By Darren – I used to hate travelling. I never understood why people would actively choose to leave the familiar comfort of their own homes and venture into the unknown, punctuated by endless hours of bus rides and air travel surrounded by people they barely knew. Why travel to some far off place to look at some temples or outdated monuments when you can just as easily afford the latest gaming console and have endless hours of immersive fun playing video games?
Even as I boarded the plane to London Heathrow in late 2013 for a university study exchange programme in the UK, I held the same view.
You see, at that time, I had just gotten out of what one might call a messy, long-distance relationship. We were apart when it began and we were apart when it ended. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it just happened. Returning home from classes everyday, and walking into my room was akin to staring into a timeless abyss of gray memories.
So, one day, on impulse, I bought myself a one way train ride to Manchester, then on to York. They may not be the cities people typically shout about on a first-time visit to the UK, but they did wonders for me. Experiencing travel on my lonesome for the very first time, amidst a period of personal uncertainty with my heart hungry for healing, this trip proved to be an important turning point in my life.
The Journey Begins
For one, travelling by myself was the first step towards reclaiming what I had lost. Not the partner or the relationship, but the piece of myself I had neglected. As I spent more time investing in the relationship, the less I invested in myself. Those of us who’ve been through turbulent relationships can testify that we sometimes pretend to be someone we’re not simply to keep a fragile connection from falling apart.
When I made the decision to travel on my own, I was very aware that the only companion I would have was my backpack. To enjoy this trip, I had to rely on myself and enjoy my own company. Easier said than done considering I’d been dead set on spending the rest of my life with a specific person. I was barely 21, go figure.
So I arrived in Manchester. And got completely lost within the first 10 minutes of exiting Manchester Piccadilly Station. The short 5 minute walk to my hostel turned into a mini-marathon in chilly weather. Surprisingly, amid all the confusion and chaotic map reading, my spirits remained high.
I realised that I was actually doing it. I was out there on my own, on an adventure of sorts)., It was pretty darn exciting! I smiled as I finally made it to my accommodation.
Throughout the 4 days I spent in Manchester (and later, York), I gradually eased into the bliss of being by myself. It’s easy to become addicted to someone else’s company, but it’s just as easy to learn to be comfortable with one’s own self when travelling. Having reconciled with my own presence, I confronted the second stage of healing: freedom.
The girl and I had both been awfully, habitually attached to the relationship. Every day became a routine of waking up, getting to class, coming home and Skyping. And our conversations always lasted for hours. So when the relationship inevitably melted down, I suddenly found myself with this huge, vacant space of time. I had no idea what to do with that time. Binge-watching Running Man can only do so much.
My trip to Manchester and York was the perfect remedy.
I had so much free time to myself that I wondered if I really had to fill every minute with organized plans? I started altering my travel itineraries and schedules, designing it to fit exactly what I want to do when I want to do it.
At one point, I spent a whole hour walking I (I kid you not) from my hostel to Old Trafford (Manchester United’s stadium) and then another hour back. My feet hurt, my shoes became worn, but I was satisfied. I was happy and I felt a real sense of accomplishment. (You would too, if you walked 10km within 2 hours without passing out.)
Travelling taught me to embrace this new-found freedom and to celebrate it. And it’s a very simple equation really – the more time you spend freely doing the things that make you happy, the faster you heal from a broken relationship. And in the process, you build your own personality. And a bright personality inspires confidence which shines through.
Which brings me to the next stage – arguably the most important one of all – learning to talk to people again.
Walked the Walk. Now Talk the Talk.
When I was in Manchester, I met up with an old friend from high school (high school? was this in Singapore?) We had a nice little dinner, drinks, gossiping about old school mates… A nice bit of reminiscing and gossip. But of course, we soon parted ways and I was back in my hostel, alone.
As night approached, I went for a night cap at the lounge bar. The beauty of spontaneous travel plans is that you often travel at a time when hardly anyone else is. There was no one besides myself and the bartender. I was enjoying my pint of Carling when the speakers started blaring out Eminem’s latest single, Headlights. Being a huge fan, I started humming along and the bartender exclaimed: I KNEW YOU KNEW THIS SONG!
Long story short, I moved from my table to the front of the bar and had a really nice chat with Ben over a couple more beers about music and life in general. He even offered me a shot of whiskey on the house. Had I been travelling with my friends, I would have never spoken to Ben. Instead, I probably would have stuck to the comfort zone provided by my friends and avoided all unnecessary interaction with strangers.
Travelling alone forced me out of my shell and made me interact and socialise with other people. Coming at a time when I had just lost the comfort zone of a familiar relationship, it taught me how to put myself out there again and how to talk with new people, thus extending my social circle and gently leading me to the final stage of healing.
When I arrived in York from Manchester, it was raining. When I left York, it was still raining.
My accommodation in York was a Catholic convent/hostel. There were stills nuns staying there and daily prayers were held in the chapel. The rooms were named after Catholic saints which brought back a lot of Sunday School memories for me.
During breakfast one morning, I decided to strike up a conversation with a nun. She told me that York was one of the cities in the U.K. that experienced the most amount of annual rainfall on average and I remarked that it must have been miserable weather to live with. She agreed with a short laugh before uttering something which stuck with me until this day.
“You know, as annoying as it gets with all the rain around here, have you noticed how the flowers in York are always blooming so wonderfully in Spring?”
She was right and I’d barely noticed. Spring comes a little late in the U.K., and the flowers don’t usually fully bloom until the weather gets a little warmer. But York was already an ensemble of colourful petals and green patches of grass. And the cause of all this was precisely the same thing that I was complaining about just a few moments prior.
It was true that I was utterly barren in the relationship department at that point in time, but how’s a flower to blossom without any rain mixed in with the sunshine? Relationship breakdowns are hard to take and they leave a scar regardless of how well you heal. But that doesn’t mean that the experience isn’t worthwhile. Trying to ignore the experience is just as useless as being hung up on it. Instead, when one appreciates the lessons learned through a broken relationship, it provides a strong platform upon which to build a new one.
As I admired the flowers in the convent’s garden and in the city, I felt myself become hopeful for the future. It was no longer all gloom, doom, and gray memories.
Of course, one little trip didn’t magically heal me completely. But the trip in its entirety, far exceeded its initial purpose of escapism. It helped me to rebuild, reconcile, and rediscover myself. All these taught me the things I needed to know to heal and to appreciate the experiences life has to offer. It taught me how to make peace with myself and how to admire the subtle things that often get ignored. And perhaps most importantly, it taught me just how wonderful travelling can be.
I admit. I was wrong for not enjoying travelling. It’s the perfect remedy for the soul and now, I’m loving life on the road.