It’s been six months since I nervously boarded a 5.30am train at Perpignan station and waved goodbye to my mum and step-dad, with a few warm, salty tears trickling across my cheeks, before heading off on my journey across the world.
Since then I’ve visited 15 countries, four continents, travelled thousands and thousands of miles, slept in 75+ hostels, motels and homestays, met 100s of people, climbed two mountains, swam with turtles and sharks, and made friends for life in the most unlikely places.
As I’m writing this I still plan to visit at least four more countries in the next couple of months, and then we will see where I stand in my super-nerdy budget spreadsheet and if I can afford to do any more (for now).
Without going over the top traveller bullshit about “what I’ve learnt”, I think it is important to recognise some of the changes in myself in that time and how I now feel about that.
I spent a lot of the last few years being put down by people who were close to me or who I worked with, so much so that I had no belief in myself at all. But if there’s anything that travelling alone proves is that I can literally talk to anyone and make friends anywhere.
I am ok being alone
Ok, there’s times when I get super lonely. And after months of constantly saying goodbye to new friends, it’s really fucking hard sometimes. But I actually enjoy the times when I’m on my own. When I’m with a group of people, no matter how much I like them, I need to be alone sometimes and it’s refreshing to feel like that.
I’m not brave
This is what 90 per cent of people tell me when I explain how I got to where I am right now. I’m not brave. And I’m pretty sure people say I’m brave because I’m a woman. I have not heard a single person say this to a man who is doing exactly the same as me. People seem to confuse privilege with bravery. Being a white woman with savings does not make me brave.
One phrase that was thrown at me for a while was that I “had no backbone”. That’s definitely not true now. I will fight back when you are a sexist, homophobic, racist douchebag (and despite travellers thinking they’re all leftist hippies, there’s plenty out there who express at least one of those attitudes). I won’t keep quiet to keep the “peace”. If you’re a dick, I’ll tell you. I’ve spent far too long placating people and hoping that ignoring that kind of ignorance would be easier, but I’m done with all that.
I’ve come a long way in the last few years
I was a shell of myself not too long ago. All the shit that I’d put up with and gone through had crushed my happiness and hopes. Now I can see how all that makes me a better person now. And a happier one. This might just be the happiest I’ve ever felt.
99 per cent of people are kind
Not once when I’ve been lost/confused/lonely and have needed help or just to talk to someone have people been rude. I didn’t always get on with those people, but in most of those occasions, people helped me. A smile goes such a long way. The most unkind people tend to be certain types of travellers – never local people.
I don’t need much
It’s no surprise to people who know me but I’m a bit of a hoarder. Moving out of the UK really showed me just how much crap I accumulated over 28 years. But having just a rucksack and almost exactly the same clothes and belongings for six months has proved I really don’t need a lot of the stuff I have held on to for a long time. I probably still have too much stuff – I wish I could be one of those long-term travellers with just 8kg on their back, but I’ve still got a little way to go. My first aid kit is pretty comprehensive (given my list of injuries so far, it’s an essential), but my laptop for example is something I though I would use more and haven’t, and it adds a lot of weight onto my back. I’ve thrown a few things away while I’ve been on the road, but I’m still not quite there yet. *Almost*
One day I’ll post about my budgets and my ridiculously geeky excel spreadsheet of costs, and while I’m being careful and conscientious, I’ve learnt to accept that shit happens. You’ll have to spend extra money to replace something that was lost (or stolen. RIP Birkenstocks), and it will blow your daily budget, but who cares. Everything evens out. If you spend too much time worrying you won’t enjoy life.
But no matter how much I experience, everyone always wants to know the same thing: when am I going home? Well, I’m not. I have no connection to the UK anymore, it feels alien to me and the longer I’m away, the happier I am to be out of, what I feel to be, a toxic country and culture. That doesn’t mean I’m going to spend the rest of my life slumming it from one hostel to another or wasting my days on a beach – I’m not made of money! But running out of money – an inevitability – will just mean I find work somewhere out here. I’m trained to teach English as a foreign language, something I feel I could be really good at, but if not, I will find something else. I want to earn money again and have some sort of routine, but getting another job doesn’t mean I will stay put.
So, to answer that question again. I’m not coming “home” for a while; I’m searching for a new home, and I will keep looking for as long as I need.