SheTravels with Sara Shirley: Reflections after a dream accomplished

By October 3, 2016SheTravels

What happens when you dream of something for so long and finally do it? Read my story about my year abroad living in Spain after dreaming of it for 13 years.

In case you don’t remember, you can read about the inspiration and conception of SheTravels here.

The months leading up to my departure were a whirlwind. I was under complete and utter stress and being pulled in a thousand directions. I had to sell most of the stuff in my apartment and leave the place I had made my home for the last five years. I had four times the amount of photography work that I normally had and people were asking me to do free things for them. My two cats suddenly started fighting with each other because they could feel the stress of the move (and they were supposed to be the ones there for me to calm me down!) In some moments, it felt totally unbearable, but somehow, I managed.

Then, there was the fear of change. I was most afraid of leaving my “home” — my safe and comfortable space that I had built for myself — so that I could venture into the complete unknown. I was moving to a city I had never even visited before.

I always dreamed of living by the Mediterranean Sea and I’ve always been drawn to Spaniards. I had built it up in my head that living there would be this incredible experience. I even thought that I was meant to live there. The lifestyle there was so relaxed and the people, very social and warm, who doesn’t want a little more of that in their lives?

Let me tell you a little bit about my year:

At the beginning of October, I arrived in Barcelona to visit a friend for a few days. Then, I travelled south to a small town in Murcia to visit the Spanish friends that started my love affair with Spain many years ago. It’s always such a joy to spend time with them. I then went to Italy for two weeks and travelled all over the North, led by Francesco, who, as it happens, is a big part of this story.

Francesco and I started dating in Toronto and both happened to be moving to Europe at the same time. Our relationship was full of adventure, five countries visited together within one year, three languages spoken together, plenty of experiences and plenty of living in the moment. He eventually joined me in to live in Malaga but decided to stay after I left, admitting Canada and our relationship weren’t for him. That part hasn’t been easy for me, but I’m trusting in my journey and waiting to see what’s next.

So, back to the start of my adventure. I flew to Malaga at the beginning of November to start my new life. The city was beautiful. There were palm trees, the beautiful Mediterranean, an old Arabic fortress, and a vibrant and lively city centre. I still remember my first seafood lunch on the beach – how could I forget it!

Within the first week, I already started to notice the huge differences between Toronto and Malaga. Toronto is a very socially advanced, multicultural and international city. Malaga has around 600,000 people and it’s noticeably much less developed than Toronto. The people in the South of Spain are very traditional, and I hate to say it, closed-minded. Not everyone, of course, but that’s the general feeling. Even though the physical environment has the potential to be inspiring, I felt very uninspired living there.

Okay, so I knew the place wasn’t for me quite early on. But maybe that’s for the best because if I totally fell in love with it, maybe I wouldn’t be back in Toronto now, in my home, in the place I’m supposed to be.

Do I feel like this year was a success? Hell yeah. I travelled all over Andalucia, learned new recipes and ate amazing seafood on the beach all the time. Did I mention I found an apartment 350 metres away from the sea? I spent my 30th birthday in the Algarve of Portugal. I did a five week trip around Europe in July, visiting the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Italy (again), and Germany. I met countless people and made some great friends. I learned different world-views. I learned a lot more Italian. All in all, I accomplished a dream of mine, a big dream.

The experience taught me that life brings you surprises. In the months before my departure, I was open to the idea of maybe not coming back to Canada to live again. But, in my time away, I truly became aware that this country is my home — it is a part of me, it’s a place where I can feel free to be who I am and be in my personal power. This was not the outcome I expected, but it feels good now.

I’m already back deep into my photography work and loving it. I’ve become part of new communities and have a lot of plans on the go. I’m settling here and investing in my future. I’m following what feels right for me.

Although my journey brought along some hardships, it enriched my life in such a meaningful way. It never would have happened, if I hadn’t taken that leap of faith.

I encourage each and every one of you to go after your dreams in life. Be they small or big, just take one step at a time and you’ll feel delighted when you see yourself getting closer to what you want.

What dream are you making a reality today?

Share in the comments below.

Article written by Sara Shirley

Sara is a passionate portrait photographer, cyclist, animal lover, and traveller. She’s excited to inspire others to step out of their shells, get out there and go after what they want in life. She is the creator of the SheTravels project and can’t wait to see where the project goes in the future.

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It’s all about inspiring each other to chase after our dreams despite our fears!

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