How I Learnt to Grow Up and Appreciate Travel

My parents must be confused. I was a grumpy little whatsit when I was younger on our holidays. And now I keep a travel blog (and pretty obsessive about it). We went on cruises every year since I was 10 years old (until about 18) and my biggest interest for a long time was making friends on the ship to hang out with. It wouldn’t be uncommon to want to go back to the ship earlier rather than wander about and take in more of the sights.

I am now a changed woman. Obviously you’d hope I would have a different outlook on life from 10-year-old-me, but I was awfully naive about the wonderful places I was seeing. And I’m here today to say “Bad Kirsten. I’m not even angry, I’m just disappointed”. There.

But then again, maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, because weren’t we all a little grumpy? Especially as teenagers – the slamming of doors, dreading going to school sometimes, and harsh words exchanged with parents. Oh, hormones. When you’re young, generally you have an enclosed view of life. I don’t know about you, but I was far too concerned with the friends I made and whether I was “cool”. And half of the time I was trying to hide my “geeky side” so I didn’t get embarrassed and laughed at (believe me, that was tough).

I’ve realised since that that can create a smokescreen, covering what you really love because in following the crowd, you don’t give yourself the opportunity to get to know your lovely self.

Loving life at Niagara Falls

Loving life at Niagara Falls

Without getting too deep, this relates to my love of travel. I see a lot of travel bloggers saying they always loved travel and took every opportunity to do it, and whereas I have always loved travel, it took me a while to have a true understanding relationship with it. It wasn’t until I went to Australia in 2009 (when I was 17) that the magnitude of travel began to hit me. How it can change you and how it’s something larger than life.

I remember being in a minibus back to our campsite in Uluru National Park after a long, hot, fly-infested day of exploration. Not being able to keep my eyes off the window, I looked up and caught my breath when I saw how many stars there were. They circled around, like encasing us in an alcove, but it reminded me that I was on a spherical world, and that world is big. It took those stars for me to think, “We’re so small. The little issues in my life are nothing compared to this“.

That was the time I promised myself I would study abroad and live in Australia – which I did in 2012. But that time inbetween? I was still a bit naive, I still cared about the “cool” factor you seek when you start university. I hadn’t known that what I felt in Australia wasn’t just Australia, but travel. I didn’t realise I could get out there and repeat that feeling over and over again.

Example #1:

When I was 18, I went on a road trip with my parents to France. It was grey weather in the Loire Valley, and I didn’t appreciate it too much. Only when we got to the sunny beach in Cannes did I have a fixed smile on my face. Nowadays, I would think the weather was unfortunate but still explore every magical Château and vineyard. I had quite a few moments where I was completely thrilled by things – like when we went to Champagne and had a Champagne tasting, communicating with the woman in charge in very broken French – and I wish I let that part of me shine through more.

I will also note here that at 18, it wasn’t the best choice to go on a road trip with my parents. I love them, but a road trip is an intense experience – they don’t necessarily follow my views of what makes a good travel companion. So this sadly contributed a bit to Grumpy Kirsten.

Example #2:

When I was 16, I went on what I called a “Cold Cruise” – said in a bitter tone as in proper immature fashion, I wanted somewhere hot. I had an enviable tan to achieve for school. But this cruise went to Iceland, Greenland and Norway. How cool is that?! If we fast forward to maybe a year ago, I was flicking through my mum’s cruise brochure, and I spotted a stunning picture of a ship drifting through a Fjord. I said to my mum, “That’s amazing! Look at it! I’d love to go there”. My mum looked slightly perplexed and amused: “We have”, she said simply. I gave my 16 year old self a slap on the wrist. How could I not take in such a view? How could I not have pictures of Geirangerfjord plastered over my wall, or as my Facebook cover photo?

Again, as a side point, although I kept up the disgust at going on a “Cold Cruise”, there are some things that even then I found mesmerising: the icebergs in Greenland, the Great Geysir in Iceland, the mirror-like reflections of the mountains in Norwegian lakes. It was all so beautiful, and it is still one of the most unique trips I’ve ever been on.

Look at me! See how grumpy I look! Oh, the shame. (Daddy Powley, however, is lost in thought and wonder)

My point is though, that just like your relationship with yourself, your relationship with travel is a growing one. For some people, they did take a lot of opportunities – many more than I did – to travel inbetween years at university. I’m talking backpacking, or interrailing through Europe for weeks or months, not a holiday here and there. Even though I really do believe that’s completely fine too, but how often do we ever get the chance to have four or five months off in one go?! In hindsight, it’s a no-brainer: have a job at university, save some money, and just go.

Again, why didn’t I do this? I didn’t want a job at university because I wanted to be around to make friends. I had a severe case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). How many of those friends do I keep in touch with now? A handful. And half of those I actually made in third year when I did have a job. I met them through my job.

Don’t have FOMO – you might be missing out somewhere else in the world.

Regardless of this, I don’t think my love and appreciation for travel now is any less than someone who did go interrailing or backpacked South America inbetween university years or equivalent. They certainly made better use of their time, but I’m a strong believer that it’s what you get out of your experiences travelling rather than ticking off what you’ve done. I gloss over when I read or hear that yet another person has been to 50 countries (saying it in a boastful way, that is). It’s all well and good, but I honestly couldn’t care less. I want to know where you’ve been, what you saw and how it impacted you. What did you learn? Did you change your opinion about something? Or even, do you just have a fun fact for me that stuck with you? If I can feel your excitement, feel what you felt, that’s what makes travelling worthwhile to me.

A much more mature view on the 10-15 year old me!

It was in 2012, at age 20, when I flew alone for the first time for 22 hours to Australia; lived on the other side of the world not knowing a single other person; managed to make some of the best friends I have; come back to England and struggle with everything being very different (including myself) and survive (I use that term loosely) it all that finally did make me grow the hell up. I found my independence, and doing something by myself made me focus on who I really was – every little bit of geekiness embraced (there’s a lot of it). And I was relieved. I felt a weight off my shoulders, knowing I could just be me and feel comfortable in that. If anyone didn’t like it? Screw ’em.

That’s why I try to write about the personal aspects of travel on this blog as well as destinations. Learning to appreciate it in your own way, a way that means something to you is sort of a journey in itself. When you drop all pretences – like those that we build up as kids – and just revel in what’s around you, it’s a freeing feeling. I love travel, I definitely always have, but it took me some time to truly appreciate it. It’s taken me a while to accept that. But I’m with you now, World!

Have you had a growing appreciation of travel? Are you a bit embarrassed of your younger self like me (please say yes!)?

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