I joked before I left that one of my goals for this trip was to ‘find myself’. That exact phrase was said tongue wedged firmly in cheek because it has become such a cliché. I’ve also ‘been on a journey’ and ‘life’s a rollercoaster’, but seeing as I’m not coming out of the Big Brother House or celebrating an X-Factor win I’ll clarify: Not only was I chomping at the bit to explore the world but I also wanted to use this time explore my character, my likes and dislikes and my thoughts and feelings.
I think it’s fairly easy to fall into pack mentality with your group of friends and hold many of the same views. As a youngster I was fiercely opinionated and had no issue holding the opposing view to everyone else in the room and was happy to argue why. Even if my opinion wasn’t strong it became strong as I liked the debate. I’d play devil’s advocate just to explore people’s beliefs and my own. I like to think I’d retained some of that but in reality I know I’d mellowed, even to the point where I stopped holding strong opinions anymore – I became numb. My confidence was bashed about through various life scenarios and what emerged was a mediocre Johanna. I could nod and smile or express sadness but often I felt nothing at all. I felt like an actor in this life and some might say dead inside. I’ve learnt I’m pretty bloody good at dealing with crisis and fire fighting the shit things. But that’s just it, all my strength got used up on survival and there was nothing left.
So travelling not only meant being privileged enough to see and experience different cultures, landscapes and wildlife but also to understand myself a little better. Therefore travelling by myself was of the utmost importance. It’s the only way I could spend so much time in my thoughts and really see how I deal with situations good and bad without an external influence shaping those opinions (that and I would have silently murdered most companions after this amount of time).
So have I succeeded? Well I’m only just over 4 months in but I have started noticing a shift. I have conversations and I have information and anecdotes to add. I’ve become a participator again and not someone who makes up the numbers and nods in the right places.
I’ve learnt I love diving, learning this new skill has given me a gateway into a new world where time stands still and I am 100% immersed in the present, no projecting to the future and no dwelling on the past. It’s a hobby I plan to continue for the rest of my life. I also like cycling! This comes as a huge surprise to me as I stopped cycling aged about 10 straight after the massively stressful cycling proficiency test. Well I like mountain biking round China’s limestone peaks – I’m not sure how much I’ll like cycling on Reading’s roads. And now surfing too – I’m completely overwhelmed with the magnificence of the ocean and the thrill it gives me to be part of it and riding the waves.
I’m reading so much as I have so much more time to stick my head in a book. I look forward to long journeys as it’s unguilty reading time. I ask all the travellers I meet from around the world for recommendations and my kindle has a rather eclectic mix of titles now. It’s really helping me to understand what makes me tick.
I’m writing lots. I’ve always written but in my adult life mostly for work. I’ve been the voice of brands for so long I’d never really explored what my own voice sounded like. I’m getting there, it’s starting to come through and I’m enjoying it so much.
I’m able to get my art fix through photography. Although I’ve always enjoyed taking photos I’ve often taken a step back and let others go for it. Now I can take my time and sitting silently alone you get to see so much more. I’m also exploring galleries around the world and can’t wait to pick up a paintbrush again.
I’ve stopped feeling like quite so much of an inconvenience. I don’t think I’ll ever shake this entirely but it’s essential to get rid of these insecurities when you’re travelling or I’d never have spoken to anyone. People are inherently kind and pretty open to welcoming you into conversation I’ve found.
I’m exploring religion and my belief system. It’s always been fairly black and white to me as a God just hasn’t made sense, it’s not rational so I was a stubborn atheist. An atheist who’s surrendered to a higher power at times, is fascinated by Buddhism, spirituality and Wiccan. Okay maybe I was undecided after all. It’s a journey (cliche alert) I’m enjoying after speaking to many people of different cultures and seeing their rituals and worship. I have time to practise meditation and my mind is more open, sitting still is no longer so hard.
I’m keeping it simple. I get up and think what do I want to do today and where do I want to go. I’m not worrying about a million things and tossing my history over in my head. I’m learning to let go.
I’m surrounded by people with a shared love of travelling and people native to the countries I visit who have completely different outlooks on life – it’s nourishing.
I laugh and smile openly, it’s the first steps to communicating with people who don’t share the same language. It opens doorways and makes friends. I don’t hesitate when posing for photos – they don’t fill me with dread now. The photographer’s happiness is infectious and my posed smiles are now genuine.
Life on the road suits me. I was claustrophobic, agitated, discontented, battle-weary and possibly bored back home. I don’t have time to be bored now. That’s not to say I won’t ever settle down ever again but I’m hoping when I do I’ll have seen and learnt enough and achieve that illusive emotion ‘contentment’.
So where did all these changes take place? In the sea, Tibet, with the energy healer, maybe even detoxing. Probably a fair few on the epic bus and train journeys! Many from conversations and meeting so many inspirational people. My eyes are wide open now and I’m soaking everything up like a sponge.