6 Things I Learned About Myself After Travelling for 6 Weeks

6 Things I Learned About Myself After Travelling for 6 Weeks

by Cait Flanders on September 23, 2014


As you guys know, I’ve been all over the map recently. I spent a week in Victoria, drove to Edmonton and back, spent nearly two weeks in Toronto, went on a road trip to Portland, flew to New Orleans for a conference, and took a secret trip to see that old someone special in between it all. Every city has surprised me, given me new memories and filled my stomach with delicious food. As of very early Monday morning, however, I’m finally home in Vancouver for a few weeks and it feels so good to be here.

Part of me feels like I should take some time to just be at home and further reflect on everything I’ve done over the past few weeks. I’ve visited with old and dear friends, moved Baby Bro to another province, watched people get married, followed my own heart (then felt it break), done some public speaking, been inspired by others and made new friends. To do it all, I’ve been on 2 ferries, 11 planes, driven for 60+ hours and taken countless cab rides. A lot has happened in a relatively short period of time! Fortunately, I took note of certain lessons I was learning along the way, so I was able to write most of this post on my long/final flight home. (And thanks to Mr. Money Mustache‘s advice at FinCon, I slept on it and edited it the next day.)

Here are 6 things I learned about myself/my life after travelling for 6 weeks:

  1. I don’t know where I want to live forever. If you remember how many times I’ve moved, and how many different cities I’ve lived in the past few years, you probably think I’m crazy for saying that – but it’s true. The more I travel, the more I see how other people live and the more I fall in love with new cities. There’s a part of me that has always assumed I’d end up back in Victoria (my hometown) one day, at least whenever I had kids – but who knows when that’ll be, or if it’ll happen at all. (And even if I have them, there’s still nothing saying that life will take me there.) I like my life in Vancouver, right now, but I’m not sold on the idea that it’s where I will live forever. Who knows where I’ll finally “settle”. I’m guessing that finding a partner and building a life with them will be part of what shapes the answer to that question. But I know I’m always open to change, which is both scary and exciting.
  2. I don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy or to feel “at home”. I’ve learned this lesson a few times before, starting with when I moved to Toronto with just a hockey bag full of belongings (how Canadian, eh?). With each trip I go on, I find myself back in that situation of only being able to bring enough contents to fill a small suitcase. I believe that living out of a bag for so many days, weeks, and months has largely influenced how I feel about all the “things” in my home, and is what eventually made it so easy for me to do a massive declutter/purge of my belongings. I don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy or to feel “at home” – even in a foreign city. If I have a bed to sleep in, access to water and food, some clothing, a tool to communicate with (phone or laptop), a journal to write in and at least one book, I am happy. If I’m in the company of at least one family member or friend, I feel at home.
  3. Conversation is my favourite way to connect with people – and that’s a bit of a contradiction. As a writer, I obviously feel like I can communicate more clearly through the written word. Writing gives me both time and the opportunity to self-edit, so I can analyze my choice of words rather than ramble on and say the wrong thing. I also love to read, which I’ve said more than a few times here before. However, I’m most inspired by the conversations I have with people – those one-on-one interactions, where we can ask a million questions, dump everything that’s been on our minds out onto the table, and share insights and ideas. I don’t mind texting, but I love calling people and talking on the phone. Want to Skype or chat on Google Hangout? Even better. And if we’re in the same city, I am going to ask you to meet me for coffee or a hike! The more long distance relationships I develop (and when you travel, it ends up being most of them), the more I treasure the conversations I get to have with people. (Plus, it’s usually just nice to hear someone’s voice.)
  4. I have an amazing family and group of friends. I didn’t need to travel around for 6 weeks to learn this lesson, but it is a realization that I came to and felt during dozens of moments throughout my trips. As I said above, I feel like the majority of my relationships are maintained via long distance now. Yes, I have friends in Vancouver, but the people I’m closest to live all over North America – from Victoria to P.E.I. in Canada, and scattered between San Francisco and New York in the U.S. (Sometimes I daydream about going on a crazy road trip to see you all!) Over the years, I’ve learned how important it is to check-in with everyone I love, in order to maintain those relationships. During this past trip to New Orleans, however, I finally realized just how lucky I am that everyone supports my crazy travelling lifestyle. Instead of making me feel guilty for always being on the go (which I don’t think will last forever), my family and friends support me by asking “Where to next!?” and making time to see me when I’m in their city. Thank you for giving me that room and freedom to grow. <3
  5. I have changed (and am continually changing) my life for the better. On the day I travelled home from FinCon last year, I had a panic attack. I can still remember how scared I was, sitting on the MetroLink riding to Lambert Airport, dripping in sweat, choking back tears and trying to breathe. When it finally got to my stop, I rushed off, dropped my bags and just sobbed. (I also texted Clare for help.) It was the most emotionally and physically draining experience I’ve ever had, but it was also extremely eye-opening. One year later, I can’t imagine going through something similar – not just because I don’t want to experience that again, but because I have dramatically shifted the way I live and work, since then. I eat better, work smarter, sleep longer and workout more frequently. I listen to my body, trust my gut instinct and do what feels best. Overall, I’m just taking better care of myself, and am continually trying to improve my habits and my life. (Thanks, panic attack!?)
  6. Wherever I go, there I am. The more new places I travel to, and the further I push myself out of my comfort zone, the more I realize: there’s no getting away from myself or whatever situation I’m in. Some of this goes back to learning how to live in the present moment. As I’ve learned from David, there is no other moment you could possibly be in, so you might as well take in the experience. I didn’t realize I’d learned this lesson until the day I took a few wrong turns, got lost in a new city and found I was, surprisingly, not stressed out about it. There were also the two times I nearly missed my connecting flights, but knew I had no control over what would happen and could catch other flights later. And then there were all the unknowns that come with each day you’re in a new city/outside of your normal routine. I’ve learned how to take each moment as it comes, so I can be more flexible. There’s no point worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. You just have to embrace what you’re given; play the cards you’re dealt. Aside from that, though, this lesson also serves as a reminder that I can’t use trips as a way to run from my problems. I’d never felt like I had done that before, until partway through New Orleans (which was booked long before my breakup, but still). For the first two days, I held my sadness in and told myself the trip would make me feel better. On Friday, I finally realized that I just had to feel everything I was feeling, even if it meant staying in bed and missing out on a few things. I removed the guilt/fear of missing out and just took the afternoon to be alone/be sad. And you know what? I haven’t shed a tear since. You can’t go on a trip and expect it to make you feel better, if you’re unhappy; it can help you grow, but you’ll still just be you in a new environment. So, no matter where you go, you’re going to have to deal with what you may be running from, eventually.

What are some personal lessons travelling has taught you?