I remember sitting in a hostel bar in New Zealand near the end of my three-month solo trip and talking to a fellow backpacker, when they asked me a question that made me jolt: ‘So, what are you running away from?’
Ummmm…..right at that moment I was, unknowingly, running full pelt towards one of the worst hangovers of my life, but I’d never really thought about running away from anything. ‘Running away’ sounds frantic, desperate, fast and scary; I’d more kind of sauntered towards my current situation, in a bar on the other side of the world, drink in hand, and feeling happier than I’d felt in years. It was a surprise to everyone else that I’d decided to travel on my own, but it was a natural and obvious decision for me, and that seemed to be the case for most of the people I met abroad too.
When I ditched some unhealthy elements in my life and took off to travel solo, a number of unimportants took it upon themselves to helpfully input that I was ‘running away’ from my problems. There seems to be an assumption that if someone decides to up and leave, and especially if you’re female, that solo travel must be a knee jerk reaction in order to fix something (and that that’s a bad thing).
But what if it’s a carefully thought out plan because you know that it’s the right thing to do?
Before I got to the point where I booked a one-way ticket to Malaysia, it’s important to know that I knew what the issues were in my life at that time and believe me, I took all the logical steps to fix various problems. Talks with my boss, attempts at even more compromise in my relationship; speaking to friends for advice, trying everything from Googling the answer to taking it out on a punching bag at the gym, but literally nothing made a difference.
We’re told to take a deep breath when we’re angry, but that only lasts seconds. What if your anger, your sadness, your misery lasts longer? When deep breaths turn to meditation which turns to soul searching because you KNOW something has to change. Sometimes the change has to be extreme and travelling for me wasn’t pressing the reset button, it was hitting pause. I knew I wasn’t going to disappear forever, but I needed time. Proper time, away from distractions. Life is overwhelming and a job, friends and even family can mean you never really have the time to focus 100% purely on yourself.
When was the last time you did that for longer than a couple of hours?
So I took myself away from anything that would hinder me from making good decisions. I didn’t run away; instead I just walked towards the right answer. Like that pair of jeans you keep in your wardrobe in case they fit again, the things I was hanging on to weren’t good for me. Sure, I could keep telling myself that one day I’ll fit into those jeans and that my job would be get better and that my relationship could survive, but ultimately, I knew I’d still have to undo my top button to breathe and be comfortable. Why would I make do when I could take it into my own hands to change my life and take a chance to maybe make it better?
Being away and on my own, I was able to really analyse if I missed the parts of my life that had made me so sad; not by sitting and talking it over, but by doing other things and letting an answer come naturally to me. London felt crammed and full of bad memories. When I left, everything reminded me of something negative, but by being away I started to remember what I loved. A career path that has hope and excites me, a city with familiarity and opportunity, people who I adore and love me as much as I do them.
I never left with the intention of staying away forever; I knew I’d always come back.
In fact, coming home wasn’t the end of my journey. I still made some bad decisions and had new challenges, and of course, some of my problems were still right where I left them. But how I coped with those situations, by asking for help, trusting my gut and putting myself first, meant that I got through the next hurdles in a totally different way.
I didn’t run away; I walked with a purpose. Travelling solo is a brave thing to do so don’t let anybody make you feel like it’s the coward’s way out.
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