A good portion of my head space while exploring Australia has been occupied by a few major questions: Why is all of this important? Why do we travel? As usual, I haven't found an easy answer...
One year ago, I left my home expecting to escape myself and was amazed to find that feat impossible. In a new world, in a lonely place, you have nobody to turn to but your own voice, your own mind, your own demons. When I got off that plane, for the first time in years, I couldn’t just play video games, or call friends to escape anxiety. I had to face it. All my fear, frustration, and confusion, both about life, and about the foolish courage that brought me to Australia. Leaving that familiar place meant that what I was running away from, was always going to be there, and that the only way to fix it, would be to own up to it, and struggle to overcome it. Luckily I came to Australia with many goals in mind.
Having a purpose while travelling means that there is something to focus on, a solid target to help avoid aimless wandering. For me, if I didn’t have a purpose I could spend all my time in a coffee shop, on a river bank, or up a tree, whittling away my life watching the world go by. An adventure without purpose can hardly be called an adventure, and wouldn't make for a good story, just ask my good friends JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.
Purpose doesn’t have to be grandiose either. It could be simple enough as a visit to a library, helping an old lady across the street, or finding a special tree sacred to a group of people. It’s these little adventures that lead to incredible side quests, like afternoons in a university pub with two new friends, protecting an ancient forest from logging, or stumbling across a secret performance by an incredible pianist. Cause and effect are beautiful things
By no means is this always an exciting roller coaster ride. No man is an island. Leaving family and friends behind to follow a dream, face a challenge and achieve a goal is no small feat.
I am a bit of a loaner, I enjoy my time by myself, reading, hiking through the woods and exploring the incredible nooks and crannies of creation. Travelling alone also means having few people who to share in the wonders of finding a beautiful dell in a secluded wood, or meeting a strange and incredible character in a far off place. Being alone does not being lonely, but loneliness certainly crops up from time to time. Sure, you can tell others the story, and show them the photos, but the experience of being there can only be honestly shared with those who have lived it.
Our 21st century social media culture has the advantage of keeping in touch with people when travelling around the globe, but in truth much of these connections are illusions at best. Yes, I can communicate with family and friends, but a phone call (or even skype call) is like having a frame with no picture. The presence of a close friend or family memeber is special; being able to share a space (and your precious time!) with them makes the relationship real. You can honestly share hardships, and successes with no fear of being judged. Building new relationships like that real take time, and don't happen often. That's not to say the brief fast friendships made in hostels or on mountaintops, and maintained through social media are any less valuable, what it does mean is that they're different. They can still be valuable if they're honest.
On the flipside, posting photos on facebook, of constantly smiling faces belies the one sided reality of social media. Filtering out the hardships gives the impression that travel is always fun and easy, of which it is not. Life is not always happy moments. Sometimes plans don’t work out, goals are not met, challenges are faced poorly or not at all. And that's all okay! Owning up to these struggles is important to me, otherwise I feel like I’d be painting a false image of such a journey. This may be difficult for people to accept, but I'm far from perfect. Failures not only remind us of that, but they also provide valuable lessons that ideally lead to future success.
These low moments aren’t terrible things. Any great journey or adventure has it’s downfalls, Bilbo gets lost and separated in the mines, Han Solo gets captured by the empire, I can’t find a home for over two months. It is these struggles that can bring about great reward and revelation, Bilbo finds the one ring, Han's capture leads to the destruction of Jabba's crime ring (and Boba Fett's death - admittedly a bittersweet moment for us BF fans), and I end up getting a beauty of a home in the mountains that I never would have found otherwise. There are always silver linings. Unless we honestly recognize the clouds, it’s impossible to see them.