On route from Hull to Rotterdam, Netherlands to Harwich to Hook of Holland, UK. Nothing but sea for seven hours is an act of travel at its best.
When we left Sydney, the two of us brimming with excitement, clutching two backpacks and a travel pillow each, I romanticised pretty substantially how traveling with somebody else was going to be.
We were obviously going to be sharing some of the most exciting, challenging, confronting, delicious and educational moments during our travels and having deep meaningful discussions late into the night about how they make us feel and how we can make the world a better place, right? Let me tell you, getting absolutely fed up with each other because we were going to be spending every waking minute in each other’s company with very limited interactions with other people wasn’t something I predicted.
And that’s not entirely what happened. We didn’t get completely fed up with each other. In fact, in the course of our travels we got engaged. But what we did realise is the fact that spending every waking moment of every day for five months in a row together would put a strain on our relationship and we craved interactions with other people. Big time.
I befriended every cat and stray dog in the neighbourhood and started my days by messaging our AirBnb hosts about how they are and what their day is looking like (mild creep alert). Each time the lovely shop attendant in the supermarket down the road smiled when saying hello, I’d literally tear up taking it as a promise of a beautiful friendship. And then, there was the cooking class.
We decided to attend a cooking class when we were staying in Istanbul. It was the two of us and seven other lovely people. Now, everybody else came there to make hummus and learn more about the differences between cousins in different parts of Turkey. They probably came hoping for a glass of wine and a nice evening. Well, not me.
I went to the cooking class to inhale other people’s faces. Sip on their words. Get drunk on their life stories. Make a lifetime’s worth of memories in the time we spent wandering the food market and chopping veggies. By the time the class ended, I knew virtually everything about everyone – and nothing about Turkish cooking. When I was leaving the class tormented by a mild separation anxiety and exchanged emails with a lovely family from Luxembourg, their 10 year old son gave me a big goodbye hug and I almost passed out of the overwhelming emotion.
And you know what? It felt fabulous.
I tried to think back to the time before we left for our travels and I just couldn’t remember cherishing new encounters with random strangers in the same way. And maybe it’s traveling that makes those encounters and interactions so meaningful and memorable? They’re brief and we’re all in. They’re like the most excellent kitchen afterparty that ends with the rising sun – suddenly, you feel like you share so much with those random strangers. And it’s true – you do. You share a moment – and that’s the best thing you can share with anyone. Well, apart from hummus.
Anybody else here silently hoped that traveling would turn them into a different, better kind of person? Well, I did.
The last couple of years in Sydney, I struggled with anxiety, lack of direction or sense of what shape I wanted for my life to take. And so I thought that the moment I would step onto the plane taking me into the unknown, I would advance my general coolness, creativity, decisiveness and clarity of mind quite dramatically.
Perhaps I watched ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ way too often when I was little. And perhaps I thought I could emerge on the other side of that plane door completely transformed. So did the plane journey leave me feeling incredibly inspired and crystal clear on what my next creative endeavour is going to be? Well, no. But did I feel like I could do anything I put my mind to and right there and then was the time to do it? Also definitely not. However, did I feel energised and ready to explore the world? Not exactly.
All that happened during the flight was me spilling a glass of champagne on my fiance’s Qantas blanket and then watching five movies in a row pretty chuffed with the fact that my blanket was dry. And because I didn’t sleep much, I felt anxious and tired, and not ready for all of the amazing adventures I was about to have. I felt lazy and worried, and quite confused as to what it was that I wanted to do during the travels.
And as I sit here, in a different country, with a very different national cuisine and general weather patterns, I still battle with those feelings. And as inspiring as the travels have been, I’m very much the same person, with the same challenges and problems, with the same anxious thoughts and occasional catastrophic visions of my life feeling empty forever. What I have learnt (or perhaps simply remembered because I feel like I had known it all along) is that it takes a tremendous amount of constant effort, time, single-minded focus, hard work and conviction mixed with the ability to relax and being able to give in to boredom to even attempt to introduce meaningful change and sharpen your sense of purpose. And that’s OK.
Sometimes traveling makes it more difficult – sometimes it makes it much easier. But for me, it was key to realise the simple act of travel wouldn’t do it for me. In the SNL Romano Tours sketch Adam Sandler said it first – and he said it best – when he caveated a holiday tour he was promoting: “If you’re sad now, you might still feel sad there.”
So my first misconception about traveling was that embarking on the journey would close doors on some of the feelings I had been struggling with and completely – effortlessly even – transform me as an individual. Well, guess what? I’m still drying that metaphorical Qantas blanket as I work hard and do my best to figure out who I am.
I have thought about this long and hard. We left Australia in July 2019 and have been on the road ever since, and yet I have really struggled putting this incredible experience into words. I have tried my best to carefully curate the amazing adventure I have been on via some exceptionally well thought out social media activity in the last few months but somehow it hasn’t felt completely true.
Traveling is amazing. I feel so privileged to be able to do it and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But oh boy, in all its confronting beauty and the unmatched potential of shared human experience traveling facilitates with such ease, it has brought a whole bunch of difficult challenges and pretty daunting emotions I didn’t really expect. It’s been incredibly enriching but also utterly anxiety inducing and totally depressing at times.
And whilst in some ways it’s exactly what I thought it would be, the vast majority of it had nothing to do with the glamorised version of freedom I somehow thought I’d be living even though I always thought I was way too clever to fall victim of the popular misconceptions about traveling created on Instagram. But I wasn’t – and it has taken a while to peel off that oversaturated, filtered and lacking true insight vision of what my travels were like in order to embrace the real thing.
And so as I settle into a quick Christmas break in my hometown, I also embark on a completely different journey during which I try to debunk some of my own misconceptions about traveling based on my own personal experience – and share the findings with you here. Buckle up if you fancy a trip.