Why is it that the easiest tasks are sometimes the hardest to undertake?
In theory, my latest task was simple enough – write about my year and what I’d learnt. The intentions were there and every day for the last three weeks I would tell myself that ‘today is the day’. I would turn on my computer with the intention of writing, but after a few minutes of staring at a blank Word document I’d find myself sorting through old photos or looking at things on the internet instead. Before I knew it, a few hours would have passed and I would turn off my computer and leave this post for yet another day.
I couldn’t figure out how to write about my year and my personal journey in a way that was relatable to others. It’s challenging to translate your thoughts into words on a page, especially when those thoughts are then going to be out there for all the world to read. In a way, I was fearful of how people would react to what I’d written (a bit silly really).
The day after I got back from all my travels was known as one of the worst days in every renter’s life – aka moving day. My amazing Mum and brother had packed the rest of my ‘stuff’ that had been lying around the house after I failed to pack it all when I was home for a week in November. I helped move all our stuff to the new house and despite wishing I was back in Hawaii, I was a little happy to be home.
As I unpacked the boxes over the next few days I found my copy of the book Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I flicked open to a page to see my Mum had highlighted my favourite passage, and as I read it I realised that it summed up exactly what I wanted to write about.
“In the end, I’ve come to believe in something I call “The Physics of the Quest.” A force in nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you”. (Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert)
For those of you unfamiliar with Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert found herself at a crossroad in her 30s. She was married and living in a beautiful house that she’d bought with her husband, but couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t for her. After divorcing her husband, she decided to leave her boyfriend and New York behind in an attempt to discover who she was and feel excitement again in her life.
Initially I wanted to travel as a way of celebrating the end of a major project that I’d worked on for over three years. I often said that it was a belated gap year as I didn’t do the typical Australian thing of having a gap year after finishing high school, instead I went straight to University and then full-time work.
After a month of travelling I soon found myself providing a different response whenever people would ask me why I was travelling. I started telling them that the trip was my ‘Eat Pray Love moment’. Everyone around me seemed to be pairing off and ‘settling down’ but there I was with itchy feet and a burning desire to see what the world had to offer.
In December 2015 I shut down my work computer for the last time. As I waited to be picked up from work I shed a few tears as I was feeling relieved but scared of the future as I didn’t know if I was making the right decision. The next two weeks were particularly difficult for me. When everyone returned to work after the Christmas break I just sat at home and wallowed. I binge watched Netflix (hello ‘Making a Murderer’) instead of planning my year. I avoided many social gatherings as I just couldn’t be bothered leaving the comfort of home.
Three weeks into the new year it was time for me to go to New Zealand for my first event of the year. As soon as I set foot on the plane I felt a surge of excitement and finally felt ready to embrace freedom. The trip pulled me out of my slump and I soon forgot about Netflix and instead was focussed on adventures.
When I returned home, I started planning and preparing for my initial three-month trip. I was on a purging spree which resulted in me getting rid of 2/3 of my wardrobe and copious amounts of stuff that was lying around the house. After several trips to the local op-shop I managed to fill over 6 wheelie bins with donations. I then packed my suitcase and said a temporary goodbye to my friends and family.
Alongside the excitement was a feeling of wariness and fear. I was leaving behind all those things that were familiar and comforting to me in exchange for adventure, but with adventure came uncertainty. The longest I’d ever been away from home was five weeks when my brother and I went to Italy to visit our family. I’d never travelled for longer than a week on my own yet here I was preparing to be away from old friends for weeks at a time.
Luckily for me there was no shortage of friends to visit on my travels and there were plenty of new friends to be made. My mum was a bit concerned about the fact that I’d be spending a month in Texas with complete strangers, but after explaining that the people offering to host me were part of the OCR community she relaxed. All it took was one post on Facebook in the Lone Star Spartans group for me to find three amazing people to take me in to their homes.
During the first two months of my trip I was on a serious ‘travellers high’. I would get excited about the little things and didn’t even care if I wasn’t doing exciting things mid-week as the races were getting me through. If I wasn’t racing I was either writing recaps of my races or planning my travels to the next race.
I noticed a change in attitude in the last month of my trip. As I edged closer to the day that I had to fly home I realised that I was getting closer to being back in ‘slump mode’. I made sure I kept myself busy so I didn’t have time to dwell on the fact that I was heading back to Perth. It lasted until the last day of my trip.
I cried for an hour as I boarded the final flight back home. I was excited to see my friends and family but at the same time I just wanted to stay overseas. I had barely a scerrick of energy or motivation left and for a week I stayed at home and didn’t tell anyone that I was back. It was January all over again. I laid on the couch, binge-watching Netflix, too lazy to even go through my travel photos or write a blog. It wasn’t until my best friend came to see me that I finally emerged from hibernation and back into society.
I realised that I’d have to make a conscious choice to feel happy about being at home, so that’s exactly what I did. Each day I made a plan to do something that involved seeing or talking to friends, or would spend a day organising more travels.
Before I knew it, I was packing my bags again, this time for a five-month trip adventure. I was beyond excited to be heading off again and relieved that this time I knew (somewhat) what to expect. A few days before leaving again I sat down with Mum and watched Eat Pray Love (for the hundredth time). I still wasn’t registering the message and so as I left for another trip I thought this was going to be another trip about the races.
I was two days into my five-month trip when serendipity first reared its amazing head. I was on a road trip from Sydney to Birdsville with a couple (Jay and Hao) and we’d stopped in Gunnedah for lunch. As we walked back to the car I noticed a book out of the corner of my eye. It was on display with 20 other books at the front of a second-hand bookstore. The book was Eat Pray Love (of course) and was the only one that I noticed on display. I bought it (of course) and over the next week I re-read it twice.
I decided to take a page out of the book and accept everyone I met along the way as a teacher. There was a young woman busking in Byron Bay who made me cry after I realised hidden truths in her song lyrics. There was a couple I met in Coffs Harbour who were travelling to the same places and at the same time as me who were on a similar journey. There was a girl I met in Byron Bay who had a similar connection to Hawaii as me. There was an Italian lady in a room that I had chosen who was on almost an identical journey as mine. There were so many other people that I met that taught me important lessons, but these serendipitous meetings made me sit up and pay attention to messages I may have been receiving.
Travel made me leave behind things that were familiar and comforting so I could face unfamiliar territory – being comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’d avoided discomfort for so long that I didn’t know how to react in uncomfortable situations without withdrawing completely.
Like Elizabeth Gilbert, I’d set out on a truth-seeking journey. I was forced to ‘face and forgive some very difficult realities about [my]self’. I had been living my life hidden under a metaphorical blanket, ignoring those things that made me who I was and just pretending to be someone who I wasn’t. There were late night conversations with friends that made me realise that this journey wasn’t about the races, but about self-development and self-love.
I have always been a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and this trip made me start seeing everything that happened to me on the journey as an important lesson.
The journey made me realise that I am mentally and physically stronger than I thought I was.
It made me understand that being alone and being lonely are two very different concepts. Despite being alone for so many parts of my journey, I was never lonely.
It made me grateful to have such incredible friends in my life. I experienced incredible generosity as my friends welcomed me into their homes as a member of their own family.
I learnt that no matter how good/bad you think your life is, there’s always someone having a better and a worse time than you.
One reason why I didn’t want to write this post was because in a weird way it symbolises the end of this small chapter of my journey. I was fearful of going home and closing the door as I was unsure as to when the next one would open.
Last weekend I travelled to Tasmania to see one of my best friends get married. While I was away I realised that the end of the full-time travel isn’t the end, but the start of something new. There are some exciting new projects that I want to take on during 2017 and the lessons I have learnt in 2016 will only help me in the next chapter of my story.
If you’ve made it this far I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read this. It’s been a whirlwind of an adventure and I am ready to take the next steps towards something bigger and better.