Making new friends, discovering new ways of living and developing me… How a trip to Japan changed my life.
People say that the first step of a journey is the hardest, but for me the first step was easy. The day I discovered I hadn’t got into the university that I wanted was the day I booked a flight ticket to Japan, a country that had always fascinated me. I got my ticket and had only a short time to prepare, which was probably a good thing.
Then came the hard part… Telling my family and friends that their shy, scared, socially awkward daughter / friend had decided to spend three months on the other side of the world, alone!
Sitting on the plane a month later it was getting even harder. I had never travelled alone, ever, I hadn’t even lived alone and now I had to survive, alone, on the other side of the world. I didn’t speak the language, I knew very little about Japanese culture and my English, which would probably be my bridge, was limited to survival needs and basic communication only.
Once you’ve boarded the plane it’s real and there is no escape. It’s scary but you can do it and you will grow as a person. If I was able to, anyone can. I hate going out, I don’t like speaking to new people, I’m scared of flying and I always get lost. Not the perfect credentials but you don’t have to be perfect to take an overseas trip. In fact, those with only a desire and plenty of room to grow are probably the best candidates.
It wasn’t long after I arrived in Japan that I realised I could survive on my own. I remember it was so satisfying to spend my first night in a hostel bed pleased with what I had achieved and curious about what was to come. I did get lost, I almost boarded the wrong train, it had rained, all my things were wet and I had been too tired to try something new so I had eaten in McDonald’s. Some would view this as a huge catastrophe, but for me, it was an adventure that I had survived bravely.
There were recurrences of this theme. I failed, embarrassed myself and got into trouble but always walked out of the situation with my head up and my mind full of new experiences, conquests and confidence.
The first week was full of getting to know the city and more importantly yourself as a traveller. There are important questions to be answered: Do I want to go to parties at night or shall I stay in the hostel doing the same things that I would back at home? I can’t experience everything so where should I start? …And the hardest questions: What am I even doing here? Can I make a go of this or should I just return home? Most people who decide to quit leave after their first week. I almost did.
I decided not to stick to my rigid “see everything there is to see” travel plan and instead I changed hostel and decided to relax more. Every night in the hostel then meant new friends, we cooked together, taught each other new things and shared our best travel trips. Learning a little Japanese wasn’t as difficult as I thought.
I decided to keep a diary, which would become the blueprint for my travel blog, which has grown far beyond my expectation. I now profit from my writing and enjoy it very much, it means I get to travel and explore further.
After spending the month in Tokyo, I moved to Kyoto, a more traditional city, where I got a much better feel for Japanese culture. Once again I had to settle in a different environment, I missed my friends in Tokyo but this time I knew it was going to be OK. My hostel was small and homely and I began again to make new friends. My experience had already changed me.
Most people I meet don’t want to do a ‘gap year’ because they don’t like travelling. For me and for many others I met, it was never about the travelling. I can walk around Kyoto with my eyes closed and not get lost and I can name all the shrines and temples just by seeing photographs of them. Good stories but its not about that either.
Making new friends from around the world, having conversations with people without common language, walking in the middle of night in an unknown city with strangers, waking up before sunrise without complaining, having bad days just to realise that everyone has them and eating the same bowl of noodles for over two hours, whilst learning how to use chopsticks. That’s what my gap year was all about and what yours should be too. Discovering new and different ways of living.
My story tells of how I changed, as a result of my wild experiences and daring adventures, but when I got home everything was still the same. My friends and family were still working and studying and all was well, except I wasn’t that shy girl anymore. I had changed my outlook on life.
Some people go back to studying after their gap year, some find love from their adventure and some, like me, go travelling again. I realised that the university life I had previously craved wasn’t for me. A year where I had experienced some of my happiest times taught me how to follow my heart. Two years after returning from my trip, I now proudly refer to myself as ‘travel blogger, world traveller and dream chaser’.
It is impossible to fail at travelling, there’s always something new to learn and it taught me more about myself than I would ever learn at school. Go on, do as I did, buy those tickets and the rest will follow.