Written by Kate Billing, Founder & Creative Director, Blacksmith
A 6-minute read
We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return homeAboriginal Proverb
My husband and I absolutely LOVE to travel.
Before we met, we each spent many years in the 90’s living away from New Zealand on our respective ‘BIG OEs’. Neither of us walked the well trodden path of putting down roots in London. Instead we spent extended periods living in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and America.
The first (and last) BIG trip we did as a couple was a month in Europe in 2007. The year after that the GFC put a wrinkle in our travel plans and the year after that we started Blacksmith. Building a business and a home meant that international adventures became an infrequent and limited luxury while our time and resources were invested elsewhere.
February 2019 was the last time our family got on a plane to head offshore. We had HUGE plans for 2020 to celebrate our ‘Jubilee Year’ (I mean…turning 50…why have a day or a week when you can have a whole year?!) but COVID blew those up.
FINALLY, after four years of waiting, we got to get on a big silver bird and flew out of New Zealand. Our destination of choice for this first foray back out into the world was two weeks in Australia. Not too exotic you may think but it’s close, relatively COVID-safe, and where we have friends and family to visit whom we hadn’t seen in-real-life for over three years.
Going Walkabout feels like a good way to describe this excursion: “a short period of wandering bush life engaged in by an Australian aborigine as an occasional interruption of regular work” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It may not have been ‘bush life’ but it was certainly wandering and an interruption of regular life and work!
It’s been quite the experience in a whole lot of ways – some expected and some not – and I thought I’d share our reflections with you as part of my Fully Human experience.
Before I get to the value of going walkabout, first a couple of unexpected challenges in case you have your first travel in ages coming up and these come your way too:
- Travel Anxiety: This was something I hadn’t experienced in 30 years! I was a seasoned international business traveler pre-COVID but as we counted down to departure day I noticed mounting anxiety. I was stressing about details, connections, requirements, being in close proximity with so many people when COVID is still raging in many places, catastrophizing out all the things that could (and most definitely would) go wrong, and generally suffering in advance in my imagination. Luckily this all subsided once we made the first international flight but she was an unexpectedly bumpy emotional ride up until then.
- Emotional Storm: Being away from New Zealand in a new place and amongst friends and family brought a potent cocktail of feelings screaming into my experience for the first few days. I felt really out of sorts as I washed about on a stormy sea of anger about being locked up for three years, grief for our many losses of so many kinds through that time, and sadness about all the experiences and opportunities we and others have missed out on. I thought I’d immediately feel relief at being OUT and joy at having adventures again but that didn’t arrive until the metaphorical clouds cleared and the emotional sea calmed on Day Four.
Now for the GOOD stuff!
- In-Real-Life really is better: Books, podcasts, travel videos, Zoom calls and Whatsapp chat groups really are no substitute for in-real-life travel, connection and expansion experiences! I know that might be a bit of a “Well, duh!” moment but the significance of Fully Human experiences of people, places, conversation, connection, art, culture, food etc was immense. At one point, whilst making our way through the Queensland Art Gallery (one of three that we spent hours in!) I just had to stop, sit, and ride the wave of quiet amazement, wonder, and gratitude that was carrying me.
- Unplugging for rest and reset: Creating ‘unplugged environments’ for my development experiences for others is something that’s become increasingly important and valuable – to me and to my clients. Stepping away from the noise and distraction of phones, email inboxes, social media, news media, and the high-rotate everyday conversations and jobs of life and work creates the space for peace, awareness, creativity, and gratitude to emerge. Making the past two weeks an unplugged experience for myself was just bliss and has been a good reset on some personal practices and boundaries that had slipped.
- Mixing the novel with the familiar: Novelty is great for the brain and there is plenty of opportunity for that when we travel. But you can have too much of a good thing – especially when getting travel fit again – and that can make the experience more stressful than refreshing. Mixing in some familiar faces and places creates a much more digestible experience. We stayed with family for the first half of our trip (familiar) and combined that with lots of newness (novelty) through outdoor, foodie, and conversational adventures. For the second half, we stayed in a new place and had novel experiences of food (we love to eat!), art, architecture, culture and history but shared some of those experiences with friends (familiar). We’ll be designing deliberately for this in our future offshore adventures.
- Appreciation and renewal: I remember coming home after many years of living away in my 20’s and being overwhelmed with the beauty of NZ, the clarity of light, the cleaness of the air, and the peace and quiet of my parents home. The past three years of being ‘confined to barracks’, much of it in the heart of our biggest city with its endless construction, road works (orange cones, anyone?), and constant noise left me feeling desperate to get out. I realised the week before we left to go away that I felt like I’d been holding my breath the entire time. On Day Four of our time away, I finally exhaled. Returning home has come with all the appreciation and gratitude I remember from 25 years ago. I’m able to park the things that have been pissing me off and focus on appreciating the things I’m blessed with. I feel deeply renewed.
- Build it in, don’t bolt it on: This experience has reinforced for me that it’s not about just bolting on a quick break from regular life and work that makes going walkabout valuable. It’s for the Fully Human reasons of connection, expansion, creativity, novelty, joy, energy, and learning that we must create these experiences for ourselves. I’d forgotten how important this kind of immersive growth experience is for me but now I’m recommitted. Building this into my life and work is now a priority. Making this not a luxury but part of how I do life and business is one of the opportunities the mid-life turning point is giving me.
My final reflection is this: who knows when we might next be locked in our houses or our country? Who knows when something might happen to our health, business/job, or in our family that means we don’t have the time, energy, resources, or capacity to travel? No one.
So I plan on making the most of the freedom and flexibility I have at this stage of life to do more of it. I’m not going to wait til later. I’m going to get amongst it now because it’s good for me, my relationships, my health, my work, and my capacity to be and do all I want to in the world.
What about you?