“A mind stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Mollie Bylett
I’ve been reflecting on our time in Washington DC in preparation for sharing these, our final photos from a holiday that is now more than two months in the past. In fact, I’ve been reflecting on travel in general, and just how important has been for me. We are all a product of our environment. But our environment can be a narrow, cloistered place, particularly if we choose to spend most of our lives close to home. And the more I travel, the more clearly I see just how much I don’t want that – if I must be a product of my environment, then the whole world should be my environment.
This isn’t really about our trip to Washington DC at all. Travel is less about the destination, and more about the experiences you live there.
There are very few things that I regret in my life – aside, perhaps, from my foray into coloured tights in my early twenties, which was nothing if not regrettable. But I regret that I didn’t take time off between high school and university to travel. At the time, I didn’t know that was something I wanted. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, either, but it never occurred to me that I could – never mind that I should – deviate from the traditional path of high school, university, career. Afterwards, I went straight from university into a corporate job. I did it without a pause to consider what I actually wanted. (Although I did travel for about three months in my mid-twenties, I kept my job when I did it. My desk awaited me when I got back.)
It wasn’t until my late twenties that I realised, to my horror, that if I didn’t make a change, the rest of my life would look exactly the way my life looked right then. The prospect terrified me. I finally took the gap year that most people take at eighteen when I was twenty-eight. For three-hundred and sixty-five days, I paused. I reflected. Rather than accruing hours of work experience, I experienced life. I learned more about myself and what I want from life in that one year in Paris than I had in all the years of life leading up to that point.
“I feel like it’s travel that’s really opened you up,” my dear friend V told me recently. And she was absolutely right. The day we met, on a kind of blogger blind date, in 2011, I waited outside the restaurant hoping to see someone I was meeting pass, too nervous to be the first one inside – particularly if it turned out no one came. That’s who I was back then. These days, I would have walked into the restaurant without hesitation and ordered myself a glass of wine. If no one came, I would have ordered a second glass, anyway. That’s not what you’re “supposed to” do. And before I knew myself and what I wanted, before Paris, I clung to “supposed to” because, in the absence of a good understanding of myself, it was all I could hold onto.
It isn’t easy to come home after a decade away. I knew it wouldn’t be. My homecoming forces me, over and over, to confront other people’s perceptions of me based on the version of me they knew more than ten years ago. It forces me to confront my nineteen-year-old self and all the mistakes she made; all the times she chose not to speak up for herself, to sublimate her own emotions and opinions for the sake of keeping the peace. Because it was easier. Because she hadn’t yet found the words to express herself. And because, of course, it was what she was “supposed to do.” It forces me to recognise and acknowledge the small, anxious people pleaser I might have become if I’d stayed.
“To the girl I was then: – I forgive you.”
I understand why people mistake me for the girl I used to be. We look the same, although I have a few more fine lines around my eyes now. But travel took that girl and convinced her of just how capably she could take care of herself. It exposed her to ways of doing things she never considered and made her think critically about everything, from basics like how best to shop for groceries to bigger questions like where she fit into the world. It taught her what classrooms and books never could. Mostly, it convinced her of just how much she still doesn’t – and likely will never – know. But it also convinced her that there is nothing more worthwhile than the pursuit of as much discovery as possible.
Ten years ago, I couldn’t stay in Winnipeg. Five years ago, I couldn’t come home. I can be here now – and be happy here in a way that I never was before precisely because I left. I think it’s so important to give yourself the space you need to grow. Leave home. Travel. For a year. For a week. Even for a day, if that’s all the time available to you. Get away from who you are – it’s the only way to figure out who you want to be.
I still wish I’d had the courage to consider a gap year after high school. But the path I’ve taken to get to where I am is mine. I own it. I forgive my nineteen-year-old self for all the chances she wasn’t yet ready to take. But I will never stop talking about the transformative power of travel. After all, seeing the world didn’t just change my life – it changed me.
#uniqlo #asos #jonak #gucci