In 2009 I broke my back and my pelvis in a serious car accident that left me wheelchair bound for 3 months. Less than four years later I was backpacking around South East Asia and three years on from then, I now have a life I could never have imagined 7 years ago.
When I started University I had my future pretty much planned out... I would get a job, save some money, go travelling, return home and embark on my busy corporate career. Of course I would also get a mortgage (because I'm British and we have this obsession with home ownership, even if it leaves us with crippling levels of debt).
Half way through my second year of university I had my car accident and although my body has never really been the same since, it didn't affect my mind-set in the way many people think something like that would. The only thing it really brought home is that you're only here once, so make the most of it; let's say it cemented my travel plans.
As it turns out, it was travel that would have a profound impact on my life. It completely changed my outlook on just about everything and in a way that I could never have imagined before I went away. My friends in the UK will tell you how different I am - I don't know if they really get why, some do, but it's one of those that's hard to understand unless you've experienced it yourself. One of the many things I love about backpacking is that you can instantly connect with fellow travellers over shared experiences and changed perspectives, even if you've never met before.
Why Did Travel Change Me?
If I told you I knew when the exact 'Oh My God, what am I doing with my life?' moment happened, I would be lying. I can't pinpoint one thing that made me realise I wanted to live my life differently, it was more the whole experience. Lots of little things tugged at my conscience, forced me to ask 'why?' more often, made me realise just how lucky I am and taught me that experiences and the people you share them with, are far more valuable than any material possessions.
It's not that my personality is any different, although I've learnt to go with the flow a little more, I'm still as loud and opinionated as ever. But my values have certainly altered and so have my goals in life.
On our first big travelling adventure my boyfriend and I started off camping in Europe before flying to New Delhi and spending a month in India. Well, what a month that was! India is one of the most amazing places I have ever been to but it also delivered a big fat slice of culture shock. Seeing children search through a rubbish dump as high as the brand new shopping mall right next to it, makes you reassess a lot of things. Extreme poverty was juxtaposed with bright and shiny consumer brands. My planned career was to be a top level marketer for these big brands and encourage even more people to buy things they likely don't need. Something that, if I'm honest, made me feel a bit vacuous. I realised I could be using my skills to do much better things than being part of those multi-billion dollar brands whose environmental and social responsibility clearly didn't stretch that far.
After India we spent a few weeks in Thailand before visiting Cambodia for a month. I've since been back to Cambodia four times and can safely say it holds a special place in my heart. Despite the scars left by the Khmer Rouge, and so many of the population living in poverty; the Cambodian people have an amazing attitude to life. Some of the people I met here really made me appreciate that it's not what you have, but who you're with and what you do, that makes you happy. I'm definitely less of a whiner now.
Not everything I learned was quite so deep and philosophical, I also came to realise that I can, in fact, live quite happily without 50 pairs of shoes. I actually found the lack of choice pretty refreshing and after a month or so was very content living out of a backpack. I've always had an obsession with fashion and although I still love it dearly, I've significantly curtailed my spending on clothing. I've even managed to have a few clear outs and my bank balance has certainly noticed a difference.
Travel and Pain Relief
A combination of both travel and the after effects of my car accident have been a driving force behind the shift in my lifestyle. I suffer from a chronic pain disorder that affects my nerves and my muscles. It turns out that travel and my pain are strangely linked... The compensation I received from the car accident is what allowed me to travel in the first place and it also turns out that my condition is far better when I'm travelling. Nine to five at a desk is probably the worst thing for my pain - everything locks up and I just can't do excessive computer work, not ideal when you're a digital marketer!
The UK climate doesn't suit me either and I'm in far less pain when I'm exploring in warmer climes. Travelling provided the inspiration and motivation to set up Backpacker Bible; a purely digital, responsible travel guide, and also a small but fast growing marketing company. These allow me to work anywhere in the world and find a healthy balance between time on the computer and time to exercise, which keeps my pain at bay.
Wondering Whether You Should Travel?
My advice: stop wondering and do it. I can honestly say that first trip was the best thing I ever did. If I hadn't had that experience I would have continued to be confined to an office 5 days of the week, a rat, trapped in the race - a thought which now terrifies the life of out me! Instead, I'm just about to fly to Bangkok to embark on another four month adventure; researching for Backpacker Bible whilst continuing to build and grow my freelance marketing company.
Travelling provides new perspectives and broadens horizons. Mark Twain summed it up pretty well with these words; "Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
The quote is taken from the novel 'The Innocents Abroad' and although it was first published in 1869 it seems to have particular relevance to our world today.
If you love the idea of travelling but keep finding excuses not do it, have a read of this article 'Excuses not to travel', it may help you overcome them and decide if you're ready for the adventure of a lifetime!