In Matt's Musings, Travel
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I am fascinated by how people find purpose. Not in a new age self-helpy kind of way but that deep, quiet stuff that drives you forward. That makes you lose yourself in an activity or event so that time stands still and nothing else matters. (Very funny……I was lost in writing this and I didn’t hear Mel yelling to be let in the flat through the open window right next to me….)

I am interested in how that purpose filters into your day to day life and helps you maintain energy. It’s impossible to be inspired and moved all the time – that would be exhausting – but  I firmly believe that the times I operate well over sustained periods of time are when the activity has purpose and meaning. Often when I am undertaking a large task or project – like crossing the world from one side to the other.

A large part of that energy is looking forward. Seeing what is ahead and moving towards some end state. I once read a great study on happiness that did this fantastic meta analysis of all these other research studies on happiness. They distilled it down to three elements – and found that people with sustained  higher reported levels of happiness have:

  1. Someone to love
  2. Something to do (a task they enjoy), and
  3. Something (meaningful) to look forward to


Pretty logical really in summary – but it ticks all the deep human needs. The need for intimacy and acceptance, utilising the mind (and body) and the need for something that occupies the higher cognitive function (the whole “Why do I exist?/purpose” thing…..which doesn’t trouble us as much when we are moving towards some goal because there is inherent purpose in the task of moving.)

Our extensive intelligence is a double edged sword. It allows us to build iPhones – but it also allows us to do what other animals don’t seem to be able to do. Think about ourselves thinking. Or to step outside our heads and look in at who we are. Which is all nice and lovely except that as soon as you can do this you also have to face the nasty bit…..that you can also see yourself NOT existing. Dead. Kaput. Finished.

And of course our primitive cerebrums don’t like that idea very much so we spend lots of mental energy filling that dark space with stuff that distracts us. Like shopping, working, Facebook, plans, busyness or elaborate ideas about how we just keep on going after we die so dying isn’t really that bad after all. Better step back there a little……

But back to purpose. Looking forward to something – a goal, an objective, another state – is a deeply human thing. It helps us make sense of the past, eases the present and enhances the future. It helps us flow through life so we are not constantly dogged by the annoying question of what this all means or what happens at the end. With a deeper purpose those hard scary questions seem to ease off a little.

For as long as I can remember I have had a dream of travelling overland from Australia to London. Decades of pondering and dreaming led onto 5 years of serious discussion followed by 2 years of actual planning all capped off by several strange, surreal minutes when we actually put the car into first gear and drove down the street in Melbourne headed for London. With half the car crying.

For 10 months getting to London has been this simmering motivator. A deep underlying goal that needed no question or consideration. We hadn’t really thought past London in terms of purpose and meaning. We thought it would just all flow on. But it hasn’t. The next phase of the trip has emerged as this weird ill defined blob of time. We underestimated the power of having had a physical end point. Journey towards something is a critical differentiator from holidays – where you go TO somewhere quickly and stop moving. Journey is a beautiful human experience because it provides those key elements of something to do (planning, moving, packing, moving again) and something to look forward to (the destination). When you do that with people you love it starts to look scarily like the list of “happiness factors”. Its no wonder it is so rewarding.

But we are about to arrive in London. Tomorrow. We plan to head to Piccadilly Circus and dump our packs. Take a photo and give each other a high five. By tomorrow afternoon we will have crossed the world from Australia to London. We will have completed something I have spent decades thinking about. We will have arrived.

After the high five I have no freakin idea what we will do next. Probably stand there with funny looks on our faces and smile at passers-by who will give us wary glances back. Maybe take another photo to prolong the moment – then pick up our packs again and walk off.

We have vague plans – see some friends, see some of the UK…..then we are not sure. We can’t go wrong obviously. This time together is a gift of a lifetime that may never happen again. But in some strange, inexplicable way it feels like the journey has ended. And journey means so much to Mel and me that I am not sure how we will go without it.

When I was young my sister gave me Jack Kerouac’s On The Road – and it enthralled me. I couldn’t put it down and after reading it – when I would head out into the city – everything seemed alive and different. But On The Road was it. Kerouac never wrote anything celebrated after that. He never penned a beat poet epic called Adventures Back at Home. Once the journey was over he was done and dusted. I can’t begin to imagine his personal hell as he sat in front of his typewriter back at home. That fear is nagging me right now. That big uncertain step from one journey to the next.

I just need to shut my eyes and move – and as they say in London town….”mind the gap”.

Here’s hoping I am a little more Thoreau and a little less Kerouac.



  1. Maybe Ireland, Tipperary – your father’s Irish roots are drawn from the towns of Thurles and Killough, about 10kms apart. Lots of Shanahans in each with lots of intermarriage (according to the cemetery headstones). Really interesting given your paternal grandparents also shared the same family name.

  2. What a lovely photo. Will be thinking of you back in the land of tea.

  3. What a wonderful pic of you both! What next… Wishing you the Thoreaux experience x Also you both can’t stop blogging – :/ seriously. I look forward to it – I search for it in my notifications – and love it and will miss it when you finally do stop. Happy and safe travels as you continue your journey xx

  4. Matt – congratulations on an amazing time that you have had with your family – Brilliant! Your telling of your story is inspiring and captivating……thanks for sharing! Would love to have a beer when you get back, hah whatever year that is! Cheers, Pat

  5. Congratulations Matt. You made it. Wow! Now enjoy every inch of London.
    I happen to fly in there tomorrow too!

  6. i can’t stop smiling at this picture of you two. the simple pleasure of just being in each others company is palpable…you gorgeous things.

  7. There has been so many on your journey too. I also look toward to each blog and will really miss them. They have been the topic of so many discussions

  8. I’ve been really enjoying both your words and pics.This is the first blog I’ve ever followed and have enjoyed travelling with you and sharing similar perceptions of how we see and experience the world.Lovely stuff. Thank you

  9. Purpose …? How about compiling these wonderful blogs into a book. Ripper front photo above!!

  10. You made it! Congratulations and a high five from me too.

  11. While I’m delighted for you to have reached London, I will be very sad to see the end of this travel blog. I have enjoyed many a coffee with you over the course of your travels even though we have never met. If you do decide to look for the lost relations in Ireland and need a place to stay in Dublin get in touch. We have have two girls, so there is a glut of toys and craft material to keep your girls amused should you decide to come! Enjoy London, and savour your quality time together as a family unit. It’s a very special thing to be able to do. All the best, Carol.

  12. What a wonderful journey..can’t believe you are on your way to London! Seems like only last week you were in the swags under the stars in outback Qld. Look forward to hearing about whatever is next!! Lots of love xxx

  13. I have to agree with everyone, it is such a wonderful photo, and one of the many I’m sure you will treasure. It might even appear in a frame in a prominent position when your journey is done. And the journey is not yet done is it ?????? Have more fun and safe travels. With love

  14. You’re there! You’ve done it! So many places and stories and meals and steps. all the places youve been and the memories you’ve captured. Your like a damily of Dr.Suess books 🙂 What an amazing family journey. Proud to know you, stoked you’ve finally done it after all these years, a pleasure to have shared it in such a small way by reading these fantastic blogs. Don’t hurry home mate. If in doubt, hand over the planning, decision making and control to the girls 🙂 see what they’ve learnt and trust in there discovery, and enjoy being safety officer and watching the sun inch along. Much love from us, plus our divine new little daughter who is sleeping deeply in my lap with all this adventure and discovert ahead. Love J

    • Aahhh… good to get your note Jamie. I will speak to you soon.

  15. Fantastic photo – we can feel the love and joy all the way back here in Melbourne. I have spent the last four nights madly absorbing all your blogs. Now that I am almost up to date I am trying to slow myself down, I don’t want it to come to an end. Our family adventure around Australia was only five months, with so much time and effort going in to the planning we never thought beyond the journey. We felt a little lost afterwards. Your words are very true we all need something to look forward to, may not be as life changing as this amazing journey but something to aspire to. I look forward to your reading more and begin planning our next. Thank you

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