I used to think that travelling was what defined me.
When I was a teenager – and let’s be honest, way into my 20s – I thought that the things I liked defined me just as much as the person I was. I recently watched the first episode of the TV series High Fidelity, and there’s a scene where Rob (played by Zoe Kravitz) is having a conversation about musical tastes with a new romantic interest in her life.
“What a person likes is even more important than who they are,” they surmise.
Once a bit of a music geek myself, I used to think the same thing. I remember writing down a list of dating dealbreakers with a friend, and so many of them said things like, ‘They can’t like pop music,” and “They have to make amazing mix tapes”.
For a very long time, it was very important to me that others knew I had good taste, that the books I was reading made me seem smart, that the music I was listening to made me seem cool, that the food I was eating made me seem cultured.
And then I went travelling.
I had wanted to travel my entire life, for as long as I could remember. And after working full time alongside a full time bachelor’s degree, I had finally saved up enough – around $10,000 CAD – to spend a few months tripping around Europe.
It only took me a few days into that trip to realize that I wanted to do this for ever. It only took me a few days to realize that I wanted to see as much of the world as I could, to meet as many people as possible.
Over a lifetime? Sure, that’s a great goal to have. But in my mind, I wanted to see it all immediately. I wanted people to know that I’d been to Morocco, that I’d spent a summer backpacking, that I had been to more than 20 countries.
Forget wanting to have great musical taste, I wanted to be known as the one who travelled. That even if the people back home were starting lucrative careers or getting married, travelling was the thing that set me apart. And by the time I was in my mid-20s, now living abroad and travelling as often as possible, that was the first thing people said to me or about me: that I travelled all the time.
In time, travelling was not only my passion, it became my job. After living on savings in Edinburgh and then teaching English in Japan, I backpacked the world for two years. When I moved to London in 2013, I very quickly landed a job at a major travel company.
There, I edited their travel blog, pitched new SEO and PR travel ideas, and led lectures about working with travel bloggers. On top of that, they started sending me around Europe on campaigns.
This Battered Suitcase also started to pick up steam, and soon I was getting paid to travel to destinations around the world: Antigua and Barbuda, Italy, Japan, Denmark, Turkey. And when I wasn’t being paid to travel, I was travelling on my own dime any chance I got, to Bhutan and Portugal, Thailand and Botswana.
Travel was my whole world. But it was not just my passion, not just my job… it was my personality. Looking back, I see just how addicted I was to travelling, but also with the notion that I was a traveller above all else. Nothing else mattered much. It was the thing I wanted people to know about me more than anything.
When my UK visa expired and I moved back to Canada in 2018, I vowed to keep up with travelling. If you read old blog posts you can see I envisioned six months in Canada and six months abroad, with London continuing to be a major presence in my life. I told people I might move to Rwanda, Indonesia, Argentina. I planned months-long trips where I’d live out of a backpack and a laptop.
I felt the need to always keep going, always keep living up to that persona I had created. I was on a flight back to London within six weeks.
But there was no way I could continue to ignore just how unhappy I was, and unhealthy, too. I turned to food and alcohol to minimize the loneliness and anxiety my “dream life” had bestowed on me. So I cancelled one of those big trips. I cancelled my plans to live abroad again.
I remember being in a little Airbnb room when I came to this decision – my sixth or seventh in London in as many months – eating crackers in bed, hearing the jovial nightlife of a Saturday night outside my window.
I just wanted to go home. I just wanted to feel like I had a home.
Back in Winnipeg, I got a dog. And then I renovated my house. And then I discovered my love of the gym, and then connected with some amazing friends. I grew closer to my family. I started going to therapy to manage my anxiety.
And gradually, I felt like I had a personality that didn’t involve travelling. Gradually, I started to feel as though I belonged, without all of the worries about what people thought of me.
It was if I could finally allow myself to just be me, a person who lives in her hometown and likes to read and garden and make earrings and never ended up going back to London or Rwanda or Thailand after all (not yet, anyway). Travelling had made me feel that way, at first, but over the years, it started to feel more like an obsession than a love.
I started to feel like I was taking it for granted, not appreciating it with the same fervour I once had. I felt like I had forgotten just how privileged I was to be able to travel at all, so obsessive about where I was going next that I was starting to forget to acknowledge what was right in front of me. I feared that I was turning into the travel snob I never wanted to be, the condescending jerk who felt it was more important that people knew I went to Uganda than if I was a nice person or not.
Don’t get me wrong: I love travelling. I am forever grateful for the 12 years I spent travelling and living abroad. And it took me those 12 years to want to find a home; it wasn’t an overnight switch. Read any blog post from 2010 to 2013 on this blog, the years I was backpacking around the world, and you’ll see that settling down was the farthest thing on my mind. Read from 2014 to 2017 and you’d believe I had finally found my home in London.
That’s the beauty of life, isn’t it? That it changes, it shifts. WE change, we shift. Our new priorities can surprise us; it certainly surprises me that I value this life in one place so much.
The past three years in Canada have shown me there’s so much more to be than just a traveller; I’m a friend, a sister, a daughter, an aunt. I’m a writer, a homeowner, a dog owner, a gardener, a reader, a maker, a cook, a weightlifter. I get to lean into those roles, I get to be present in them.
It was a frightening thought at first: who am I without travel? I struggled knowing that I was disconnecting from my main passion – my ONLY passion – for over a decade. But this allowed me to focus on what I was connecting with, and what was making me feel healthier and happier than ever.
This has been exacerbated, of course, by the fact that travel was indeed impossible over the last year, making me connect even deeper to the other things in my life that bring joy.
Travelling still defines me, but it’s not the only thing anymore… I finally realized it was ok to see what else I could be, too. And even better? I finally don’t care if people don’t know that I used to travel a lot. Now I focus on the other things: being generous, being a good listener, being patient and kind.
Travel is just one side of me, just one part of the whole. It has been so liberating to realize that I can be all of these things, no longer pigeonholing myself into one role. As a reader recently commented on my Instagram (hi, Kirsta!), “Travel will always be a thread in my fabric, but it’s not the entire cloth.”
With that in mind, of course I still dream of adventure. I want to go back to Europe when it’s safe to do so, revisit where I lived in London and my favourite spots in Italy. I want to save up and travel to Antarctica, Madagascar, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan. I want to revisit the places I’ve loved so much over the years. I want to go to a beach resort and do nothing but read and drink cocktails.
I still want to see as much of the world as I can; it’s just that now, I’m OK with knowing it might not be until next year, or the year after that. I still dream of trying new-to-me meals in cities that teem with excitement. I still dream of climbing mountains across the world, of swimming in oceans on the other side of the globe. I still dream of shopping in markets for spices, for necklaces, for trinkets that will feel like treasure in my hands. I still dream of train rides through countrysides so beautiful I have to keep reminding myself that it’s real, that I’m here, that this exists and I exist in it.
My wanderlust remains steadfast, a flame that still flickers inside me. The other parts of me do not put the fire out; in fact, I believe they stoke it, make me appreciate it all the more.
Can you relate? Have you ever felt that travelling defined who you are?