**Heads up, this is a monster of a post. Get comfy, grab yourself a tea (or something stronger), and take some time for yourself.
You’re travelling a beautiful place. Everyone is raving about how amazing it is. Your friends and family are gushing about how lucky you are. The scenery is mind-blowing all around you.
But something isn’t right. It doesn’t feel like it fits. You feel like a fraud for not being as excited as everyone else.
Don’t get down on yourself. It can feel like there’s something wrong with you when you don’t love an experience as much as you “should”.
I’ve been there. And I know how to help.
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At age 26, I knocked some huge items off my bucket list. Move to New Zealand? Check! Tour a country while living in a van? Check! Travel with two of my favourite people? Check!
But for the first 12 months in New Zealand, I felt like a passenger on someone else’s trip. I was trying to have an amazing experience, but it always seemed like things were going wrong.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Of course, I have some incredible memories and stories to tell. There are moments I look back on with a whole lot of joy. I spent a year flailing and floundering – trying to force myself to have “the best time ever”. When I wasn’t feeling it, I was hard on myself about it, which only perpetuated the cycle.
(If you are having dark thoughts and feelings way too often – speak to someone who can really help you. This is not the article you need.)
To help sort myself out, I did what I always do – I made a list to organise my thoughts. After a lot of soul-searching, I’ve realised where I’ve been going wrong, and turned around my experience. These steps have helped me out of a slump. If you’ve been feeling the same, it can help you too.
Click here to download the printable workbook that goes along with this post and follow along as you read.
What are you comparing to?
What has been the “best time of your life”? It could be a single day or a period in your life you look back on when everything was at its best. Get page one of the workbook ready. Write about it – where you were, how you felt, and most importantly, who you were. Don’t worry about specifics just yet.
No two travel experiences will be the same – and why would you want them to be? I wasn’t giving my time in New Zealand a chance because I kept expecting it to feel exactly like my “perfect travel experience”: 3 gorgeous months living in Broome, Western Australia.
Are you feeling down about your current adventure because it doesn’t feel as magical or serendipitous?
Break it Down
It can be awesome to bask in the sunshine and rainbows that make up our favourite travel memories, but its time to pull your head in. Take some time and think critically about why you were having such a good time.
Here’s my breakdown of why I loved living in Broome so much. Fill out your own list on page two. Perhaps your reasons are similar, or completely different. Whatever was making you feel great, write it down.
- Weather – I am a reptile. I love the heat. The dry season in northern Australia is insanely hot and sunny. Every. Single. Day. For others, it might have felt like living in the fiery mouth of Hell itself, but for a lizard like me, it didn’t get any better.
- Money – Once I got a job, cash was not an issue for me. I worked 6 days a week at a solid wage and didn’t have much to spend my money on.
- Health – in spite of a little too much partying, I felt amazing. It was too hot for junk food, so I was eating really well. Most evenings I’d go for a run, or a swim in the hostel pool or the ocean. Our hostel pretty much shut down after 11 pm, so I got lots of sleep most nights. I even stopped getting hangovers. It was probably the best I’d ever felt.
- Being present – There aren’t a tonne of photos from those 3 months. I was too busy soaking up every day. Now I have hundreds of photos from my time in New Zealand. I’m pretty proud of them, but perhaps there’s something to keeping the camera tucked away more often.
- Goals – I gave myself two solid goals during that time. A) to have as much fun as possible B) to run 5km in 30 minutes. I accomplished both, and it only took nearly puking in the street to do it (from the running, not having too much fun – surprise!)
- Saying YES – Unless my work schedule or budget didn’t allow for it, I said yes to everything. Well, everything that wouldn’t land me in any shady situations. Beach runs, movie nights, parties and pool games, I was up for it all. Any time I considered being lazy and say no, I mentally slapped myself and said yes instead. That’s how I ended up building a fort in the back of a full 14-bed dorm at 3 am.
- Doing what I loved – I was cooking all day and running or beaching after that. I didn’t feel like I had to escape my workdays, and I filled my free time with things that I loved.
- The people – I around me were a great group of nutballs. There were no cliques or drama, just a big, mildly ridiculous, backpacker family.
- Security – I had a job, a place to live, and enough money to feed myself and have some fun. I felt safe.
- Anticipation – I had something to look forward to. I knew that when I left Broome, my family would be coming to Australia for my sister’s wedding. I could enjoy what I was doing, and feel great about the future
What’s on your list? There had to be a combination of circumstances that made life so great. Why is this particular experience the pinnacle of travel in your mind? Think hard, and keep that list handy. The next part isn’t as fun, but it is the most important
Let’s be honest, no experience is ever perfect. We tend to gloss over the rough patches. When I think hard about my time in Broome, it wasn’t actually the rainbow-unicorn-fairytale I like to pretend it was. It was incredible, but not without its own challenges.
Revisit your memory with clear eyes and take notes about what wasn’t quite so perfect. If there were experiences that were actually that amazing, you don’t have to knock them down, cherish those memories. But overall, try and look back with a solid sense of realism. (Maybe grab yourself another drink before this part)
- Weather – Ok, the weather was pretty much perfect for me. Except that one time my fingertips dripped a trail of sweat down the sidewalk just from walking down the street. That was gross.
- Money – Remember how I said after I got a job things were good? Before that, I had $16 to hold me over for two weeks (after rent and a rather light grocery shop). I tend to block out the fact that I lived off noodles and cheese sandwiches for half a month.
- Health – I really do love the heat. But I didn’t love having to take breaks inside a fridge with my coworkers because we’d get dizzy from working the lunch shift at our busy cafe. I think I cooked my brain a little. And I definitely suffered a few awful sunburns during all those cloudless days.
- Work – Sometimes my job sucked. Most of the time it was great, but I like to forget that time my boss made me cry. Towards the end, my job description changed overnight, and I went from creating daily specials to being the resident dish girl.It is nicer to pretend that didn’t happen, but it was a huge deal to me at the time.
- Having fun – I probably had a little too much fun sometimes. Running to work, 15 minutes late in 45 degree heat is not something I’m super proud of doing. And it definitely happened more than once. Many stupid decisions were made during that time. Some of them you may get to read about, some I’ll take to my grave.
What are the things you’re glossing over? You don’t have to dismantle your memories of that incredible sunset or amazing day tour. By seeing that your “perfect” experience maybe wasn’t all that perfect, you can see that your disappointing adventure isn’t all that bad. By holding one experience up too high, you aren’t giving anything else a chance to compare.
(Sorry New Zealand. Lucky we’ve got round two.)
Make a Plan
If you’re still feeling underwhelmed and unhappy, make a plan. You have the power to change your outlook. When you can see what was going right for you, you can try and recreate those circumstances again. I like to call it “finding your beach”, and I’ve made a final worksheet to help you out.
My “worst” time in New Zealand was the first few months I lived in Queenstown. Here are some examples of how I turned it around:
- Weather – I lived was living a freezing cold house in Queenstown, and it made me want to stay in my warm bed all the time. Fortunately, it was a short-term rental and we moved into a place with adequate insulation and it made me hate winter a little bit less.
- Money – My job paid minimum wage, in one of the most expensive places in the country. I was broke 95% of the time. When my first job ended, I got one that payed a living wage and everything started to get way better.
- Health – A combination of living in an icebox and going up and down a mountain twice a day wreaked havoc on my health. I’d never been sick so many times in such a short time before. Waking up to your eyes crusted shut is depressing (and disgusting, sorry). I let my fitness go and felt like a slug most of the time. I made a huge effort to incorporate more veggies into my diet and started exercising again. Small changes can make a HUGE difference in how you feel.
- Being present – A result of feeling like garbage so often started to make me feel quite negative about a lot of things. I knew this snarky, negative attitude wasn’t really me, and I that I was missing out on so many awesome experiences. I made a deal with myself to use my daily bus rides up the mountain to stay off my phone, reflect on what was going well, and enjoy the amazing view.
- Goals – I’d forgotten that I had made it a goal to enjoy myself to have fun, and just expected it to happen. I gave myself some small, manageable goals – like getting out of the house twice a week. It gave me back a measure of control over my life and I began to feel less like I was just being taken for a ride.
- Saying YES – Often because I felt ill or exhausted, I said no to things. Even little things like grabbing a drink after getting off the work bus or watching a movie with my house mates felt like too much work. I started mentally slapping myself into saying YES again, and found myself having way more fun.
- Doing what I loved – Towards the end, I genuinely hated my job. I’d rather have gone back to sorting potatoes 40 hours a week. Instead of working at one of the incredible cafes or restaurants in town, I spent most of the day wiping up dry ketchup and clearing trash off of tables. The bus ride up the mountain was the real highlight (and the people I worked with). After the season ended, my new job was at a place where I could feel pride in the business. Not loathing going to work every day made my life a whole lot better.
- The people – My co-workers and friends were brilliant, but I almost never hung out with them outside of work. When I started saying yes to hanging out with them, I had a lot more happiness in my life.
- Security – I had been jerked around by two landlords, and looking a sad bank account for too long. It was hard to imagine a life that felt stable and secure. Moving into a better house, and getting a better job made huge strides towards me not feeling so negative about my future prospects.
- Anticipation – I’d forgotten the great possibilities that come with an uncertain future. I knew my mountain job would end, and while I was grateful to finish there, it was stretch to believe that anything good would come of it. I had to work to see what great things were coming – the weather would get warmer, I’d find a better job, and I was going to Australia for Christmas! Having something to get excited for made the shitty times so much more bearable.
Once you realise that the circumstances that make you happy can be recreated anywhere, you can have the perfect experience everywhere you go. Stop comparing to past experiences, and figure out what you can change now. You’ll start feeling better about your current adventure immediately.
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Did you stick with me the through this whole post? Amazing! Are you feeling better? (are you drunk yet?) Let me know in the comments below!
Share this post with someone who might need it, and show me how YOU have used it with the hashtag #lyfplanning!
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