Sink or swim – what to do when your travel circumstances change

This article was created for The Travel Project by Emma O'Neill, a travel storyteller.

The year 2013 changed my life, or at least the way I look at life.

Having studied for the past 3 years and graduated from my university course, I was all set for a comfortable life, working 9-5 in a graduate job, making a living doing something I, surely, really wanted… But something inside nudged at me. ‘You can’t settle,’ it said, ‘not yet.’ I couldn’t shake it.  I had money in the bank. I talked two friends into coming with me. And just like that, I took the leap – and booked.

The next year would be spent travelling Australia.

A list of famous and exciting tourist attractions fuelled our trip, initially, and the three of us had a brilliant time. However, circumstances and different personal preferences meant that soon I found myself travelling solo, feeling petrified and totally out of my comfort zone. But strangely enough, it is this part of my trip which I frequently look back on with the greatest fondness, having given me some of my most cherished memories to date.

Speaking to people who (gasp) I didn’t already know was an entirely unexpected and, if I’m honest, unwelcome situation.  It was one I would never have encountered had I stayed at home, but it pushed me to find a courage in myself I didn’t know I had.  I made friends with 2 French girls who talked with such enthusiasm I couldn’t help but smile, an Estonian guy I can only liken to an adult Mowgli (from the Jungle book), and a Canadian Tarzan.  My decision to travel and the seemingly awful predicament I found myself in resulted in me becoming part of the most wonderfully weird and exciting mixture of people, and for that I am grateful.

Together, in a tiny farm village completely off my original map of tourist destinations, we embarked on many little adventures. We swam in rivers, we climbed mountains (or at least what felt to me like mountains!) and we did so much camping – who knew I could pitch a tent?!

I discovered traits and skills in myself which I didn’t know existed.

I was much more outdoorsy than I thought, and became much more of a morning person than I ever thought I could be.  I found myself feeling thankful for the challenges my trip had presented me with.  Things hadn’t gone according to plan, I had been forced out of my comfort zone in many different ways, but I had coped. I had more than coped. I had adapted and grown and completely surprised myself. And I was proud.

Looking back, that time in my life gave me such a confidence in myself.  I came home feeling like I can handle anything, and still feel that way.  I think the general consensus around travel is that it is easy, simple and offers an almost dream-like life with no complications.  But for me, it wasn’t easy. At times it was challenging and uncomfortable.

However, being pushed out of my comfort zone actually brought out the best in me. My travel experience encouraged me not to fear change, but to embrace it, even to seek it. 

And now when I go to work to my 9-5 job, a job many feel content and comfortable in, I feel restless.  Something inside me niggles and nudges. ‘You can’t settle,’ it says, ‘not yet.

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