Don’t Ever Travel

Don’t ever travel. Don’t venture further than you have to in this world. If you can, remain in one place for as long as possible – in fact, don’t even leave your hometown. Settle down, dig your roots in deep, and be comfortable.

Don’t ever travel. Don’t get lost in cobblestone streets and don’t spend hours reflecting in little stone chapels, their walls peeling paint while their Saints watch over you. Don’t hold your breath in the Sistine Chapel. Don’t munch on chocolate crepes as you meander to the Eiffel Tower. Don’t explore castle ruins and under no circumstances should you ever go pub crawling at Temple Bar. Do not explore the world around you.

Don’t learn new languages. Don’t attempt to twist your tongue around the rolling sounds of ‘Castello Sforzesco’. Don’t bother with ‘hellos’ and ‘thank yous’ in Hindi. Don’t ever be in a position that requires you know how to barter in Spanish for a taxi to the bus station in Lima. Do not expand your ability to communicate beyond words.

Don’t seek experiences that challenge your beliefs. Don’t discover how your “nothing” can be someone else’s “everything”. Don’t compare a concrete room housing three generations with your two storey house for one. Don’t question the flashy possessions by which you define your identity. Do not experience gratitude.

Don’t try to do something different. Don’t try to break away from your comfort zone. Don’t go paragliding in Kas, don’t eat that weird thing you can neither pronounce nor identify in Beijing, and don’t think for a minute that riding on a tuk tuk through the streets of Siem Reap will be anything other than dangerous. Do not challenge your expectations of yourself.

Don’t ever travel. Don’t seek answers to life in other places. Don’t seek change. Don’t stray too far from your home. Don’t ever travel.

Travel has terrible side effects. You will return home and nothing will have changed, but nothing will ever be the same again. You will never enjoy the morning commute after you have had breakfast in France and lunch in Switzerland. You will never be the same person you were before you heard Buddhist monks chanting in Taktsang Monastery. You will forget the person who left home in search of adventure because that person will become the adventure. 42 will no longer be enough.

To travel is to risk everything – it is to risk your beliefs, it is to risk the world you know, it is to risk the person you thought you were.

Don’t ever travel.

But if you must: tread lightly, look deeply, listen carefully.

And trust me on the pub crawl.

And then my suitcase began to sing

On the last night in my apartment in Singapore I finally squeezed the last book into my suitcase and burst into tears.

Of all the cliches, there are two that I cannot deny:

  1. it’s a small world
  2. time flies

Where have the two years gone? Between chasing children around a tiny classroom, organising the next travel adventure, and staring at a pile of books to read and scribbled story ideas to develop, I think it’s fair to say that two years passed in a suitable whirl. I travelled to places I never knew existed, met people who reminded me of the incredible power of the human spirit, and filled my soul with stories.

All of this culminated with one over-sized bubblegum-pink suitcase (purchased especially for The Return), a carry-on suitcase that I would avoid weighing, and one teary individual perched precariously on the brink of – yet another – breakdown.

And then my suitcase began to sing, lilting notes so faint and delicate that I thought I had imagined it. Startled, I opened my suitcase (too upset to be cautious – the books spilled forth) and discovered a little music box that had been bumped into song.

I dried my tears with laughter and set about readjusting the contents. It all seemed to fit much better after that, so I dragged my bags to the door and fell into bed. The next day I flew to Cambodia (with a backpack I eventually gave away and clothes I discarded to donation bins), then returned after a week to collect my bags and fly back to Australia.

And that is where I am now, sitting with a view of trees in a suburban bushland and feeling far more positive today than I have felt in some time. The Return has been emotional – the happiness of being with my family and seeing my friends has been marred with the anxiety that comes with being unemployed (I’m still looking) and suddenly aware that a quick trip to Vietnam is not possible from this location.

I fell into a slump long before I came back to Australia. Things are still working themselves out, but such is life. It feels like I spend a lot of time waiting for the perfect conditions, waiting for one thing to fall into place so everything else becomes worthy of my time and attention. I realise, now, that it will always be like that – there will always be something imperfect, something not quite right. There will always be a suitcase overflowing with stuff and a feeling of not being in full control.

Today, I am taking stock of everything that gives me joy, and working out how to keep the joy in my life. This blog has made it to the list, and while it will change because I have changed, it is something to which I Return after more than a year of intermittent posts and updates.

Joy also comes from my research. I spent yesterday at a conference and came home feeling a faint buzz beneath the exhaustion. Today, that buzz is a warm vibration as I consider where I am going with my research and how excited I am to have the time to spend focusing on my books and ideas.

Late last night on the long drive home, I belted out a song (out-of-tune, of course) and could not help but feel incredibly excited about getting back to it – the blog, the research, the writing, the reading, the coming to terms with things not always going “my way” but ending up being “a way that I can make work”.

No matter how out of control things become, how overstuffed and falling out and not quite working, there will be something singing from the depths – if you listen carefully – and maybe, just maybe, that song will help things fall into place.

***

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zeevveez

Travelling and Writing

I always knew I wanted to travel.

I boarded my first International flight alone at the age of fifteen to go to Italy on a two month student exchange program. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, though I was so nervous that I imagined leaving the gate and sprinting to find my mother, then apologising profusely but I just can’t go. Instead, I held back the tears – except for the first two which had fallen rebelliously – and boarded the plane.

This was the start of my father’s grey hair. It was also the start of my life as a Solo Traveller. I join the odd group, tag along on day trips, and occasionally find a friend who helps balance out the cost of travel (which tends to have extra charges when you’re Alone).

Forbidden City, China

Forbidden City, China – Photo by Stef Thompson

I always knew I wanted to travel. It’s one of my “forgotten loves” because I do it so often that it has simply become a part of my life. Some people move countries for their careers. Some people move countries because they have no choice. Some people move countries for love. In a way, that’s what I did. I moved to another country purely for the purpose of travel. I have travelled with a backpack on a budget and I have travelled with a suitcase and private car. I spend time and money travelling because it’s one of the things I love.

It is often said that it takes courage to do what you love. Travel is one of my loves, and some days I am surprised to realise that it took great courage not to run back to my mother when I was fifteen, just as it still takes courage to arrive in a new country Alone and not spend the entire time hiding in the hotel for fear of getting lost. I have been told that I have a life others want. I am often asked how I do it, but sometimes this is a question that isn’t about money or time but strength and confidence. My mother once told me I am brave. I didn’t feel brave when I stepped off a cliff in Turkey and spent the entire time I was paragliding screaming “Put me down!”

waiting for the wind - paragliding in Kas, Turkey

Waiting for the wind in Kas, Turkey –
Photo by Stef Thompson

I’ve never had a job I’ve really loved. When I get caught up in the boring details of the job I have but do not enjoy, I am told – usually by my mother, because she is my mother and she tells me a lot of things in a way that only mothers can – to do what I love. She means I should write. And I should. But not yet. Why? I’m still travelling. I write, certainly, but not as often or as consistently as I should. And I’ve been hard on myself for that, but now I realise that I’ve been working to fund my travels, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. One day I’ll give Writing the time and money I have given Travel. First, I have to collect stories. Soon, I’ll write them. Really write them.

Sometimes I forget that I am already doing what I love. I always knew I wanted to travel. I always knew I wanted to write. I’m already doing what I love, I just forget that sometimes. Travel has become such a significant part of my life that it simply is. One day, writing will be like that, too.

Are you doing what you love?