… And other Failings and Frustrations of an Unhappy Expat.
Sometimes, the reality of travel doesn’t quite live up to the romantic vision you once had of your nomadic self.
It’s not all glitz and glamour in revolving restaurants, fun and frolics in the sea or peace and tranquillity in the forest. Opening your mind. Discovering yourself. What if you don’t like who you discover? What if your mind is so open you can’t shut it down? What if the big wide world is so incredible that you can’t be happy with the simple pleasures of home anymore? It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the fantasy of what travelling should be and the effects it should have on you.
A lot of people expect to develop a new personality, the one that belongs to that happy hippy you see in every travel photo, ever. You know that girl, with her floaty dress, perfect skin and Rapunzel hair, a flawless braid along one side of her nauseatingly carefree head, dancing along the shoreline of an empty beach, laughing at something hilarious an empty clam shell just said. But we can’t all eat, pray and love with such perfection – Screw you Julia Roberts.
I take it back, I didn’t mean it, I love you Julia.
It’s a common misconception that travel makes you happy, but the truth is travel, usually, makes you wiser. And wisdom does not necessarily equal happiness.
Please don’t misunderstand my point, I am not discouraging your epic adventures, travel is absolutely worth every cent you’ll scrape together for it, nobody can deny that. But it pays to be aware that it won’t solve your every sorrow. An obvious statement? Maybe. But some of us (me) have made this dangerous assumption in the past and managed to kid ourselves that a break from the norm will change the world as we know it.
Unhappiness stemming from travel might not necessarily be a bad thing. Unhappiness can represent a fork in the road: you can either take the ignorance is bliss approach and try and sweep the true cause of your unhappiness under the rug, hoping it magically dissipates, or you can use it as a motivational fuel; a reason to try and change the things that cause those bluer than blue days.
Occasionally I find myself clinging to this dream – the girl from the photo – but it’s not realistic to expect your entire life to change because you’ve studied your reflection in a still lake or gazed into a flaming orange sunset. These are both beautiful things to experience, and I can’t deny, sometimes those perfect views drape a blanket of hippiesque freedom over me momentarily, but that other version of you that you’re looking for in lakes and sunsets is actually right there where it was all along, (prepare yourself for the cheesy cliché) – it’s inside you.
… Let’s try not to make that last sentence any creepier than it already sounds and move on…
The world is a damned dangerous place, it’s full of war and famine and scary people and places, but the most dangerous and damaging obstacle you will face is your own mind. If you want to live a pie in the sky existence while on the road, the one thing you’ll need to leave in the airport is expectations.
Expectations will fuck you up.
Act Positively, Plan Negatively and Expect Nothing!
One day I might learn to live my life by this philosophy, I won’t pretend I’ve mastered it yet, but I can tell you that the small amount I’ve learned so far has helped me to take steps towards understanding what I need to do to find that truly happy self. And the answer is… drum roll please…
Accept reality. As It Is.
Easier said than done. But if you can’t adjust your situation, then you need to adjust the way you perceive it.
I spent a little time in Africa, meeting people who lived a simple life. The experience was humbling. I saw how happy the children there were to kick a ball around in a playground and convert a rusty bucket and an old stick into a drum kit. No phones blasting the latest Beyonce or ridiculing Kanye West for whatever awe inspiring idiocy he’s inflicting on the world this week (because really dude, just wow… and that’s not a compliment), no compulsive facebooking to remind the world around them that they have feelings too. Kids enjoying what they have and not wanting for more. Africa not only met, but exceeded my expectations. That was fortunate for me, it was exactly the ‘find myself’ type of experience I intended it to be.
After spending time with the Maasai and Saan Bushmen tribes in Africa, Australia was a little bit of a culture shock. Friendship cliques too strong to penetrate in the city made that first summer a tough and lonely one, but despite my perceived misery, I was hooked. I had to have another year there. So I shifted North from Perth, to work on a cattle station near Broome for a few months, to qualify for a second visa. The work was hard, the days were long and I had some bizarre misconception that if I batted the same fly off my eyelashes enough times it might realise the error of its ways and leave me in peace… but no such luck, you can’t train a fly. Don’t try. Despite these little frustrations, I fell in love! No phone signal, no contact with the world, hard work and a daily meal and drink enjoyed with a small community of other people who understood how hard the day had been. The skies are higher in Broome for sure. Australia took a really long time to come close to the aforementioned expectations, but when I finally realised that it wasn’t quite what I had envisioned and adjusted my idea of perfection, it became, momentarily, perfect.
Now I find myself in a city again, this time Auckland, New Zealand. I’m experiencing the same loneliness as I did in the early days of Australia, but this time leaving the city is not an option due to work commitments. It’s not glamorous, it’s not exciting. But it is a choice I made.
My biggest obstacle in settling in here has been not only expectations, but comparisons. I had an expectation that NZ would be very similar to Australia just a little colder… Nope. They’re nothing alike! I spent my first few months here comparing everything I did and everywhere I went to the things I’ve seen and done in a totally different country, expecting it to match up. But that’s like eating steak for dinner on Monday and then a salad for lunch on Tuesday and expecting the salad to be the same as the steak. They’re two completely different meals and maybe if you’d had the salad first you could have appreciated it more, but you just keep thinking about how juicy that steak was and now you can’t possibly enjoy a salad… well, that’s ridiculous isn’t it? It’s a different day and a different meal. Are you saying you can never enjoy food ever again because that steak was so good that all other food is a disappointment?
The salad is bloody lovely too.
Eat your fucking salad!
It’s good for you.
Travel is addictive and my greatest love and passion is to be on the road, meeting new people and seeing beautiful places, but I would be a fool to think that this lifestyle doesn’t come with its share of hard graft and down time. Life is all about balance after all!
I’m not sure what my next move is going to be. I know I have a vague plan for the rest of this year, but I haven’t been very good at sticking to the plan so far, so I guess I’ll just leave it up to time and money to decide what happens next.
What I do know, is that whatever I do next, I absolutely have to train my brain to enjoy life for exactly what it is, because what it is, is what I chose for it to be. Because nothing is forever. Which means that the bad things won’t last, so don’t waste your energy on sadness. But it also means that the good things won’t last, so enjoy them while you can and don’t get too attached to them, because tomorrow, it might just be salad for lunch, and you should learn to enjoy every bite of that too – just encase all Wednesday has to offer is a cup of concrete.
I’ll leave you with a link to another blog which was part of my inspiration for this one, and a picture of one of those girls… Yeah… HER. Pfft.
For all of my expat friends, near and far, keep smiling, you are doing something most people can only dream of.