He explores

"Traveling at the Speed of Life"

Tag: food for thought

After the Accident: The 3 Stages on the Journey to Mental Recovery

CRASH!! Suddenly I was lying on the ground, face covered in blood. I’d fallen off my bike, face first, my mouth and teeth literally kissing the road. Everything went so damn fast, that for a moment the world turned pitch black before my eyes. I forgot where I was or what had happened. Coming to my senses, the foul taste of blood, which was oozing in a constant, flowing stream from my mouth onto the street, creating a red, shiny pool bathed in moonlight, was the first cue that this was no ordinary accident. Something was terribly wrong! Second cue came when I felt my upper lip going numb, gently touching it with my fingers, realizing that it had been ripped apart. The last and 3rd cue came along with an eager, desperate, but fruitless, attempt to rid my mouth of all blood, sticking out my tongue, finding that several of my front teeth were missing. Knocked out. Root and everything. That’s when I started crying. Not because of the apparent, excruciating pain, which, for the time being, was delayed by adrenaline rushing through my veins at the speed of light, but because the worst things to lose in life are the things we can’t replace. I wasn’t expecting to lose the core of my smile at such an early stage of life.

Right next to me was a girl holding my hand, at first tenderly, then more firmly, as she gradually started to perceive the extent of injuries, wiping a mix of tears and blood from my face, while fighting to hide the fear painted in her eyes. A girl I’d only known for a little while but for whom I’d developed a lot of affection for within a short amount of time. We’d met about a month before the accident and was on our way home to her place when it happened. In a heartbeat, without a cloud of doubt in her mind, she jumped with me in the ambulance and kept holding my hand all the way to the hospital and didn’t stop when I was lying in a bed, waiting for a doctor to arrive. Needless to say that her comforting, caring, angelic presence made all the difference in the world to me during a night where she witnessed the same paradox over and over again; the boy next to her cursing a God he didn’t believe in to begin with.

In the days that followed, looking back on the accident and observing my reactions, thoughts and feelings, I learned that I went through 3 stages on my journey to mental recovery.

“The tragic event of being faced with our own mortality is so unexpected, that in the moments after a serious accident, we keep on living in denial. It takes a while for our mind to adjust to whatever our eyes are seeing.”

Stage 1: “Self-victimization”
The initial stage was overshadowed by self-victimization and anger: Why me? Why am I so unlucky? It’s not fair! It’s ironic how we never expect severe misfortunes to come our way until bad luck actually does rain upon us. Bad accidents only happen in movies and to the boy or girl next door, right? You just don’t let yourself believe it will happen to you. The younger we are, the more present the self-deceit. Being young the thought of dying is as unthinkable as hitting the jackpot. Our body has not yet shown any obvious signs of decay and death is a foreign, abstract concept. You feel immortal. You feel unbreakable. You feel forever young. The tragic event of being faced with our own mortality is so unexpected, that in the moments after a serious accident, we keep on living in denial. It takes a while for our mind to adjust to whatever our eyes are seeing. We become detached from the object of our vision, our injured body, because it doesn’t quite fit with the concepts of our mind. Did I really lose or break something that can’t be fixed?! That’s impossible, I must be dreaming! And then, as reality slowly sinks in, you ask yourself, why? Why me? Not very different from when Jesus was hanging on the cross at the end of his rope. Indeed, I did curse God several times during the night, but I’m not a religious person, so who or what was I cursing? In hindsight the answer seems clear; my naive, young and restless idea of immortality. My immortality, my immortality, why have you forsaken me?! The last piece of the idea shattered when the doctor told me I should consider myself lucky. Had my head taken the fall instead of my mouth things could’ve been a lot worse. A lot. In that moment my mind seemed to readjust, to mold a new concept of the vessel that it was kept in. A vision of the body as immortal and unbreakable was replaced by a vision of the body as mortal and fragile. Life itself became fragile. Suddenly I became the boy next door.

“You wish more than anything in the world that you’d be able to turn back time. You close your eyes, doze off to sleep and expect to wake up, realizing that none of it ever happened. That it was all a bad dream.”

Stage 2: “Self-blame”
Next came a stage where I was being overpowered by self-blame and regret. Why am I so senseless to have done this? Only someone like myself can make such a foolish mistake! There must have been at least a million things I could’ve done differently to avoid the accident! My blurry mind wasn’t able to grasp every single detail of the incident, however, everything I did recall kept playing like an old movie in my head. Including every single conversation, action and decision leading up to the crucial moment. Why did I call my friend to meet up that day? Why didn’t I just stay at home? Why did I have to take my bike in the first place, when I could have enjoyed the comfort of public transport? At this stage you keep knocking your head against a brick wall. It appears that everything you did and said that day naturally caused the accident to happen and if you’d only done one single thing differently, you would’ve been just fine. You wish more than anything in the world that you’d be able to turn back time. You close your eyes, doze off to sleep and expect to wake up, realizing that none of it ever happened. That it was all a bad dream. I used to believe that all things happen for a reason. But everything we encounter in our lives are mere coincidences. Simple chains of cause and effect with unforeseen consequences. A boy might have been walking on the street I was driving on hours before the accident and by impulse, kicking a small stone, causing it to land on the road at the exact same spot I lost control of my bike. At some point you open your eyes, look around and realize that the accident DID happen. You wake up to reality. The reality that time is irreversible. You are at a crossroads. You can choose to either drown in self-blame and pity, a sure way slipping into a depression, or letting go of your frustrations by coping with your emotions constructively.

“I started to accept life as it comes. We might not be able to control what happens to us, which is often influenced by outer circumstances, however, we can control how we react to it.”

Stage 3: “Acceptance”
Fortunately, I came to the conclusion that there’s no point in playing with “what if-scenarios”. After all, I’m still here. I kept reminding myself that things could’ve been a lot worse and that I by no means was the only person in the world experiencing what I felt. Somewhere out there someone else was being faced with an unfortunate turn of events in their life and was fighting to move on. Becoming aware that you’re not alone in your struggle helps you regain some perspective. I had reached the 3rd and final stage on the journey to mental recovery. I started to accept life as it comes. We might not be able to control what happens to us, which is often influenced by outer circumstances, however, we can control how we react to it. This attitude opens a world of possibilities while tearing down obstacles. I realized that being frustrated about what happened would only make matters worse. I shifted focus from what should have been done then to what could be done now. Sure, it’s impossible to change the past but you might just learn from it. Life is a journey of learning and growth. Through my accident I’ve learned that, even though I’m still young, my body is fragile. That life is fragile. I know that the outcome of my accident wasn’t fatal but it could’ve left me in a wheelchair, had gravity taken my head on a different course. It’s bad enough to make me think. To make me understand that accidents are a part of life and that they DO happen to all of us, not just the boy or girl next door. To make me more grateful towards life and to take better care of myself. I might have lost several of my teeth for good but I still got a beautiful, untouched mind. I got hands to write. Feet to walk. Eyes to see. Ears to hear. With ever-changing, random chains of cause and effect shaping the world and time as they unfold, none of us can be sure if we’ll live to see another sunrise. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Nothing is. We only got one chance to make it right and that should be an integral part of our mindset, the very foundation of our actions, throughout our limited time here. Not to live in fear. But to live to our fullest.

And the angel watching over me that night? Well, she never left my side in the days following the accident. There’s not a trace of doubt in my mind that the unconditional, sacrificial love and care we receive from people in our lives in times of hardship will make us heal faster. They are truly the most precious thing in life. They are the greatest gift of all. An accident shouldn’t be necessary for us to realize that. These people deserve our appreciation and devotion every single day, regardless.

Have you gone through hard times recently? What have you learned from the experience? Leave a comment below.

The Homecoming Blues

All good things come to an end. As much as I love life on the road, there comes a time, when you need a break. Constantly being on the move is exciting, but tiring, constantly saying goodbye to people you’ve just gotten close to never gets easy and constantly packing and unpacking sucks. At some point you just wanna throw that backpack of yours down, unpack it and leave it unpacked! I made the decision to go home when the time was right. After nearly 2 years on the road I felt ready. I felt that I needed stability in my life again. But what happens after you get home?

“Getting on that familiar train ride you’ve been on a thousand times before or driving through the countryside suddenly feels like a whole new journey on its own”.

Initially you enter “the honeymoon phase”. You fall madly, deeply in love with your native Land all over again. You’re able to see your home country with sparkling new eyes. Getting on that familiar train ride you’ve been on a thousand times before or driving through the countryside suddenly feels like a whole new journey on its own. You start to feel a profound appreciation for everything you see, most of which you took for granted before you set out on your adventure in the big, wild world. Same thing applies when you meet up with your loved ones. You fall in love with the people in your life all over again. You got so much to catch up on. So many stories to tell. You’re bouncing off the walls and all of your energy is focused on this highly anticipated part of your homecoming. But the joy and excitement of seeing family and friends quickly subsides. What happens then?

“You’re greeted as the long forgotten son, but before you know it, your friends have gone back to their normal lives”.

You enter phase 2: “The homecoming blues”! The place you’ve so dearly missed loses its news appeal. The train ride becomes yet another ordinary train ride. 1001. 1002. 1003. Then you lose count. In its sudden alienation the countryside seems unwelcoming and threatening like a huge tsunami just waiting to wash over you. You, yourself, lose your news appeal as well. You’re greeted as the long forgotten son, but before you know it, your friends have gone back to their normal lives. Naturally, they’re starting to settle down and haven’t got much time left for you. But that isn’t the real issue here. Because the truth is that you’re happy for them. Happy to see them making a life. Happy to see them succeed. The real issue is that you’re totally lost. You feel like a stranger in your own country. You feel like you don’t fit in anymore. Kind of like an elephant in Antarctica! That’s the price you pay for traveling the world. The more and longer you do it, the harder it becomes settling back into a “normal” life. And at some point you just know it. Deep inside you hear a voice whispering: “You will forever feel different”. 

“For such is the law of a conventional life. In that particular reality change is limited and generic. It’s predictable”.

The road has done something to you which cannot be undone. You’ve changed. The thing is that you’re not quite sure in which way. No words can describe it. You just know it. You feel it. Why now, all of a sudden? When traveling the transformation you go through is a dynamic process which is so subtle that you barely feel it. But coming home alters your perception of what’s going on inside of you. The change is being amplified by the confrontation with all the things and people around you that have stagnated. For such is the law of a conventional life. In that particular reality change is limited and generic. It’s predictable. The transformation that happens when you travel, on the other hand, is a lot more complex and intense. It’s unpredictable. You soon realize that the only “thing” that has really been moving since you left is you. With that awareness you start to become socially inept and people will most likely perceive you as a bit awkward. As a bit off-beat. And even though you’re surrounded by hundreds of people, you get struck by loneliness. You feel like no one really understands, like you’re not speaking the same language as your friends anymore. You feel like a jigsaw piece in the wrong puzzle

“The remedy to your post-travel blues is to implement that which have inspired you on your journey into your day-to-day life back home”.

So, what can be done to get out of the black hole of post-travel blues? In the end what you’re facing coming home after a long journey is an internal conflict between who you were and who you’ve become, between the responsibilities and limits that comes with a conventional life and the carefree and limitless lifestyle of a wanderer. Your aim must be to build a bridge between the 2 poles, which is necessary if you want to feel whole and at peace with yourself once again. The remedy to your post-travel blues is to implement that which have inspired you on your journey into your day-to-day life back home. Be it your newly found joy doing yoga, eating healthy food, playing that instrument you picked up while traveling or maybe you’ve been inspired to making a difference in your local community or setting up your own business. People always say that they’re the best they can possibly be while traveling. Well, I say: “That’s the easy part. The hardest part is keeping up the good spirit when you get home. Be the best you can be, not only while you’re on the road. Be the best you can be today. Tomorrow. Everyday”.

“In that moment, remind yourself that it’s okay to go home. To rebalance yourself. To reenergize”.

Confronting your ambiguous feelings in the wake of your homecoming is all about accepting the now as it is, not holding on to what is lost. Because nothing is constant. The world changes. Life changes. People change. Focus on respecting the past and cherish all the beautiful memories and wisdom that lies within it, focus on imagining a future as bright as an evening star, focus on appreciating the present, just the way it is. However, at some point the inevitable will fall upon you. You’ll be missing the road and feel that it’s the only place you really belong. In that moment, remind yourself that it’s okay to go home. To rebalance yourself. To reenergize. What’s important is that you keep entertaining your mind, keep expanding your horizon and keep exploring everything your own backyard has to offer. Then you’ll find that in some sense you’re still traveling, still moving. And eventually you’ll know if you’ll be able to make a happy life in the place you used to call home, but now seems so foreign. Or if you are meant to aimlessly roam the world forever. A wanderer at heart.

What happens when traveling becomes mundane?

Endlessly changing horizons, stunning sunsets, divine beaches, bathing in crystal clear rivers and the simple pleasure of sleeping under a blanket of stars. It all sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it? That’s the life of a wanderer and no doubt, it definitely is wonderful, but there’s a flipside to it. There comes a time when traveling becomes mundane and you get struck with boredom. What happens then?

Last week I was bathing in heavenly cascades of silvery water (which naturally counts as a shower when you’re on the road!), without seeming utterly excited about it, when a friend of mine, a first time long term traveler at the initial stage of his journey, turned to me and said: “This might be just another ordinary day to you, but to me it’s all new and exciting!” When you’ve been on the road for a long time, you slowly start to gain some sort of immunity against all the beautiful things you see. Last time I got that feeling was after spending close to a year in Asia. I remember my travel companions wanting to go see all these incredible temples, but just the thought of seeing another one was a stomach-churning scenario to me, so I would spend my day doing something as ordinary as reading a book in a nice cafe or renting a bike and drive around the local neighborhood at a snail’s pace. To slow it down was my reaction back then.

Just as the confinements of a conventional life with a 9-5 job, 3 weekly gym sessions and that long anticipated Friday night out becomes tedious, the same thing happens to life on the road, if you do it long enough. But there’s a remedy. What I’ve found works is to keep doing what I’m doing, but doing it with a new twist. It sounds simple, but so are the best advice in life, e.g.: “Never use your favorite song as an alarm” and “never make eye contact while eating a banana. Complicated advice is useless! Let’s say you’ve been wandering for a year and mainly by bus. Why not try hitch-hiking? Or cooling down the pace by getting yourself a bike, soaking in your surroundings, while feeling the warm sun on your face and the wind blowing through your hair? When traveling goes from being a hobby to a lifestyle, it’s important to remember that you’re no longer part of the rat race. You have endless possibilities, but you’re the captain of your own ship, so it’s your responsibility to initiate a change of course, if needed.

In the end, everything we do in life becomes routine sooner or later, unless we pro-actively do something to renew, reinvent and nurture what we already have in the situation we’re currently in. So the idea to keep doing what you’re doing with a new twist, would apply to all facets of life. If you get bored with your job, convince your boss to give you more responsibility, if you get bored with your weekly fitness routine, load your workout with a variety of new exercises, if you get bored with your relationship, go on a date with your partner. Never stop dating your significant other, no matter how long you’ve been together! Seemingly small and simple changes can make a big difference, like taking a different route home from work. If you’re being pro-active, you’ll find yourself revitalized, but if you remain passive, you’ll be digging yourself a deep hole of futile troubles and worries. As Dalai Lama once said: “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.” So stop digging and start exploring all the options at hand to better your situation. Dedicate yourself to one and pursue it with the discipline and perseverance of a Shaolin Monk!

When I get struck by the discouraging feelings of boredom and routine while traveling, it’s a sign to me, that I need to do it differently. If I don’t, I start asking myself: What’s the point of it all? I reach a mental state of stagnation, feeling that I’m not going anywhere, even though, in a physical sense, that’s all I’m really doing, being constantly on the move. But what I want is to keep moving, body and mind, to keep learning, keep evolving and by just traveling in the same way all the time, I’m not. In our constant search for meaning in life, embracing change and realizing that it’s actually good and healthy for our wellbeing can lead us closer to happiness. Altering our way gives us a new perspective on life and motivates us to keep moving forward to wherever we are going. We don’t necessarily need to know where, as long as we are in motion, literally and figuratively speaking. With the abundance of things there are to explore, experience and learn in life, confining ourselves to a single page or chapter would be depriving ourselves of a wonderful, unique and wholesome story.

Now, after traveling with a group of 6 people for the past 6 weeks, which has been an absolute awesome experience in so many ways, it’s time for me to make a change. Time for me to seek solitude on the road again, to filter out all the noise that keeps me from listening to my inner voice, the only true guide in life. To unwind, slow down and cultivate gratitude towards all the positive, small things that happen every day, along with all the great wonders of the world. To be more with less. This will make space for new thoughts and ideas to flow freely and then I will know what needs to be done differently to rekindle the travel spirit inside of me. To once again, find the excitement of discovering new horizons, facing new challenges, seizing new opportunities, connecting with new people, making new memories and creating new stories. Because that’s what traveling is all about.

With a person you only get one chance

You might wonder what an entry about love is doing here on a travel blog. Well, love is a part of life wherever you go, just as a fish is part of water. It is often when we dare to let go, not consciously searching and feel free down to our very bones that it sneaks up on us, stealthily, like a ninja in the dark. Most people are in that state of mind when they travel.

So was I upon my arrival in Australia more than a year ago. Love was never part of my plan. But on the other hand, it was also not not part of my plan. I wasn’t consciously searching for it and the more I got into the spirit of traveling, the more free and liberated I felt. This meant that subconsciously I started opening up my mind and heart to every new experience on the road, paving the way for love encounters. Fate had 2 in store for me.

The 1st one was brief, like dewdrop in the morning, but enchanting and passionate. Yet, outer circumstances, which I had no control of, meant that it didn’t have time to evolve. However, that doesn’t make it a less meaningful experience, the same way a shooting star can make a significant impression on you, before you even have time to grasp its beauty.

The 2nd encounter, on the other hand, had the right conditions to blossom. We met in a hostel in Cairns on her very first day in the country and I instantly felt a strong connection to her. The chemistry between us was otherworldly and the foundation for a genuine friendship was laid. She was quirky and crazy. Crazy in the way that it becomes an art form and not a reason to get institutionalized. And most importantly, she made me feel crazy… crazy about her.

We ended up traveling around the country on a 7-month road trip. To learn and grow is one of the main reasons I travel. And boy, did I learn and grow from traveling with her. Imagine spending 24/7 with the same person for 7 months. It’s not always a walk in the park. We had our fights, our ups and downs, but we worked our way through it. Looking back now, there’s been more sunshine than clouds, more smiles than frowns and that’s what really counts in the end. Ultimately, this is anticipating that the figurative traveling you do in getting to know a person is incomparable with any physical form of travel around the world. And if you meet the right person, it could be a life long journey.

However, our relationship ended at the final stage of the trip. The main reason being that I was caught between my passion for traveling and my passion to find true love. She was rather fed up with the traveling, I wasn’t ready to compromise and that meant losing her. However, I was ready to chase her down once I finished my journey in Oceania. She blankly rejected that possibility with this single statement, which has left a lingering trace in my mind: “A country will always be there, but with a person you only get one chance”.

Now I’m haunted by all the damned “what-if-questions”. What if she just wasn’t the right person for me after all? Would my decision have been any different otherwise? Is there really any one out there who’s right for you? And if so, how can you know for sure? What if it just wasn’t the right timing? She being ready to settle down, me being happy to live a nomadic life for years to come. And the worst question of them all: What if I have given up long term happiness and a life full of passion and adventures with another person for short term happiness on a single adventure on my own? Damn you, wanderlust gene!

I’m now trying to come to terms with the consequences of my choice. And at the end of the day, that’s all we can really do. Accept the choices we make and the things we have to give up in the making. We can’t have everything and there’s no way of knowing whether you made the right choice or not. That’s the nature of choice. Only time with tell. And if time tells us that we were wrong, we can choose to learn from our mistakes and not let them define who we are in the present. In the meantime, we can work towards having a peace of mind and live without regrets. First step being to stop asking ourselves the self-destructive question, “What if?”, which will only leave us desolate and lost. That’s what I’m going to do, even though I now have no doubt in my mind that she was right: With a person, you really do only get one chance.

The Beauty of being Broke

It was inevitable. I’m broke. Completely broke. 7 months road trip around the massive continent of Australia with no money coming in has left its mark on my miserable bank account.

Since I finished studying and started working 5 years ago, I’ve had financial security and fair savings to fund my travels in between jobs. 1 year in Asia. And 1 year in Australia. So hitting rock bottom is like meeting an old archenemy and having to deal with him all over again. I have to get familiar with the feeling of being broke. It took a while. At first I panicked! I desperately searched for common ways of keeping my head above water, looking for jobs online and in real-life, considering heading back home if it all went wrong. But after a while I started to see my situation in a new light. A burning light of possibilities instead of a dark gloom of obstacles.

Suddenly I felt liberated in the realization that money didn’t mean that much to me. To be honest it never really did. I’ve always seen it as a means to an end, an instrument to “buy” experiences, not things, and make lasting memories, which, I believe, is a source of long term happiness. But with less than 100 dollars left on my account, being stuck in a foreign country, it became a realization based on experience, rather than an imaginative, hypothetical ideal of the mind. Now I was forced to thinking outside the box of a way that I could keep my dream alive. My dream to keep on traveling.

Over the last couple of years, I came up with many ideas of how to avoid going back to a 9-5 job, so in reality the concepts were already there. However, there had never been any action behind them. Why? Simply because I didn’t need to act. I had enough money to keep on going. But now that I’m broke I can no longer procrastinate. The situation has pushed me out of my comfort zone and I’ve realized, that’s the moment when we start growing and becoming true to ourselves.

“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new”.
Brian Tracey

You see, we all have a creative, ideal vision of the future and ourselves in our mind. Of what, where and how we want to be further up the road. Sadly, in most cases that vision stays a dream because life gets comfortable. It’s so easy getting caught up in everyday life and procrastinate. We convince ourselves that we are not quite ready yet and that we don’t have enough time or money to tend to our passions. No time to work towards becoming the rock star you always envisioned, writing that book, you always imagined writing or fulfilling your dream of sailing the 7 seas with Captain Jack Sparrow. All it takes to stay trapped in the vicious circle is one excuse and that trickster mind of ours is a master at excuses, making up self-limiting beliefs, resistance and mental obstacles. Nonetheless, all it takes to break out of the circle is one single step. One step forward into the abyss of the unknown, where you can discover hidden parts of yourself and make dreams come true. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, fear will reach out for you on the way down, but I can assure you it’s going to be worth it. Just don’t wait till you’re ready – then you’re going to wait forever!

“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story”.
Cheryl Strayed

So I started to tell myself a different story. A story with no room for excuses. A story where anything was possible. First of all I finally bought that strap for my guitar so I can start busking, earning a few pennies. Second of all I’m doing what you see now. Writing. Blogging. I’ve always loved writing as much as I love reading. Last but not least I’ve stopped seeing an empty bank account as an immovable obstacle to travelling. I’ve got a teaching background, so I might just teach abroad, combining work and travel. I might volunteer my way around the world, which is one of the most rewarding ways of traveling in my opinion. I might do some Wwoofing, couchsurfing and hitchhiking. All ways to keep my dream alive, just a little bit longer. As long as we are willing to step out of our comfort zones the possibilities are endless and our imagination is the only limit.

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