Escape through travel works. Almost from the moment I boarded my flight, life in England became meaningless. Seat-belt signs lit up, problems switched off. Broken armrests took precedence over broken hearts. By the time the plane was airborne I’d forgotten England even existed.Alex Garland (The Beach)
I remember reading this in my hostel room in Chiang Mai, thinking that this was the absolute truth. A few months before that I had done exactly the same — I packed my bags and boarded a one-way flight to Thailand, thinking that the travels and a warm climate would cure my broken heart.
Two years on and I know that Alex Garland was completely wrong. The above quote is yet another one to encourage people to dump everything and travel the world without thinking of their lives they first need to organise and the grief they first need to cure.
I travelled with a broken heart. I went to beautiful places and I don’t regret it, but if I’d had to do it all over again, I would have done it differently. I would have waited, trying to organise my life at the same time. I would have grieved and cried. I would have spent more time with my family and friends, letting them coo over me. I would have got to know myself better and I would have let loneliness washed over me and then I would have let it go…
My problems didn’t switch off when the seat belt sign switched on, although for a long time I thought that was what had happened. I didn’t leave my problems in England. They jumped on that plane with me. Only after two years I can honestly say that it took me a long time to recover and my travels didn’t really help in that process.
I think break ups are hard and only if you are a person with a strong mind you can travel with a broken heart and cure it at the same time. The rest of us should stay at home and wait until they feel well enough to appreciate the world around them.
Here are 4 good reasons why you shouldn’t travel with a broken heart.
When you’re out of a long term relationship you feel lonely. Even if you are surrounded by friends and family, who try to comfort you, you still feel detached from them. They don’t understand how you feel, they don’t get your pain. They will listen to you and take you out, but after a while they will want you to go back to your normal self, because they also want to live their lives.
When you travel there are moments when you feel very lonely. You are surrounded by people you don’t understand, in a foreign country, where the culture and everything else is different from what you’re used to. In this environment it is even harder to cope with grief.
During my travels, after my divorce, I went to Australia. I loved the country and people, but I felt extreme sadness inside of me all the time, which didn’t allow me to make the best of my trip. Yes, I smiled and laughed, but I just couldn’t appreciate it. I travelled to the other end of the world just to be as miserable as I was in England.
Now, when I look back, I know that I should have waited a little before travelling. I would have had much better time in Australia and other places. Maybe I would have taken a friend with me on my travels to feel less lonely. I rushed everything because I wanted it all ‘here and now’.
Travelling is all about experiencing places, it’s about seeing things and appreciating them. If you are not able to do that, then what’s the point of going away?
“I am going to India/Thailand/Australia/Bali to find myself” is yet another cliché I hear from backpackers and travellers. People, who have problems at home, can’t cope with the reality, hate their jobs, or they have just split with their partner often say that: “I’m going to … to find myself”.
They feel an extreme mental discomfort and don’t know how to deal with that. Most of them go away to some exotic country, like Thailand, and try to relax and forget about their problems. However, very often, they feel even worse. That’s because our minds don’t switch off automatically. We can’t just command ourselves to stop being sad, or stop worrying.
There are people, who go to an ashram and stay there for months, or set off on a long adventure, and who manage to deal with their broken hearts and traumas. Famous writers Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed are just two examples, but you also need to look at how much effort it took them to overcome their hardships.
Most of those ‘looking for themselves’ end up drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, sleeping with strangers and losing instead of finding themselves. Unless you are after that, I would advise staying at home and working on your problems first before setting off to the end of the world.
One day, when your money runs out, or when something else happens, you will have to go back. The old problems will knock on your door, your loneliness will feel even more lonely and you will have to go through it all again.
You will see the old places, your old friends, and probably your ex, too. You will find out that the travels haven’t helped you with your broken heart at all. Coming back from travels to reality is hard when you don’t have problems, coming back when you have them is three times as hard.
Psychologists say that divorce, or a break up after a long term relationship, is one of the most traumatic experience one can have. There is even a list that marks the stages of recovery after such event. For some it takes years to cope with a breakup, some let everything go easily and without much thinking. Many choose to escape from reality and go far away, trying to keep their problems out of mind.
My experience tells me that long term travel is not good if you are struggling with a major trauma in your life. It is not a bad idea to go on a short holiday with your friends, relax at a nice resort and try to get away from it all for a week, or two. However, long term travels should be done when you feel strong, confident and sure that you can appreciate the world and its beauty.