, and island hopping in southeast Asia, she’s done a whole lot of traveling.
“What am I doing with my life?”or some variation of this overwhelming question is an unavoidable (and often recurring) thought we will all experience. Our time on this planet is the one thing we can’t get back and nobody wants to reach the end of that time feeling unfulfilled or regretful of their choices.
More often than not it is the things we didn’t do that we regret, rather than the mistakes we made whilst acting intrinsically or the gambles we took that failed.
We learn from mistakes and failed ventures. Nothing is gained by a lifetime of passivity. Where we fail we simply regret not doing more to make it work, again, regretting inaction rather than decisive moments.
We regret not taking opportunities, regret fearing failure, regret the times we didn’t have the confidence or faith that following our passions would work out. We look back at times when we fell into an expected lifestyle, did as we were told, felt obliged to act responsibly, sensibly and safely.
Our holidays are the time we take for ourselves. They are the few days or weeks out of a year that we tell relatives about at Christmas. The short period of new experiences and lower inhibitions, where we see ourselves grow rather than our bank balances or portfolios.
Feeling competent within a job is important. It gives us a sense or purpose and position within society but exclusively honing in on one position within society narrows our world view. It shrinks our perspective of the wider world so the problems within that job grow to fill the whole bubble we inhabit.
Stepping outside of that bubble gives us our perspective back. The problems that seemed so consuming are limited to that place and you can breathe freely, look back at the isolated problems with a new approach and try tackling them differently. Creative problem solving is learnt in the wider world, not in schools.
We fall into roles throughout school and college and then act as we are expected to act in our jobs and it limits our intuition. We act kinder when ambition or pressure to succeed don’t cloud our judgement. We act true to our own feelings, morals and passions when surrounded by strangers we’ll never see again, since we don’t have to impress them.
We blame less, generalise less and hold fewer grudges when we are acting under our own freewill. We don’t feel controlled or frustrated and so we are free to influence the environment and mood around us as we choose to, rather than becoming influenced by the environment or actions of others around us.
Travel is an extension of a holiday. Living and working in a country is a more in depth, authentic version of the basic experiences picked up by a tourist. By starting your life over and over again in each new country, you build a portfolio of life skills. You become less stressed by the details because you have confidence in yourself that you’ll figure it out.
You become less focused on material possessions because you can start over from scratch again and again in new places, building beautiful homes and lives each time and finding new interests and talents within you each time you move.
Trying new things stimulates our brains and releases endorphins, which is what we experience on holiday. Moving abroad gives you the chance to try new things on a deeper level. You get to reinvent yourself. You can pick and choose which bits you want to keep doing as before and what you’d like to see yourself become.
You can introduce yourself to the new people in your life as a refined version of who you already were, like starting college and deciding not to make the same social mistakes you made in high school or deciding you’ll join a more creative social circle than you moved in back home. Living abroad for a year is long enough to make this refined version if yourself stick. If the place feels right, you’ll continue to grow positively for longer or perhaps you’ll move to another new country and refine again.
Each time it becomes less of a conscious effort to plan a move abroad and your personal growth becomes equally less self-conscious. Your accent and choice of words or phrases change without you noticing, as do the values from each culture that you’ve taken on board and carried with you.
Your network of friends, relationships and work acquaintances stretches across the world and your social media feeds document every time zone. You see more and understand more, therefore the media can’t alienate people from you. You know the countries they’re talking about. You have friends there.
You’ve been an immigrant or expat yourself and know the benefits you brought to those countries, so you learn to recognise the benefits others bring to yours. Your own country is no longer your only country and you see the good and the corrupt in various governments and organisations. You see the bigger picture and better understand your place amongst it all.
You learn what you can do easily to help the world around you improve day by day, your choice of words and small actions that add up. Maybe you’ll travel until you see a cause you have to join or something you have to change or do before you can leave a place or perhaps you’ll stumble across a job opportunity you never imagined as your career.
The best nights out were always the unplanned, spontaneous ones. Careers can be the same. Loving relationships and close friendships are almost always unplanned and most of us will look back in our lives valuing the people in our lives above anything we particularly did or saw or made.
This is because we can’t control the other people, just put out our own positivity and let it attract those who are drawn to it. The joy and meaning from these relationships is having our trust and compassion rewarded and handed back to us. It’s the same with the world. Get out there and put out your own energy and see what you attract back.
You can’t control the world, the people in it or the time we have here. You can only control what you can do and accept that there are things you cannot do. Travel is discovering everything you can do and doing it. If you want fulfillment and purpose in life, what are you waiting for?