One week before mock exams, I left the country. The timing may have been screwed academically, but personally, it couldn’t have been better. The cliché says that travelling is the ultimate time for reflection. Never were clichés so accurate. I took a break from responsibility for thirty five days through sixteen countries, and came back changed. A few months on, it’s still one of the best things I’ve ever done. Here’s what it taught me.

Mt Pilatus, Switzerland. Photo by Hannah Powell.


There is something refreshing about anonymity and beginnings.

When was the last time you did something for the first time? At this age, the first times of drinking, driving, and sex are our rite of passage. We’re stuck in a routine where familiarity is the comfort that guarantees a good time. We head to the usual club, we put on the old movie, we plug in the same songs. What we want is instant gratification and trying something new puts us out of whack when it comes to knowing the feeling it will give us in return. But turning points are beginnings for a reason. Travelling gave me so much perspective to a point that when I returned to high school a month later, I found that I’d completely outgrown it in a short space of time. I’d been ready to leave months before I was graduating, but my wavelength remained steady up until then.

When we try something new, we grow older. It’s really when you look back on something that you know you’re moving forward. I found myself beginning to look back at high school like I’d already left, as in some ways I already had. Being anonymous while travelling leads to a maturity that you carry with you. Walking the streets of another city and wandering through coffee shops full of people and lives you know nothing about, show that we aren’t defined by our year level or by what school we go to, what prejudice or reputation we’ve been known by since our junior years. We’re perceived by how we are in that moment, by where we’ve been, and by what we’ve done. In the real world, people are interested in backstories. People are interested in stories, period. You are always a clean slate, if you let yourself be. Travelling taught me the weight of anonymity, and I now realise how important it really is to take yourself out of stale security. Comfort gets you nowhere but where you’ve already been.      

Monaco. Photo by Hannah Powell.

High school and tunnel vision go hand in hand.

In the first few weeks of my Year 13, one of my best mates who had left a year prior said how much her mental health improved once she left high school. Only a few weeks into my senior year, it wasn’t exactly reassuring. At that moment I thought of my own headspace; I’m feeling pretty good, I thought. But her comment stuck with me throughout the whole year and made me reflect on my own mental health plenty of times. When I was out of school for so long, it was then that I finally understood where she was coming from. Crossing the ditch and heading further than ever before, I got a taste of what life would be like after graduation. I was traveling through Europe without study, exams, and final assignments. I was travelling through Europe without pressure. People asked me what I was doing next year, but they didn’t ask me about school. I was anonymous, young, and had a fluidity about me that gave the finger to routine. Maybe you’ve been there done that, or you’re about to, but high schools are the peak of pettiness and some good ol’ drama. Travelling taught me the bigger picture. They don’t like you back? So what. Just scraped by for calculus? Good on ya (let’s be honest, who needs it). There’s gossip about you? It’s on them, not you. It’s far too easy to wrap yourself up in your own head – believe me, I’m talented at it – that we forget what’s priority.

Isle of Capri. Photo by Hannah Powell.

It’s the bigger picture that you want to get stuck into.

For me, the bigger picture is the year ahead; I’m moving to the big smoke, to another island, and I’m out on my own studying what I love. If I could tell the Year 13 me one thing? In the times of struggle, stick to the vision. Fix what’s in front of you. I could just say it’s as easy as knocking back a ‘will I worry about this in a week?’ prescription, but we know we’re more complicated than that. It was experiencing other cultures, meeting others my age leading very different lives to my own, that opened my eyes up to how there’s a whole world outside of high school. People live so differently and there is no reason we can’t take something from it and apply it to ourselves. To me, the most important thing in this world is people. I learned the most through conquering as many new experiences I could, and one of the biggest experiences was different cultures. Europe is a continent, not an umbrella – every country within it has a sub-society of its own and something new to give. Regret is toxic, remember that.


Take risks, take photos, take note. Above all, take it with you.


HANNAH POWELL is your local film and theatre gal gone hippie, complete with bangs and at least one pair of Docs. Music festival enthusiast, green tea drinker and avid horoscope reader. Will most likely be found at the next gig.


Check out Hannah’s other work:

The Common Room: What a Month of Tinder Taught Me

The Great NZ Festival Road Trip: How You Can Do It For Yourself