Why escaping the country in your summer break won’t fix your problems
There was a moment in the last two weeks where, by some good fortune and a lot of hard work, I found myself leaning over a wrought iron balcony in the heart of wet but bustling Havana.
Heady on rum, I watched vegetable vendors roam the old alleyways, women rushing to bring in the laundry hanging outside their dilapidated casas, and a taxi driver fiddling on his Blackberry while cruising in a vintage pistachio Pontiac. As he splashed some indignant tourists, a sudden thought of “what the hell am I doing with my life” threatened to ruin the rose-tinted scene below. I took a deep breath, two swigs, and continued observing.
It wasn’t until I was halfway into my 36-hour journey home that the panic set in. While one of the most exciting aspects of travel is the unique ways you learn to perceive and appreciate life’s moments, going home often feels like a step back from your newfound Zen.
I frustratingly realised I was right back in the claustrophobic space I wanted escape from - all shiny insight be damned.
I hadn’t even been home a week when I frustratingly realised I was right back in the claustrophobic space I wanted escape from - all shiny insight be damned.
I was irritated and disappointed by how easily I’d slipped right into a dissatisfying work, study, party routine, and forgotten things I (ironically) remembered when I was away, like patience, humility and interacting with actual humans instead of their usernames. It dawned upon me that it wasn’t the first time I was feeling like this; that this post-travel slump happened last year after Ubud, the year before that after Kathmandu, and before that, post-Delhi.
I also started to feel like I hadn’t made the best of invaluable opportunities to learn more about the world because I’d planned the trips out of a desire to check out from my seemingly shitty life.
Don’t get me wrong: my travels were far from write-offs, and they contribute greatly to who I am today. However I suppressed any chance of real introspection because I worried that mulling over my stagnant career and precarious relationships would be a downer - which was a mistake.
Plan your next adventure, but recognise that no matter where in the world you end up, you’re still you.
I think it’s important to be honest about where you’re at in your life and the issues that plague you. Most recently I decided to go to Cuba because I had quit work, needed a break from the folks around me, and felt restless sitting at home. Also because an easing political climate meant the gifts of capitalism weren’t far behind.
My restlessness stemmed from the internal and external pressures placed on myself to achieve the goals I thought I’d have nailed by now - whether that was finishing uni, finding an interesting job that also paid the bills, or saving money for future adulting. I now know that I’m better off acknowledging that trying to meet these expectations is what makes being at home difficult, instead of biding my time ‘til my next short-term fix of escape.
Perhaps being constantly aware of these aspects of my life can add depth to future travels and help untangle some of the knots. Going away to the opposite end of the earth doesn’t vanquish your problems, but what it does do is let you breathe. The blinds are removed, and all of a sudden you’re able to see the bigger picture. Sometimes it takes sobbing at the Taj Mahal to realise you’re afraid of mediocrity, or feeling anxious in front of the Caribbean Sea to understand you have a need to be part of something outside of yourself. You’re able to explore what you’re feeling without fear of judgement and can consider changes you can make for a better quality of life.
So by all means plan your next adventure, but recognise that no matter where in the world you end up, you’re still you.
Meghna Bali is a final year Bachelor of Communication student at Western Sydney University. She's also highly enthusiastic about chai, poetry and ruining movies for everyone.