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Words Can’t Explain a Life-Changing Travel Experience

by Globetrooper Lauren | 28 Responses

Legs numb, rheumatism approaching, and back indented by the inner springs of the upright seat on the $15 Sydney-Canberra bus. I mentally wave at my mum’s house as we pass by. I’m bursting to tell her about my culture-shocking trip to Mt Kilimanjaro and Egypt. She lives only 10 minutes north of the city, the city that tourists accidentally drive past because it’s so small.

‘Just ask the bus driver to drop you off’ my mum says so casually, as if Canberra isn’t the conservative, almost regimented small town that my brother and I grew up in.

Canberra is the capital of Australia; a compromise between the much larger cities of Sydney and Melbourne. It’s a city that always sleeps. It lacks a quintessential Australian beach and it’s abnormal to know someone in a non-governmental role. The only thing going for it is its proximity to the ski slopes. And as much as I love the snow, it wasn’t enough to keep me there. I now call the more famous and boisterous city of Sydney my home.

Parliament House Canberra

Canberra Parliament House at night

The bus rounds into the downtown Jolimont Centre. I can see mum easily in the crowd. She’s the Amazonian woman (tall, like me) politely jostling the other waiting loved ones to get to the front. I plant my cheek and hand onto the icy glass, but why bother? It’s dark and she needs glasses anyway, but I guess I’m a teensy bit excited to see her too.

Spotting me as I hop down the stairs, I see her familiar smile that perfectly suits her freckled face. With a bear-hug ready she checks me up and down, afraid that I’d come back from Africa missing an apendage.

Waiting back at the house is my big burly brother, his stunner of a girlfriend, and their 18-month old rascal, my blonde, blue-eyed nephew, Fred. I can’t wait to show them all the photos of my trip. Photos I’ve just spent days cropping, adjusting, illuminating, contrasting, labelling, editing, organising and powerpointing, all for this occasion.

Hiking Mt Kilimanjaro

Hiking Mt Kilimanjaro

But these typically Canberran roads are taking forever… looping around everywhere. I’m sure Canberra holds the title for the number of round-a-bouts per square kilometer, if there is such a record.

Finally, we screech into my mum’s remote-controlled garage. Kisses all around, and my favourite home-made pumpkin soup goes into the microwave. My brother and I cackle in sync as my mum frets about her precious pup, ‘No Freddie, Scooter’s tail is attached. He’s going to nip you one of these days and it’ll be all MY fault!’

After replenishing my thirst for my mum’s cooking, it’s time for me to play Toastmaster. But where do I start? My latest trip abroad has changed the way I think about so many things: about my life, about others’ lives, about the entire world. I now yearn to go back, to go somewhere else, to experience more, to understand more.

How do I explain that I now have a different purpose? A purpose that doesn’t include reality television and office politics. A purpose that … well, I’m not even sure what it actually is. My trip was so much more than a walk up a big mountain and a sail down a big river. It was a truly life-changing adventure, but my slideshow of photos just doesn’t show it.

This post is my third article for the MatadorU Travel Writing Program.

Posted in Australia,, Tanzania | September 6th, 2010

28 Responses to Words Can’t Explain a Life-Changing Travel Experience

  1. Nice post! I totally know that feeling when everything morphs after traveling… and it grows every time I come home from a trip. I’ll put up pictures for people to look at and discuss the most basic or interesting details of my trip, but I don’t want to go beyond that with most people. One of the great things about travel writing is that it’s a good way to reach out to those who might understand that feeling!

    • Thanks Ekua. I’m really enjoying travel writing (here on the blog) because those who want to follow along my journey, will. And those who don’t have the time, then I can show them a few pics when I see them next.

  2. I completely understand where you are coming from. Traveling opens the soul more than words can express and personally, I believe, it is our duty to share this gift with the world–to teach and inspire others to do the same and learn more about themselves! I travel and write/video my work from the music perspective and each time, I’m amazed at what our beautiful earth and it’s people have to teach me! I’ll be traveling to Jordan next month and cannot wait for my next lesson! ;-) Congratulations to you!

    • Definitely agree with you there about how travelling opens the soul more than words can express. I hope to inspire just one other person to travel and see what’s out there for themselves. Can’t wait to read/watch your travels to Jordan!

  3. Lauren, your post sent goose bumps spreading from my toes right up to my nose. You are a fantastic writer, and have inspired me as a person who views travelling as holidaying; a mind numbing relaxing break where I get to leave behind the work rat race, I face every weekday morning. I love adventure too don’t get me wrong but it’s just not the driven element that makes me start to plan a trip. One of my fondest memories of travelling was hiring a quad and zooming around Koh Samui Thailand. I was nervous and excited but eager to explore. We had a wonderful day and found many breathtaking magical sights and met a lot of interesting intriguing and inspiring people who enjoyed telling their stories to “2 young white kids”.
    When Tim and I arrived back to our hotel at sunset, our heads filled with ideas how we would make this our lives.
    As our holiday was drawing to a close the ideas, motivation and excitement were also leaving as work slowly clouded over our thoughts, we left Koh Samui relaxed and excited to share our adventures with friends but the buzz of moving their slowly drifted away with reality setting in.
    Ps I’m not a Canberra hater I actually really enjoying living here but holidays are a necessity to get through the year!!
    We are so proud of you and love you so much for following your dreams making to what seems and feels like the impossible to most people possible.
    Love Hollie x x x x x x

    • Nawww thanks precious Hollie (aka future sister in law – for everyone else reading this)
      That means a lot, thanks so much for reading.
      I’m not really a Canberra hater, but I’m certainly not a lover of it.
      We’ve got fleeting plans of living in Thailand too, as well as Vietnam. Maybe you can come meet up with us for a holiday and realise a life there is not so impossible :)

  4. Not only is it difficult to find words to express how travel might have changed you, it’s so hard for anyone who was not on that journey with you to drum up the same enthusiasm for it that you have. I find I always pull out a sound bite when people ask me about my trips and save the gushing for my blog, because at least I know the people reading my blog “get” travel and want to hear all about it, whereas most of the time, I think my friends and family just want to hear “It was fun, I had a great time.”

    • Exactly Gray. And I think those who want to know more about your trip, will go to the effort to read your blog.

  5. Lauren,

    This post resonates very much with personal experience, once you have that life-changing travel experience it’s hard to settle for what you’ve known your whole life. As a result, my wife and I have started what we consider a life project (a surf school in Costa Rica) with another couple, our goal being to facilitate those life-changing experiences for our guests. We touched on this point in our latest blog post

    • Thanks for your comment gibran. It’s empowering to know of others who have followed their dreams for a different experience.

  6. Nice reflection! I feel the same way. I just got back from three months of travel away from home and it’s funny how your life can be so different in a short amount of time. Aspects to home are hard to understand when you have had all of these life changing moments so far away.

    • Agreed, even the little things at home -you can have such a strong opposite feeling to than before you left.

  7. I agree Lauren that travelling is a life changing experience that is really difficult to put exactly into words, but travellers know what you mean. It stretches you out of your normal routine and cultural comfort zones as well as educating you about the world and people. I think it also gives you a perspective on home and relationships that is hard to get if you dont leave them and travel away from them.
    I received some of the most beautiful letters from my parents when I was away as a young person – things they might not have said to me if I was there but were said because being away gives you time to think differently and to appreciate what its like to be loved both closely and from far away – I still have those letters (aerogrammes they were called) cause we didnt have skype and even telephoning was very expensive so the written word was the main form of communication.
    Travelling in the end also gave me a deeper appreciation of Australia and the culture of australians – I loved coming home to what I knew and the easy goingness of most people here after spending a lot of time away.
    So glad that you are having a great time and expanding your view of the world – its a great education!
    love mum

    • Thanks ma, even after just 3 months away, I have a better appreciation for Australia. And a lot of people that I meet who’ve been to Australia have seen more of the country than I have!

  8. That’s why I started my travel blog, because it’s simply impossible to really express just how much your life has changed with each trip.

  9. That’s a tough one! It can be truly challenging to explain what you experienced on a trip, whether long or short, to people who weren’t there with you. Some of it can be so hard to put into words. But like Andi said, a blog is a great way to try to articulate your feelings!

  10. Love this post Lauren. Well, life changing experiences are intangible, and intangible things are hard to explain… you just feel them, and believe them. I’ve come to terms with the fact that no matter how much I express or recount those experiences I had while traveling, most people will not truly understand them. But still, I enjoy them and grow internally with them. I’m sure it has happened to all of us.

    • I agree, sometimes I think it’s just my lack of story-telling abilities though… You know those people who just capture you when they’re talking about something they’ve done in the past? Even if the underlying story isn’t that compelling, it’s just the way that they tell it or engage you? I’d love to have those skills… hopefully they come with age :)

      • I know, there are people that can vividly talk about a place and make you drool by just listening to them. How I wish to have those super abilities too. That’s how I know I’m not good at telling jokes! lol But hopefully age will help us getting better at it. :)

  11. What a beautiful story. Your adventures are exciting. Love reading this entry.

  12. Totally agree. My six-month trip to India in 2005-06 has completely changed me — as you can tell by a quick glance at my blog,!

    I recently started an e-newsletter called Travel That Changes You (name says it all!). Will you be willing to write about how travel has changed you for the newsletter? I would love to profile you.



    • Hi Mariellen, thanks for thinking of me for your newsletter. I’ll email you.

  13. Totally agree. I had lived all my growing-up life in Delhi and little did I realise that there was a bigger world within India outside my comfort zone. Thats when I started traveling, my little daughter tagging along. Its really been a life changing experience, outside the petty world of office politics and peer pressure and wondering why we end up benchmarking ourselves against others. Its a journey with the self and those lone moments that makes each travel a powerful emotion. Besides that its knowing the world and dealing with the different worlds within this one world called earth. Its about unseen cultural boundaries which make the real boundaries seem meaningless. Its about breaking these barriers and seeing the world as one of you and you one with them. Much like the buddha said – we are all different waves of the rivers, flowing and merging into one big ocean

    • Thanks for sharing Shipli, I’m sure your daughter will have a very open mind growing up with different cultures all around her.

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