Travel, anxiety and finding the meaningful in the meaningless

travel sabbatical

I don’t normally write these kinds of posts but sometimes, it doesn’t feel right to run this blog and not share how I’m really feeling about life beyond these stories on travel. There are no words for the attack that happened in Manchester this week, the attack that happened in Westminster two months ago, or the horrific events that have been going on in Syria, the Middle East (and too many places to even mention) at the hands of extremists – but I think many of us are looking for words to describe how we’re feeling right now.

These horrendous events are all shaping so many ways in which we think and live – what we feel is a ‘safe’ way to spend our time; whether or not we travel to that destination that’s been deemed a no-go zone or just been subject to a terrorist attack and how content we feel in our lives as our world continues to feel more and more like a threatening place. And that’s before we even consider the fear that many of us have about bringing up children in this world and of what’s going to happen next.

The attack in Manchester hit many people hard this week and I can’t shake off the feeling of utter sadness for the families and parents of the innocent victims who have lost their lives in this senseless attack.

I used to live in an apartment just minutes away from the MEN arena in Manchester. I was born just outside of the city before we moved up to Yorkshire and returned to Manchester as an adult where I worked as a reporter at the Manchester Evening News. It’s where I spent four amazing years of my 20s and where some of my friends still live. The city has an amazing spirit about it which is all down to one thing – the people who live there. It will always feel like my second home.

I know I’m not alone in saying that the thought of a terrorist attack directly affecting me crosses my mind more frequently these days. That the next time you’re on the tube, sitting in a bus in central London, walking through a crowd of people or just walking down the street, that you could be the next person to be caught up in this inconceivable hate.

I know I’m also not the only one who may consider putting off that trip you’ve always wanted to take to Berlin, Nice, Stockholm or St Petersburg, because it too, has been targeted by a terrorist attack.

And I definitely know I’m not the only one who is finding themselves feeling more anxious, far too often, and occasionally feeling like they should live a far more insular life. Let’s just not bother travelling because that way we’ll be safer. Let’s not bother going into Central London because hey, something’s more likely to happen there, right?

NO. NO. NO.

However often I have the above thoughts and feelings, the right-thinking voice in my head slaps a bit of sense into me and reminds me of a few things. Life is about travelling, experiencing and not feeling like you should be held back by the what ifs. It’s about the very cliché-but-so-poignant ‘keep calm and carry on’ sentiment that British people demonstrate so well. It’s about being open as human-beings, being open to the world and not putting up walls or barriers because we feel threatened.

In a way, escapism via the means of travel has become invalid. The more these frightening things happen, the more I feel like taking off and travelling away from the constant reminder of the evil in the world. Yet, the prospect of travel has also started to instil fear in people. Me included.

I know there is no quick solution to all of this, no conclusion that will make anyone reading this think that I’ve made any ounce of difference to the way people act or feel. I don’t know about you, but I can’t even bring myself to say very much on social media when the news is filled with more and more painful events. Sometimes, even talking about travelling on sites like instagram feels ridiculously trite when there are horrific things going on in the world. And let’s not even get started on the difference between our own realities and what our social media feed is saying.

So I guess I’m just saying that while I’m reminding myself to be grateful for my loved ones, the roof over my head and the experiences I have, and feeling so deeply sad for the people who are experiencing inconceivable suffering at the moment, I’m also celebrating how many of us will not be set back by these events and if we are open to it, travel will continue to bring positivity in this crazy world.

For every person who is leading a more hateful, narrow-minded and insular way of living, hundreds more are opening their minds, being kinder each day and realising that the minority of hateful people and extremists are not a representation of any race or religion.

While evil in some people encourages an even greater love and unity in others, travel also brings people together, breaks cultural boundaries, forces you to question your judgements, allows us to feel ‘more alive’ and – in my opinion – educates us, however much life experience we may or may not have.

So while I would like to start bringing more of the meaningful, more thoughtful notes on travel to this space of the internet (and intend to do so in time), I also hope you won’t judge me for the odd fantasist, bucket-list or ‘travelporn’-worthy post I put up here that may seem a bit trite.

Because, whether it’s sharing a picture of a rabbit dressed as an elf, a video of your baby dancing to hip hop or a laugh-til-you-cry meme on twitter, we all deserve a vice, and a bit of escapism and something that makes you feel more alive.

For me that will always come in the way of sipping a glass of wine in a bubble bath, eating a piece of dark chocolate on the sofa, opening a brand spanking new issue of my favourite travel magazine for the first time, having a really nice conversation with a friend over coffee, hugging your partner a little bit tighter than normal and posting a pretty picture of a far-flung destination on Instagram so that for a second, you almost feel like you’re there.

Yep, they’re all such little things, they’re sometimes a little bit meaningless and often they’re indulgent. But when you feel completely helpless and that there’s nothing you can do to change these horrific things that are going on, sometimes the best thing we can do is to get up, start another day and not do a single thing differently. And sometimes, it’s the meaningless things like this that keep us going, right? Travel included.

This post is dedicated to Manchester, a city that made my 20s some of the best years of my life, a place that’s filled with brilliant people and a city that won’t be broken.