Travel: The Hardest Part.

by Ellie Cleary

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“And the hardest part was letting go, not taking part…” Coldplay

Setting off on my travels for 3 months, I felt many things.

Fear was definitely part of it. Fear, anxiety, excitement, curiosity… but perhaps most of all: hunger.  Hunger for new experiences and a new way of looking at life.  Hunger to grow as a person, to go it alone for a while. Hunger to put myself out there and see what happened.

After 3 months of travelling through some truly amazing parts of Asia, I’m back.  Back to the familiar ground of home. Back to friends, back to the comfort of the developed world and back to the office.

But the thing is, I don’t really feel at home at all.

I felt more at home in myself on the road, amongst cultures that were as alien to me as the languages spoken around me.  Free to explore without judgements or pre-conceived ideas.  Free to question and free to reflect. Free to feel secure in my own freedom.

Having spoken with many other travellers—particularly those that take a career break to travel—there’s this idea we all have when we set out.  It feels like making the decision to step out of the well-trodden career path for a period of months or more is the scariest thing.  The leaving behind of security, and many other things.  We all have our reasons for going.  Travel gives us time to reflect, to look at the world anew, to plug into our ‘purpose’, and to question.  I had the idea that I’d come back with answers. I had the idea that things would become clearer. I had the idea there would be fewer questions that needed answering by my return.

But what happened was the opposite. 

Once I stopped operating on auto pilot, and started to open myself, and my heart to questions, the more have appeared.  But while travelling I enjoyed the moments, focusing on the present.  The questions remained largely unanswered.

Now they’ve come back with a vengeance.  Even more than when I left, I am questioning what feels like my whole existence.  Like picking at a loose thread, suddenly the fabric starts unravelling. Bit by bit.

And to the outside world nothing really looks different. Things just seem very much as they were.  The change is deep inside me, something that only I feel.

Returning has been scary.  When I returned and thought I’d lost most of my photos from my laptop; scary that such wonderful experiences start to blur and fade so quickly.  People say ‘I want to hear all about it’, but in reality you cover months in a few minutes, and you realise that the experiences you have cherished and that have made your life yours over the months that you were away are yours and yours alone. Ultimately they’re only relevant to you. Some days I wake up and wonder: was it just a dream?

There’s this deep unsettling concern that one can have experience so much in those months and that the knowledge gained is fragile—insights and moments of clarity that are gone too soon.

Since returning I have felt more alone at times than when sitting on an empty beach on the other side of the world with no one on it.

It has been time more than ever to reflect.  To reflect on what I have seen, what I have experienced, and what I have learned, and on what’s next.

It’s time to find a new place in the world, because one thing is for sure: My place, in the world, if it existed before is certainly gone in its previous form. They say that travel changes you and I couldn’t agree more.  There’s no going back.

As I sit and think about being home, I realise that perhaps I was home all along.  Home no longer seems like it is a place.  It’s perhaps a feeling, but I now believe more than ever that we can feel at home anywhere.  We just need ourselves. No bricks and mortar, no favourite corner of the sofa, no music, no scented candles.

Returning from a long trip has honestly been an awakening. Some days a rude awakening, others just an awakening. That we change but the world does not necessarily change along with us; that the universe does not necessarily acknowledge our conveniently-timed and self-imposed deadlines.

When I look back on this moment in time, I know that I will see it as a turning point.  But in the middle of this moment, it feels more like a mess. And that is something to be grateful for.

So, as I continue to navigate forward, to any one doubting whether to travel, I would always say go.  Travel away, to your heart’s content.  But arguably setting off is the easy part compared to the processing that awaits your return, and that’s a really good thing! After all… it’s a dangerous business walking out of your front door.

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10 comments

Alina from Reverie Chaser March 4, 2017 - 10:58 am

Did you manage to recover the photos though?

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Ellie March 8, 2017 - 4:51 pm

Some of them. Unfortunately I lost a load that were on my phone from India & Sri Lanka from my phone falling into water 🙁 – but I’m lucky I still had a load on my camera!

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LC March 5, 2017 - 1:03 pm

It’s interesting, to read about the experiences people have when they come home from long term travel. Finding you’ve changed and the place hasn’t, or you just don’t quite fit in it the way you used to. I had the opposite really… I was ready to come home after three years away and feel like I’m “living in the moment” for the first time in my life – truly appreciating what I have here and how beautiful my country is. Yet, I would never have felt that way had I not had left in the first place. That’s why I love the line from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets – “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” It makes sense now. Home feels like home, at long last.
I’m glad you didn’t lose your photos! (I hope you didn’t lose your photos?)

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Ellie March 8, 2017 - 4:53 pm

That’s an amazing quote, thank you for sharing LC! It’s great that you felt like it was really time to ‘come home’. I wonder if I’ll get to that stage ever – haha. I did recover some of the photos but lost quite a few from my phone (don’t drop your phone in water when it hasn’t backed up for 4 weeks LOL). Fortunately I take far too many photos and so still had quite a few :-D. Ellie

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Suzanne (PhilaTravelGirl) March 5, 2017 - 3:04 pm

I went on a three month sabbatical in Europe after a job loss and coming home was tough (it still is) as I changed and the daily dramas at home didn’t – I understand how hard it is to try to explain why you feel like your outside looking in at the world around you wondering if you can still play the part you had.

I hope you find a middle ground to put you in both “homes” and happy you didn’t lose the photos

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Ellie March 8, 2017 - 4:56 pm

Thanks Suzanne, yes I can imagine – I think ‘settling’ down to a routine after being so free travelling is always tough. Now i’m learning to really appreciate wherever I am at the moment though which feels wonderfully empowering. I hope the same re finding a middle ground for you! Safe travels, Ellie

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Alice Chen March 5, 2017 - 3:26 pm

This is so accurate! People really do want to hear about your travels – but only a single story or two. But it’s an experience that can really change your life – that’s definitely a challenge for me too!

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Ellie March 8, 2017 - 4:56 pm

Haha exactly. Thank god for blogs and instagram right? It really is life changing in different ways for everyone. Happy travels!

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Sarah March 6, 2017 - 12:23 pm

Beautiful writing style. I love raw & personal posts like this.

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Ellie March 8, 2017 - 4:57 pm

Thank you for the kind words Sarah! Safe travels, Ellie

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