“Kelly, are you excited for your trip?!” a coworker asks me with her tight brown curls bouncing.
Cautiously, I reply, “Not yet.”
Because honestly, I’m not, even though I leave for a solo backpacking trip to Europe in 5 days. I smile halfheartedly at her, knowing what’s coming next.
As expected, I receive a quizzical look from my coworker, as concern creases her brow, and she blurts out, “WHY NOT?!”
I squirm uncomfortably and use my go to line: “I don’t get excited until I’m on the plane.”
I am an energetic, optimistic, world-traveling extrovert who gets excited about free bagels in the work kitchenette, so my coworkers and casual acquaintances are bewildered by my lack of enthusiasm for my travels.
And if that was all there was to it, I’d get it. But they don’t know I’ve been dealing with mental health issues for the past 8 years.
I am blissfully happy outwardly, but in reality I struggle with depressive episodes and extreme mood changes due to bipolar disorder.
While this is in no way uncommon, it does make certain parts of life and traveling completely unpredictable. I have traveled enough to know that my trips don’t always turn out the way I would hope.
I once spent an entire semester of college in Brazil during one of the worst depressive episodes of my life. No surprise, this was not my expectation going in. But that trip, along with many others, have taught me to not to set expectations on myself or my travels.
Even so, I still get nervous about traveling. I never know how I’m going to feel during my adventure. And while I wish I knew in advance exactly what weeks would be good weeks, and which would be bad weeks for me, I simply don’t.
So instead, I go into each trip cautiously optimistic. I keep an open mind and constantly remind myself that whatever emotions I’m feeling are OKAY, and I should not feel guilty or ashamed for having them.
And it feels important for me to share what I’ve learned with you: It is okay to be sad even if you are in a new, beautiful and exciting place. It’s okay to be nervous about how your trip will go, you don’t always have to be excited. It’s okay for things to unfold differently than you had expected, even if you’re trying not to have expectations. Allow yourself to fully accept your emotions so you can process them and move through them.
Believe me, I’ve cried on beautiful beaches and in more airports than I can count. Due to this, I like to remind myself of two mantras:
Without sadness, we would not know joy.
The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.
Okay one more, Theodore Roosevelt famously said “Comparison is the thief of joy”. And ain’t that the truth!
You’re reading this piece on a wanderer’s website, so chances are you follow other world travelers on social media. And damn is it easy to pick up your phone and be transported into the perfect vacation, or seemingly perfect life.
While this can be an amazing distraction from day to day life and serve as inspiration if it is done with intention and honesty, many social media accounts can cause what I believe to be the downfall of so many travelers: expectations.
If you see someone posting about their terrific trip to Greece and only showing beautiful weather, then you go to Greece and it’s raining, it can feel like a huge let down.
If you see someone posting about their perfect hotel in Thailand, but they don’t show you the trail of ants patrolling the bed, boy will you have a rude awakening.
And if you see someone who proudly proclaims their latest trip changed their life for the better, but neglects to explain that part of this transformation took place while sobbing on the bathroom floor, you’ll be convinced that any moments of sadness you feel = failure.
So, expel your expectations, your feelings of, “I ought to.” In turn, you will expel your guilt, find peace and be able to accept your experience for exactly what it is and was always meant to be.
Are you sad because it’s raining in Greece? Are you too tired from the long plane ride to venture outside this afternoon? That’s okay. Let yourself BE exactly where you are. If you do, if you sit with yourself in acceptance you will move onto the next new and exciting emotion and adventure a lot quicker.
By experiencing what your mind and body feel, you allow them to mend. You also allow the universe to manifest the best things for you.
It wasn’t until I was in a therapy session a few years ago that I heard it was okay to be miserable while in a beautiful international country, in my case, Brazil. I was finally told, that it was okay that I spent countless nights crying in my bunk instead of exploring, learning the language, or making friends. It was not my fault that I was in the deepest depressive episode of my life and there was absolutely nothing I should feel guilty about. And you know what? That therapist was right.
That’s what I want you to know too. However you feel, whenever you feel it, no matter where you are in the world, you are not expected, nor required to feel any type of way, however you’re feeling is absolutely okay! ***Cue Rich Homie Quan - “Type of Way”
Written By: Kelly Williams
Adventurer, solo female traveler, coach-surfer, trail runner, and fur-baby mom!