“Oh, whatever.” I can see your eyes rolling as you open this (or don’t) because you’ve heard it all before. Travel made me so much more confident! Travel has made me feel closer to humanity! Travel has made me appreciate other cultures!
All of those things, particularly at a time when humanity feels at its lowest and there’s an epidemic of hate towards other cultures, are true.
And I have never been a confident person. I question everything I do, whether it’s something huge like taking a new job, or something small like saying hello to someone. It has always taken – and often still does – a lot of courage to walk up to someone, to answer the phone, to interact even with people I know.
Ten years ago, I flew out to the USA to work on a summer camp, and I was absolutely terrified. I made lots of mistakes. I tried to pretend to be confident when I spoke to people, but I was scared to react properly in case I looked stupid. I shrugged things off when secretly I loved them in case my overexcitement made me look weird. I took things the wrong way and then felt like an idiot. I was great at hiding within myself instead of outwardly showing enthusiasm, and immediately knew I might have come across as ungrateful or uncaring, by which point I was too worried about aggravating a situation further by trying to rectify that.
I was a totally different person back then – in my mind, I was fun and crazy, but too scared to let it out so I just came off as awkward and crazy instead. Of course I’ve changed a lot anyway – it’s called “growing up” or something, apparently – but the one thing that has REALLY changed is my confidence. Enthusiasm?! Hell yeah, let’s sprinkle some of that on EVERYTHING.
No one I meet actually believes I’m shy any more. I think this big change in me has definitely happened in the past three years, because you meet so many people while you travel that it becomes natural to strike up a conversation.
But that’s not what this post is about, because although my confidence has filled my life with a richness that it might not have had before, deep down I don’t think I’ve really changed as a person. I still enjoy the same things and try to be a good person, and I still make mistakes and dwell on them for weeks. I still have my crazy quirks; it’s just I’m not afraid to show them any more and as a result, I’m happier.
But travel has changed the way I live, and the way I think about things.
For one thing, it’s killed my consumerist nature. While we were travelling long-term, I barely bought anything; only clothes to replace ones that had worn out. I’ve always been a saver rather than a spender, but living out of a suitcase put it all into perspective: I own way more than I need.
Which is funny because I don’t actually own a hell of a lot, and I never thought I spent much money. But why do I have about 25 t shirts? Do I need five pairs of jeans that look virtually the same? So when we returned home, I realised what I could live without and that realisation has really changed the way I live. I made a decision not to buy any new clothes in 2017, and succeeded with the exception of some active wear and an emergency cardigan for a wedding.
…except now we’re half way through 2018, and I still haven’t bought any new clothes (with the exception of Ash buying me a Superdry hoodie and his parents buying me a Superdry coat, and after 29 years of not understanding why brands are a thing, I now love Superdry). I should add that I have bought clothes, but they’ve all been second hand. I’ve thrown so much out in the past year as they’ve worn out, and donated a whole load more to charity shops and to the Grenfell victims. I didn’t really replace any of it, because I realised I didn’t need to.
When I came out to Canada, I stored all my clothes away in a single suitcase. I brought the rest with me in a 60 litre backpack, and that is all the clothes I own. It feels liberating!
I’ve realised that I don’t need to spend money all the time. Where I used to find myself lazily pressing a button and having a parcel arrive a few days later (kidding myself that it didn’t matter because it was such a great deal), I just no longer feel the need.
And it doesn’t just apply to clothes. I stopped buying toiletries that I’m never actually going to use, and started using up body butters that I’ve had for years (God knows if it’s still in date, but hey, I haven’t died and my skin hasn’t mutated; nor, sadly, have I gained any superpowers). I’m better at using up food instead of letting it go to waste, because when you’re backpacking God knows you don’t waste anything if you can help it.
I actually have no idea how much money I’ve saved, but it’s crazy how a new mindset has just totally changed something that makes a huge impact in the long-term. There’s been no active discipline; it feels like it’s all come naturally.
Honestly, while I was never particularly materialistic, now I am even less so. I will never be minimalistic, because I attach too much sentiment to a lot of my things and it makes it hard to have a ruthless clearout – which is probably why I’m now less inclined to buy things in the first place, too!
This has led to other lifestyle changes, too. Because I travel with a limited amount of belongings in a space that isn’t really my own (especially when living in hostels), I’ve become more organised. I won’t pretend I’m tidy; I never have been and it was a point of contention throughout my entire teenage years (I bet my Mum was glad when I moved out at 17!!), but it’s ridiculous how much I’ve improved! I’ve become better at cleaning up after myself straight away – when you stay in a hostel, you have to wash your dishes as you go, lest you become that person. I’ve found homes for everything instead of cluttering the house.
This is another reason I’m better at only buying what I need, because I’ve started thinking about where we can even put it. I definitely have travel to thank for this too, because it was forced into my lifestyle and now it’s become habit.
So in that respect, I’ve also learned that habits are easier to pick up than I thought. Making lifestyle changes is not scary to me any more, and I feel more motivated to actually do it.
Some of my biggest mindset changes are personality ones, too. While I’ve become more confident in speaking to people, one of my biggest challenges has been overcoming the idea that I can’t do anything. That I’m not good at anything, so I’d rather not try otherwise I’ll come across as an idiot, or worse, a failure. This was an idea ingrained in me since childhood and something I’ve found very difficult to overcome: confidence in myself.
Owning a shop had a huge impact on this, but I hit so many hurdles in the five years that I managed it, that it actually knocked my confidence as much as I felt it was building it up.
But finding out that I can successfully navigate cities without getting lost, pickpocketed or murdered? That I can work in a bakery and not drop a single $40 cake in six months? That I can organise an 18-month backpacking trip and have virtually nothing go wrong?! Hell, I’m INVINCIBLE.
Pushing myself continually out of my comfort zone has done wonders for my confidence in what I can do. I’ve even snorkelled several times when I’m terrified of being underwater, and worked a job where I had to deal with red back spiders (uh, the most venomous spider in the world, that one) and didn’t have a heart attack. I’m more open to trying food I’ve never heard of before, I’m less afraid to sit down at a restaurant with no English, and I’m better at saying yes to new experiences.
I’ve been promoted at my last two jobs, with the encouragement of applying to be a manager at two more. I’ve been complimented on how outgoing and social I am. SOMEONE EVEN SAID I’M SO CHARISMATIC, I WOULD MAKE A GREAT TOUR GUIDE. Ten years ago, I would never have seen that coming.
I guess the biggest gift that travel has given me is being happy with who I am and content with what I have.
And there’s nothing more that you can ask for in life, really, so the fact that I can attribute this change to travel is a huge testament to the positive effects it can have on your life.
What about you? Has travel has impacted your life?
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