The journey used to be so clear.
I knew exactly what I was trying to achieve. There was a list of places I had to go, things I had to do, experiences I had to tick off a list. Some vanilla, some sordid, some grand. I wanted battle scars, war stories. I was a boy. I wanted to become a man out there. I wanted to experience everything.
For years, I roamed around the world, and eventually I did exactly that. I experienced everything.
Then the sunset came. It was unexpected. Because the truth is, I never dreamed I would actually succeed. It all seemed so faraway and impossible. I thought I’d be chasing that “travel around the world” adventure my whole life. But like they always say, dreams really do come true.
I think back today, to the person I was before I stepped on the plane. The person that used to go to that cubicle every day. I suspect I was much like everyone else. I woke up, snoozed the alarm for half an hour, ironed a shirt, slipped the tie on. And I say slip it on because I never actually untied it each night, just loosened it enough to slip over my head, so I had one less thing to do the next morning. That’s how much I really hated the morning. Not to mention the morning’s main event: Sitting in the car half asleep for forty five minutes and hating my life. I can’t believe I never crashed during those commutes. I was a zombie.
During that life, the thought of travel tantalised me. It consumed my every thought – all the places I could go when I finally quit this job. I could go to South America and learn to salsa with the pretty ladies. I mean, South America. That’s Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia! Man, those places must be so incredible. I’m going to go China, I’ll finally learn to speak Chinese. I’ll eat noodles at the street carts every day, have those pancakes with the fried egg every morning. And maybe, just maybe, Africa. Wow. Will I ever really go to Africa? Probably not in this lifetime. How would I even survive out there? I can’t even imagine. Maybe. One day.
I was 25 when I finally quit my job. I didn’t really have a plan. But I bought a plane ticket. I didn’t realise what an important moment in my life that was. It was important because something was changing. I was actually doing something. I was actually going somewhere. And I was battle-ready, with a suitcase full of hand sanitiser and malaria medicine and anti-diarrhea pills. Invincible.
Life changed pretty quick after that. I mean, I’d travelled before, but I’d never really travelled before. I’d gone places with Mum and Dad and stayed in hotels and caught taxis everywhere. But I’d never met anyone. Never had a conversation with a local. Never been on a date. Never talked to the person next to me on the bus. Never been invited to someone’s house for dinner.
When those things started happening, my mind was blown. Over and over again. Every single day. I would lie in bed at night, questions burning through my skull. I couldn’t understand how the world was so big, how little I had known. How much I now had to see and learn. I really felt like Jim Carrey, in the Truman Show. I felt like I’d been living a lie my entire life.
Why was I always told these places were dangerous? Why was I always told they were unkind? Why did they try to keep me in one place my whole life? What were they trying to hide?
From that point on, for many years, I refused to go back home. I’d go back for one or two months, see the doctor, see the dentist, say hi to my Mum, and then I’d leave again. There was nothing for me to learn there. All the people did was watch rugby and go to the gym anyway. No thank you. I had discovered a new world, a new life, a new community. I had a mission now, and New Zealand had to be left behind.
For half a decade I continued my quest. Every day, I learned so much. My fellow travellers taught me different travel hacks and tips, they recounted stories of faraway and obscure places that I added to my ever-growing list. I met a new and interesting person every day. Each of them had lived such a different life to me and had such different values – it was like an endless philosophy lecture – and my perspectives were tested daily. It was a wild ride of different friendships, relationships, challenges and confrontations. One day I stared death in the face and wasn’t scared for a second; another day something as simple as buying a coconut at the market terrified me beyond belief. I discovered something new about myself every day.
Eventually I learned, that was the real journey. This wasn’t a journey around the world. It was a journey into oneself.
I traversed the world and learned to surf, to dance, to fight, to cook, languages, yoga, food, sports – all these new skills and experiences I had to absorb, from all over the world. I felt like a video game character – levelling up with every new challenge. I saw all the famous sights I could handle, and then some, the most magnificent places in the world.
But none of that changed me. Not to the core. They were just the dressing.
It was the people that held my hand through those experiences: The conversations we had, the way they lived, the things they taught me. Things they said – most likely just ordinary sentences to them – were profound and thought provoking for me. They made me contemplate who I was, and who I wanted to be. One smile from a child was enough to challenge a lifetime of beliefs. They say people don’t change, but it’s not true. People do change. I know, because I have. It just takes something powerful. You only have to hope it’s powerfully good, and it changes you for the better. The journey into oneself.
Today I look at travel, this good friend that has given me so much, and there are few burning desires left. Most of the things I had lusted for, I have gotten. Of course there are places I still want to go, things I want to see. But travel used to be mysterious, and it’s not anymore. I no longer sit there and wonder what it would be like to “see the world“. I’ve been lucky to enough to leave footprints on every continent, and if I died today, I would gladly write the dying words – “I travelled the world, and it was everything I thought it would be.”
Often I tell people: Life is short, chase your dreams.
But now I realise there’s an equally important question: What do you do when all your dreams come true?
That seems to be the mystery now. Who will be standing next to you at the end of it? Who will you share the memories with? What will you build for the people ahead of you? And what will you leave behind?
These are the questions I don’t have answers to.
Perhaps, that is the next chapter.
To all your adventures,