Photographer Freya Dowson’s musings of a life enriched with travel.
A guest post by Freya Dowson
I’ve spent half my life on the road. Moving countries, cities, houses, never staying anywhere longer than two or three years. Travel is in my bones, it’s my heart’s compulsion and it’s what I was born to do. The thrill of exploring or adventure is part of it, sure, but mostly it’s blending in, it’s watching another way of life, and it’s freeing my heart from its everyday troubles to allow it to reach out and touch another kind of life, another place and time.
Back in my everyday London life I have a commute just like everyone else, I have responsibilities and burnout is just the way of things here. You don’t mention it because it’s nothing new. I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones though, my job as a photographer takes me around the world and so while I have to do my time in the office and on the bus like everyone else, I also get to escape a lot.
Looking back, even though it hasn’t always felt like it, I think life truly does bring you what you need. Because I was born to it, life has always brought me the freedom of travel, but the more I have been sent to distant locations, the more I’ve noticed how they have changed me. Travel is teaching me ways of living and thinking I haven’t been able to learn on other paths in my life and it’s growing me up into a better person with each flight and each new discovery.
But I sometimes feel life has taught me too many harsh lessons, and I’ve been hurt in ways I don’t understand how to recover from. I’ve developed a hatred of not knowing how things are going to end, of not being able to prepare myself for the outcome. A life on the road gently breaks that down though, and in the therapeutic day to day of the practicalities of travel I learn to let go of that kind of control. Being on a road trip far away from home and not having the comfort of knowing where I’m going to sleep that night or how long it will take to get to where I’m going, it takes introspection and general nameless fear out of the picture. Through travel your grip is gently loosened, and as the wind blows through the window and your mind is thinking ahead, you learn to leave a lot behind.
And there are always things that we leave behind that later on we pick up again, when we’re ready to sort through them or when they need to be remembered. Sitting in a field somewhere warm with nothing but the sound of crickets and the occasional firefly floating past, I’m reminded of a long time ago when I was young and in a similar place and it brought such a wave of comfort and familiarity that I had forgotten. I’m often amazed by how familiar feelings of connection, love and empathy can be found in people and places so far removed from me, and yet when I arrive it all feels so familiar. I have found little pieces of what home means to me all around the world, in places I have never been before and people I have barely just met.
Travel has also taught me how to feel comfortable in my own skin. Hot weather and the knowledge that I know nobody in a place helps me overcome my insecurities and reveal parts of myself I have always been reluctant to. The knowledge that no one is looking at me, and if they are it’s probably because I’m a stranger in their city, makes me more comfortable with not feeling like my body should look a certain way or else should be covered up. I can look like me, the person I was never brave enough to be, I can wear the clothes that used to embarrass me, all because the knowledge that no one is looking at me with a critical eye has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin. Back home that lesson lingers, and I worry less about how I look to others and more about how I need to look to make myself feel good.
Life on the road teaches me how to take care of myself. It has taught me how to look back when memory calls me to, and move forward when I know it’s necessary that I leave things behind. It’s taught me how to find quiet in a crowd, and love in any culture that is so different from my own – and I have learned that each one is so much the same when it comes to love and caring.
Traveling to see the world has always been part of it, but more than that it feels like I am traveling for my own freedom. I need the unfamiliarity of places to catch me off guard, to pry me open and help me find what needs healing or bringing out. And each time I return home that freedom stays with me more and more, until it is etched in my bones with each moment I have captured along the way.