Clothes? Check! Camera? Check! Flip-flops and sunglasses? Check, check! Everything’s here…So why do I feel like something is missing?
I am a list maker. I enjoy writing down what I need to prepare, what to pack, and what needs to get done before the end of the day. And before I travel you should just see my room. It’s covered in check-lists and to-do’s!
But I believe that you can complete every task on your long lists of things to do, but one thing that you won’t be able to check off is feeling fully mentally and emotionally prepared to backpack or travel.
Now whether it’s your first time taking a road trip to California from the east coast or backpacking across the world, how do you really prepare your mind and spirit for that excursion?
The very first time I backpacked oversees on my own I did not even think about that aspect of preparing my mind and emotions. I knew it was going to be a lot of fun, but also I knew that there was going to be unknowns along the way. There were some facets of the adventure I didn’t mentally prepare myself for, which ended up affecting me emotionally.
1. Know the Unknown
I have met quite a few people from my hometown that have told me they could NEVER travel oversees because there are just too many unknown factors involved. “I hate that there is a communication barrier,” “What happens if I don’t like the people or the food?” and “What if the plane crashes!?”
Those are a few fears I have heard from people who don’t want to travel. Now I completely understand that those are issues that could happen (plane crashing being an extreme, but still an understandable element of travel). But there will always be a level of just not knowing what will happen when you step outside of your comfort zone. However, it can also be a beautiful thing as well! Some of my most favorite experiences and good friends have come from saying yes and traveling to that city or country. Taking a deep breath and overcoming the anxiety or fear of the What Ifs.
What had helped me mentally and emotionally prepare myself in that regard is turning the What Ifs and fears in a complete 180°. So if I start telling myself, “What if I feel all alone while I am traveling?” I turn it around and ask myself: “But what if I miss out on meeting amazing and loving people if I don’t go and instead stay home?”
I will be completely honest with you…one of my biggest mountains to overcome is the idea that something could happen or go wrong at home while I am away. I am afraid of someone getting sick, or dying while I am so far from family and friends. Or, while I am Skyping with my family when I am oversees I start feeling incredibly homesick. These emotions are unavoidable. It also is a good sign too because that means you love and care about the important things that matter to you back home.
Preparing your mind and really understanding that shit happens and life throws curve-balls is a critical point to understand. It’s realizing you really don’t have the power to control what happens in life, even if you are home and in the midst of it all.
And when it comes to feeling homesick, it is so good to remember that you will eventually be back home at some point-whether in two weeks or two months. There is a season for everything, and traveling is a beautiful season…but is a interim.
3. I’m Home, now what?
After I came home from my first backpack adventure, I walked off the plane into Detroit International Airport after a three month long trip and started to cry. I didn’t know why I was crying, but I couldn’t stop. I had gone from exploring exotic places and living a life of a nomad in Russia and Europe, to being back home in a smaller town in Michigan where Dairy Queen and going to the movies was the social place to be on the weekends. I had lived this experience that was so eye opening and that changed my life, and no one at home could relate.
As I had mentioned previously, there is a season for everything. Formulating the notion that life will be different when you return home. How you view things and people will change once you return from traveling. It’s good to know that every region has their own culture, and that doesn’t exclude where you grew up. I believe you can have culture shock when you arrive in a foreign country, but I also believe you can experience culture shock when you return home as well.
Preparing yourself for knowing that people probably won’t fully understand what you went through once you come home is healthy. But I do encourage you to surround yourself and find a community or a group of people (in person or via social media) that have traveled and can uplift and inspire when you are transitioning into the routine of being back in your place of residence.
It is also very healthy to process everything that you had gone through. Taking a couple days or even weeks and sorting through your thoughts and emotions. Embracing the happy, the sad, the beautiful and the longings. Writing your whole trip down on paper or online and how it all made you feel.
I know that everyone is different in how they go about preparing their hearts, souls and minds when it comes to traveling. I still have to remind myself that there is more than just packing when it comes to preparing for a trip.
And if you skip over everything I have said, at least remember these words of gold from one of my favorite quotes from Henry Rollins:
“I beg young people to travel. If you don’t have a passport, get one. Take a summer, get a backpack and go to Delhi, go to Saigon, go to Bangkok, go to Kenya. Have your mind blown, eat interesting food, dig some interesting people, have an adventure, be careful.
“Come back and you’re going to see your country differently, you’re going to see your president differently, no matter who it is. Music, culture, food, water. Your showers will become shorter. You’re going to get a sense of what globalization looks like.
“You’re going to see that global climate change is very real. And that for some people, their day consists of walking twelve miles for four buckets of water. And so there are lessons that you can’t get out of a book that are waiting for you at the other end of that flight.
“A lot of people — Americans and Europeans — come back and go, “Ohhhh.” And the lightbulb goes on.”