It’s been a year since I left New Zealand in search of an adventure…
This is part 1 about my discovery of what backpacking is really like.
Above image: Leaving Scotland for England with a very heavy bag, dreading the train ride… Look at that vein popping out of my neck!!
What I thought backpacking would be like, and the reality of it were two very different things…
After six months of moving from place to place and travelling around the UK and continental Europe more or less on my own, I was more than ready to stop and take a breather.
After years of dreaming of a nomadic life, the travel bug had left me far quicker than I expected. I was tired, unable to feel settled, and rather lonely while everyone else carried on their normal routines of work and home life.
For years, I had immersed myself in an obsession of travelling. In between reading travel blogs and National Geographic magazines, I would hold uncomfortably long eye-contact with smiling backpackers in the city, while I was walking to work. On top of this, I would cry with envy when watching travel-related movies.
The movies I have seen about travel are more often than not partially funded by that country’s tourism industry. So of course they look inviting. The films would depict places as absolutely ideal and perfect where exciting things happen. (With help from special effects, filters, green screens and make-up.)
I was hooked.
Midnight in Paris where Owen Wilson falls in love with Paris, in the rain,
Wild where Reese Witherspoon has a life-changing epiphany,
Eat, Pray, Love where Julia Roberts discovers what she wants in life,
Cemetery Junction where the lovers run away together spontaneously,
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty where Ben Stiller overcomes fear and discovers the adventure of the world…
After watching these films, I always felt so excited to get out there! Travel = clarity and happiness.
Not really having a firm direction with what I wanted to do in life, I was certain that travelling the world would provide me with answers and certainty. (I mean, have you seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button!? Everything happens to him. And all he did was step out his front door.)
So eventually, after being totally convinced that travelling would fulfil my void, I bought a big backpack, and I went.
The day I left New Zealand (February 14, 2016), despite the agony of leaving my parents behind, I hardly cried. As I was looking forward to what the travel-industry-funded Hollywood movies’ depiction of ‘travelling’ promised me – inspiration, self-discovery, infinite wisdom and adventure.
But I soon found myself hit with the reality of being overseas – and it was quite different to what the travel industry had sold me.
Perhaps I wasn’t quite embracing it, but it was hard to remain positive when my expectations were so high – when’s my Walter Mitty adventure going to occur!?
I wasn’t feeling unbearably homesick just yet, because my lovely boyfriend (now fiancé!) was here in the UK. But after a few weeks, I was in a state of disenchantment and disappointment when faced with the lonesome reality of my life-long dream of travelling.
As it turns out, no matter where you go in the world, cities and people are more or less the same.
Along this emotional and geographically-vast journey, two things my dad told me always stuck in my mind, which kept me going during the darkest of days:
“When you stop having fun, come home. (There will always be a bed here for you)” – Dad
“It’s being a bit scared that makes an adventure. Otherwise it’s just a pleasant day out.” – Dad
These were the pieces of advice that really kept me from collapsing in a heap and crying when waiting alone for five hours in airport terminals, or sprinting for the last train, or when reading my 12th job rejection letter.
For so long, I thought I was stuck in Middle Earth and missing out on a party the rest of the world was having.
I thought travelling would put me ‘in the way of beauty’, and exciting things would happen simply because I was in a different country.
When in actual fact, everyone was just going about their normal business and daily routines, just like everybody in New Zealand does… There was no party I was missing out on at all.
After a fair amount of frustration and months of feeling in limbo, I determined that I am quite a homely person. It didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing, so long as I felt at home.
I realised my quiet character doesn’t quite work with the travelling lifestyle, particularly when I went on that Top Deck Europe trip. I’m not exactly an extravert, so I wanted more downtime than party time – which I now realise goes hand-in-hand with the travelling community.
While they slept off hangovers, I went for early-morning walks.
I could appreciate the sites, food, culture and people, but I didn’t feel quite as excited and inspired as I expected I would – thanks to watching too many films I suppose!
Admitting that I didn’t want to be a non-stop traveller after all was difficult to do, since I had been going on about it for so many years!
By the time I came back from my Europe trip, tired and exhausted, I wanted nothing more than to find a flat with my boyfriend (now fiancé!), with a little job I could be proud of, and staying in one place.
From worshipping Thelma & Louise, to acknowledging the 1950s housewife I never knew I had inside me! I was a new person.
I know what I enjoy today because I followed my dream of travelling. Yes, I found out it wasn’t for me, but I also discovered what I do enjoy.
Sometimes the only way to find out is trial and error.
Let’s get lost
I know there’s that quote that many travellers use as their Facebook header: ‘Not all wanderers are lost‘. But I think it’s quite common for travellers to be exactly that. Lost. Myself included. I think going travelling is a common reaction to being stuck in a rut.
But in the end, I think everyone is looking for similar things on their journey.
I had found me a man
And a place I wanted to call home – rural Dorset. I was on my way to becoming a proud, non-travelling housewife…
And I was happy about it!
But little did I know that this was going to turn into my biggest adventure so far.