I have an unusual habit. Some people call it spontaneous, others expensive, immature, the product of an over active imagination and an overly emotional sensibility. Every so often, or at least every few months, I have to run away.
That is, whenever I have a small life crisis, whether it concerns my career, my love life, health or general happiness, I have to disappear somewhere for a couple of days. For some unknown reason I cannot bear to be a grown up, to stay put and talk through my worries with friends, my parents or with Google. My feet become impossibly itchy and the only cure is to find a last-minute escape. I see it like this: running away from responsibilities is fun, and as long as I am fortunate enough to have the freedom and the means to do it, why the hell shouldn’t I?
In my first year of university, I ran away to a friend’s house in Leeds when boy trouble struck. On my year abroad in California, when I found myself sleeping on a friend’s sofa and failing school, I booked a flight to New York. When I graduated and faced a summer of zero-hour contracts and unpaid internships, I vented out my millennial frustrations in the South of France – a decision I made only a week or so before boarding the plane.
On every occasion I’ve returned from my random dash across the country/globe with a clear head and lighter workload, feeling altogether way less stressed-out than I was before I left. It’s such a cliche, I know, but the best soul searching happens when you get out of your comfort zone and start to reassess the world around you. If you’re going to have a mini life-crisis, at least have it somewhere other than your office or sad excuse for a student bedroom. Go explore!
The basic ‘running away’ equation requires just three things: a cheap travel deal, a couple of free days, and a new destination. However, if you need a little more coaxing, here’s eight tips that should get you packing that overnight bag and taking a rain check on the real world.
- Skyscanner is your best friend
Oh Skyscanner, where would I be without you? This website is the best in the biz when it comes to booking the cheapest flights at the best possible time. If you’re not too fussed about the exact dates you go, you can search for the cheapest month or tick the flexible date option, and often the best deals are the most last-minute ones. Just be sure to delete the cookies off your computer each time you search, or it will store your data and bump up the prices as time goes by. If you’re looking for something closer to home, budget airlines such as Ryanair do incredibly cheap mid-week deals for internal or European flights – I recently bagged a return ticket to Edinburgh for £26, i.e. less than I’d spend on a new top. Also, National Express is often cheaper than getting the train or booking with other bus companies such as Megabus – £62 for a round trip to Amsterdam? Would be rude not to.
2. It’s about who you know
If there’s an old friend that moved somewhere new recently who you’ve been promising to visit ever since, now is the time to do it. Not only do you get a break and a little holiday, you also get to catch up with someone you don’t see as often as you’d like, who can most likely provide a fresh insight into your crisis and help you work out what’s important in life. Similarly, if there’s a place you really want to go, but you don’t know anyone there, put some feelers out – chances are your mum’s best friend’s niece lives in Rome and would love an English visitor, or your housemate’s old school friend is studying in Brighton and owns a sofa bed. It pays to be sociable, both emotionally and financially.
3. Couchsurfing is your other best friend
If you can’t find anyone to stay with, or if you want a complete change of scenery and to escape ties to your usual life (which, you know, is totally understandable sometimes), Couchsurfing is uh-mazing. Create a profile for free (try and get it verified so people will trust you and want to get in contact) and start making friends in cities all over the world. If someone is on Couchsurfing, they’ve probably travelled alone themselves so know how you feel when arriving in a new place, and usually this also means they are extremely friendly and sociable. Surely the best way to explore somewhere is with a local, who can show you hidden gems and coax you away from soulless tourist traps. If you’re up for stepping way out of your comfort zone and broadening your horizons for a night or two, kip on a stranger’s sofa.
4. Pack light
Taking just a rucksack or overnight bag with the essentials means a) you save money by avoiding luggage charges on airlines, and b) you aren’t tempted to stay away longer than you should – when there are no more clean pants left, it’s time to head home. Essentials include the usual phone, wallet, keys, passport, toiletries, a change of clothes and maybe a book, but try to leave anything that’s going to slow you down behind. For example, give your skin a break from the daily thirty-minute make up application, and only take one pair of shoes (comfy ones). In my opinion, scaling down or minimising clutter can be unimaginably helpful whenever you feel yourself going a bit stir crazy. Travelling gives you the perfect opportunity to strip yourself to the bare essentials, to think about what you actually need to survive day-to-day and to discover what might be making you miserable at home. Which leads me onto my next point.
5. Go offline
If you didn’t Instagram it, did it even happen? Well, yes, it did, and sometimes a social media break can be more beneficial than the travel break itself. Particularly if you’re feeling a bit down on yourself, scrolling through Facebook a million times a day and seeing how Sarah from school has her own clothing line or how nice your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend’s hair is is probably making you feel worse. When you’re on holiday keep your head up and your phone down, and experience your new surroundings without feeling the urge to look back at the same screen you see at home. Try to use your phone for Google Maps or searching for ‘Top 10 cocktail bars in Paris’ only. By all means, take some photos of the cool things you see and the great people you meet, but maybe wait until you get back home to share your adventure with the rest of the world.
6. Give yourself a purpose
It’s all well and good wandering aimlessly through city streets acting like you know where you’re going, but eventually you may find yourself getting a bit bored. Even though it’s a spontaneous trip, a little planning is encouraged. You might have sightseeing goals, such as ‘I want to sit on the Spanish steps’ or ‘I want to see a Broadway show’, to make the most of being in a specific location. Or, as this is being marketed as a soul-searching adventure, it might be something for personal than that, such as ‘I want to make two new friends’ or ‘I want to feel inspired’. Setting achievable goals will give you a feeling of satisfaction, so even if you do end up spending the rest of the time lost and a little confused, you can still say you accomplished your goals and have boosted your confidence.
7. Have something to come home to
Again, it’s all about the goals. Have a strict return date, and plan something for the following few days to ease you back into your usual life. Make it something to look forward to, such as lunch with friends, a new haircut or a short day trip. Talk about your time away and share your experiences, ensuring you carry your new positive outlook into your everyday life and don’t slip back into the grump you were in last week. Put your new resolutions into action – how do you feel now about applying for another job? Do you really need that person to call you back? Have you grown fonder of your own city and the people in it?
8. Consider the bigger picture
Learn to let go, and not take life too seriously. I know I’ve made the idea of ‘running away’ sound a bit dramatic and almost brattish, but the truth is if you’re a student, a young person trying to carve out a career for yourself or simply a person at a transitional period in your life, you should be making the most of the relative freedom you have. Shaking things up a bit, exploring somewhere new, meeting new people, having experiences; these are never bad things to do, so give yourself a break.
Be spontaneous. Be immature and overly emotional. If you find yourself with a spare few days and just enough quid in the bank to keep you out of the red, pull up your laptop, put down your responsibilities and just go. Your life will thank you for it.