I Went Backpacking Abroad For Over Two Months. Here Are Some Lessons I Learned.

By Sara McGlothlin

Article has been updated below. Original post published on saramcglothlin.com in 2017

In the summer of 2017, my husband and I spent two and a half months abroad backpacking from one European city to the next. So much has changed since. Blame it on Covid quarantine or having a baby, but I have been reflecting on that trip a lot lately. I can feel an itch to travel again, but at the same time I feel so rooted in my routine. It’s almost as if there is this pull to move but I look down and my feet are stuck.

I re-read the post I published after returning home for some semblance of the person I was after that experience. The energy that slowly enveloped my being during those two and a half months has dulled. It’s still there, but it is more like a distant flicker than a bright light. Deep down I know it is simply a mindset. Not only that, but it is my mindset. All I have to do is re-embrace it. So that is what I am slowly and surely trying to tap back into. Reading over these lessons was a good reminder.

I have been wanting to put into words for a while now what the trip meant to me, however it’s hard to express. As cliche as it sounds, I guess you could say I “found myself.” Prior to traveling, I had no idea what that meant, and I’ll admit, every time I heard it, I probably responded with an inner eye-roll. But I’ve realized that to discover your true self is one of the greatest gifts. Also know that you don’t have to spend 75 days overseas to do it. 

Those who know me may be surprised to hear that to take this trip was just as much as my decision as it was my husband’s. Sure, he planted the seed with his love of travel and adventurous nature, but the idea felt right once we got everything in motion. I had always thought of myself as a creature-of-habit, having a need for routine which in turn made me an anxious traveler. I now know that was simply a story (see #1).

Looking back, I believe the trip – as drastic a decision as it was – was what I needed in order to connect to my true self. Living in the same town in which I grew up, I wouldn’t have been able to clear the clutter and the noise otherwise. That expectation of who I have always been (and should be) might have always existed f I hadn’t separated myself from my surrounding. As many people would agree, I am not the same person I was in high school, or even three years ago for that matter. Therefore, I needed to literally leave the place that was keeping me rooted in old ways of thinking. Here are some of the other things I learned:

Many of the things I tell myself aren’t true. 

My mind is always racing, and now I know that the majority of those thoughts aren’t true. These are what I call “stories,” and we all have them. Every time an anxiety arose (as they constantly did), I would have to bring my mind back to the present moment and reassure myself that everything was fine. I would soon recenter into a calmer mindset. Much of these thoughts pertained to missed trains, foreign languages and getting lost, but it’s the inner-dialogue in our daily lives that can be the most detrimental. Once you learn to notice these thoughts, question their truth and shed the stories, you discover what’s real. 

Wellness is ever-evolving. 

I used to think self-care was all about eating right and exercise: adhering to a diet free of inflammatory foods and “working out” at least five times per week. I had to basically leave my normal routine at home. Not only did I survive, I thrived without it! Now my sense of wellness has much more to do with creating space mentally. Sitting down and savoring meals. Moving in ways that feel good. Stressing less. Sleeping more.  

We need a lot less than we think we do. 

I laugh at the thought of labeling myself a minimalist before. We spent 75 days with nothing but the bags on our backs, and I (ironically) felt so much lighter. Returning home, I realized how much clutter we were keeping in our house. We have since made a point to try and create more space, donate what we don’t need, and minimize the junk.  

Being busy is over-glorified and overrated. 

Americans work too hard. Ask someone how they are doing and you’re likely to hear: “Good! Really busy.” I’m just as guilty of it, but since when did being busy become such a badge of honor? Europeans definitely enjoy a slower pace of life, and they feel no shame about it. (Bottle of) wine with lunch? Sure! You only live once. Make it a two-hour lunch and invite the whole neighborhood to join. It was so refreshing to see! It made me realize what life is really about: relationships, connection, and savoring the meaningful moments. I’ve put so much pressure on myself in the past to zoom from one task to the next, and while my work and what I do is so important to me, there is a way to be more mindful in our daily lives. 

Relationships and connection with others are what truly matters. 

I’m an introvert by nature and love my alone time, but I came home craving connection! I have never spent that much time away from friends and family. Since being back, I have tried to be better at balancing my “me time,” with spending time with others. 

We are supposed to grow and evolve. I

t’s in our nature. We are expansive beings. It’s going to look differently for everyone, but I believe it’s always about finding a deeper connection with your true self. 

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