I have up to 1000 words to say something that can, essentially, be said in just four: Africa changed my life.
At 25 I can cautiously tell you that since the age of 13, depression has been a major part of my life. It’s not something I usually shout from the rooftops because whilst I’m not ashamed to talk about it, it makes people feel uncomfortable. Realistically, however, we have all been through dark times where the light at the end of the tunnel was broken; it’s just taken me a little while longer to replace the bulb.
I started travelling in 2010, when at aged 23, I explored Asia backpacking around Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and Bali for three months solo; it was both my first time backpacking and my first solo experience but was marred by the fact I had a miscarriage just six weeks before I left. I could have stayed at home but I got on the plane. I was your stereotypical 20-something girl running away from the ‘real world’. I was in a job I didn’t love, lived in a place full of painful memories and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life; I was experiencing a ‘quarterlife crisis’ on top of depression with no idea how to help myself through it; then I found travel.
Just weeks after returning home from Asia with the wanderlust severely awakened in me, I booked my next adventure; 6 weeks over-landing through 7 countries in Africa starting in South Africa and ending in Kenya with Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania in between and in August 2011 I went, experiencing the most emotionally exhausting yet rewarding journey I have ever taken.
Travelling is like being in a hall of mirrors; whatever direction you look in or route you take, you can’t escape yourself or your emotional baggage (the baggage usually being one of the reasons you went travelling in the first place). Within days of setting off, with hours to think on the truck each day, I began to face it all, questioning everything from my personality to all the things I had been through in life; I had six weeks of self-therapy and I’d be lying if I said it was easy. Insomnia crept in, tears were shed and I wanted nothing more than to be alone but at least I was working through it all.
As the journey moved on, I continued to experience things out of my comfort zone. I was camping for the whole six weeks (when I’d never camped a day in my life before), ate things I couldn’t pronounce (I’m an eat first, ask what it is later kind of girl) and spent my days happily getting dirty when it meant seeing animals so close.
Seeing my first herd of elephants at the watering hole in the middle of the starry Namibian night was breath-taking and when I flew in a microlight over Victoria Falls I understood what the explorer David Livingstone meant when he said that ‘scenes so lovely must be gazed upon by angels in their flight’; silent tears rolled down my cheeks as my heart felt the awe my eyes could see.
Over those six weeks I did everything from game drives and sunset cruises to dangling my feet over Victoria Falls and hot air ballooning over the Serengeti. Yet it was driving through the dusty, village-lined roads in Malawi where I had my ‘life epiphany’; the thing that every traveller seeks to find; themselves. As we drove passed church after church I realised that whilst I don’t believe in God, I do believe in the Universe and the Universe had got me to this point.
I finally accepted everything I had ever been through; all the bad decisions, the tears and the times where I was too scared to live. At aged 25 I realised I knew who I was for the first time in my life and I felt complete. I knew my weaknesses, I knew my strengths and, most importantly, I finally knew what I wanted to do in life; to travel and to write.
I spent those six weeks pushing myself physically and emotionally and the pay off was bigger than I could ever have imagined; Africa changed my life because I found myself.
You see, it’s not about where you travel to or how much you ‘rough it’ it’s the experiences that help you discover yourself. One day you’re crying tears of joy and the next, tears of frustration. It’s pushing yourself to discover more about who you are. Can I really fly across Victoria Falls in a microlight? Am I sure I can cope with six weeks of camping when I’ve never done it before? No, I’m not sure but I found out I can because I pushed myself to discover my boundaries. If I didn’t try and work through my baggage, I never would have realised who I was and if you never try then you’ve already failed.
When you don’t feel strong, you are. When you don’t think you can do it, you can. And when do you don’t think you will be happy; you will. Travel is medicine for the soul, you just have to find the right dose.
This is an ongoing series of inspiring stories from intrepid travellers around the world. If you have an experience in travel that changed your life, made you look at the world differently or an amazing moment that you want to share, please contact us for more details and we will email you right back.. You can also read more about submitting an article to this series at Calling All Writers, Share your Inspirational Travel StoryRead More Inspirational Stories
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