Find Your Spark (Or How I Lost Mine and Hope to Get it Back)

Great Wall of China
Contemplating on the Great Wall of China.

Somewhere between the end of last summer and this spring, I lost it. It went out with a snap like a blown out candle, and I was only made aware that it was ever burning because of the lingering smell of smoke in the air.

It’s hard to imagine that just a little over a year ago I came back to Toronto feeling like I was on top of the world, a completely different person than I find myself today. For almost 3 years between 2009 and 2012, I had been living and traveling abroad. Two years were spent teaching English in South Korea, a job with a steep learning curve for this never-before-taught individual and a culture I had nothing to reference it to. But I adapted and learned the language, the culture, and how to fit in with a society that operated differently than my own.

Before returning to Canada, I was off on another adventure, this time backpacking for 8-months through China, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. With nothing more than what we could carry in our packs and only concrete plans for a week at a time, my boyfriend and I had an adventure of a lifetime.

An example of some of the tasty fare on hand in Southeast Asia.
An example of some of the tasty fare on hand in Southeast Asia.

We found ourselves in sprawling metropolises and simple villages, braved the overnight trains and buses, found “paradise” on an island off of Cambodia, came face to face with many historic wonders, stuffed our faces on delicious and cheap Southeast Asian cuisine, went scuba diving, surfing, and canyoning (all for the first time), road-tripped both Australia and New Zealand’s South Island, managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Hawaii, and stretched our travel budget from an original 6 months to 8. We were blogging regularly, sharing our experiences through videos and photos, and offering tips and advice to other travelers in the region. We loved every minute of it.

Learning to scuba dive on Koh Tao, Thailand over Christmas.
Learning to scuba dive on Koh Tao, Thailand over Christmas.

I went through a terrible bout of reverse culture shock and a period of depression when I came home. Everyone goes through the “travel blues” no matter how long of a trip you take. But I particularly didn’t know how to fit back into a place and with my group of friends which I had changed so much from in a 3-year period. I kept asking myself “now what?!”, a question I have yet to answer. At times I felt like I had been dropped into the middle of the ocean, water as far as the eye could see, and told to swim towards land. I so desperately wanted nothing to do with the term “settling down” and became very picky about which jobs I wanted to apply to. Months of unemployment and confusion took their toll on my relationship and myself. I’ve cried more this past year than I have my whole life combined.

Now what?! Which way am I supposed to go?
Now what?! Which way am I supposed to go?

Traveling gave me a sense of purpose and I didn’t know what that purpose was now that I was “back”. I struggled to write posts and put together all the video footage that I couldn’t keep up with on our trip. What once used to give me so much joy and pride, that allowed me to be completely creatively expressed, now reminded me of what once was, and I started to see the blog as a chore. That little voice in my head that used to undermine me and tell me I wasn’t good enough, creative enough, determined enough, the one I managed to stifle for 3 years had returned, and it came back with a vengeance. I wasn’t the same person who had been jumping off cliffs, dining in restaurants where no one spoke English, or haggling my way through markets.


I had lost my spark. I had lost my drive.


Some may call it a “mid-life crisis”, “finding yourself in your twenties”, or getting “stuck in a rut”. I call it losing my spark.

Just over a year ago, Expedia launched a video campaign called “Find Yours”, showing the power that travel has to transform individuals through personal travel stories. Two videos that have particularly moved me include; Find Your Understanding, the story of Artie who travels to attend his daughter’s same-sex marriage, and Find Your Harmony, the story of Dave and Deb, a couple who had grown apart in their marriage and through travel were able to rekindle that passion.

This campaign, in particular, really speaks to me because it shows what everyday people struggle with, told through the voices of everyday people. They are relatable, moving, and inspiring.

Expedia, in association with NFFTY, launched a contest to send one blogger to “Find Yours” in one of 6 destinations around the world and I want to find my spark in Morocco. I want to reignite it through adventure activities and cultural experiences. I want to see how everyday Moroccans live their lives. I want to be inspired by the sights, sounds, and tastes of the country. I want to learn about the country’s history through their cultural sites and why so many artists and creative types have flocked to Morocco for decades (with some never returning to their home countries). What makes this place seem so exotic?

Happier times in Cambodia.
Happier times in Cambodia.

Traveling is all about living in the moment. It’s about the present day, creating new possibilities, constantly having new and exciting experiences, pushing your comfort zones, being adventurous, meeting new people, forming new bonds with the people and cultures you meet, expanding your skill sets, challenging yourself daily, and deepening your understanding of yourself. That is why I love to travel.

Traveling is transformative on an emotional, physical, and spiritual level. I’ve always maintained that traveling is the best education. I am the best “me” when I’m on the road which is why I know that spark can easily be reclaimed.

Where will the road take me now?
Traveling is about living in the moment and creating endless possibilities.

A year later, I’m now starting to figuring out how to incorporate those things that travel provides me and transfer it to a single location. I’m learning to be adventurous in my own city, exploring new neighbourhoods, attending different events and meeting new people, and trying new activities. I know I can’t rely on travel alone to maintain my spark, but it’s the ignition to get this train moving again.


Have you ever gone through a period like this? What did you do and how did you get through it?


23 thoughts on “Find Your Spark (Or How I Lost Mine and Hope to Get it Back)

  1. Oh yeah, I’m kind of there right now. I’m in between trips and torn between excitement for the next one and just wanting to stay put. Either way, I’ll leave NYC for Dublin in 10 days and spend 2 months in Europe, and its probably the return that scares me most, even though I love being home in this interim period. The thought of having no travel plans to look forward to makes my stomach churn, and when I return from this next trip, I’ll be staying put for awhile. I (you, everyone who travels) just have to find our way to that realization that life is the adventure you make of it, no matter where you are. You just have to actively work at keeping that spark glowing! I’m sure you can do it, and so can I. 🙂

    1. Yes, you’re absolutely right about making life as a whole the adventure. We have to live in the moment everyday and not treat travel alone as the be all and end all. I think what’s great in your situation is that you’re already aware about what returning to NYC could bring. And I say could, because you never know… For 3 years, traveling was all I knew and I had to re-learn how to be in a single place once again. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and have an amazing time in Europe!!

  2. Hey Arienne! Boy, I can so relate to many of the things you’ve mentioned. Still trying to figure it out myself…to find a balance, a relationship, and, to earn an income.

    1. Hey Mike! I think finding that balance is a life-long journey. We’re better at different points throughout our life in achieving it. We’ll get there!

  3. My lowest point was after I came back from volunteering in Ghana for 3 months. I had gone from 3 years studying at Uni and living away from home straight to spending 3 months with this intense routine in an environment completely out of my comfort zone. And I loved every moment of it! Even though I had been looking forward to home comforts, as soon as I was back in the UK I felt instantly depressed. It was like I no longer had a ‘purpose’ and for the first time in a long while, I was unemployed. I hated living at home again and desperately needed a job. Yet all I wanted to do was to be off traveling again so was only half-heartedly searching for menial jobs. Thankfully I hit upon applying to teach in South Korea and the rest is, as you know, history ;-). As a result, I dreaded returning to the UK and living at home once again; only this time having been away almost 2 1/2 yrs. I knew I needed a plan of action and to act fast but I also needed a balance for the sake of my sanity. I chose to sacrifice applying at the optimum time for teaching jobs and instead travel for a few months before going back just in time to apply for the next peak of vacancies. I do wish I could’ve travelled for a lot longer and there were times that I was very tempted to extend my time away. The only way I could deal with this was to constantly remind myself why I was choosing to go back and to keep in mind the future of my career. Somehow, I landed a teaching post exactly a month after returning. It certainly wasn’t easy and this month has been an absolute whirlwind. It was my first interview after several applications but having met the Principal beforehand, I knew it was the one I wanted. Could I have gotten a ‘better’ job had I applied earlier? Probably. Would I still have been offered another job if I had rejected the offer? Possibly…? I will never know nor do I have any regrets about my decision. I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. If I had not been unemployed and depressed, I honestly don’t think I would’ve applied for South Korea. In which case, I would’ve not had all those incredible experiences and met such wonderful people. However, maybe I would have done something else equally as life changing? I think it’s good and necessary to have and experience these ‘down’ moments where we feel we don’t have a ‘spark’. It challenges us and pushes us to take risks we wouldn’t if everything were ‘easy’ or simple. Those that don’t get stuck in a rut and end up not knowing how to help themselves. Have faith in what you do and what the future holds but remember what you have already accomplished. You have been such an inspiration Arienne and I’m grateful for all your advice. I’m definitely still infected with the travel bug but, providing I have a long one, I plan on traveling for the rest of my life.

    1. Wow, Suetshan! That’s an amazing share! Sounds like you knew this time around how to integrate back into life in the UK a lot more easily from your previous experience, even though there were still those struggles. I think it’s important for people to be aware of the possible difficulties they may encounter after being a way for a while and hopefully will prepare for it. I most certainly didn’t and I think that’s why it’s been such a struggle. Things do happen for a reason and I’m definitely much stronger after this year. Congrats on your new job and here’s to many many more years of travel!

  4. The best part of travel is arrival, not the return. It’s hard to come back when you’ve been on the road and experienced so much. I feel like i’m actually LIVING when I travel and that’s what i want to do 365/days a year. But I take trips in between as often as I (financially) can. It keeps me sane and always looking forward to the next new adventure. I think you’re doing the right thing Arienne like finding ways to travel close to home when it might not be possible to be abroad all the time. What also keeps me sane are travel meetups cuz it keeps you around like-minded people.

    1. Oh yeah, the return can be worse than jumping into a completely foreign country and culture! Thanks for sharing your tips about taking smaller local trips and meeting with like-minded people once your back in a single location. It definitely has helped me to meet new people who share similar ideals and to bounce ideas and travel stories off of.

  5. You will always look back on that time of your life as a wonderful and life changing experience, no one can take that away for you. I’m sorry you’ve lost your spark but am sure it will return, you should read some of the blogs of people who do travel full time, it is a possiblity if that’s what you want – I am not one of those people 🙂 – or you will find your balance in the life you choose. Don’t get caught in a rut though and settle for second best, follow your gut and you will find the right path. Good luck and thanks for sharing your honest thoughts.

    1. Thanks Victoria. I don’t think a life of full-time travel is for me, though I’m sure I could make a pretty good go at it, haha. But what I do know is it’s all about balance and finding that balance seems to be what we all struggle with most. I’m doing everything in my power to “not settle” and I think that’s where the biggest struggles have come from. Trusting that it will all work out. Thanks for your reply!

  6. Totally relating to this post! Settling in Toronto after spending time traveling and working in remote areas was a really bizarre experience. It’s hard to make new friends and old ones don’t really make sense anymore. I’ve been feeling in a rut for the past few months and I think its because I’m lacking in inspiration, I’ve met some of my goals, left others by the wayside and now I’m not really sure what I want. Meeting you and others at Travel Massive has helped so much, you’re an amazing person and you shouldn’t give up. Stay positive, you’ll be fine 🙂

    1. Finding that constant source of inspiration is definitely a struggle. I also think finding meaningful employment makes a world of a difference too. So happy you think I’m amazing 🙂 I think you’re amazing too! (cue the “awwws”).

  7. is it really a lost of inspiration or drive? or do you relate to yourself in the city of Toronto a certain way? i know i relate to myself differently when i am working in europe and coming home for 2 weeks i didn’t know what to be like. the food was different and the water and it made me feel weird being back in toronto. i didnt have my usual rhythm. what i know now from experiencing it in trvel and also when seeing an old friend who i was really connected with, was that i relate to myself and my feelings a certain way in certain cities. Traveling makes you feel free because you are. You are not in your “home” and you can be who you really want, all of the time. But is “home” really home?

    1. Those are some excellent points. When I think about it, you’re right, I definitely relate to myself differently when I’m on the road versus being in Toronto. I think I allowed a lot of my old habits and outlook on things creep back in once I returned and instead should focus on how I can adapt the new me in my old surroundings.

  8. I read this posts and felt my exact thoughts being expressed. I am currently experiencing everything you had experienced I have just returned home after spending a year working abroad exploring various landscapes, immersing myself in unfamiliar cultures and stepping outside my comfort zone, meeting people from all walks of life. Thank You for this post…I had come up with the same solutions myself and you are completely right…..we come home and feel stuck but others come to Canada and gain so much because its a part of their travel. If we continue with the same mindset that we must go out and explore than that passion will live on whether we are home or abroad.

    1. Thank you for sharing your sentiments and what you’re experience has been like. It seems we all seem to experience similar feelings in one form or another. Since writing this post, I’ve been making more of a point to get out and do more things around the city and surrounding areas and the results have been so positive. Sure I’d love to be traveling and on the road again, but for now things are really starting to work out 🙂

  9. I’ve been back in NZ for almost two weeks after coming from from our own RTW trip. I’m really enjoying being settled and in familiar surroundings, but I imagine soon that glow will wear off. I’m still thinking through how I can incorporate (affordable) travel into our lives here at home, and I guess that’s something I’ll have to blog through as well. Nice to hear from another long term traveller who DOESN’T want a life of travel. I know it’s been a couple months since you wrote this, would be curious to see how you’ve adjusted now?

    1. Thanks for the message. I too was happy to be back into a routine when I first arrived home. After 8 months on the road and constantly unpacking and repacking, it was nice to have a closet again! I’ve come a long way since I wrote this post and a follow up is definitely needed. Things have come together nicely and I’m looking at how to continue to have travel in my life while balancing a steady-paying job. I haven’t yet closed the door though on moving abroad or traveling for an extended period of time again, but for now I’m enjoying having a home base 🙂

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