This week, I was chatting with a friend about when we might be able to travel freely again. These discussions got me thinking back to when we could travel, and back to when I spent a great deal of time travelling.
In January 2018, I moved abroad to the UK to complete a year of my PhD as a visiting student at the University of Cambridge. During this time, I was also very lucky to be able to travel to many nearby countries across Europe. Often I would only visit for a weekend, but I really tried to make the most of the proximity to so many diverse cultures and countries.
Before moving abroad, I had only lived at home, so it was a huge change for me. I believe it has shaped a lot of who I am today. The experience taught me many lessons, most of which filled me with confidence and excitement, and others which hurt.
Here I share with you five of the lessons that I learnt from my time living abroad.
1. To fake it till I make it
Arriving in Cambridge knowing absolutely nobody, I felt it was important for me to try to make friends pretty soon after arriving.
The only way this was going to happen was simply by striking up a conversation with everyone I could: students in my college, people in town, and colleagues at the lab I was based.
I remember forcing myself to go to a college event alone on one of the first nights I arrived. I was so tempted to bail, but going ended up being one of the best decisions I made. I met and chatted with many people that became my close social circle in Cambridge. I actually think jet-lag worked in my favour here – I was wide-awake for the whole event, normally I’d be sleepy by 11pm!
Even though I felt like I would be awkward and come across as nervous, nobody else could see that. The success of this taught me that when I need to, I can step out of my comfort zone and fake a little extraversion!
2. To trust myself
Something I had always seen as a weakness of mine was my lack of confidence in my own decisions. I often feared making the wrong decision and catastrophised the potential consequences. I would seek full reassurance of my plans and ideas from others before proceeding with them.
Moving abroad on my own, as well as travelling on my own, meant there was no one else there to make sure everything went to plan – it was all on me! Doing this successfully, and thoroughly enjoying it, taught me independence and self-confidence. Even when things didn’t go to plan (like getting caught in a sleet storm on a bike trip without adequate clothing, or breaking my thumb in the college gates!) I could handle the consequences and learn from the experience.
I still sometimes struggle with indecision today, but living and travelling abroad taught me that I am perfectly capable of looking after myself and making the right choices for me – I just need to trust myself.
3. That less is more
Living overseas was actually what triggered my journey into minimalism. I was only able to take 30kg of luggage over with me – which at the time, was a challenge! I remember feeling like I had to be quite ruthless with my choices, and had to leave behind a lot of items that I intended to take with me.
However, once I got to the UK and started living out of my reduced wardrobe, I quickly became quite fond of having fewer items. It was easier to pick an outfit in the morning and far easier to keep my space tidy!
Of course, over the year I still accumulated some additional items, and once it came to start planning my return home, I knew I would be over the 30kg limit in luggage. I originally contemplated sending a box of items back prior, but after finding out it would cost about $150, I considered if it was worth it. Why would I pay money to keep items and clothing that I don’t even have a use for? I instead decided to donate many of my clothes, and gift many of my other items to students within my accommodation block. In the end, I went home with far less than 30kg of luggage!
Since my time overseas, I’ve continued to maintain a smaller wardrobe and fewer possessions, fully embracing the simplicity of a minimalist lifestyle.
4. To let go of things that aren’t meant to be
When you have been living abroad for a long amount of time, you can feel displaced when you return. It’s common to feel sad, disinterested and disillusioned with returning to your old life. In my case, I felt this two-fold. Not only had I left a place I loved, I also left a person I loved.
The relationship I found in the UK was my first proper love. Come time for me to return, I was keen to pursue things long-distance. He wasn’t, and ultimately thought that once I went home, it was the right decision to end things and remain friends instead.
This hurt deeply, and the first few months after returning home were very hard. All I wanted to do was return to the UK, and all I thought about were the ways I could return. However, week-by-week and month-by-month, with the help of family and friends, I began to feel okay again.
The experience taught me that there is really nothing gained from trying to hold on to someone who is not 100% in it, no matter how much you want them to be. Although our time together was good, it wasn’t meant to last, and that’s fine! A year later, I met my wonderful partner – someone who is more than willing to give 100%, and whom I can’t imagine a future without. I know it sounds super cheesy, but if you’re chasing something from somebody who just can’t give it to you, you might be shutting yourself off from those who will.
5. To appreciate the beauty of my own country
A quick one to end! I loved my time spent in the UK and travelling Europe. However, being away from the warm weather, beautiful bushland, white sands and clear beaches of Australia made me appreciate it so much more.
I can now recognise that although living in Australia means I can’t just jump in a plane and spend a weekend in Spain, there are so many gorgeous places worth exploring within this country, and I am truly privileged to live here.
Thanks for reading and I hope you are all having a wonderful day or night. If the pandemic never happened, where would you be travelling right now?