From The Arctic to Africa: Free or Lost?

There is a fine line between feeling free and lost. 

And one of the greatest lessons travel has taught me is how to recognise the difference.

Smeerenburg, Amsterdamøya

When I began my first career break in 2009, I wasn’t searching for anything.  I simply found myself relatively commitment-free and at a stage in my career where a break might enhance rather than damage it.  My bucket list was growing and I became aware that I could always replenish my bank account but I could not reclaim time.  I realised my dreams of visiting foreign destinations, meeting new people and enjoying different adventures would only become reality if I made it happen.

During that 15-month break, I never crossed the invisible line between feeling free and lost – in fact, I never even came close to it.  I only felt an overwhelming sense of freedom.

The literal definition of freedom was hard to ignore as I travelled, lived and volunteered through developing countries.  But I also discovered a spiritual definition as I found answers to questions I hadn’t even asked.  The sense of freedom I felt during that career break was so overwhelming, life-changing and liberating that I had the Sanskrit word for freedom tattooed on my left ankle (by a drunk Cambodian ex Buddhist monk…but that’s a story for another day).

From the day I returned to London to replenish my bank account, I dreamed of regaining that sense of freedom.  I thought I had found the answer to my pursuit of happiness.  I thought the answer was another career break.

I finished a work contract in early March, put my belongings into storage, rented out my flat and hit the road.  And I’ve found myself walking on the free/lost tightrope since – something I didn’t expect to happen.

So what is the difference?

I feel free when I think about nothing but the moment I am in.  The past becomes irrelevant and the future unimportant.  I feel lost when I worry about or ask myself “what next?”

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Over the past few months, I’ve felt free when I have a camera in my hand, focused entirely on capturing the scene in front of me.  I’ve felt free sailing through the polar regions, incapable of formulating a thought or sentence that isn’t related to the other-worldly environment I am in.  I’ve felt free when I’ve met people from other walks of life, people whose path I would not have crossed, had it not been for our common love of travel and adventure.  I’ve felt free during a digital detox. I’ve felt free travelling as a solo, independent traveller.

But I’ve also felt free when I’ve reunited with friends and family at one of my two homes in Australia and the UK, those who love and accept me for who I am, where the conversation flows effortlessly, the laughs are endless and the silences aren’t awkward.  I’ve felt free when I’ve started the car without a GPS, jumped on the tube without a map and wandered around familiar surroundings.  I’ve felt free when having the Internet at my fingertips means instant decision-making and plans are possible.  I’ve felt free travelling with like-minded people I have a connection with, instead of on my own.  And I’ve felt free with money in the bank, without that nagging worry of ‘what happens when my savings run dry?’

Danco Island, Antarctica

What does this mean?

During my first career break, I realised I value freedom more than security, appreciated flexibility more than routine and being outside my comfort zone energises me.  During my second career break, I realised it’s possible to achieve all of that with balance instead of extremity.

So over the last four days I’ve made the physical journey from the Arctic to Africa, where my next adventure awaits.  I’ve also got the ball rolling on a return to London in a month, where I hope to find some short-term contract work to replenish the bank account, unpack my bags and enjoy time with my friends in the place I’ve called home for the past 12 years.  I also have a 10-day photography trip to Croatia to look forward, a two-week photography field trip in Western Australia next year and many more places I want to visit over the coming year.

I’ve found my real passions in life – travel and photography.  I’ve just realised I don’t need to leave everything else behind to enjoy them.

I certainly don’t have all the answers yet – I’m not sure I even know what the right questions are at this stage of my life.  But I do know that one of the reasons I named this website Destination Unknown is that I believe the journey is more important, enjoyable and rewarding than the final destination – in both travel and life in general.

Let’s be honest – if I discovered all the answers and settled down to live happily ever after I’d probably be bored within minutes, as anyone who knows me well will testify!  I’ll always having my wings on!

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NEXT: SOUTH AFRICA

So I’ve left the magical Arctic behind and tomorrow I will start a four-week volunteering stint with African Impact at the Thanda Game Reserve in South Africa.  I hope to share some of this experience along the way, but internet is notoriously sporadic in this area, so no promises!

Who?

African Impact is the largest African based volunteer organisation with over 50 projects around Africa, focusing on vital conservation and community development.  They run a number of projects at Thanda including Photography, Big 5 Research and Conversation, Large Predator Research and Conservation, Elephant and Rhino Research and Conversation and an over 30’s Pre School and Community Development Project.

Where?

Thanda Private Game Reserve is a 14,000 hectare Big 5 Reserve set in the stunning Zululand heartland around 1.5 hours north of the small town of St Lucia. The pristine bush of the Reserve is home to the Big 5, the extremely rare African Wild Dog and Cheetah.

What?

I’ll be taking part in the Photography Project that begins with a four-day training course with a professional photographer.  The remainder of the time will be spent photographing the wildlife in the park and conservation support work.  Although I retain the rights to the photographs I take, the images captured by the volunteers contribute to African Impact’s photographic database.  Proceeds from photo sales from this database help finance the core projects at Thanda, but it’s main purpose is educational.  African Impact aim to document and preserve Thanda as a key area of Southern Africa and recognise that a key enabler of this is to engage local communities.  Donated photographs are used to help educate local schools about the special and unique environment they live in.

Why?

I’d be lying if I didn’t say the main aim of my trip was to capture some great wildlife moments whilst improving my photography skills.  I fell in love with the African wildlife on my first visit in 2009 and having four weeks of safari drives as a photographer instead of a handful of drives as a tourist with a point-and-shoot is something I’m pretty excited about.  But it’s more than that – Africa is a destination that really got under my skin on my first visit and the opportunity to return, interact with the locals and hopefully give something back to the community is the icing on the cake.

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. So, does it matter if there’s a there, there—or is it all about the journey—-or will you know it when you see it—some combination of the above—or is the jury still out (deliberating)? For me, after lo these many years, I actually find some comfort in looking back and I’m content with being content.

    • Interesting question Suzanne and I’m not sure – I think I’ll know when I see it, but in the meantime, I’m thoroughly enjoying focusing on the journey instead of the destination. The freedom to change plans and direction along the way is one I think I take for granted sometimes. I also think I’ll be content with being content some day..just not sure what shape or form “content” will take!

  2. I can certainly understand your desire to return to South Africa. Have been there twice and going back in November. Plus totally agree about living in the NOW being the best of life. It’s all about the journey. Thanda sounds like an awesome experience.

  3. Great post, I can really relate to this. I have always struggled to walk that fine line between being lost and free. I had my first big trip in October last year where I backpacked Latin America for 4.5 months I’ve been back in Australia 4 months and what I have missed the most after being back at work is that sense of freedom.

    I have another big trip planned in September in a hope to regain that freedom again :).

    I think focusing on the journey and experiences is the best way to do it 🙂

    • I think it’s something a lot of long term travellers can relate to – having something to look forward to once you’ve returned to reality is key to keeping the balance I think! Happy travels 🙂

  4. Kellie, I am battling the same line right now! Have had a few career breaks in my life and love the freedom of the road and exploring new places. I hope my skills at writing and photography continue to improve as I know the return to my previous career path is not where my future lies! I say this as I am temporarily back and work and grappling with the difficulty of not fully following my heart and dream. The bank account replenishment and time with family is important, but I am sure my free spirit will have be back on the road on a more full time basis soon! Love following your photos and adventures – you are an inspiration for the direction I am working towards!

  5. I just love your Attitude! And your definition, I guess I am FREE and not LOST after all 🙂

  6. What a fabulous life you’ve created for yourself. I hope your photography sales will support your freedom more and more over time. Your images are as good as any famous nature photographer I know.

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Polar Travel in Pictures: #Arctic Ice
Photography Volunteering on a South African Game Reserve: First Impressions