I bought a one-way ticket to Iceland on a weekday afternoon hiding behind my computer screen, and a few weeks later I found myself with no job, moved out of my apartment and almost all of my things sold. One amazing month-long backpacking trip later, I’m back in the states surfing couches, freelancing as a photographer with a completely new outlook on life, my career and the future. But it’s not all full of happy things and it’s definitely not always pretty.
The roadmap to my future once so delicately detailed has now completely disappeared, and now I’m living out of a suitcase, crashing at my angel of an aunt’s couch and anxiously waiting to find myself lost in a different city in a different country.
…and every once in a while, the questions just keep pouring out of my head:
Aren’t you just running away from your problems? What happened to being responsible? Don’t you want financial security through a steady paycheck? Don’t you need to get back to working a corporate job, commuting to work at 9am, Starbucks coffee in-hand? Where am I gonna live tomorrow? Am I going to be okay?
Maybe, maybe not.
Maybe I AM just running away from my problems by creating new ones. I traded in the ‘Need-to-pay-my-rent-next-month-so-I-can’t-buy-these-Giuseppe-heels’ problem for the ‘Need-to-figure-out-where-I’m-sleeping-next-week’ problem. But I’ve realized throughout this ridiculously overly-emotional process that I’m the strongest I’ve ever been in my life.
It may be for the better, it may be for the worse – either way, travel changed my life forever. And besides the fact that my life is now completely turned upside down on its head, here are a few ways it changed me for the better.
1. I WAS ALONE, AND IT WAS OKAY.
There isn’t a feeling in the world like that of feeling alone. It’s even worse when you’re in a crowded city like New York, and after I had shut myself off from my friends, I felt more alone than I had ever felt in my life. When I was overseas, I grew to love the time that I spent alone. I remember being on a jet ski in the middle of the Adriatic Sea, whizzing past couples in kayaks and tour groups on boats – it was the first time that I had felt free. It was just me, the waves and the endless sky and sea – everything was blue, and I was the happiest I had been in a very long time. Travel allowed me to become entirely independent, and that was the most liberating feeling in the world.
2. I STARTED APPRECIATING THE SMALL THINGS.
I used to surround myself with objects – luxury or not, buying things was my form of therapy. Once I sold most of my possessions to travel, I had the opportunity to appreciate things that I hadn’t cared for much before. That magnificent sunset, crisp Icelandic air, buffalo mozzarella cheese with fresh-sliced tomatoes, or just getting lost on Parisian cobblestone streets – I couldn’t imagine trading any of that in for my old walk-in closet filled with designer bags and shoes. My father used to have to drag me out of bed to watch the sunrise on the beach, and all I would want to do was go back home and get on the computer or watch TV. I learned to enjoy the little things that make life so wonderful, and I know now why he always wanted me to be there with him, soaking in a sunrise or wandering in a park for few hours.
3. I LEARNED TO BE PRESENT.
Dwelling on the past, anxiety about the future – I never sat still and focused on the right here and right now. I was in a rush to grow up, and I constantly stressed about why it took so long to become ‘successful.’ Now I’m grateful for the roof I have over my head, the food I have to eat and the fact that I’m alive, healthy and living my dream. Learn from the past, but don’t let it consume you. Prepare for the future, but be grateful for today. Learn to be present, and happiness will find you.
4. I’M ACTUALLY STRONGER THAN I THOUGHT I WAS.
I hiked a glacier when I was in Iceland. A FREAKING GLACIER. A month before I didn’t even know such activities existed. I was scared I would fall through a crack in the ice or slip and stab myself with the hiking axe. On this trip, I conquered my fears slowly, one by one, and realized that I could handle a lot more than I thought I could. No plan? No problem. I’ll figure it out. Don’t speak the language? No worries. I’ll figure it out. I acquired a peace of mind, and that helped me find the strength to do something crazy, unconventional but at the same time wonderful.
5. I FELL IN LOVE WITH LIFE AGAIN.
When I booked that plane ticket and started researching for my trip, I was asking for a change in my life, and that’s exactly what I got. A new city, new foods, new language, new culture – I saw things and did things that I had never done before and it fueled my desire to continue to see the world and experience new things. I fell in love with learning about and experiencing life’s wonders, inspired by nature and the people all around me.
6. I FOUND HOPE IN MY FUTURE.
I had reached a point where life didn’t excite me. Tomorrow didn’t seem worth waking up for. What was my motivation? What was the point in working hard anymore? Why did bad things happen to me and my family? When was I going to get my big break? I finally said, enough is enough. I left everything behind and gained not only renewed happiness, but a new sense of hope. Things DO get better. It just takes time.
7. I STARTED TO BECOME GRATEFUL FOR WHAT I HAD.
For years I was always complaining about what I didn’t have, what I wasn’t born with, what I wasn’t making. Happiness appears when perspectives change. I stood by a bridge in Florence and thanked God for the rain. It made the water twinkle in the most beautiful way, and even though my hair fell flat, my feet were soggy and the leather on my bag was on its way to being ruined, I didn’t care. I will never forget how peaceful and magical that water looked, sparkling on that grey spring day. Yes, I did lose my father to cancer. He was the reason I worked so damn hard and the reason I slept 3/4 hours a night, but I have a mother, a stepmother, a brother and a sister who love me. Yes, I hated my job, but I learned so much from my time there, and it gave me the money to save to go on this trip. I may not have that apartment anymore, or a million followers on instagram, but I’m grateful that I’m here with a family that loves me, friends that support me and enough cash in my bank account to eat for the week.
8. I RECONNECTED WITH MY OLD FRIENDS & MADE NEW ONES.
When I started planning for my trip, I started to asking around for travel advice. Where should I go? What should I bring? How much money do I need? There were people I had never connected with before, but did as soon as travel brought us together. There’s just something about people who prioritize travel over other things – not to say they’re better or worse – they’re just different. I felt an incredible amount of support, and became thankful to have something that connected me with people I hadn’t connected with before. While on my trip, I met some of the most interesting people – people I’ll never forget. Our tour guide in Iceland who owned 60+ sheep, a mountain and worked at the company because he loved to show people his country. The guy from Spain who hosted me in London, showed me around the city and inspired me to one day jump out of a plane like he had 12 times the weekend before. The two cheerful English guys, two girls from Spain, and a local sous-chef I met at an Irish pub in Croatia that I had ciders with every night I was there. The Italian-American man I met in Levanto who climbed and sat with us on top of a huge rock in the water, chatting about his life in Milan and corporate life for 2+ hours in the sun.
9. I GREW SOME MAJOR B-LLS, AND WITH THAT: CONFIDENCE.
Fear will slowly suck the life out of you. What is a life if you’re not doing something memorable? Doing something that scares the living sh-t out of you will sometimes make you feel the most alive. After hitting rock bottom, there was nowhere else to go but up. I jumped across glacier chunks in a glacier lagoon, went up to random people in Paris asking for directions in rusty French, and tried kangaroo and puffin meat at a tapas restaurant. Was I scared to leave a steady paycheck, long-term boyfriend, friends and family to travel the world for a month with a lifesize cutout of my late father? ABSOLUTELY. Do I regret doing it? Absolutely not. I’m more confident in myself and my ability than ever before, and that’s because I took that first chance to make one of my dreams come true.
10. I WAS GIVEN A NEWFOUND PURPOSE FOR MY LIFE.
When I started the #FORMYFATHER project and posted it on my blog, I had no clue how much impact sharing my story would have on the world. The overwhelming response by the international community and press has given me a newfound purpose to help inspire people to live without fear, find hope in their futures and follow their dreams. Sometimes you have to get lost to find your way home. So yeah, I don’t have anything planned out, I don’t know where I’m going next month, where I’ll live, or how I’ll make money to survive, but I know that this journey has only just begun, I’ve got something to live for, work towards, and I’m more excited for the future than I have ever been in my life.
So, how has travel changed you?
Thank you so much for reading. Don’t forget to follow me on instagram for day to day updates. 🙂 @projectinspo