"Why come back?", the #1 question I get when I tell people about living abroad
I lived abroad because I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. Two years later, one of the hardest decisions was convincing myself it was time to go back home.
Cross the road and chill on that beach.
Those are the words that best describe my time in Australia. The phrase — and that photo — always best represent the nearly two years (between travel and moving around) that I spent in the country. Still, though, the description always seems to be somewhat insufficient when I think of everything I experienced during this period.
To say that I feel grateful is an under-statement when I think of the opportunity that I had to live in a place like that for so much time. When I think about the way I was welcomed, of the friendships I formed, of the opportunities open to me for work and living, of the places that I got to know. The lessons I learnt.
And of anything touching upon doubt or regret, the only question that comes close would be:
“Why come back?”
The best way to (at least attempt to) explain why I decided to return would be to share my motives in deciding to leave in the first place.
Around 2010, it was my last year at university and I had just started a new job. I was 20 years old and, after suffering a personal trauma/loss, I remember dwelling upon — for the first time — the type of life I had been living up to that point. It struck me that many of the truths I had taken as absolute no longer made any sense. Something in me had changed.
The routine of working life kept my mind occupied enough to not dwell upon these uncertain, inconvenient truths. I met talented people, replete with interesting ideas and, with their help, continued to develop myself in my role. I was improving myself, evolving in some ways, which made my existence tolerable and comfortable.
With time, those lessons became less common which made me realize that the environment was not so different after all.
Being aware of this left me slightly perturbed. A sense of inertia started to insidiously creep over me, bringing the same sense of emptiness and lack of purpose that had left me agitated months before.
This was when my thoughts turned to a friend who had recently left to travel around Australia. Always open and sincere, I tentatively asked him about his experience. Being someone who clearly shared the same relentless need to find the intangible thing that would fill the void I felt in my life, a conversation seemed like a good place to start.
Fortunately for me, he had just finished what — in his words — would be described as a ‘cycle’. The next phase would be spent in a different context, a different experience, with the plot unknown and the protagonists entirely new.
He talked about feeling limited in life, lacking a higher purpose, a calling that he had been unable to find here at home. As such, he had decided to search elsewhere.
After a few more weeks of reflection, influenced by his decision to leave, I decided to follow suit. The void we both felt in life — I though — would surely be better filled in an unknown country on the other side of the world.
I would only come to understand after that — after having my own experience there — that each person must follow their own, unique path and no longing for a sense of purpose will ever be the same as that of another.
Some months later, I disembarked in Australia. In a city far from Thiago, with far less confidence or conviction than him, but still, at least we were in the same country. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have a clue what I was going to do there.
What struck me most in my first few months was that my preconceptions of people were limited.
The diversity shocked me. I quickly realized I had spent my entire life in a bubble, formed by the same ideas, comforts, interests, relationships and truths.
A bubble that, although safe, did not represent even a slight insight into this new world I had suddenly found myself a part of. People, stories and places previously unknown.
These discoveries started to remold me, but I still lacked a purpose to direct these new meanings towards that I — and the world around me — could benefit from.
Four months had passed by when a switch flicked in my head — opening my mind to the question I had been blindly searching for — in the most mundane manner thinkable. It was born of a question that I had heard so many times but never really considered significant. A question that opened my world up in so many ways that — even today — I have difficulty explaining how hard it struck me that day that that girl, who worked with me in the restaurant, lightly put the question to me in my first week:
‘Who are you?’
Who was I. Not my name, my work, nor where I came from. But who was I.
As I’d never posed the question to myself before, saying that I reflected upon it would be a lie. In truth, the question dominated my whole waking existence, planting itself in my mind.
Who was I? what did I believe? What motivates me? What is my objective? What is your view of the world?
It was this. What took me to Australia was no in search of a different lifestyle, other place or new reality. The search was for myself.
And so, between comings and goings, houses and couches, backpacks and trips, reflections and connections, I gradually discovered a little more about who I was — for myself. I started to understand my motives, reform my beliefs, free myself from so many paradigms and to understand with new eyes my previous preconceptions.
I had new objectives, facing my fears, leaving what no longer made sense to me behind and embracing this new stage in my life.
Every person, every story, every place, every experience that I had, I discovered more about myself. It was exactly that which took me there in the first place: self-discovery.
The journey transformed me.
“OK. But why did you come back?”
I decided I was heading home because something told me it was time. The moment arrived to experience new things.
A new cycle was heading my way, full of new uncertainties. And, as infinite the doubts seemed, so — I felt — my learnings would be to help me deal with them.
Returning stopped being a good idea. I landed in São Paulo determined not to return to that same life that made me leave in the first place.
It felt different. Not because the city had changed, but because I had changed. And it took a while for me to process everything I had learned.
Writing for me was the best way to express all of these thoughts. It was self reflection, and I didn’t write about places visited, but about the people that had made those places come alive.
The draft started to turn into something else. All those fascinating stories from people I have met before, during and after my trip started to connect with my own experiences and, from this connection of different universes, my first own book was born. A romance — written in Portuguese — that takes the name of the Greek word that followed me through all that itinerant life (and that I hope will keep following me for many others):
"The life that is worth for itself; that exhausts in itself its reason to be." — Clóvis de Barros
Although unplanned, to write a book — albeit imperfect, modest and personal — and to share what I have learned, was in itself a good reason to have came back.
I confess that a big part of my problems in adapting to ‘normal life’ came from closing my eyes to options open to me at home. That is why hearing about Worldpackers was a turning point in my personal history.
“I’ve met some crazy guys that are starting a travel website that is different from everything I’ve ever seen before”, that’s how Rafa — one of the great friends that helped me to break the creative block I had built up — introduced me to the project. “It is about travelling. It is about purpose. You guys will get on well.”
When I finally met the guys, I could feel a collective purpose in the group and a simplicity behind all their craziness. Travelling, in their opinion, wasn’t just a way to visit a different country, but an experience capable of changing your worldview.
The ideia behind Worldpackers was pretty simple: a global marketplace that connects people (travelers and hosts) through the exchange of skills for accommodation.
The concept was born from each person’s experience, but collectively the aim was to make the trip-of-a-lifetime possible for a lot less money than most people think. That there are also thousands of people around the world that can and want to help you make it happen.
What started as idealistic turned into a mission: make more people, especially those who have never travelled, travel. Regardless of income.
More than just a start-up, Worldpackers stood for a purpose that resonated with a huge amount of people who share certain core values, including me. It represents my experiences. It represents me.
Today I am celebrating two years as one of those crazy people who believe that any trip is capable of changing the way we see ourselves and the world around us.
Not that I could have known, but I have no doubts that this cycle — Worldpackers and all the people that we help travel — are the reason I came back.