It took three hours of trekking in the Borneo rainforest of Bako National Park for me to fully realise that I had broken my first boyfriend’s heart. Up until that point, I hadn’t understood why he had acted so cruelly when I broke up with him. I resented the lies that he had told about me to his friends and the cruel words that he wrote about me on the internet. I resented all of this without ever understanding how truly hurt he had been. It took the isolation of nature-based travel and the physical exertion of hiking in the hot, muggy rainforest to have the necessary mental space to process my failed relationship. I put my body into automatic mode and by not focusing on the strain of the exercise, I finally had space to critically examine my emotions and my situation.
Every time I end a serious relationship, I go travelling. You could argue that it’s in my nature to run away from my emotional problems, but I think that it goes deeper than that. My life is a haze of busy chaos at any given time. I need to divide my concentration between work, university, my mental health, socialisation, and my friends’ problems. I spend a lot of my time in a state of constant low stress, which throbs through my brain and keeps me jumping from one task to another. The only real downtime that I experience in my everyday life is taking long, hot showers. Any emotional processing that I do is slotted in between all the other aspects of my life. Travel provides space from real life.
I have always preferred travelling to small towns or rural villages over big cities. Cities are interesting and hyper-stimulating, but there is little space to truly escape from the crush of people around you. Something about nature-based travel in quaint mountain towns has always appealed to my soul and instilled a sense of peace. The lack of people, the soothing sensation of clean mountain air, the isolated nature and beauty that surrounds you at all times. These conditions are most conducive to my mental health. Something about cities is truly unnatural for the human spirit. We weren’t designed to be surrounded by concrete, noise, and pollution.
Travelling in nature creates the right conditions for attaining peace and emotional clarity in your life, in so many ways. These are the aspects of my life that I have gained more understanding of by removing myself from the busyness of my everyday life.
Processing past relationships.
The end of a relationship is always messy. I try to cut ties as much as possible, by deleting them off Facebook, severing contact, and avoiding places where they go frequently. However, this can easily become avoidance of acknowledging feelings if you don’t take the time to process what has happened. It is important to reflect on the lessons that you have learned from that relationship and how you are going to apply it to your life moving forward.
I found peace with the end of my last relationship in the village of Salento in Colombia. I stayed in an eco hostel that required an hour’s walk to get into town every day. This was while surrounded by the beautiful nature of sprawling jungle, rolling hills, and coffee farms dotted across the countryside. There was no public transport into town, and so every day I had an hour to myself and my thoughts, with no distractions in the peaceful landscape. I spent six months of my life after my breakup hating myself and believing myself to be an evil person for the way that I treated my ex. It was during my daily treks into Salento that I decided to finally forgive myself. I decided that it wasn’t going to solve any problems by beating myself up every day, and that I can only learn from my experience and try to be better in the future. I could only come to this realisation because I had the space and solitude to examine the past events and how I wanted to proceed as a person. Being alone during your nature-based travel and taking that time to examine what has happened can be beneficial to move on and become a better person.
Analysing root causes of mental illness.
I was only diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in November 2016, and the diagnosis changed my life. I finally felt like I wasn’t alone in the ways that I experience life and react emotionally to situations. However, the diagnosis is still new for me and so I am still trying to process everything. In particular, I have struggled to understand why I developed this disorder, as most borderlines suffered childhood abuse. I did not.
Trekking in Salento also facilitated examining the course of my childhood and gaining a better idea of how and why my disorder developed. When you are in your everyday life, with its stresses and distractions, energy is often focused on coping with your mental illness, rather than asking yourself why it is a part of your life. Nature-based travel has allowed me to start down the path towards understanding the origins of my disorder, and in turn, myself. Sometimes you just need the peace of nature and space to begin to truly understand yourself and your mental health.
Nature-based travel can help you reflect on your life’s purpose.
I have realised that I never want to live a conventional life. I can’t see myself in a regular job, having children, or getting a mortgage on a house. I want to spend my life exploring the world and what life has to offer. I want to practise as much kindness as I can and improve the lives of as many people as I can. Money is not important to me. Neither are power and status. These are all realisations that I have come to while enjoying the pure joy of travel. The world is such a huge, beautiful place, and I want to experience it as much as possible. Nature-based travel has allowed me to fully experience the wonder of life lived on one’s own terms, and realise what direction I want to take. Everyone has their own path to follow, and it is much easier to identify when you take time out to think about your values and priorities.
Everyday life is busy and jumbled. It leaves little room for proper introspection and evaluating your priorities. Life just passes you by as you jump from one responsibility to the next, following a natural progression into the future. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Transformation of your life and realising the nature of your true self is entirely possible. Travelling alone in nature is simply a tool to give you space from the distractions and the noise, and allow to see yourself as you truly are.
What do you think? Do you feel more at peace and in touch with yourself when you are alone in nature? Or do you get the same clarity from travelling anywhere?