When I was 18 and just starting my Law degree, I realised studying wasn’t for me, at least not at that time. I was accepted into a selective programme but secretly and not so secretly I kept dreaming of far-away destinations and backpacking solo. It reached a point – quite quickly – where I decided to quit my studies and follow my heart to South America. Eight months of preparing and working a second job later, there I was, all ready to leave. Only to return 1.5 year later, but little did I know at the time!
Up until now, it has been the best decision of my life. Travelling alone gave me a sense of freedom, a confidence boost, a treasure chest full of the most amazing memories. And travelling alone wasn’t the only magic ingredient: the fact that I had as much time as I could financially last was truly the liberating factor. I believe that everyone should at least once travel for a month or longer in their life.
Unfortunately, a lot of people thought differently. I experienced a lot of opposition, from ‘friends’ who said that I simply “cannot do that”, to family members who thought it was too dangerous. But travelling for a long time is simply great and almost always overrules all the counter arguments. Here a few reasons why.
It allows you to truly experience a country or region
Without imminent or any time pressure, you can take all the time you want to discover the country or continent you’re visiting. There’s no rush, so this time you can actually visit that fascinating but remote region. When I was travelling in South America, I actually spent six weeks in Bolivia (of which two in just La Paz!). People are always surprised when I tell them that I spent such a long time in Bolivia, but for me, it was actually one of the shortest periods I spent in a country during that trip. And being in Bolivia for six weeks, really allowed me to take in day-to-day life, engage with the locals and visit more remote areas. I also spent nine months in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and six in Argentina. After 1.5 year in South America, I really felt like I got to know the culture of the continent and of each of the countries I visited.
You will look at your own life with new eyes
Being away from your home, your friends, your fantastic supermarket and your daily rhythm makes you look at your life with a fresh perspective. When you slept in night buses five nights in a row, or encounter another cold shower despite other promises, you really appreciate the life you had at home. You become grateful for everything that you’ve left behind and (temporarily) gave up for this trip. Maybe you’ll also realise that you need more nature in your life, or that you can do without planning everything two months in advance.
You become a minimalist
Ok, maybe just for a little while (I myself certainly don’t seem to be able to hold on to the minimalist lifestyle!). But travelling for a few months or longer, forces you to bring only the necessary. After all, you can’t carry your entire summer wardrobe with you. For months, you’ll be wearing the same dress to a party, the same gear when hiking, and the same bikini for your beach trips. If you’re a (paper!) book lover like me, you’ll trade your books in a hostel when finishing them. You don’t hold onto a lot of stuff. Simply because you can’t. And it’s wonderful how liberating that is.
You discover who you are and what you want
Being away from home and your daily routine also makes you think about your life and if it’s what you truly want. Now that you’re on the road for some time, you might realise that you were actually pretty unhappy in that corporate job. Or that you want to study Literature, instead of the Law degree your parents wanted you to do. Since you have nothing or no-one pressuring you to do anything, you can do anything that your heart wants you to. Being free from the framework of work, family, deadlines and obligations from home, you will soon discover what it is that you most value and that you missed in your old life.
The best about being away for a long or undefined time is that you experience absolute freedom. Feel like staying two weeks in La Paz? You can! Want to travel to Cambodia instead of staying in Thailand like you had planned? No problem! Especially if you travel alone, the degree of freedom that you will experience is simply amazing.
And me, after 1.5 year in South America?
I came back, finished my Law bachelor and another bachelor, and then went for a master in Latin American Politics in London. Those who thought I would never come back, were wrong. Those who were afraid that I would never finish my degree; also wrong. And I actually, eventually, made my living of my Latin America expertise.
This trip in South America made me realise what I want in life, made me very grateful for everything I had back home, and yeah, also made me come back dozens of times ;). It made more mature, stimulated my wanderlust and increased my love for Latin America. I know that if necessary, I can live with just a backpack of clothes and some other things for quite some time. I also can easily live with the uncertainty of not knowing where I’ll be in a couple of weeks. No, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this life-changing journey at all. And actually, I’m also quite happy that I did this at an early age – I don’t have any of the ‘burning bridges’ itches that some of my peers have.
You might be at a crossroad in your life, having to choose between what you should and what you want. As the New Year is upon us, perhaps you might want to set a resolution – and book your flights for your own life-changing trip?