I'm struggling lately. I'm not afraid to admit it. On the face of things, I have my shit together, I'm one of the most together people I know most of the time. Always sure of myself, always knowing my next step and what I want out of life. But these past few weeks, I've just found myself questioning everything. I don't know what set it off, perhaps it was the exhaustion of the post-festival comedown and working over 50 hours a week that has left me an emotional mess, perhaps it's just a mid-twenties crisis. But let's be honest, sometimes all it takes is the news of how everyone else is progressing around you - in their relationships, careers, travels and lives - to make you really question everything you are doing and have achieved. I'm not one to compare myself to others, I know I've chosen a very different path to most people, but it's easy to look at that without a heavy dose of perspective and think you're not doing as well as you should be.
I said in a previous post how I was struggling to find the words to put on the page and I was taking a short break from writing until I regained my mojo. But it was only the last few days when it suddenly hit me that perhaps the reason I had lost my mojo was because I wasn't writing as much. Spending so much time focusing on work, the gym, friends and enjoying Melbourne meant one of my biggest passions was pushed to the wayside and I was left with no real outlet for all those thoughts that swirl around in the back of my head. As a creative individual it's easy to not realise the huge impact that has on you as a person, the challenge of being a creative is always finding new, and more satisfying ways to express yourself. But if that mode of expression is taken away, all that creative energy can just eat you up inside. I can see it even now as my fingers fly across the keyboard, just how much I have missed writing and sharing every facet of my life with you wonderful people.So what sparked this huge realisation? Well, last week at work (I'm working at a rooftop bar in Melbourne CBD) I had a visitor - a lovely girl who had travelled all the way from Germany, apparently a huge fan of this blog, and just had to meet me in person on her last night in the city. I can't even begin to tell you what this meant to me, I've had a few real down days these last few weeks so to know that someone appreciated me and my work so much was an incredible boost. It hasn't automatically fixed everything, but it has brought me back to writing and it has made me realise my priorities. I love exploring the world around me and living life to the max - I will always be a workaholic who struggles to maintain a work/life balance that doesn't push my body to extreme exhaustion. But I also need to give myself time to reflect and enjoy, to appreciate the amazing experiences I have had rather than always surging ahead towards the next.
But, am I doing okay?
It's the question we all ask ourselves all the time, whether we say it out loud or we let it eat us up inside as more friends announce new homes, huge career progression, engagements, marriage and babies. It's so hard not to judge yourself by the standards of others, and it's so easy to forget your own individual huge achievements that others just can't compete with. Now several years down the line, I know that giving up my nine-year relationship to travel the world solo and build a freelance journalism and travel blogging career was the best decision I have ever made in my life. But I still can't help but compare it to friends who have done the opposite and gave up everything for the one they love - putting aside their career and life plans. Likewise, giving up my working life at a newspaper was something that was long-overdue but going freelance and travelling long-term has also thrown me back into a life of temporary hospitality and casual work. I can't help but both love the freedom and easiness of it while hating the transiency and the lack of progression. There is no future in it and it sometimes makes me crave the excitement of seizing career opportunities.I mean, technically I'm doing amazingly. I'm in a great job, earning good money, I'm complete independent, the fittest and physically happiest I've been for a long time. I have a great apartment, incredible friends and family on every side of the globe, and plans for the future. But right now, something just isn't sitting right with me, I can't put my finger on it but whether my life is missing something or I'm in need of something different, I know that something has to change. I'm not one of these people who mopes around and complains about the way things are, I prefer to be a little proactive and make things better. Being a solo traveller, you have to be willing to get off your arse and to do things for yourself instead of waiting for someone else to make you happy. I like to apply that attitude to every aspect of my life and so I always get impatient with myself when I'm having a few down days - I'm not a wallower, I'm a problem solver. So my next mission is getting myself out of this funk and finding my new happy, the change that will help me regain what I feel like I've lost lately.
So, how do I do this?
Well my first changes were pretty instantaneous, I cut a few toxic people out of my life in the last few weeks, people who were't bringing anything positive into my world. I came back to writing, determined to let it heal me and to find my way back to this blogging world. I took some time for me, I went treated my body well and allowed it to recover, I indulged in my passions without stressing about doing things for other people. I planned a much-needed escape to nature with amazing friends and I refused to feel guilty for putting myself first. It hasn't changed my world yet, but it has eased my mood and has given me hope for the upcoming weeks. Now all we can do is watch and wait.
Are you struggling at the moment - how do you cope with these feelings? Have you got any tips for getting back on track?
Some friendships break at the first sign of trouble - perhaps a boy gets in the way, or the distance becomes too great, or it's just not as easy peasy when you're not in the same class at school together. What it comes down to is often laziness when your lives start taking you in opposite directions, a shame, but often it is the best way to cut down your friends to the ones who really deserve to be on your Christmas card list. I'm talking about the ones who will pick you up in the middle of the night when it all goes wrong, who will sit out with you until the sun comes out talking about life and setting the world to rights. Those soulmates that you know you just can't live without, whose voices appear at the end of the telephone line at the slightest sniff of trouble and scream with excitement at any tiny piece of good news. They're the ones you want around and they're the ones who stick by you even when you make a life changing decision to jet off across the globe without any idea of when you will return.
I won't lie to you, it's not easy to maintain friendships and relationships over Skype and Whatsapp, many just won't make it. But the world we live in makes it easier than ever to keep in touch and there really isn't any excuse for not showing the people you love how you feel. Often I find friendships like these fall into one of two categories - there's the ones you speak to all the time, whether it's just a like or comment on a picture on Facebook, a long old chat on Whatsapp, or FaceTiming once a week to update each other on all the gossip. Then there's the friendships that seem untouched by time, the people you don't speak to for weeks, even months on end and yet you know that you could call on them any time of day for help, or even just a chat. Both types are just as important and I know my best friends fit into both of these categories and all of them are just as important to me while I'm out here, as I hope I am to them. When it comes to family, there's nothing more important than letting them know you are safe and well, and for you to know the same about them. Trust me, if you've ever had drama while travelling or felt unsafe at any point, you'll know the first thing you want to do is call home.
So how can you keep these friendships and relationships alive?
Compromise is key
They have to understand you are travelling and that you won't always have good wifi or the time to be on the end of the phone or message 24/7, just like you have to understand that life at home goes on without you and that family and friends have lives and jobs too. Try and organise a time that suits both of you to Skype or message, that way everyone is happy.
Sometimes you just need to talk to the other person even though it's the middle of the night, sometimes you're upset or things have gone wrong, or you're just plain homesick. Other times, your best mate's cat might have died, or his girlfriend dumped him - perhaps they need to talk. Or there could be a family crisis that doesn't fit in with your free time for skyping. Be flexible and open to talking when it doesn't suit, it might be necessary.
If something the other person has said or done has annoyed you, just come out with it. You know how they always say married couples shouldn't go to bed on an argument? Well it's the same principle even when you're thousands of miles apart. Often they don't even know you're annoyed but just saying it out loud can ease the problem.
Make the effort
There's no debating - relationships are built on the effort you make and the time and love you put into them, if you can't be bothered to call and catch up or to listen to their problems every now and again then you can't expect them to return the favour. Friendship and family are a two way thing, let down your end and you can't be sure the other end will still work.
Don't forget the small gestures
Sometimes it can just take a thoughtful tweet or Facebook message to make a person's day, things like wishing them a "Happy World Elephant Day" because you know it will make them smile. Or sending them a message to say how proud of them you are for passing an exam or coping with something big by themselves - remember to do the small things.
Don't go changing
Travel has a huge impact on your life and you can't deny it changes your priorities, but don't let it change who you are as a person. Remember the people who were with you from the start and don't forget to value them even when you're swept up in meeting new people and making new friends.
Have you lost touch with friends at home? What's your preferred way of keeping in contact with friends and family? Do you prefer to message all the time or save it for a big catch up?
I had a pretty intense chat with a friend recently, he was going through a bit of a tough time and had lost his travelling way for a little while. It happens to us all when we get settled in one place for too long - we get antsy, frustrated, feel the need to escape but don't know where to turn next which can leave some people feeling pretty alone. I know because I went through the same thing at around the same time - it's the trouble with having a travelling soul, you're always looking for the next adventure. Most of the time that's amazing, but if that feeling hits you when you're stuck working somewhere and have to wait to leave, it can be a killer to your mood. After several people I was really close with left Darwin to start their next adventure, I was pretty down and sick of life there - don't get me wrong, the city had been an amazing home for me for three months and is full of memories for me. But it was the longest I had spent in one place since starting travelling - while that was just what I needed to start with, it soon became suffocating as more and more people left. I know my friend felt much the same, he was struggling to see why he was still there because he too had never planned to stay as long - he had just fallen in love with the place and the people, as had I.
At the time, I found our conversation hard to hear and talk about, but now - since moving on, it keeps coming flooding back to me and I can't help but remember one phrase in particular. "When you're travelling, you're never alone, but you're always lonely." The way my friend came out with that really surprised me, he's the life and soul of the party and everyone loves him so much, he always puts in every effort and will do anything for his friends. But it just shows you that even the ones who are the centre of so many people's worlds can be lonely and struggle sometimes. I could totally understand what he was talking about after speaking to another close friend who said: "You form these intense and beautiful bonds with people, but you never really have a lasting connection with those around you because people always leave." I couldn't put it anymore perfectly myself - I've felt this so many times when I've met people and fallen in love with their character, personality and soul. I've fallen head over heels for the moments we've shared and the things we've experienced together. Then just days or even hours later, we part ways and sometimes never see each other again.It's a hard thing to adapt to and I think that's why me and my friend were feeling down - we were both so used to being the people who leave and go on to something more exciting to distract us from the sadness of what we have left behind. This time, we were some of the last ones of our gang there and we felt the pain and the loss of every single bright spark who made our time in Darwin as special as it was. I totally understand where my friends were coming from but I can't help but disagree about the part after people leaving - it can feel like that at times when you're constantly moving from place to place and don't get a chance to spend more than a few days together. But there have also been so many times where I have seen it proven how amazingly travellers can come together to create a family that cares for each other no matter what. I saw it when I was in the crash in Cambodia and friends who were scattered across Asia and beyond went out of their way to check I was okay and to even come and look after me until they were happy I was safe enough for them to move on. I saw it in Darwin when something awful happened to a friend of mine and the whole gang rallied around, they did so much by just being there and it just showed how close we all were after just days of knowing each other. I know that I could call on so many of my travelling friends day or night, if every I were in trouble, or just needed a chat, they would be there.
It's been nearly four months but I still speak to friends I met on the East Coast on a regular basis and am even making plans to be reunited with some of them soon. It's been nine months since I met one of my most special gangs back in Thailand and I still speak to them every few weeks and even FaceTime despite us all being scattered around the globe now. It's an amazing feeling to know you have so many connections across the world and is easily one of my favourite things about travelling - these friendships are so special and I treasure them so much. This morning I woke up to around 30 messages from old and new friends and it really showed me that even when I'm working in the middle of nowhere, these friends don't just forget you. Yes, there are lonely times when travelling - but they're also the times that really shape you as a person and teach you the important life skill of being on your own and actually enjoying it. There is no light without dark, and as much as there are times when you will feel completely alone, there are times when you will be overrun with people and friendships that will last a lifetime. The important thing is to recognise in other travellers what point they are at in their own journey - be kind and be what others need you to be. When we're on the road it is more important than ever to look after each other and to support each other - don't leave anyone lonely, don't push anyone away. We all need a little family sometimes. The sights are important, but it's the people that make the real memories.
Have you struggled with feeling alone while travelling? Have you found that perfect travelling gang of friends? Do you manage to stay in contact with other travellers along the way?