I re-discovered myself in Utklippan.
I don’t lightly say that either.
Have you ever had a clear epiphany, a moment when you thought, “I can do so much more with my life?” And then promise yourself you’ll do better in the future?
I had that realization while spending the night on Utklippan, an uninhabited island off Sweden’s southernmost coast. Utklippan has an active lighthouse, small hostel, and … not much else except sweeping views of the Baltic Sea.
Sound underwhelming? Nah. For me, Utklippan gave me the small piece of heaven I needed to reflect on my life and decisions. This place lacks running water, yes, but the island is freakin’ beautiful. Beautiful.
Let’s jump back in time for a moment. Before I left for my summer journey, I suffered (yet again, argh) a series of disappointments in wonderful New Jersey.
I won’t go into specific details, but let’s just say I spent well over a week questioning my choices to ever enter a liberal arts program in graduate school when I could’ve just jumped into the business world and already purchased a house with a white picket fence.
To make matters even worse, I fell into my horrible habit of comparing myself to others. Trust me, it’s bad. I’ve hidden people on facebook because of dream job and engagement updates.
Then my competitive yet self-defeating attitude kicked in.
“You should get a better paying job! But who would hire you?”
“You should move to New York City! But how would you pay the rent?”
“You should find a guy and get married! But who would tolerate your neverending wanderlust?”
The miserable list could’ve filled a book, my friends. If you have these type of doubts, too, then I’m sorry your mind can’t see how awesome you are, and I encourage you to email me so we can support each other, yes?
When I boarded my plane for Europe, I told myself it was time for an inspirational change. My post-TBEX camping trip to southern Sweden offered the perfect opportunity.
While train sped toward Karlskrona, a naval city serving as a our “base” for many activities, I had absolutely no clue what to expect. Especially from a camping trip! We all know I’m not the best camper in the world, but hey, I’m always down for a challenge.
On our second day, me and a gang of new travel blogger pals boarded a RIB (rigid inflatable boat), courtesy of Saltstänk, for the hour long journey from Karlskrona to Utklippan. My best friend in the world, aka Anxiety, was in rare form, telling me about all the things that could “go wrong” in the middle of the sea.
But, once the RIB’s engine roared to life and bounced us all over the place, laughter ripped from my lungs.
Have you ever taken a RIB ride? Do. It. Nothing’s more freeing than speeding toward a horizon, consisting only of clouds, water, and salt, and soaring above the waves. Your troubles stay behind on land.
Upon arriving in Utklippan, we squeezed into wet suits, hopped onto Saltstänk’s boat again, and snorkeled … with seals. Yes, seals in the middle of the Baltic Sea.
Tinytinytiny islands – covered with seals – surround Utklippan. At first, I was nervous, because I didn’t know if the seals interacted much with tourists, but then, as I heard other bloggers exclaim that seals swam beneath them, I ventured closure to these amazing creatures.
As I floated toward the seals and tasted brackish water (the Baltic’s not as salty as you think), pretending germs didn’t exist, excited knots formed in my stomach.
Looking beneath the water, watching seals play and swim right under you, is pure bliss, let me tell you. It also got me thinking: Those seals are enjoying life. Why can’t I do the same? What’s stopping me? Myself?
After the seals, we trekked to the top of Utklippan’s lighthouse and enjoyed some fika. What is fika? A coffee break that comes with yummy treats. Like chocolate and cookies, mmm. I don’t know if Saltstänk provides fika for all their guests, but it certainly made me feel like a queen!
As I sipped my coffee and gazed at the yellow cabins, far below me, my stresses in New Jersey seemed far away and insignificant.
Honestly, I adored this red lighthouse. If I had more time, I would’ve brought a book, dragged my out of shape butt up those stairs, and read until the wee hours of the morning as wind whipped my hair. Too bad you can’t bottle a memory and stay forever, right, guys?
After fika, I wandered around Utklippan’s rocky coast and watched large ferries make their way to Poland, Lithuania, and beyond. So many destinations, so little time.
Now. I love food. So, I gotta say, a huge highlight of this trip was the homemade barbecue dinner. Meat, veggies, and wine galore!
Since it was July, the sun didn’t completely set until well after eleven, and the whole gang – bloggers and tour operators – chatted and laughed underneath the twilight colored sky. I didn’t want to sleep.
Hours later, tucked in my dorm bed inside the lighthouse, I knew I was on the path to happiness by staying mentally strong and following my travel blogging dreams. Sure, I have a lot of professional challenges and uncertainty wafting around these days, but I don’t think I’m special here. I bet many of you aren’t quite sure about the paths you wanna take in your life, and that’s perfectly okay. Our unique journeys don’t come with bulky user manuals. But we endure.
Utklippan made me realize I’m doing the right thing to achieve personal fulfillment. Maybe I’m taking the scenic route, but I will get there. Soon.
My Utklippan trip taught me 3 amazing lessons.
1. You don’t need fancy material possessions and creature comforts to make you happy.
Okay, truth time. Sometimes I’m super self-absorbed and equate happiness with Marc Jacobs sunglasses and YSL cosmetics (I love their foundation products). But at the end of the day, no one’s gonna remember my designer dress stuffed closet. Our experiences create beautiful memories, so we need to ignore shameless consumerism, the urge for moremoremore, and throw ourselves into the moment instead. My Utklippan memories are worth more than ten Chanel handbags.
2. Anxiety is a big fat liar and should be ignored at all costs.
As usual, anxiety was wrong. Don’t let your brain tell you falsehoods about why your dreams aren’t possible. Block out that crap. Things have a way of working out for the best even when the walls close in. Hop on board that RIB boat, speed toward your own piece of island heaven, and pursue those glittering goals of yours. Anxiety has no place or value here.
3. Self-reflection is scary but valuable.
My phone didn’t work here (big surprise). Not having a social media distraction forced me to re-examine my life and all the positive changes I’ve made since my first solo trip to Scotland.
Sure, I’ve experienced a lot of emotional and financial disappointments, but I’ve also been blessed with some of the most incredible experiences, ones I never thought possible. How many people can say they’ve snorkeled close to seals in the Baltic? Or spent a night in a Swedish lighthouse?
Please. Don’t let your dreams be dreams. Reflect on them. Muse on them. But don’t you dare let yourself turn into a barrier. Don’t allow other people to tell you reasons why you can’t achieve your goals. Chase those aspirations. Chase them faster than the wind.
Share moments of self-discovery you’ve experienced on your own travels. How did these realizations improve your life?
Also: I want to extend a big THANK YOU to Visit Karlskrona and Saltstänk for sponsoring this portion of the trip for me. It was a pleasure working with you. As for my readers, I highly recommend visiting this part of Sweden. You know me. I’m honest. I wouldn’t speaking praises if I didn’t mean them.