Before I met my husband and had children, I travelled the world. For 10 years, with nothing but a travel towel, bum-bag and passport, I wondered, hitched, trekked and meandered, mostly alone, mostly drunk. Occasionally I had a dreadlocked, tattooed booze bag hanging on my coat tails, but generally, for an entire decade, I was a nomad.
My sandy feet roamed street markets and dusty roads, beaches and mountains. I loved the freedom of travelling and being able to move on whenever I got bored. Wherever I was on this planet, in-between hangovers and long train journeys, I did some pretty cool stuff. I washed elephants in India, rode a camel into the Sahara Desert, ran bars in Thailand and danced Salsa on the cobbled laneways of Havana. As far as I can remember (which is not very far) I had fun. I partied my way around the world, leaving nothing in my wake apart from some empty beer bottles and a few broken hearts. Travelling meant I could be whoever I wanted to be, it was like an awakening for me, a liberation from the girl at the check-in lounge at Heathrow airport. I remember stepping off the plane in Bangkok and a rush of hot air enveloping my entirety and thinking,
‘This is who I am’
It was like a rebirth.
And I managed to avoid coming home for a very long time.
Home had gotten messy, my recreational drug use and heavy binge drinking had caused imbalance in my brain and forced me to move back in with my parents. I was troubled and sad. For a year I stayed home, depressed and scared. Travelling was a way out.
I saved up, booked a round the world ticket and left that distressed party girl behind. I stayed away, never wanting to be that person again. I wanted to be this me, the ethnically garbed hippie with nothing but a backpack and a bulging diary of adventures.
I imagine those I left at home worried about me, I bet they wondered what the hell I was playing at, probably thought my whimsical escapade would end at any time and I’d be home with my tail between my legs, a tropical disease and a few concealable tattoos that wouldn’t hinder me getting an acceptable office job in the city.
But when I didn’t return, I think I got ‘written off’ as a lost soul, a person stumbling through life without purpose. I wasn’t doing what was expected (job, house, kids, lasagne) therefore, I was a lost cause.
But the truth wasn’t simple, I wasn’t just roaming without meaning. I was living again. Being on my own in unknown cities was at times, frightening, but it felt wonderful to be away from my past. I didn’t want to return to the internal, measurable fear that had led me to leave, I felt that if I ever returned home anxiety would come knocking at my door as soon as my toes touched British soil. The trauma of being mentally unstable, agoraphobic, and suddenly having to rely on my parents again had shaken my bones. I wanted to be as far away from that feeling as possible. so dealing with the odd scorpion under my bed or over zealous holiday romance felt like a walk in the park compared to a panic attack.
The hot air that day, the day I touched down on warm Asian tarmac, the smell of a new city, meant my life had a chance again. I had an opportunity to really live (a sentiment that which at some points during that previous year had waned.) I wasn’t lost at all, just searching for something else, something different than what I had experienced at home, something that wasn’t anxiety or my own impending death. Travelling offered a new life.
I made a choice to seek out something that suited me more than England. I admit, was wondering up a path with no idea where I was going, but I was free of panic, I could imagine a future…I was alive and delving into as many experiences as possible.
My sentiment was ‘all roads lead to somewhere’
And I was happy to walk to the end to find what was there,
Admittedly, travelling wasn’t always Chang Beers and Jungle treks. In order to fund my unruly caper, I had to work. I had to roll up the sleeves of my tie-dye shirt and get dug into whatever was on offer. I cooked, taught, cleaned, waitressed and mowed. I needed money, so no matter how hungover I was, (even if it meant regurgitating kebab meat into a drain at a posh Deli on Bondi Beach) I turned up and did what had to be done. In fact, I was so desperate to stay travelling and never go home that I would turn my hand to practically anything, (I say practically anything because unlike a travelling buddy of mine, I wasn’t prepared insert my eager hand into the naked bottom of a Japanese man for $10,000. But I must say, my friend was never without money and I knew where to go when I needed rubber gloves, which wasn’t often.) I was happy to give most jobs a go, I was testing out each line of work hoping to find something that would take my fancy. Over the years I had many failed professions, just like the careers advisor at school had predicted. I got sacked from a pie shop in New Zealand for always being late, I left a teaching job in Thailand after being told I had to hit the children with a wooden stick and I was rubbish at picking cherries, I couldn’t work out why everyone was so damn fast, heaving huge barrels of the things to the pick-up every hour when I had some measly, half rotten balls sliding around in the bottom of my plastic crate. It was only when I saw a couple of the girls injecting speed amongst the tangled branches one afternoon that I realised why I was lagging behind. (Don’t worry, I was done with drugs by then and left the farm the following day with pockets stuffed with lovely ripe red cherries)
So, no matter what I did, it was all a learning curve for me. I was hunting for my purpose. Tracking down what I wanted by experiencing life.
I think for some people this process of knowing what you want out of life takes time,
Time, successes and failures. I was never going to finish Uni with a degree and do something that meant I fitted into the norm, not because I was rebellious, just that I didn’t know yet. All I knew was that I wanted to see the world and work it out as I went along. It’s not what everyone does, but for me it meant I cured my anxiety, got better, gave myself a better life than the one I had at home.
Travelling freed me from ties and expectations too, and I was able to work things out on my own without the burden of letting anyone down. (letting people down from afar is also much less of a chore) It meant I was able to get to know me and get to know what my heart wanted.
It took 10 years before I knew.
I remember sitting on a beach watching the sun disappear behind the horizon and thinking
‘I want children and I want to be a writer’
Then getting up, walking to the airport and flying home.
After trying 30 jobs in 30 countries, after failed loves and a bout of dengue fever, I knew.
Within the following year I found a new home and had a ring on my finger.
I settled, had kids and left behind the travel bum.
She waved me off.
As soon as that pregnancy test showed two lines.
Blomp. She was gone.
But that girl is what made me who I am today.
A mother and a writer.
She cut through the dense jungle and lead me into the clearing.
No matter what anyone thought of me, throughout my travels I never wrote myself off. I knew I would get where I wanted to go. I had faith in me. Faith in the process. I may have seemed lost to my friends and family back in blighty, but my travels are what made me and saved me. They are the roots of my life and they forced me to face my fears instead of run away from them. Travelling the world meant I wrote daily, I scrawled my stories in diaries, on postcards and on beer mats. I logged my feelings and adventures; I recorded my change. Sometimes I open a page and read, my words take me back there, to the time I freed myself from anxiety, and I feel proud of what I did. I wasn’t lost at all. I was just busy finding out who I was.
I listened to a podcast today - Adam Buxton interviewing the poet Benjamin Zephaniah. He talked about second chances, about how once he had done a lecture from within the prison cell he had once resided in as a troubled youth. He described how people had once written him off, decided he was bad news, yet here he was with honorary degrees and doctorates galore, giving a speech to the criminals he had once run alongside. He had changed. Turned his life around. From being lost to being found. He said the most interesting people he ever met were the ones that had gone against the grain and experienced huge challenges and he believed that no matter what, people should be given a chance at redemption because humans learn, grow and, like him, change. I think perhaps that going against modern-day expectations, rebelling against the office jobs and the secure futures might lead to some far more interesting stories.
His inspiring tale proves that just because people may seem lost to you…. it doesn’t mean you should write them off. Because someone is an alcoholic, or has anger issues, or is rude, or not successful, in your eyes, doesn't mean they are not capable of change. I may have been a disoriented, drug addled teen, full of anxiety. I may have headed off and been what most people would have perceived as disoriented, but all of it had purpose, all of it was part of my journey and it meant that I eventually unearthed contentment.
Life is not always pretty, it’s not all perfect incomes, mortgages then retirement. There are addictions, fuck ups, divorces, and mistakes, some might do what others disagree with, some might fuck off round the world when they were expected to settle down, some might put their hands up Japanese men’s bottoms for cash, but gosh, wouldn’t life be boring if we were all the same. Perhaps it takes all those ups and downs, all the crazy shit that happens and time....to find our true purpose.
I’m glad I was lost, it made being found so much more interesting!
“ Now The Head Lines How do you like your truth? Gently spoken on breakfast TV By a man and a woman who sit comfortably Saying riots, and murder, when will it end? As they struggle to act as if they are good friends. How do you like your truth? Bite-sized in sound bites cut easy to chew, With a talking head saying the victim's like you And when you've digested the horrors you've seen You find good, you find evil, and no in-between. How do you like your truth? Fantastic, sensational, printed in bold, Today it's exclusive, tomorrow it's old, All on the surface with nothin too deep With a story about animals to help you to sleep How do you like your youth? From perfect families with parents thet care, Or in perfect families but still in despair, Ten out of ten parents say they'd not choose To have bad kids like those in the news.”
― Benjamin Zephaniah.
India - 2008. Not looking very lost!