Blowing my 31 candles out without regret

Article publié le 09-05-2017.

Nine years ago, I was flying to Australia, a WHV in my passport. I was 21, about to turn 22. I had no idea what this year would bring.

Six months later I wrote a piece called “I’m running away” I was in a bus, or in a plane maybe. Then I posted it on PVTistes.net, a brand new website back then. Last May, I published it as an article on the website. The number of comments the article received surprised me.

Some people told me that if they had written the article, they would have expressed the same feeling and used the same words. Some shared the article on their Facebook wall as a way to better explain their relatives why they felt the urge to pack their bags and take the next flight, to see other places and other people, to start from the scratch in the unknown, alone, in order to find themselves again. Your messages were extremely moving.

Some readers didn’t feel as lost and alone after reading my article because they related to me and found my words relevant. Now, just imagine how I felt reading your amazing feedback!

Many of us were “called” by the road. This call wasn’t exactly the same for everyone, our destinations and experiences vary. Yet, we’re on the same page when we talk about the concept of wanderlust or the practicalities of adapting to life back home again.

In some of the comments, some readers kindly share advice as if I had just written the article, and they encouraged me to follow my heart. But the fact is, I celebrated my 31st birthday yesterday. It happened so fast! I’m no longer 21, I’m 10 years older and I still wonder how my life would have been without this gap year in Australia.

What if I had been too scared to go travel alone? What if I had weighed the decision for too long? What if relatives had tried to talk me out of my plans?

If I hadn’t taken the chance to live this adventure, would I regret it today? I’m glad I don’t have to answer this question. Life would probably have turned out okay, like it is for thousands of people who haven’t been bitten by the travel bug. Yet, I wanted to travel so badly that I don’t think I would have hit the 31-year-old milestone as relaxed as I was yesterday if I hadn’t taken the plunge.

The WHV program is not long an option for me. Technically, I could apply for a second WHV in Canada in the next few years, but it would be a “been there, done that” experience. The mixed feeling of excitement and fear when packing a bag for a foreign land and for a long period of time, learning a new word, a new custom, a new city name every day for a year… I’m done with that.

Since this article is a follow-up to “I’m Running Away,” you may be wondering if I’m still running away, if the questions I had at 22 are still the same at 31, if I’m over a certain existential angst.

Back then, I traded a straightforward daily routine for twelve months of a life in the fast lane in Australia. I didn’t know what I would see, what I would do or who I would meet. I don’t think you can fully comprehend how amazing a gap year can be until you’ve taken your chance. For some, travelling is an instinctive need, a physical addiction, almost. For others, jumping into the unknown without a plan and choosing to lose control and let it go is pure madness.

Why do all travellers who come home after a WHV experience constantly talk about freedom, open-mindedness and the feeling of knowing their true selves?

These kinds of statements can be puzzling to hear for those who’ve never travelled—it can make them smile, even. But travellers with a similar experience know exactly what you’re talking about and how you’re feeling, no further explanations required.

Life has different paths and they’re all alright. Yet, I think I should thank those who encouraged me to board my flight on December 7, 2006, because my gap year in Australia largely made me who I am today. I’m grateful I listened to my wanderlust even though I didn’t fully understand why I needed to travel; I’m grateful to my parents who were never against my plans, I’m grateful to anyone who was part of WHV program negotiations and agreement. Without this scheme in place, it’d be much harder for twentysomethings to travel and work abroad, especially considering most of us have limited foreign language skills and work experience at this stage of life.

I’m often asked if I still travel. I do take holidays but I don’t explore the world as much as I used to. Coming back home after Australia was difficult, so I left again to Canada for several months. In 2010, I travelled for a couple of months, then in 2013, I travelled for a month. After that… not so much. The transition from travelling to settling somewhere was tough but I found other sources of happiness. I have the chance to live in a city I love (nope, not Paris!) with the love of my life (mentioned here) and I’m close to my beloved relatives and friends.

That said, my 10-year-old love story with the WHV program and PVTistes.net became my full-time job four years ago. I can’t stop praising the perks of the WHV, an easy-to-access, flexible program. Sure, it’s not perfect but like I say, a year abroad doesn’t have to be perfect either to leave a long-lasting memory close to perfection. Challenges, roadblocks and fuzzy moments are all part of the experience. They’re often what makes us grow and mature.

My career is a passion and I get to talk about travelling every day, and my personal life is very fulfilling, so I can safely tell those who think life at home is awful that no, it can be great. This was my mindset late 2007, when I came back from Australia. But honestly, these days, I feel very happy even though I’m not travelling. Of course, I still have questions, some existential angst left and I still have dreams which are hard to achieve—I’m this kind of person, always looking for more. But like I wrote in “I’m running away,” you’ll never hear me say, “I wish I had…” or “if I had known…”. This is what matters most to me.

When a new WHV agreement is signed, many of you are sad because at 30 and older, you’re no longer eligible for this new opportunity.

If you are under 31, ask yourself the right questions. If you have zero interest in the experience, forget it. But if you are among those who tell travellers, “You are so lucky!”, “I would love to be in your shoes!”, “I’m afraid to make the first move!” or “You’re living an amazing experience,” I shall remind you that you’re in charge of your life and you’re the master of your destiny. No one else but you decide. Don’t miss your chance.

If you have questions or concerns, talk about it on the website’s forum! We have an entire section dedicated to pre-departure topics. You can participate in WHV, Meetup and Couchsurfing events to meet fellow wanderlusters and travellers passing through your city. Check out a student/youth information centre near you. Talk about your project to people around you and think about what you want to do. Like I said in “15 Tips for a Successful WHV Experience,” focus on people who support you. Don’t let other people’s negativity affect you.

If you don’t have much money, keep in mind that many WHV holders are in the same boat. The best way to deal with the issue is to plan, sometimes a year or two ahead of time, to save enough for a plane ticket and required funds. Try hard to make your dreams come true. Dedicate your efforts to make it happen and lose neither patience nor hope. Once on the plane or on the road, you won’t regret a thing!

When it will be your turn to celebrate turning 30 and when you’ll no longer be eligible for a WHV, make sure you start the new decade of your life with a smile knowing that you lived the experience you wanted and were at the right place at the right time. I’ve been thinking about my year in Australia for nine years. I often daydream about it, remembering places, people, anecdotes and sounds. These memories are very emotional. Nostalgia is a bittersweet feeling I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

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