My life has become something that I wouldn’t have believed 6 months ago: I am a seasoned traveller! No, I may not have walked the wall of China, or been to a Full Moon Party, but I have booked flights for my road trip across North America, and I write this onboard a flight to LAS VEGAS for the weekend.
The joys of being 21 never get old. I always used to find it annoying when people would ask me on my birthday “how does it feel to be a year older?” because of course, being 14 feels exactly the same as being 13. But 21 is different. It’s more than just an age, it’s an opportunity. Yes, it is the beginning of a long, sometimes boring, and more responsible adult life, but it gives me the mark of freedom to do exactly what I want to (within reason of course).
I sound like a child I know, but the reality has just hit me. This is a level of maturity I have reached where I feel responsible for myself, and capable of taking on the world. Okay, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know – it’s a well known fact that you can drink and gamble in America, as well as do many other sins all over the world but this feeling is more than just the realisation of that. This feeling is a new enlightenment and step towards a more confident, free human being.
By no means am I trying to say that my life up until this point has been anything less than free, but I’m finding it difficult to describe it any other way. This is what a year abroad is all about: this moment. Those of you considering taking some time to yourself and going on an adventure, the only advice I can give is DO IT! It is so easy to stay in your comfort zone and live the easy life: doing what will please your family and your friends, or whatever you should be doing for you “career”. Pfft! Sometimes you just have to take yourself away for a bit, the true friends (and of course your family) will always come back to you.
A part of me always knew this, but only because that’s what my gut thought, and it’s what I’d read about and heard about from others. But really you can only find this out by DOING IT. They (referring to the rowdy engineering society here) love to make a mockery of Shia LaBoeuf by screaming “Just DO it!!” at every other unsuspecting person, and I can’t help but think of this as I write this evening. I don’t need to tell you any more than that.
However, it’s worth mentioning the inevitable “downs” that come with everything good. I haven’t written for the last few months because I felt that my mood would come through, whether I wanted it to or not. It’s not a bad mood, it’s just an average mood, an indifferent mood, one that questions everything about yourself and your situation. It’s realistic that a whole year isn’t going to be 100% fantastic 100% of the time, and nothing you do beforehand will be able to prevent that.
The only thing you can do is create a support network with the people you meet as soon as you can, and make sure you Skype, call or visit those people that never fail to put a smile on your face regularly. Once a week should do. It’s true that you bond with people through the tough times, and weathering through with those people that you may have only known a short time is a fail safe way to turn them into lifelong friends.
You know this from university already: Who would you and your friends be if you hadn’t had them to moan to about the amount of potatoes in college food, or muddle through exam season with?! The problems may change: you may be struggling with missing Marks & Spencers, or getting annoyed at the one girl who insists on copying your accent every time you speak, but the idea is the same.
Top tips for travelling:
- Do it at every opportunity and worry about money later. Obviously I’m not saying pop champagne bottles on weekend trips away and eat oysters for every meal, but live simply, spend within reason, and you will be surprised how cheaply you can have a great time.
- Book ahead of time and use student websites to find good value accommodation and travel options. Sometimes it’s better to spend a little bit more for 5 hours less waiting in a cold bus terminal. (Or spending a night roughing it in an airport – 0/10 do not recommend)
- Do your research! Spend time scouring TripAdvisor and other review websites to work out the best budget things to do, and the best local places to go.
- Don’t worry about who you’re going with. Don’t wait for anyone! You do what you want to do, and people will sure jump on the bandwagon! Just make it sound amazing when you explain it to them!
- Talk to the locals! Ask questions to find out about the local areas and where to go which might not necessarily be written in every Lonely Planet.
- Don’t be afraid to wander around a new city to find nice places – don’t rely on Google maps, in fact try to remember routes so that you can come back again and not have to look at your phone once. There is something liberating in that.
- Be old-school. Print out your itineraries and maps and use those – sometimes technology fails us.
- Take risks. By this I mean go out on school nights. Go for a drink with your new friends when you want to, and spend time with people you don’t know that well. You won’t learn if you stay in your comfort zone. Just don’t be dangerous. Obviously.
- Know your limits. If you need some time off, take some time off! Duh!
- Say yes! Usually when you’re unsure whether you want to do something, you probably will enjoy it. But don’t lie to yourself, don’t go along with something you know you aren’t comfortable with.
Apologies for the ramble, and hope I haven’t been too “gap yah”. Before I left I worried that I’d leave all my friends behind and wouldn’t be able to bear missing out on all the events in Durham that make the city so great: DUCFS, Champagne Soc. Balls, nights out with Monk, Paradise Disco (RIP). But really, a lot of the time, you won’t be that fussed. Fly home if you really want to, and there’s always next year…