A rolling stone gathers no moss

 There is a saying – ‘Travel changes you’.

Any search for a one-liner relating to travel will turn up hundreds of quotes.  Since people began writing down their feelings and thoughts it seems that anybody worth their salt has had an opinion on travel.  A gap year is deemed a rite of passage for many young adults, but it’s no longer an adventure solely for the younger generation.

More and more people are now choosing to travel, setting off on a dream adventure, ticking off destinations from a bucket list, but it’s not always plain sailing. ‘There are no problems, only challenges’ and ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ are especially true when you are far away from home – but there is always the danger that travel might also make you harder – and in some not so desirable ways.

Travelling, and especially travelling solo can be empowering but you do need to keep your wits about you for the majority of the time.  You learn to cope.  You have to.  It has to be ‘sink or swim’ – you deal with the problems and enjoy the thrill of achievement, or you pack up and go home.  Even the most hardened extrovert will occasionally find it difficult to break into an established clique in a new hostel but that is nothing to the feeling that you get when you or your new found friends go their own way and move on.

Travellers tend to form intense emotional bonds and friendships.  You are a part of a little sub-universe.  You know that the real world is out there and you must interact with it, but here in the parallel world of the traveller there are no expectations of you beyond your time here and now, in the present time.   Opinions are quickly formed; travellers fast develop a keen sense of instinct, on guard for trouble but looking out for and caring for each other.  In this sub-universe we are all fully aware that we have cast ourselves adrift from our usual support network of family and friends and human nature being what it is, we tend to gravitate towards a social group – we want to fit in and to be accepted.

We recognise in others the difficulty of being alone when they arrive at a new place and more often than not, travellers will go out of their way to be inclusive and supportive.  Very often it goes even deeper than that and you meet people with whom you feel a deep unexplained connection.  It’s as if you have been friends for ever and they have been lurking just around the corner on your life plan, waiting to make an appearance and to make a difference.

The magic woven by Cartagena

On the contrary, just occasionally you might encounter somebody that you believe you can trust and who you like, only for them to turn around and show a different side to themselves; and while those situations are extremely rare, you do begin to mistrust your own instincts and your judgement.

  • I did a favour for somebody and I lent some money only to find that person turned their back on me and our friendship.
  • I changed my planned route so that I could visit a friend, but I found that she’s gone ahead and moved on with her life; and somewhere along the way has totally excluded me.
  • You may fancy the pants off that other person but you KNOW that it can never be forever so you have to balance the pleasure with the pain of the inevitable parting
  • And there was that one odd woman in the hostel who had obvious difficulties yet tried to get me into trouble as an attention seeking stunt.

And this is where the danger lies – that unexpected side effect of travelling that I mentioned at the beginning of this article.  It would be so easy to bury your emotions and become hard and cynical. If you don’t open yourself up and allow anybody in through that protective shell then you can’t be hurt, right?

Well, that’s one way of dealing with things – throw up a self protective wall – but personally I refuse to allow myself to become hard and cynical.  A huge gaping hole was ripped through my heart and my soul six years ago.  It’s always there, it can never be forgotten but I refused then to let it change the essence of my being and I refuse now to allow lesser things to do so.

Kahlil Gibran talks about pain in his book The Prophet’ and says, ‘your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding,’ and on joy and sorrow, ‘the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain’ – basically, you can’t protect yourself from hurt if you want to experience the highs and euphoria of life – although you have to admit that whilst you are hurting it sure as hell isn’t easy to accept his views!

Trust your instincts, say yes, and you could find yourself somewhere like this

And whilst not repaired, the hole in my soul has been bandaged and patched by the Daniels and the Marcels that I have met along the way.  The Courtneys and the Gorzas; the Emmas and the Marias; the Danis and the Lios, the Bens and the Claras.  From Israel and from France; from Poland and from Finland; from Colombia and Argentina; too many to name individually here but they have all made a massive contribution to me, my life and I.

I don’t want to be cynical or bitter.  I want to live life on the edge; on a high.  I want to wonder at something as simple as the sunrise and the beauty that is found in nature.  I want to connect with people and I want to feel them connecting back.  I have found freedom and I never want to return to a life where I walk on eggshells and where I am filled with dread because my presence unintentionally makes somebody else feel inferior.

And so for now, I will continue to travel.  Perhaps my constant need to keep moving is running away, or maybe it’s a reaction to years of holding my emotions in as tightly as a coiled spring, and now having my freedom I simply feel joy and pleasure when I can run and stretch myself.  Like a pit-pony released for its break in sunny fields after the dark of the coal mines.

Maybe if I keep on moving I’ll keep one step ahead of the bitter cynical feelings which could engulf me.   I’ll keep one step ahead of relationships which could turn sour and friendships which could rift and pale.  And while I’m at it, I’ll watch shooting stars from a mountain top, I’ll dance barefoot on the beach and I’ll see the sun creep up at dawn.

I shall continue to clamber into my top bunk at 4am, eat unidentifiable street food and help whenever and whoever I can.

I encourage you to embrace life.  Remember: this is not a dress rehearsal.  Make sure it’s a first class performance.

You can read the second article in this series at this link: Part 2

And the third article in the series is here:  Part 3

Jump for joy

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