Another thoughtful guest post for slow travel week! This one is from my friend Amanda.
Travel has been part of my life since I was nine years old, when my parents packed us up for a six-month motorhome trip around Europe. Thanks to Australia’s long service leave provisions, my dad could take six months off work and still get paid, so off we went. It was a low-budget trip with lots of simple meals and days spent playing in local parks, following the principles of slow travel long before anyone started to describe it that way.
To say that the travel bug bit me on that trip would be an understatement, and so much of my life—and let’s be honest, my money—has been spent on travel ever since. In my teens and early twenties, I couldn’t really explain my desire to travel more, I just knew I wanted to do it.
I grew up in Perth, Western Australia, which is a gorgeous city but is known to many as the most isolated city in the world. Even the next significant city is close to a two-day drive away. It’s improved a lot thanks to the internet age, but Perth in the past really lagged behind the rest of the world and it felt stifling growing up here; most people from my age group have moved away at least for a few years. Some come back; others never do.
It wasn’t until I finally left Perth, after several failed attempts, and moved to teach English in Japan at the age of 25, that I finally began to understand why I wanted to travel. When I’m travelling, I really and truly feel alive. Leaving behind the humdrum of daily home life and exploring cultural differences, meeting people who speak different languages, and taking in amazing landscapes and enticing cities—all of this gives me so much energy and inspiration.
But even more than making me feel properly alive, travelling has changed me and taught me so much. Most of my core values are thoughts I developed from my experiences living and travelling throughout Asia and Europe. Empathy for others—especially others who have a different background to me—is something I learnt when I had to understand why my Japanese friends were so worried about making a mistake speaking English; acknowledging and accepting different viewpoints was something I understood after chatting many times with friends in Slovakia about how their life had been different under socialism and capitalism.
Travelling also taught me confidence and the quiet ability to know that everything will work out okay, eventually. When I left Australia, I’d been suffering from bouts of severe anxiety since my late teens, and I had phobias of driving on highways, of flying, of being in elevators. But removing myself from the place where it all started, and opening myself up to these new experiences of the world, changed everything. I lived in buildings where I could only reach my apartment in an elevator, and doing that every day dissolved that phobia. I loved so much to see new countries, and flying was often the only way, so I kept doing it until I didn’t have a panic attack on take off. I still don’t love driving on highways, but I pushed myself enough that I managed to pass my German driving licence test, including a stint on the Autobahn.
I could go on, but suffice to say, when I think about what makes up my personality and outlook on the world, I know that all of it has been influenced oh-so-heavily by my travels.
And now I have a seven-year-old son and I’m back in Perth. It’s such a big responsibility, trying to shape the way a small human being thinks, but I’m trying to use what influence I have as effectively as possible. So far, I’ve raised him to love to travel, and to not really see differences but to see the similarities that we all have, because after all, we are all human. When he plays with his Lego, or his cars and trucks and planes, so often his games turn into experiences on a world-wide scale—his Lego car is driving some Lego guys to the airport to fly to Iceland and see the puffins; his trucks are carrying sumo wrestlers and taiko drums and sushi stands for a festival in Japan. It warms my heart.
As a single parent, I don’t have a huge budget, and remember, we live in Perth, the most isolated city on the planet. But travel is important, and I find ways to take my son travelling as often as possible—usually abroad once or twice a year, at least. It changes him every time.
Just before our most recent trip, to Malaysia and Singapore, he’d been getting stressed in school and was emotionally pretty worn down. By the first night of our trip, it was like a huge weight had lifted off him, and he was back being a happy-go-lucky seven-year-old. He brought that feeling back from our trip, and I saw him run so confidently into school, restored by the same inspirational feeling that travel gives me, too.
My son hasn’t even yet reached the age I was when I first travelled, and he’s been to a dozen different countries and experienced so many varied cultures and people. When I look at how much travelling has impacted my life, and to think that at his age, none of that had started, I feel proud that I’m able to give him these amazing lessons that are shaping his personality and thinking. And I look forward to travelling with him to many more places, and watching both of us continue to grow through travel.