4 REASONS TO PACK YOUR BAGS AND TRAVEL

I’m 21. I’m two exams away from completing my Bachelor degree (yes, it’s in Arts; it’s still a degree!!). I’m about to embark on my fifth overseas adventure in the space of five years. I’m at a place in my life where many friends are graduating, getting their dream jobs, or getting into their Honours or Masters courses to get their dream jobs. I decided a long time ago that this was not for me. I often get asked, “Why do you want to travel?”. So, rather than giving my stock “Why not travel?” answer, I sat down and listed all the benefits that travelling has given me, and the reasons you should pack your bags and travel too! 

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You gain independence

I used to think of myself as a pretty independent person. I was wrong. Travelling will reveal some harsh realities about yourself, perhaps the most confronting one being that you’re not nearly as self-sufficient as you’d like to believe. Not yet, anyway. A prime example came about while sharing an apartment with a group of university students in Italy. The time came when we had to wash our clothes by ourselves, for what I’m ashamed to say was the first time in my life. Apparently mixing colours and whites on a 90-degree cycle is a bad idea. Long story short, I looked like a multi-coloured tie-dyed hippie for the duration of my stay. I’m pleased to report that this was a few years ago now, and I’ve since learned how to operate a washing machine. Although this is a really trivial example, it is one of a long list of things you will learn to accomplish on your own – from trying to order food in a foreign language, to lugging a 30-kilo suitcase up the subway stairs (I’m a notorious art book collector), to navigating an unfamiliar city in search of your tiny and seemingly nonexistent hotel. Having successfully overcome all these challenges by myself, I now consider myself a fairly independent and self-sufficient 21-year-old.

(I’m embarrassed to admit that, having just spotted a gigantic spider on my bedroom wall, I’ve had to call my mum to come and kill it for me. Some things will never change.)

You are forced out of your comfort zone

Travelling is messy, unpredictable, and scary. But it’s also exciting, rewarding, and freeing. Unpredictability used to scare me. Four years ago, I would have dreaded the thought of not knowing how I was getting from A to B, or not even knowing where B was going to be. I’ve always been adventurous, but more in the form of planned adventure – I loved exploring, but I wanted to know what I was exploring and where I was going to end up. This just doesn’t happen when you travel. And it’s been the greatest gift to me. Now I love the idea of wandering city streets, getting lost in the maze of unfamiliar creativity. I love the idea of hopping on a train and riding it to the end of the line. Of climbing a mountain to its peak and taking in the view, not worrying about how I will get back down to earth. Travel has forced me out of my comfort zone, and taught me how to embrace the unfamiliar and unpredictable. It’s a much more fulfilling way to live. Life doesn’t alter to fit your plans. Let go and enjoy the journey.

You grow up

I realise that I’m only 21 and that I’ve still got a hell of a lot of maturing to do, but in all honesty, I feel like a bit of an old soul. Travelling, and especially solo travel, has forced me to grow up at a faster rate than I think I otherwise would have. When I look back on the person I was a few years ago, she is an entirely different person to who I am now. And I’m sure that when I’m 30 and looking back on who I am now, I’ll be a completely different person again. Evolution is important – experiences and decisions will change you, and this is a good thing! How boring life would be if we remained the same forever. I think travelling has accelerated this process for me. This is not to say that I’ll reach my ‘peak’ maturity by the time I’m 25 – far from it. I don’t think there is such a thing as an end to growth – it’s a constant and fluctuating process. But the things I’ve seen, learned, and experienced because of travel have changed me, and will continue to do so. When you broaden your horizons, and open yourself up to new ideas and experiences, growth and evolution is inevitable.

You become a world citizen

I’ve been travelling for my whole life – my mum travelled all the time for work, and my dad is European, so I was always jetting off to exciting places throughout my childhood and teenage years. I’ve seen five continents (all but Africa, where I am dying to go and I’m 100% positive that I will one day in the not-too-distant future!). Being exposed to so many cultures and so much diversity has made me appreciate that the world is much bigger than some people realise. In Australia, we are so incredibly sheltered and removed from everything. Sure, we have the internet, and we have the news, and we’re actually an extremely multi-cultural and diverse nation, but we really are isolated from the rest of the world. And I think that this leads some people to believe that Australia is the world. And nothing could be farther from the truth. I’ve seen so many things that I would never have been exposed to at home: from extreme poverty in India and South America, to the extremely long and rich history of Europe. The world is so much bigger than my world, and the problems we face in Australia seem so trivial compared to children dying of starvation in an Indian slum. But the more places I travel, and the more diversity I encounter, the more I realise that we are all the same. People are people, and our similarities far outweigh our differences.

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SEIZE THE DAY

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It’s nearing midnight and I’m physically and mentally exhausted, but I need to get this down while it’s still impacting me the way it is right now.

Many of you may have watched the Brittany Maynard video that’s currently taking over the internet (if you haven’t, go and do it right now). Having just watched it only a matter of minutes ago, I still have tears streaming down my cheeks. To summarise (doing her story the greatest injustice – seriously, go and watch the video), Brittany was diagnosed with brain cancer in January this year, and given only months to live. Rather than suffer through an extremely painful death, Brittany and her family moved to Oregon where their laws permit her to die with dignity, and she will pass away without pain when and where she chooses. Being a strong supporter of voluntary euthanasia, I don’t want to get into a debate on the topic here. I believe that people have the right to end their suffering when they choose to, and that no one should be forced to endure the type of death that comes with a painful terminal illness. You can read more about the Death with Dignity campaign here.

What really impacted me was Brittany’s outlook on the limited life that she has remaining. She challenges everyone to seize the day, to forget the unimportant and pursue what makes you happy. Terminally ill or not, life is short and life is fragile. You don’t get enough time to waste it. Everyone gets one life, and each day is a gift. Each day could be your last. So why are you not doing everything you wish to do?

Watching Brittany’s story, I couldn’t help wondering what it would feel like to have a timer on your life. To know the exact day you were going to die. In some morbid way, I think it would force me to make the most of the time that I have left. And then I realised – we all have a limit on life. Each day, each hour brings you closer to the end, and that’s one less day or one less hour you have to live. You don’t have to know when time will run out – you just have to be aware that it will. It might be 50 years from now, or it might be tomorrow. And knowing this, how could you not make the most of every moment?

Life’s too short to waste time on things that don’t make you happy. Chase your dreams, explore your wanderlust, and don’t let anyone stop you from living the life you wish to live.

Seize the day.

21 AND …

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This month I turn 21. Only a few short weeks after that, I’ll have completed my Bachelor Degree. There’s something extremely daunting about the prospect of officially entering adulthood, and a level of responsibility that I don’t feel entirely ready for.

What is it about turning 21? Suddenly, people begin to ask you what you’re going to be, and they become extremely worried when you tell them that your Arts Degree qualifies you to do absolutely nothing. People expect you to have your life completely figured out. You’re expected to make plans about your career, think about settling down, buy a house, and be married with three kids all before you’re 30. And some people can do this – some people know exactly what they want, and they have a 5-year, 12-step plan on how to get there. But the truth is, I feel incredibly lost. And I’m completely okay with it.

I don’t have my life figured out. I have no idea what I want to do. I have absolutely no desire to settle down. Marriage and children aren’t even on my radar. I don’t see myself working a nine-to-five office job, living in a neat little middle-class suburb with a white picket fence and a husband and 2.5 kids and our pet dog Barkley. So where do I see myself?

The honest truth is, I don’t. I have a very clear idea about what I don’t want out of my life, but I’m far hazier on what I do want. I think this is partly because I want to achieve so much – I just don’t know what yet. I never saw myself as living in one place and doing the same thing for the rest of my life. I have an unquenchable lust for adventure. And I think that no matter what I make of my life, it’s sure going to be one hell of an adventure.

It’s okay not to have a plan. It’s okay to enjoy the journey without being completely sure of the destination. Because life is a journey, and if you’re too focused on the destination then you’ll miss out on actually living. I love experiencing the highs and the lows, making it up as I go. I don’t believe that becoming an adult means you have to give up the adventure and uncertainty of youth.

Conforming to society’s expectations is not the only option. Some people are genuinely worried when I tell them that I have no plans. But having a plan scares the hell out of me. If life is all about the journey, then I never want the journey to end. Because the truth is, I have no idea what to do at the destination.

I really struggled to come up with a title to this post. I floated a few ideas – 21 and Free, 21 and Travelling, 21 and Living… But I couldn’t find one that truly encapsulated what I wanted to convey. And, after writing it, I’ve realised why. I don’t want my life to be defined by one word. So I’m leaving it unwritten…