There’s a belief that travel is the door through which we find ourselves. So “gap year” students, Molly, Polly and Lolly, head off overseas to discover who they really are. They hit the backpacker trail, stay in cool hostels and make news friends who are also on their travels “finding themselves”. And they all come back to Blighty knowing who they are and what they want.
Yeah, my arse.
Sorry guys, but travel is not how we find ourselves. It is not the mechanism by which we discover who we really are.
I grew up with an older brother and two loving parents; a family unit of four people with very strong personalities. Who was I? I was “the youngest.” I was four years behind my brother in terms of developing my own identity, and with such strong personalities around me, it was hard not to adopt them partly as my own.
As we grew into our teens and my brother became well known at school, I was “the little sister.” As an adolescent, I had to fight to defend my “alternative” identity, and I ended up just fighting everything ― teachers, parents, pupils, inanimate objects, and of course myself. So, while my brother was being celebrated and adored, I upset people and got into trouble. I became “the black sheep.”
As the years went by, my identity continued to be defined by the people and things around me. I was “the smoker,” “the party animal,” “the girlfriend.”
Then I went on a round the world trip by myself aged 19. And I “found myself” ― hoorah!
No, course I didn’t. I did some cool stuff, got into some slightly hairy situations, survived, met some new friends and distant relatives, stayed with Miss Tahiti 1983, got a tattoo and had an incredible time, then came home again.
After that, the pattern resumed; I became “the marketer,” “the mental health campaigner,” “the PR girl.” And each time a relationship ended or a new interest developed, to some degree, I became defined by that.
But none of these identities lasted. None of them are who I am, I see that now.
When you start a life in another country (in my case, Australia), particularly one far away from all the people and things that have always defined you, you realise that it’s not travel per se that allows you to know who you are; it’s solitude. Or to be more specific, it’s distance from who you were or, rather, who everyone thinks you are.
You’re on your own. And the silence is deafening.
But then slowly, you begin to hear something. It sounds like a voice. It’s your voice. And it’s telling you things you’ve never been able to hear before because you’ve been too busy playing your latest character.
And maybe I’m a fool for never having been able to hear this voice before. Perhaps I’m the weird one, that it’s taken me until the age of 31 to feel like I’m finally getting somewhere.
Or maybe, just maybe, there are some others out there that are like me, who’ve felt a little lost in the past, a bit confused, not knowing where they belong or what they should do. Or who to please.
In which case, this blog post is for you.
Disagree with me? Did YOU “find yourself” on the backpacker trail? Let me know in the comments, or head to my blog at feralberyltravels.com.