Category Archives: reflection

The Wonder (And Fear) Of Flying

fear-of-flying-finola-renshaw-wennekesWhat’s the secret to dealing with a fear of flying? Is the answer to medicate, undergo hypnosis, seek out external distractions? Could this – available to us all – be the simpler solution?


It’s only as we touch down onto Thai soil that I notice the guy to my left is making clapping motions, his hands not touching but the movements pronounced enough to alert his friend. As the plane comes to a stop after five minute of taxiing, he lightly claps again. This time his friend joins in, still no sound.

Seatbelts unclick and a plane load of people stand up en masse, opening lockers, grabbing bags, standing, waiting, waiting, waiting for the plane doors to open.

During this wait I glance back to the guys. I’d guess both are in their early twenties, thick heads of glossy hair, skin still smooth enough to pass for youth. The guy farthest from me stares out of his window and I can’t help but wonder: was this his first flight?

First flight experience

I still remember my first flight, taking off, my mother pointing out dots of cars and the vast green and brown tapestry made up of little English fields. I remember pressing up to the window for the whole journey, every sight somewhat familiar with a new perspective twist. What a world.

That sense of wonder has stayed with me forever.

No wonder the guy is clapping our arrival. If we actually stop for a moment to think about how it came to be commonplace for hoards of people to be carried across the skies in winged and shiny metal containers, it’s pretty effing fantastic.

I don’t recall my mum looking away on my first flight, but I’m now sure that she did.

Unexpected fear

The flight from Brisbane to Bangkok hadn’t been the best or worst of my travels, but something completely unexpected happened: I was suddenly, momentarily, very afraid.

The pilot had warned us of storms up ahead, of likely turbulence on and off for the duration of the trip so you’d think that when the first ting sounded and we felt the first jerks and drops of the plane that I would have been prepared.

Instead my chest tightened and a wash of cold flushed up through my body: this could be the moment that I die, I thought, I felt. What vulnerability! A shiny, metal container buffeted by the elements. Most likely, statistically, we’d be fine, but there was definitely, of course, a chance that we could all die today.

My mind played out what it would feel like to plummet through the skies. Surrounded by inevitable panic and hysteria, I wondered whether I’d find the discipline to stay present and zenned as we tumbled to our deaths. All that reading, self-development, would it have helped? Come on. Of course I’d be hysterical. My knuckles striped white and I finally let out a breath.

Mind chatter gave way to mindless movie distractions until any feelings of panic were but a memory. Zoned out. A shiny, metal container full to the brim with zombies, medicated by sleeping tablets, booze and Hollywood trash.

Getting back to the wonder

The clapping, though, back on land. There it was, the reminder of what a wonderful thing had just occurred. Shame that most of us had switched ourselves off to that wonder.

As I boarded the next flight to London without so much as a morbid thought, deep inside my brain the usual thought river – dismissive of flight fears – had broken it’s banks, a new, gentle trickle granting me a glimpse into the fear of flying (and fear of dying), a fear so crippling it stops people from exploring the world, a fear that very nearly stopped my own sister from being present at my wedding in Australia.

Flip fear on its head

Fear is real. Shiny, metal containers carrying people across the sky are real. Flip fear to wonder, wherever possible. Who would have guessed that we could change fields at ground level to beautifully, complex tapestries from above, and observe humankind going about their lives like trails of ants scurrying off in all directions? Who would have imagined, some 120 years ago, that we could transport hoards of people across the skies in winged and shiny metal containers?

Wonder-full? Yep.


If you know someone who’d enjoy reading this post, please share it with them!

#gratitude #flying #travel #fearofflying #anxiety #death #existentialism #mindfulness

2 Comments

Filed under reflection, travel

What To Do When You’re Too Poor To Travel

When people talk about taking a holiday, does it leave you feeling somewhat jealous? Inadequate? That you should be travelling and having amazing experiences in order to live a meaningful life?


Earlier this year I read an article on Wired.com where our obsession to escape into ‘authentic’ experience and travel aesthetic was highlighted through a fake Instagram account featuring Barbie as its protagonist. Wired called it ‘an endless barrage of pensive selfies in exotic locales, arty snapshots of coffee, and just the right filter on everything.’

But why, why, why? Who’s looking at this stuff? And who cares?

Many of us, apparently.

I want me some of that. Oh hang, on. Really? Now I feel silly. 

We gobble up ‘breathtaking photos of mountains and beaches,’ and long for ‘a day when we can just get away from it all,’ say Wired. We all want to escape our lives, it would seem.

Like 20% of UK families, according to children’s charity Barnados who say that the poorest families have a disposable weekly income of £39 (US$59/$AU80) where even a trip to the beach is considered a luxury.

Or like one of my blog’s readers who left the following comment on my 5 Benefits of Family Holidays post:

i cant afford holidays because im poor as fuck……

Clear and direct, it jolted me into researching and writing this post.

The privilege of budget travel

Here’s the thing: many of the world’s travel bloggers, myself included, might talk about budget travel and how if you work really hard and cut back on daily luxuries (think coffees, lunches out, drinks with friends) you will be able to see the world. How short term pain (think working long hours, skipping coffees and losing friends because you’re obsessed with saving) will only lead to long-term travel gain if you want it enough.

Ahem. Writing this down feels awkward and embarrassing because I know I have told myself, and probably others, this same script. It is, in part, how I managed to make it happen, but there’s more to it, of course.

The reality is that most the people spouting this rhetoric, myself included, have a set of privileges that need to be acknowledged: A solid education. Access to jobs and career paths. Sound health and mind, for the most part. Supportive social and professional networks who encourage us to be ambitious, search out our dreams and explore our talents.

In terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we’re talking highest-level stuff here. Self-actualisation. To not have to worry about all the basics like shelter and security, we are lucky. Very lucky.

In a recent article for xoJane.com, Keziyah Lewis supports the idea that luck plays a big factor and concludes by saying: ‘Budget travel writers may have worked hard to get where they are, but just like me, they’re also lucky. Ignoring this, and the financial circumstances that prevent people from seeing the world, is simply classist.’

‘Budget travel’ as a term is fairly problematic, in any case. It’s all so relative. The ‘budget travel’ discussed online is predominantly relative to ‘mostly white, middle class travel writers’, according to Lewis.

But let’s get back to the core issue: you can’t afford to holiday this year (or ever). Maybe you’ve never been abroad. Put plain and simply, you can’t afford to travel.

Is there really a choice?

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 1.36.36 pm

Change your mindset, says Nomadic Matt (Image from nomadic matt.com)

Nomadic Matt, a prolific travel blogger and budget travel advocate writes in his article How To Change The “I’m Too Poor To Travel” Mindset And Say Yes To Travel: ‘I’m too poor to travel” is a belief that causes many to lack the confidence to believe travel is possible.’ He effectively argues that – for a good handful of people – there is the choice.

And it’s a common argument: we all have the power to make choices in our lives that impact on our experience of life.

Whatever our income (or lack of) our lifestyle choices do determine to some extent our potential to travel. For example I’ve got friends on the dole who spend their income on internet, tobacco and weed. I’ve got friends in high-income roles who do exactly the same. Both could save money to travel if they truly desired.

Can desire, then, play a role in us reaching our goals to travel? Somewhat. It might kick start a process, but there’s no guarantee. Effectively, without money (and time), desire can be quashed as we are pushed into survival mode, which makes it impossible to imagine any other way of being. Travel appears to be something that other people do. Richer people.

So is there a way to become richer that can apply to all? Unlikely. Maybe there are things you can sell, things you can do in your spare time to earn extra cash rather than watch TV. Hell, sell your TV and cancel your cable plan. Cancel your internet service and go to the library instead. Switch your phone to pay-as-you-go. Prepare food at home. Find amazing deals and coupons and vouchers. Every little bit counts; it all adds up.

But maybe you work so damn hard ten hours a day that by the time you get home you’re too flogged to do anything but flake out in front of the TV.

The comment left on my blog made me realise that it’s too simple (and even insulting) to say that travel is just a mindset and that anyone can travel. Clearly not everyone can, at least not in the way that the media talks travel. (To be fair to Matt, he does acknowledge this in his blog post).

So maybe there’s a different way we can think about and approach travel?

Seeing things differently

One person who realised this was a retired aircraft engineer called Bahadur Chand Gupta who bought a decommissioned Airbus A300 and transformed it into a travel experience, The Flight to Nowhere. Charging up to a dollar for entry, Stuff.co.nz explains that it ‘offers people who might never be able to afford to get on a real flight the experience of being on a plane.’

Coming from a place of wanting to share the experience, this flips the whole travel thing on its head. Not only are people getting to enjoy a ‘flight experience’, they’re possibly getting a better – or at least more holistic and fun – flight experience than those people who actually use planes to get from A to B. It’s not the real thing, but it a real thing in its own right, an experience nonetheless.

And it shows the world we live in where a ‘travel experience’ is interchangeable with a ‘new experience’. Thanks also to the internet, we can now ‘see’ and ‘experience’ the world more readily than ever before, without ever leaving our sofa/home/country. Google Earth takes this a step further, in that we can virtually navigate through the streets of a totally new place, pull up at the driveway of a foreign friend and check out their neighbourhood.

But in amongst this mass of information is a whole lot of content curation. The photo you see is unlikely to be the only photo from that collection. It’s just the best one of many. Who’s going to post their worst photo(s)? Who wants to look at them?

Real travel vs. real travel?

A 'travel' photo that I took yesterday in my backyard in Australia. It was 1 of 13 photos that I took (and I didn't even see the bee until when I reviewed this picture).

A ‘travel’ photo that I took yesterday in my backyard in Australia. It was 1 of 13 photos that I took (and I didn’t even see the bee until afterwards until when I reviewed the pictures).

Does this then mean that the travel we think exists is actually a myth and we’re doomed to be disappointed by reality? In his book, The Art of Travel, philosopher Alain de Botton indicates that this may be too pessimistic, and that it ‘might be truer and more rewarding to suggest that it is primarily different’.

Advice across the board seems to be: Keep things in perspective when reading everyone’s amazing travel accounts, mine included. I have barely written about the nastier, grosser and sadder moments of my travels because most people won’t be interested. It doesn’t offer the same escapism as stories with glossy, beautiful backdrops. Keep the view that those pictures and videos too are but one account of that place, one glimpse of much more complex reality. We live in a real world, after all. It’s complex and multifaceted (and surely all the more beautiful for that?).

Darby Cisneros, the artist who created the satirical Barbie Instagram account (mentioned earlier in this post) has now pulled the plug on her experiment. She told Wired ‘I get it, it’s pretty to look at. But it’s so dishonest. Nobody actually lives like this.’

How can this help us? Whenever you feel like everyone else is doing all these incredible things and seeing all these special places because of all the fun, zen, wide angled pictures they’ve posted, realise it’s possibly a load of BS. Or at least a very constructed moment in time.

(The likelihood, anyway, is that during the BEST experiences of your life you will be too absorbed IN the moment to take a photo that does it justice. And it really doesn’t matter. What really matters is that YOU JUST HAD THE BEST EXPERIENCE, right?)

But there’s also the flipside that if you do want to go out and take some amazing photos of the world and your experience in it, do it. Why not? The world clearly craves well-constructed scenes of beauty, scenes that hint at a life of ‘what could be’, whether that’s through city excitement or the serenity of nature or whatever you damn well please. Someone will consume it.

And maybe if you spend some time and care taking photos of where you live and of elements that constitute your life, you’ll look back and realise that your life is beautiful in it’s own right. Landscapes, cityscapes, concrete graffitiscapes, they all have beauty and associated stories. Share them.

Take time out

Sometimes to see that beauty, though, you need to step back and take some time out.

I recall my ex’s mum telling me that ‘change is as good as a holiday’. It’s only really now, after what’s been a slog of a challenging year, that I’ve realised that maybe a holiday is as good as a change, and that some time out might actually mean you don’t have to change, whether that be your job, your life, whatever.

I’ve realised that a lot of the time all I really need is a break. I don’t need to do anything high-adrenaline like jumping out of an airplane, I don’t need to fly anywhere foreign or sit in a car for hours to get to a town up the coast, I don’t need to be hyper stimulated by new sights and sounds or handfuls of new people.

Travel doesn’t have to be about perfect beaches, neon city streaked frenzy or screaming markets stuffed with dried llama foetuses or dyed pink chicks for sale. It can be, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.

Could the answer be to think of travel as something a little more internal? Of giving your mind the space to appreciate where you’re at by taking a break from your busy life?

Travel local and staycate

If you’re craving more than just a break but a bus ticket to the next town is out of the question, maybe consider a full-blown staycation. At certain times of the year there’s an increased expectation to go away, but why?

Image borrowed from thewire.com

Image borrowed from thewire.com

In the last few weeks I have had four people ask me whether I’m going away for Christmas. I didn’t realise it was such ‘a thing’. Feeling slightly inadequate listening to other people’s plans to travel to Brazil, Europe and South East Asia, I’ve since decided to embrace the staycation. If other people come to this area for their holidays, why can’t I holiday here too? I’ll cut back my work hours, pull out my walking shoes and wander where I live. Yes, it helps that my current base is beautiful and exotic but my yearning right now is to (re)connect with this area and (re)discover why I settled here in the first place.

When people travel to your part of the world, what are the touristy things that they do? Where do they go? What are they capturing in their holiday photos? According to life coach Charlene Tops, all too often we forget about what’s on our own doorstep. Her suggestion is to ‘observe the area you are living in with fresh eyes just like an outsider would do. It’s amazing how different we view our surroundings when we look at them as though we have never seen them before.’

Is there a way that you can afford a few days off work to do what you love to do in your locality? Or try out a few touristy things? Walks, waterfalls, museums and art galleries, among other things, are often free.

Volunteer travel

If it still doesn’t feel different enough from your normal life, there’s one further recommendation I have for when times are tight but where you still yearn for that jolt to your routine that travel so beautifully provides. Volunteering.

I remember looking for volunteering options before travelling to South America and being shocked that many of companies I came across were asking me to pay!

Without going into any longwinded detail about why these companies ask you to pay to volunteer your time and expertise, I do now have a basic understanding of the funding that’s needed to run some voluntary organisations, and also how these particular organisations can offer a ‘safe’ first volunteering experience. But, still. Coming from a family where my parents have spent their entire working lives volunteering full time, I’ve seen first hand the value and impact of people being generous with their time and energy. Money doesn’t always have to come into the equation.

So I’m not talking about the type of volunteering where you have to pay for the privilege. I’m talking about opportunities that allow you to exchange your time for meaningful service and experience. In terms of travel this means connecting with new people, places and ways of life.

Two organisations that I’ve tried and tested and would recommend exploring are HelpX and World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

Both organisations have worldwide presence. Wherever you’re based, there’s a good opportunity to get involved.

Do it your way

The more I explore this topic, the more it seems to come back to the following: Forget feeling like you should be doing anything, or that amazing experiences and personal growth are only gained by long distance travel. Don’t buy into the belief that you have to see the world in order to live a meaningful life.

Travel, like everything else, comes in all shapes and sizes. Don’t go judging on it this holiday season.


Wishing you all some amazing adventures this festive season, whether they be abroad, in your backyard or in your brain. I’d love to connect, hear your stories and see some holiday season photos in the comments below. That way we can all travel without leaving our homes after all. 

And if you’ve found some value in this post, please share. I’d love to reach out to people who might find this of benefit. Thanks! 😃

1 Comment

Filed under health, local travel, reflection, travel, volunteering

What Changes While You’re Away? The Inevitability of Missing Out When Travelling or Living Abroad

‘Never heard of Fomo?’ asked a Guardian newspaper headline of its readers, ‘You’re so missing out.’ So common is this Gen-Y social condition that the acronym FOMO – fear of missing out – was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. Their definition states:

Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website

The latter part bothers me less. I accept that social media can help travellers and expats to stay connected with friends and family back home. But the first bit? Yes. I admit, I have occasionally felt guilt, sadness, frustration and longing for events that I have been unable to witness or attend due to travelling and living overseas.

Logo stating FOMO in red and definition below, which is fear of missing out

©thesilverpen.com

And yet it’s not to do with me not having a fun/special/interesting/englightening time, or even worrying that others are doing funner, cooler, more ambitious things than me. Nope. It’s more along the lines of I am not there to share those special moments with them. I am away.

Having first left the UK in 2011 to travel through South America and the Pacific, I had just left it all behind, again. As I flew back to Australia, I digested all the many meet-ups of a six-week whirlwind catch up tour.

Some things really had changed beyond recognition. Some things I had truly missed out on. But all those things, I realised, had common threads weaving through them.

  • The first thing apparent was changes in relationships. Weddings, break-ups and new loves. A lot can happen in a two-year cycle, apparently. Friends who were separated when I left were now married, singletons were engaged, and those who were solid and steady were ramping up for parenthood, life’s next adventure. Having already missed the wedding of one of my dearest friends in Devon, I planned my UK trip to coincide with a university friend’s marriage to a woman who neither my swot crew nor I had previously met. She was fortunately quite the kind bride, and I saw that her husband – my friend – had grown and adapted his outlook from me to us. As we sat around a music themed table, I looked at my group and realised that we were all moving on, in our relationships and life.
  • The next thing that struck me was the talk of birth and the arrival of babies. Lots of them. Everywhere. My trip back to the UK had been planned to coincide with my nephew’s first smiles, but once back on British soil I realised it was not just my sister who had flung herself into the all things motherhood. Some friends had become fluent in baby talk, others waddled around with uncomfortable lumps protruding, and others questioned my future baby plans. Not many seemed keen for all night partying. It was a strange yet somewhat expected shift.
  • Ageing, in all of its facets, was another area where changes were apparent. Sure, the relationship and baby changes are to be expected within friendship groups once you hit your 30s, but there were moments when I looked around and saw the sensibilities and concerns of adulthood creeping up on my friends, where I noticed the shrinking of my elders, where I chatted as an equal with those whom I had babysat when I was barely a teenager. And yet, despite some changes being glaringly obvious, when it came to my mum’s newly embraced grey, I only saw my mum. Some changes are just surface.
  • Other changes, however, were more shocking, as with ageing comes illness and stress. Stress was trying its hardest to become my father’s new best friend as everything he’d worked for – volunteered his life for – had become a battleground between human sensibilities and institutional red tape, and he was a frontline warrior, searching for ways to make the truth prevail. Same family, different generation and my grandmother – oma –suffered a heart attack that she and I assumed would mean we’d never meet again. With the oomph that I’ve come to expect of my oma, she did pull through those moments, a little shook up but recogniseable underneath the change.
  • Unfortunately, though, the same cannot be said for my other grandmother who died ten days before my flight home to the UK. The prospect of a death amongst our nearest and dearest is one of those events that has the potential to paralyse us from travelling or living abroad. I was unable to make it to the funeral. I would have wished to have been there to say goodbye to my grandmother, or at least to listen to relatives telling stories of her happier days. Instead I visited her grave and planted forget-me-nots a few feet above where her head lay. I grieved for the sadness in her life, and for my mother who had now lost her mother.

Some things were still the same, some familiarity, some recognition. I care massively about my friends and their lives, and I drew comfort from knowing that our connections are still intact, despite separate life paths.

Now, leaving again, I wonder what will change between now and the next time I’m again in the UK. Life happens, whether you’re there to see it or not. I get that.

My FOMO suffering is far less influenced by Facebook than by knowing I’m missing key moments in the lives of those who have helped to shape my life, but maybe it’s time to let go of the missing out stuff and appreciate the bits I do get to be part of instead?

Related posts

7 Comments

Filed under culture, expat life, health, long term travel, reflection, relationships

Leaving, Again

Kings Cross train station at rush hour. A business man walks across the frame pulling a suitcase.Does saying goodbye ever get any easier? It’s all a bit strange, this leaving thing, when you think about it. Traveller or expat, I’m sure we all feel it to varying degrees, this need to get on and do what we need to do and be where we need to be jostling alongside the emotional pull of the other life, the familiar life and of folk ‘back home’.

So here I am, on the first of many long haul flights. I’m leaving England, again, and although I’m excited to be returning to friends in Australia, the sadness of saying goodbye to my family just a few hours ago took me by surprise. In the end I could barely talk.

And I wonder why I get this lurch of sadness, more pronounced the older I get. When I lived in England I saw my family maybe four times a year, if I was lucky. Life just happened. We were all busy. Now I see them every year and a half, if I’m lucky, and when I see them I do feel lucky, because we all make an effort to make the most of this limited time together.

Something happens when you’re flying high above the world, at least it does to me. Maybe it’s the physical disconnect with the ground that makes me reflective, or it’s possibly the forced situation of not being able to busy myself with duties and distractions. Either way, thoughts about life and location bubble up.

After over a month of catching up with family and friends, I’m now back acquainted with some me moments, and as I fly half way around the world I have time to ponder on what has changed and what might change again before I next revisit the Great British Isles.

And I wonder, will the next time I leave be any easier or will it be as much of a wrench? I’m curious to know how other long-term travellers and expats experience and deal with this.

11 Comments

Filed under expat life, long term travel, reflection, relationships, travel

Travel Word Play on World Poetry Day 2014

The Greek philosopher Aristotle reckoned that ‘adventure is worthwhile’, thus giving travelling the thumbs up, while Edgar Allen Poe is quoted as saying that ‘to elevate the soul, poetry is necessary.’ Both are worthwhile and both are necessary, in my books, so to give a nod to World Poetry Day 2014, I’ll share some of my favourite poems that I relate to travel.

I want to start with one that takes me back to my life in England, to a time when I’d catch myself in moments of routine and yearn for a different life, one that I hadn’t yet figured out. It’s sometimes difficult to put your finger on what you want, but reading this is a good reminder of how to feel alive, whether that be through travel or otherwise:

He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
dies slowly.

He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones “it’s” rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
dies slowly.

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
die slowly.

He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly.

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops,
dies slowly.

He or she who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know, he or she who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
die slowly.

Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.

This poem, Die Slowly, reminds me of my own need to drink in as much of life as possible. I’m not sure that it is actually by Pablo Neruda, as suggested by some online sources, but nonetheless it reminds me of Neruda and takes me back some years to when I was studying Spanish, ideas of travel forming in my mind. I would read Neruda’s poems slowly in Spanish, trying to make sense of their meaning, and then look to the mirroring page of the book that my godmother had given me and read the English translation.

And this poem?  Neruda or not, I hear it. I chose to mix it up and live a little. And that included making the decision to travel and leave everything I knew behind. 

Throughout my travels I – like any traveller – have had to make choices about the howswhyswhens and with whos, and  so often I’ve had moments when I’ve thought: have I made the right decision? Robert Frost plays with this idea in his famous poem, The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This poem speaks to me about making decisions that are right for you. Have I made the right decisions on my journey? Yes, apparently. Whoever I ask says the same thing: whatever path you chose was the right one. Or neither was the right one. Or something like that.

And so during my travels I’ve immersed myself in places and experiences that have pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and  I’ve connected with people and situations that I might not otherwise have come across. Like with any traveller, these interactions and experiences have left deep imprints. When I take a minute, such as now, to contemplate my own journey, I can relate elements of my experience to this classic poem by William Wordsworth:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

The theme, one study source states is about the importance of connecting with nature in order to understand oneself and one’s place in the universe. For me, that has often been through travel.

And those daffodils? Those moments on my journey? Each time I remember them, meditate on them, I am back there, surrounded by sight, smell, sound and sensation. Each time, I feel life. 

Have any recommendations? I’d love to hear from you. Feel like reading over a few more? Have a glance over some of these travel poems.

Related articles

8 Comments

Filed under art, culture, random, reflection, writing, writing/poetry

8 ways to get settled in Australia

keep-calm-and-settle-down-5In May 2012 I saw a Facebook update from a friend in Melbourne that stated ‘…over 40 resumes and nothing… I continue the travels…’, and so I decided to skip the call of the city and head straight to the north coast of New South Wales on my return to Australia. But another friend warned ‘It might be difficult to find work here in Byron. You’re arriving at the start of winter, people are losing their jobs’.

I needed to work, there was no question about it. A year of travelling between South America and Oceania meant that I was flat out broke and my financial independence was totally at stake. Additionally, my immune system was also fighting a battle and required rest and a good dose of TLC.

It made absolute sense to struggle (and a struggle was apparently unavoidable) surrounded by familiarity and a good dose of sunshine than in amongst a sea of city strangers. The decision to choose small town life over high-rise buzziness was easy.

Now, over a year later, I find myself reflecting on what has so far helped me to find my feet in a new town on the other side of the world. I’ve begun to build up a wonderful network of people around me, people with whom I can laugh, chat, adventure, dance, just be. I’ve been fortunate to find work – from unskilled to professional positions – that have kept me fed, watered and beyond. And I’ve found time to start exploring Australia, from the beach in my back garden to far further afield.

So, what worked? What helped me to take a break from constant travelling and actually put down some roots?

  1. Plan ahead, a little. Boring. Maybe. I sent emails and CVs ahead of my arrival that meant I had somewhere to live and work for the first few weeks. I stayed with a friend for a couple of days and then moved into a beautiful little B&B in the heart of Byron where I worked a HelpX arrangement for a few weeks, which gave me enough time to figure out something a little more permanent.
  2. Move into a share house. I remember how back in my early 20s this was helpful. When you’re new to an area and don’t have hoards of people to call up for a catch-up, having at least one other person around to say ‘What are you up to today?’ or ‘How’s it going?’ makes you feel a little less isolated.
  3. Know when to spend. In this part of Australia, public transport systems seem to be pretty abysmal so spending the last of my savings on a car was not only the right decision in terms of helping me to maintain a sense of independence, but it also helped me get to interviews, work and social appointments.
  4. Do the official stuff. Like sign up to Medicare. Like sorting out your Aussie driving licence. It might sound silly, but having a few basic things in place helped me to feel more secure in stopping my journeying.
  5. Get a job. Or three. At times I overcommitted with voluntary and paid work and struggled to hold it all together, but it felt great to have a different sort of focus, to contribute, to work in a team again.
  6. Get involved with activities. Back in January 2012 when I first visited Byronshire, I joined a climbing group. I am still friends with people from that group. Since being back in the area I’ve played in a girls’ soccer team, joined a local writing group and become an active member of a Sivananda yoga centre. Being part of things feels good and gives the week some structure.
  7. Say yes to invitations. Initially, you’re not on people’s radars because they have their own life and friends, but the more you go along to things and participate, the more you will become part of their consciousness.
  8. Travel and explore. In the past I’ve found it all too easy to split life between settling and travelling, rather than mixing the two, but on the advice of others I’m now trying to open my eyes to my daily surroundings. A cycle ride into town reveals a shady duneside pathway along which snakes are said to summer lounge. An after work beach walk puts me in near contact with the trailed tentacles of a stranded blue bottle jellyfish. That belly flip of excitement – the type of feeling you might experience when first visiting an exotic country for the first time – can still exist even if you’re not traipsing up mountains in Peru or exploring the salt flats of Bolivia.

But let me be honest. Stopping after travelling and embracing the life of an expat hasn’t been a totally smooth process (and clearly the travel bug lives on in my system as I still can’t claim to have really stopped). It hasn’t been easy, at all.

After the initial post-arrival elation, months three to nine proved tough. Whenever things weren’t going my way I contemplated packing my bags and moving to the next town, a place where there might be work, where people might invite me along to things, where I’d be sprinkled with some magical settle down powder and live happily ever after, my wanderlust diminished. I thought about Europe, about my friends and family there. I pondered: maybe I should just return to what I know, what’s comfortable.

There were times when I questioned why other expats didn’t reach out to me, offer me advice, hang out. At moments I wished so hard that I didn’t have to be the one to contact people, where I just wanted someone to call me up, out of the blue, and say ‘hey, do you want to do coffee?’

And then suddenly, it happened.

How was it for you? Was it easy to stop travelling? Or to settle in another country?

1 Comment

Filed under australia, culture, expat life, oceania, reflection

What do you miss when you’re on the road?

www.travelola.orgThe American travel writer William Least Heat-Moon said

When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then.

I can identify. On the road, you are what you are, in your thoughts, feelings, in your person. You are in the present moment. You are the present moment.

When I travel, I’m totally in that moment; I’m busy meeting new people and having new adventures, my senses are being stimulated with fresh sights and smells and sounds, and there isn’t time to miss anything or anyone.

Really?

Often, yes. Busy-busy keeps the brain distracted.

But every new experience and person encountered along one’s travels is sub-consciously referenced to your old life – the past – and I regularly make links between travel people, events and moments to the people, events and moments in my lesser travelled life:

Such-and-such would love this!
I remember when I did something similar with Ms. X or
That’s exactly the same way that who’s it does it!

 You get the picture.

And so now, after nearly two years away from the UK, every now and then I have reflective moments, moments where beautiful past memories come floating to the foreground and I feel that little twinge in my chest that tells me maybe, maybe you do miss a few things after all.

So what is it I miss about England? Some things include:

  1. Cosy country pubs and open mic nights with my friends sitting around a blazing fire and listening to a mix of musicians including the multi-instrumental-acoustic-folk-mash-up of the quirky creative talents of Woodford Green.
  2. Devon cream teas. Hot tea and fluffy, warm scones. Clotted cream, then jam, of course. Why would you do it differently? (Cornish cream teas, I agree, differ, but let’s save that for another discussion).
  3. Wild weather weekends. Getting rugged up and braving the elements, marching along a blown-out beach or hiking cliff tops as the rain comes in, followed by gathering around a roaring fire and hugging a hot mug of tea. Too many days like this, no thanks, but occasionally, absolutely.
  4. Van trips with friends in Devon and Cornwall. Surfboards, beanies, sleeping bags, one-pot dinners, makeshift fires, guitars and bongos and all the other clichés. Because it works. Absolutely.
  5. Snow. Crisp, early morning snow undisturbed, save for a few cat paw punctures and some light bird footprints. And whilst we’re on about snow, you just can’t beat a white Christmas with the family. Warm Christmases on the other side of the world just feel strange to me.
  6. Spring. The marked change in seasons is something I treasure about the UK, but spring is my absolute favourite time of the year with its signs of new life, lambs bouncing about in freshly green fields and daffodils setting the land alight with a blaze of yellow.
  7. Cooking for and with friends. So many good, hearty times. Love, love, love. And family cook-ups too, with parents and sister and grandparents and godmothers and aunties and uncles and cousins and houses of chaos and chat. Ah, just writing this makes me want to pack my bags and book a ticket, homeward bound.
  8. Christmas catch-ups with my Masters crew. Short and sweet, this is usually a day in December in the North East of England where we eat well, stretch our legs for a crisp, winter walk and chat the last year before disappearing off to different parts of the globe once again.
  9. Summer BBQs and camping by the beach. Waking up to an early morning knock on the van door, jumping into a wetsuit and greeting the day with a daybreak sunshine surf. Lazy time spent between van and beach and water, barbeque and beers in the evenings. Friends and children and smiles; surrounded by fun and good, good people.
  10. Multi-culturalism. Whilst there’s often talk about population problems in the UK, I love the fact that you can have access to a multitude of cultural events, foods, and so forth in any of the major cities. I’ve not witnessed this level of diversity and acceptance of differences anywhere else on my travels.

And what am I glad to be away from? I definitely don’t miss months of blustery wind and rain, the low morale brought on by the recession and our damaged economy, the threat of redundancy that hangs over everyone, the bleak job prospects for my previous students, the bureaucracy and bulls**t of what could otherwise be the beautiful profession of teaching.

What do you miss when you’re on the road?

4 Comments

Filed under australia, oceania, random, reflection, travel