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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MAXIMISE YOUR TRAVEL EXPERIENCE

When travelling, it is sometimes way too easy to become caught up in the excitement and chaos of exploring new cities and cultures. When this happens, you run the risk of becoming overwhelmed and exhausted, and your trip turns out to be one of rushing from one monument to the next, meeting deadlines and adhering to strict schedules. And this is NOT what travel is about! Here are my tips on how to maximise your travel experience – to get the most out of your journey, while also taking time to smell the roses.

(Although these tips are travel-based, you don’t have to be travelling to try them out. If you apply them to everyday life, I promise you will gain so much appreciation for every moment!)

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Explore the road less-travelled

While there is no particular order to what I’m about to present, this would definitely be my number one priority. I cannot stress enough how much more enriching your journey will be if you wander off the beaten track. Get away from the crowds, the tourists, the monuments, and explore the parts of a city that aren’t filled with obnoxious jean-and-runner clad tourists sporting fanny packs and neon caps. It is in the alley ways, in the local restaurants, that a city hides its charm. Don’t be afraid to explore.

Get away

Inevitably, there will be times of exhaustion and homesickness. The best cure is to escape – leave the city you’re in, and take to the countryside, the forest, the beach, the bush – somewhere where there are no people and no distractions. Climb a mountain, and take in the view. Swim in the ocean. Go hiking in a forest. Connect with Mother Nature, and you will come away feeling so rejuvenated and alive. A little break from playing tourist is not only good for you, but essential to ensure that you don’t become burned out.

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Eat like a local

Food is one of my favourite things about travelling. There are so many exciting and exotic cuisines around the world, and you are really doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try them all! Suss out where the locals eat, and you’ll avoid the nasty, overpriced tourist food that masquerades as authentic local cuisine. Try new things – you’ll be surprised! As a vegetarian, there are some things I will obviously never try. But experiment within your own beliefs and boundaries, and you won’t even care about the weight you’ll gain!

Document

The worst thing is to come home and not remember every single experience you had while away. Forgetting is inevitable, but it’s not unavoidable. The key is to document everything – photos, videos, journals. As an avid photographer, I’m never short on visual reminders about my experiences. A picture tells a thousand words, but it can’t tell you everything. It can’t always remind you how you were feeling, the story behind it, or the connections you made because of it. This is why I journal. It doesn’t have to be long and boring, just a few sentences about what happened that day, the people you met, and the conversations you had. Some days you’ll be able to write pages; others you’ll have merely a sentence or two. Length isn’t important. But you’ll thank yourself six months down the track when you’re reading through, nostalgic about the experiences you had.

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Be open to new experiences

It’s amazing how much more open to things you’ll become when you’re on the road. And this is a good thing! It’s so rewarding to force yourself out of your comfort zone. If you approach everything with an open mind, you’ll get so much more out of your travels. Eat new food, meet new people, ride a donkey, jump out of a plane, climb a mountain… Just do it. Conquer your fears, and live on the edge!

Connect with people

Meeting new people is one of the scariest but most rewarding things you can do. Make friends with locals, other travellers, Giuseppe the old pizza man… Listen to their stories, learn about their culture, and take an interest in their lives. Travel is meaningless if you don’t make these connections – it becomes a selfish, inwardly-focused act instead of a way to connect with and explore the world. Of course, you do have to use discretion – the man with the gun in the alleyway at night is probably not looking to make friends. But overwhelmingly, people are nice. People are interesting. Don’t judge people based on how they look, or what they’re doing. The people who don’t conform to the status quo often have the most exciting and unique lives and stories to tell!

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Connect with yourself

Travelling will tell you more about yourself than anything else in the world. It’s the only thing in the world that you can spend money on and actually come out richer. Learn about who you are, what makes you happy, what makes your heart break, and what makes you unique. Everyone has a story. Write yours.

WHAT IS WANDERLUST?

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Dreams. Adventure. Creativity. Exploration. Freedom.

These are some of the things that come to mind when I try to encapsulate what it means to have ‘wanderlust’. At its most basic level, wanderlust is a desire to travel. To see the world. To explore different countries, continents and cultures. However, to me it has developed a much broader and deeper meaning.

I caught the travel bug very early in life. I was extremely fortunate to have a  mother whose job allowed her to travel to exciting and exotic locations, and a father whose family lived on the other side of the world. Growing up, barely a year went by without a trip to somewhere in Europe, America, Asia, or (at the very least!) New Zealand. As I got older, opportunities to represent my country in elite sport continued this trend. Travelling was always a necessity for me. In fact, I can’t imagine where life would have taken me without it!

It has only been recently that I’ve developed what I would call ‘wanderlust’. In the last two years I’ve taken two major overseas trips, for the first time without my family. I can honestly say that I have learned more about myself during this time than I had in the first 18 years of my life. I discovered wanderlust, in the full sense of the word.

Wanderlust is not just about travel. Wanderlust is about dreams. It’s about adventure, creativity and exploration. Most of all, wanderlust is about freedom. Freedom of the body, mind and soul. It’s so very true that we have to lose ourselves to truly find ourselves. And this is what wanderlust is. It’s not just a physical journey, but an inward journey of self-discovery.

Creating Wanderlust is about documenting this journey: through photography, through words, and through stories. You don’t need to be travelling to capture wanderlust. You just have to be willing to create it.

This is my journey.