The modern day pilgrimage begins on a Contiki bus; smartphone in hand the traveller uploads their spiritual freedom. The image is one that will get many Facebook likes, and much envy: pearly white teeth on display, extraordinary natural phenomenon in the background. Where are they travelling to exactly? Anywhere is fine as long as it’s not here.
What if it’s all bullshit?
The inherent idea that we need to travel to be a better version of ourselves is being fed to us through popular culture, advertising and media geared towards hedonism. And we are buying into this ideal. While pilgrimage once used to be a journey for religious education and religious significance, the swanky new-age pilgrim has cash and is willing to splurge for their inward journey. Millennials are spending $217 billion a year on travel, a figure which is growing.
$217 billion. That’s a lot of collective self-discovery.
See, whether it’s the pressure to journey inward for a GAP year, or finding meaning outside of 9 – 5 work (sing it Dolly!), or to just be more interesting (FOMO), it is something we are willing to hop onto a plane time and time again to escape our lives in search of something more.
Philosopher Alain de Botton says, “Pick up any newspaper or magazine, open the TV, and you’ll be bombarded with suggestions of how to have a successful life. Some of these suggestions are deeply unhelpful to our own projects and priorities – and we should take care.”
Why do we even have to find ourselves? Where did we lose ourselves? At the pub toilet? Or maybe left behind in a taxi?
In her Tedx talk ‘The myth of self-discovery’ Emily Warren calls bullshit on this idea. Emily fears not that she won’t have ticked off her bucket-list items on her deathbed, but rather she will have lived a life not present. She is afraid of a life spent searching for something rather than being right here, right now.
“There is this idea that this important goal to find yourself and meaning is out there to be found. But what this really does is make the current moment a placeholder.” – Emily Warren
But yeah sure, we get it, being OK with the present is bloody hard when your friends are posting images of themselves on a beach slurping on cocktails while you’re in your pyjamas eating stale toast.
Seriously, what kind of friends are so cruel?
But embrace your toast! Your daggy faded jim-jams! There are alternative ways to seek some form of meaning that don’t require so much bullshit (and $$$).
Rather than thinking about yourself, why not do something for others? Volunteering is so diverse that it can mean walking an elderly person’s doggy, or helping out at your op shop, or running an organisation’s social media page. SEEK Volunteer is a good place to start this noble journey.
Find your community
Solo travel has been romanticised and unfortunately most of us won’t find a stunningly good looking Italian to fill the void in our hearts. We need people to have meaning in our lives. Find your people. Join a sporting group, go for after work drinks, ring your family and stay in touch. Meetup is also a great way to meet like-minded folk for hobbies and interests.
Get outside of your comfort zone
This is why travel is exciting because you are forced into being brave, but you can take this attitude and apply it to your own life without the jet lag and the pricey plane ticket. Do you know your neighbours? Meet them. Ask the check-out chick about her day, make a goat curry, learn how to do all the steps to Beyonce’s Single Lady, try all the new things. Be scared.
Travel (down-sized style)
When was the last time you went camping? Or went on an old-fashioned road-trip? Get your mates together and head out bush or to the ocean. Getting out and about can give you a fresh perspective on life but also make you enjoy the simple pleasures like marshmallows, the ocean breeze, campfires …
Get on board the mindfulness bandwagon
Mindfulness is about reconnecting with your external world. Can you feel that breath coming in and out of your lungs? See that person on the bus with the rad beanie? Too often we are caught up in our own internal worlds that we miss this here, the now – which is pretty sad. Mindfulness can be meditation (the free Smiling mind app is a great place to start), or just going for a walk or actually listening to your Mum when she tells you about your day.
Don’t underestimate just how much these little things can change your world and save you serious coin. It doesn’t matter how many countries you visit, or how many beautiful pilgrim-esque photos you upload to Facebook, being young and facing all the expectations is difficult no matter what. Although the option to jump on a plane and escape is alluring, wouldn’t it be worth getting to know yourself here in your daggy pyjama and toast life and being OK with that first? Life will always be tricky, but if you put in the effort now to step back, you can save yourself from some form of indulgent Eat, Pray, Love breakdown later in life, but less fab without the Julia Roberts teeth, hair and whimsical quotes.
Because who really wants that?
First published on The Vocal