Contiki helped me re-discover who I really am

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This article was created for The Travel Project by Juanita Hack, a 22 year old from Tasmania who travelled overseas for the first time in January 2017, and is currently studying a graduate certificate in Autism Studies.

Have you ever woken up in the morning and been upset that a new day had begun? Have you ever shut yourself away, ignored phone calls from your closest friends or cancelled a dinner plan, simply because you didn’t want to talk to anyone?

Have you ever sat on your bed and realised that you had no idea who you were anymore?

In early 2016, I was diagnosed with depression and put on anti-depressants. I was at rock bottom, and even though I never asked for it, I desperately needed help. I would become irrationally angry over the smallest of things and I spent many nights silently crying in my bedroom, hugging my pillow for comfort. I was a broken person and I was ashamed of who I was.

Over the course of the year, I finally started to feel better about myself, and I started feeling somewhat like a ‘normal’ twenty-one year old again. It was a slow process and it took many months and many setbacks. I would laugh when required, I began accepting some invitations to go out with friends and I started to look forward to things, such as my graduation and my overseas holiday. But I still couldn’t tell you who I was.

I was desperate to find myself, to discover who I really was, but I had no idea how to do it.

In January 2017, I embarked on my first overseas trip, a 21 day Contiki Tour through Europe. The night before I started my Contiki, I was a nervous wreck. Why had I been so stupid as to book a trip where I would have to interact with fifty odd strangers? I was barely even able to talk to my friends and family, let alone a group of strangers. If I’d had the financial means to cancel the trip and tour the continent just with my travel buddy, I would have. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the funds at that point, and was forced to stick with the decision that I’d made. I felt sick to my stomach and I barely slept that night.


However, doing a Contiki was the best thing I could have done, and the most rewarding thing about the trip was that it allowed me to discover who I truly was. While everyone was boarding the bus, it didn’t take me long to realise that I could be whoever I wanted to be when I was on tour. The thing about strangers is that they don’t know about your past.

These people didn’t know that I spent most of my high school years with my head in a book. They wouldn’t know that the past year had been hell on Earth for me. I could be the person I truly wanted to be whilst I was away. 

When I had my first conversation of the trip, I found it surprisingly easy to be myself. I will never forget talking to my friend from New Zealand, because he made me realise that I can still talk to people my own age, and I can laugh without feeling like I am only doing it because it is what is expected of me. It felt amazing.

Juanita at table on contiki

The best moments to realise how special and valuable life can be are when you stand, isolated and with friends, on top of the world. It is one of the most freeing moments you can have in your life. For me, this moment came on the fourth day, when I was standing on top of one of the greatest summits in the world: The Swiss Alps in Lucerne.

I was taking in the most beautiful scene I had ever seen in my life and suddenly, what I had been through didn’t matter anymore.

Standing on top of Mount Rigi, I realised that these mountains don’t care about my past or my mistakes. All that mattered while I was standing on that mountain was that I was there and that was a pretty spectacular thing, given everything that went on last year. I nearly gave up many times last year, and yet here I was, breathing in the fresh air of Switzerland. When I realised this, I could virtually feel the weight of the stress on my shoulders falling off. I was free and nothing, not even the opinions of people at home, could stop me from being who I was born to be. Suddenly, and in that moment, I knew that I was going to be okay.

Juanita in switzerland on contiki

International travel gives you a perspective on life that you can never get at home. Because I have travelled with people who I once classed as strangers, I have discovered I am more than just that ‘smart’ girl at school. I am not the shy, quiet girl who will agree to everything because she is scared of offending people. I am not the girl who is scared to relinquish control. I am not the girl who sits in her bedroom and waits for life to get better.

I am kind and I am sarcastic. I like to sing and dance (even though I can’t do either,) and I am a good writer. I value learning about the past and I enjoy learning about the people I spend my time with. I am the girl who will grab every new experience with both hands and run with it.
Juanita with friends on contiki

Because I have travelled with a group of strangers, I have come to realise that even though not everyone likes me, people like me better for who I truly am, rather than who I pretend to be. Because of my Contiki tour, I re-discovered myself, and that is worth more than anything that money can buy.

Has travel helped you to learn something new about yourself, or discover yourself again? Share you stories with us here and you could see your work published on six-two…


  • Sumaya Paruk

    Kudos for being so sincere. Really inspired! 🙂