THE BACK-UP PLAN

You have a good chance at making some of your wildest dreams come true. Most people don’t even try, sadly. Most people try and then stop or give up. Very few people try, and try, and try, or do, and do, and do, and never give up. And those are the people who ultimately succeed and win.

– Jared Leto

I hate the idea.

The idea of a back-up, a Plan B, a safety net… The idea that you need a ‘realistic’ or ‘achievable’ dream.

I’ve had people stress the importance of a back-up plan my entire life. I’ve always been a dreamer, a creative type, and this lifestyle scares people. I knew from about the age of thirteen that I didn’t want to settle for some nine-to-five office job that simply paid the bills. I wanted something more, I wanted to create, and I wanted to do what I loved and what I dreamed of.

As I got older, and had to start seriously thinking about my future, I squashed my creative dreams in favour of a back-up plan. The things people say can inadvertently cause you to doubt and question your ability. To me, when people suggested that I think of a Plan B, I assumed that my creative talents weren’t enough for me to pursue the life that I wanted.

Recently, I’ve come to realise that you can achieve anything you set your mind to if you work at it. The first step is the most important one – so many people never take their first step toward their dreams, because they’ve settled for a back-up plan. I honesty believe that if you want something bad enough, you can make it happen. It won’t come easy – nothing good ever does – but it will be worth the effort. Pursuing dreams takes courage – it comes with the possibility of failure, and the greater the risk, the greater the fall. But if you don’t take that leap of faith, then you’ll never learn to fly.

People still try to convince me to settle for the easy option. To abandon what I really want to do with my life. I think people are scared of creative dreams. They don’t come with a salary. They don’t come with stability. But they come with so much more.

I believe there are two types of people: risk-takers and risk-avoiders. The risk-takers are the dreamers. The risk-avoiders are the pragmatists, the realists. There’s nothing wrong with being the latter – you’ll probably work in a well-paid job and own a lovely house and raise a beautiful family. But for the dreamers, this is not enough. There’s got to be something more. And you’ll never know unless you take the risk.

So I’ve abandoned my back-up plan. It’s never going to satisfy me. I’d spend my whole life wondering what could have happened had I just taken that first step. I’m chasing my dreams, and I’m not stopping until I achieve them. It will happen. I’ll make it happen.

Make yours happen too.

CREATING A TRAVEL MEMOIR

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I have a great memory. I remember faces, places, images, buildings, maps… Anything visual is imprinted in my mind. I wouldn’t call it a photographic memory – that implies some sort of superhuman remembering capability that I’m fairly certain I do not possess. But visually, my memory is 97% spot-on.

When it comes to anything aural, descriptive, numeric, or emotional… Well that’s a different story. I’ll remember a person’s face for years, but forget their name less than a minute after we’re introduced. I’ll remember a building’s location and façade, but have no idea of its name or function. I’ll remember how to navigate a maze of foreign streets to find my way back to my hotel, but I have no idea what the street next mine at home is called. In these respects, I have the memory of a goldfish.

This makes travelling both exciting and fairly natural for me, but it can also leave me feeling a little unfulfilled. Being a dominantly visual person, I always come home with thousands and thousands of photographs to sort through. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is a lie. A picture can’t tell you specifics – the name, place, date, function and history of a place. A picture also can’t relay the emotions that being in that particular location made you feel. It can’t remind you of the kind African man you met on the train and of the extremely sad and deeply touching conversation you had about his life. It can’t remind you of the woman feeding the cats behind you and your lens, nor of the charismatic old Italian tour guide who serenaded you with broken English love songs. These are the experiences that become the highlights of my travels, and never would have been if I hadn’t written them down.

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.

Journaling takes discipline. I can’t tell you how many trips I have taken and only made it a couple days in before giving up on my journal. In fact, it’s something I’ve only mastered in the last few years. I’ll let you in on my secret: routine. It’s so important to develop a journaling routine, and to stick to it! For me, I set aside some time before bed – sometimes only five minutes, but I’ll take however long I need to adequately describe the day I’ve experienced. Sometimes I miss days – sometimes I’m just too tired, or I’m out, or I’ve had a little too much vino – but the important thing is to pick up the pen on the next day and continue where you left off. The hard work is worth it, I promise!

So write your travel memoir – you’ll thank yourself for it later.

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.

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…

100 DAYS

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The countdown is on!

It’s officially 100 days until I embark on my next adventure. The thought is both exciting and depressing at the same time: exciting because I leave in 100 days, yet depressing because I still have 100 days to wait.

This got me thinking. Why is it that the prospect of travel is so magical, yet for some reason everyday life is not? Why do we count down the days until a trip, believing that the adventure only starts when we get on the plane? Why do we anticipate the future instead of living in the present?

Adventure, excitement and creativity are everywhere. These are not things that are reserved for travel. They can be found everyday in something as simple as a sunrise, a smile, a song, or a hike.

The idea of wanderlust has always captivated me, but it has only been recently that I’ve realised that it can be created. To wander is to be free, and as Tolkien so wisely put it, not all those who wander are lost. And lust does not have to come with the negative connotations that are so often attached. To have a lust for happiness, adventure and life is a wonderful thing. To create wanderlust is to embrace a lust for freedom, for adventure. Wanderlust is everywhere.

So rather than dwell in my depression for the next 100 days, I’ve decided to create wanderlust here at home. And I’m doing this through the #100HappyDays campaign. I’ll be searching for and documenting happiness everyday for the next 100 days. You can follow my journey on Instagram, and maybe even be inspired to sign up and start your own.

Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans. Don’t let life pass you by. Live in the moment, creating wanderlust every single day.

THE POWER OF SIMPLY BEING

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Last year was one of the most intense and chaotic years of my life (aside from the death-sentence that is VCE, but that’s a story for another time…). At the end of 2012, I went on a month-long university study trip to Italy. It was insanely amazing (I’m sure I’ll one day write a post about that experience and the incurable wanderlust that I incurred as a result). Upon returning home to Australia, I madly rushed to hand in all the work required of the 12-credit-point course, as, understandably, I hadn’t done much study abroad. First semester, I threw myself back into uni, whilst simultaneously working to try and resurrect my severely depleted bank account. During my second semester, I was extremely lucky to be accepted into a six-month acting course at the National Theatre Drama School. It was an incredible opportunity, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to take again. However, 9 hours of night school, plus a full-time uni load and a part-time job hardly left any time to eat or sleep. Following this crazy semester, I took off for Europe again, studying in Italy followed by a Portuguese Christmas and New Year with my extended family. Needless to say, I returned in January this year feeling exhausted – mentally, physically, and creatively.

Before I go on, I just want to clarify something: despite the crazy whirlwind that was 2013, I don’t regret any of the decisions I made. I would do it all again in a heartbeat – the acting, the travelling… I was extremely fortunate to have these opportunities, and worked my ass off for them! I don’t look back and wish I could change the things that were; I constantly look forward, learning from every experience and using the tough times to make me stronger. It’s the difficult times that have the greatest impact on our lives, for better or for worse. I just always decide to make it for the better, living life with no regrets.

I found myself about to head into the first semester of the final year of my degree, and I was absolutely dreading it. I had taken a long and hard look at my life, and decided that whatever I wanted to do, I couldn’t achieve it in school. Life will teach you so much more than you will ever learn in a classroom. So I put my degree on hold for a semester (reassuring and promising my extremely worried mother that I would go back after a six month hiatus and finish my degree), and decided to do something that I had never done, not once, in my 20+ years of life: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

Of course, this isn’t quite true. I still had obligations. I worked full-time (financing my next round of travelling!). But for the first time in my life I had no extracurriculars – no training, no assignments, and no stress. And it was beautiful.

I learned the power of just being. I took up yoga. I meditated. I ran. I read (for pleasure!). I drew, painted, wrote, and played my guitar for the first time in probably about 4 years. I was extremely selfish, and took six months to focus 100% of my energy on me. And something amazing happened.

When you escape the distractions and stress of daily life, you tap into a world full of creativity, possibilities, and dreams. There are no limitations. You allow yourself to wander, to grow, and to simply be. Getting to know yourself is such an important thing, especially when you’re at a point in your life (like I was) where everything is changing, and when you’re questioning and searching for a purpose. I learned the importance of taking time out, and of allowing myself to breathe.

Unfortunately, not many people share the same outlook as I do. It surprised me how many people asked me what I was going to do with my semester off. When I replied with nothing, they tried to tell me that I had to do something with my time. But no, you don’t always have to be doing something. Doing nothing is perfectly acceptable – more than this, it is extremely powerful.

Now, clawing my way through my final semester of university (only because of the promises I made to some very important people in my life; if not for these, I’m certain I would have dropped out), working, and planning my next adventure, my outlook on life has completely changed. Sure, I still want to punch my lecturers in the face for wasting hours of my life that I will never ever get back. Sure, I still have to work, because I know that I need money to not only live, but also to fulfill my incurable wanderlust. But I take time out every day to connect with myself. I do this through running, through yoga, through meditation, and through creativity. For you it may be different. But for me, these things lead me to find inner serenity and peace, and to find myself.

Life is busy, but you don’t have to be. It’s a choice. Live the way you wish to live, follow your heart, make your dreams your reality, and discover yourself.

Namaste.

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.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

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Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

As a child, I always had my head in the clouds. I was always off in my own world, creating an imaginary life in which I was exactly who I wanted to be at that point in time. I spent more time in these alternate universes than I did in my reality. I think this is the beauty about being a child – the ability to so easily escape and imagine a better life. Don’t get me wrong, my childhood was fantastic. I just always wanted something more.

As you grow up, you begin to realise that escaping into a fantasy doesn’t solve everything. Living in an imaginary universe just doesn’t cut it when school, work, friends, family, and life all get in the way. You realise that this is your reality, and you slowly push your dreams aside. You let your imaginary life go, and try to find contentment in the one you’re living. Fear and doubt set in, and the life that you dreamed for yourself becomes less and less spectacular – not because you want a mediocre life, but because you believe that it is at least achievable. Dreams become nothing more than a whim of childhood, and you dare not go after them lest you fail. You work a job that you hate to put a roof over your head that you can’t enjoy anyway because you’re too busy working to pay for the house that you don’t have time to live in…

A little over a year ago I made a decision. I decided that I wouldn’t be satisfied with a mediocre life. I decided that dreams don’t have to be a childhood phenomenon. I decided to push fear and doubt aside, and make the life I dreamed for myself. Ultimately, the only person in control of your life is YOU! Dreams are possible, they are just the product of hard work. Unfortunately, this is where many people fail: they are either unwilling to put in the work, or terrified that they will pour their heart and soul into their dream and that they will still fail. I fell into the latter category. But then a very wise person told me that you just need to take the first step. So many people are terrified of this first step, and the sad reality is that so few take it.

I don’t believe in fate. I don’t believe that life is already set in stone. I believe that you can shape and steer your life down whatever path you wish to, and that you can make dreams happen. But the only person in control of it is you, and so the choice is yours. You can live in fear, or you can take a leap. And you will fail along the road, but you will pick yourself up, and you will learn, and you WILL make your dreams your reality.

Make it happen.