Confessions of a timid traveller: why I keep coming home

confessions-of-a-timid-traveller

This post was inspired by the NZBloggers #BlogGreatness challenge for weeks 7 & 8. The topics are ‘Favourite part of NZ’ and ‘Contrast’. You can find out more about NZBloggers here.

I have a confession to make: I am a very timid traveller. I love arriving in new places, exploring different cultures and seeing the world. But I find the actual travel part – the getting from A to B – incredibly challenging. I am afraid of the literal sense of the word: to ‘make a journey, typically of some length’.

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When travel is less than perfect: my bittersweet London memories

Last Sunday I woke up without an alarm. I felt rested and content. I went for a walk up Mount Victoria and sat cross-legged on top of an old concrete bunker and marvelled at the beauty that is home.

To my left, the perfect symmetry of Rangitoto. To my right, the harbour dotted with sailing boats against a backdrop of white beaches and rolling hills. Directly in front of me, the calming presence of North Head and a dozen islands stretching out to the horizon.

This is the place I call home.

Rangitoto Island
Rangitoto Island
North Head & beyond
North Head & beyond

My hometown often leaves me speechless. Gratitude bubbles up in my chest and silences my restless mind. In moments like these, I think, this is enough. My life feels both expansive and tiny at the same time. Expansive because my mind is flying free, soaring over the blue water. Tiny because my home seems so small, this little peninsula, a collection of streets, familiar houses.

I feel immensely grateful that I love the place where I grew up. That my desire to explore has never been marred by a desire to flee. That no matter where I go, I carry home in my heart.

But sometimes I worry that I will get too comfortable, too content. That I will become complacent. As I sat on top of that bunker, on that still Sunday morning, I thought: I hope I never take this beauty for granted. I hope it is forever enough to calm my frantic mind.

Beyond home

Another Sunday dawns. Today it is rainy and humid. I wake up at 5.45am, my throat parched, gasping for air. The weather is warm and sticky. I pushed open our two bedroom windows, as far as they would go, and lay still, listening to the wind swirling outside.

I can’t sleep, but it’s too early to get up. I check my phone. I scroll through Instagram, Facebook. Spring has dawned in London. The sky is a bright blue, people are at the pub. Immediately, bittersweet memories flood my brain.

I close my eyes, and for a few moments I am back in London. Walking to Putney Bridge. Shopping at Waitrose. Leaning against the doors of the tube on a weekday morning, reading about nicer places, as I speed towards work. Fumbling for my swipe card to enter the office in Farringdon. Always fumbling for my swipe card.

Sitting in our back garden in Fulham, chatting about the world with our flatmates, interrupted by planes flying low overhead. Heathrow Flight Path.

Waking in the middle of the night to shouts from the flat above. The neighbours are arguing again. People run up and down the stairs, cursing. The front door bangs.

Venturing to unseen corners of the city on weekends, eyes wide open, minds exhausted. Eating the best chocolate cake we’ve ever tasted in Brixton. Always looking for a quirky, independent café to try. Often ending up in Pret-à-Manger, hungry and tired, eating a ham sandwich.

The best chocolate cake, ever, at Brixton Village Market
The best chocolate cake, ever, at Brixton Village Market

After-work drinks in the pub during winter. Old pub, low ceilings, pint glasses overflowing. Standing outside in the rain, trying to get to know my colleagues. Navigating the different cliques and unspoken rules. Yearning to be asked about my home, for someone to listen to my story, for someone to see the real me.

Shopping for winter boots in Bromley in the rain. Feeling broke and broken. Desperately looking for something practical, something I can walk long distances in. Most boots are fashionable, with chunky heels and non-existent lining. I leave the store with sturdy lace-ups, something I’d never wear otherwise, out of a primal desire to avoid cold, damp toes.

Catching the train to somewhere new, and feeling the breath return to my chest as we soar out of London, passing the rows of houses and finally seeing nothing but fields of green, or even better, a glimpse of the sea.

Revisiting old favourites. Being transported back to my 19-year-old self in the Tower of London, a mesmerising piece of history. Climbing the Monument for the second time in my life and seeing a completely different view. Walking past private gardens and posh shops in Chelsea, but this time wondering what all the fuss is about.

Tower of London, one of my favourite places
Tower of London, one of my favourite places

Eating curry in Brick Lane. Feeling conned. As usual, wishing we knew the area better, so we could seek out the trendy eateries and meet some locals.

Coming home from work during a transport strike, after three hours on a bus. Collapsing, exhausted. Tom takes my shoes off, puts me to bed, hot drink and a piece of toast. Crying my eyes out, out of sheer exhaustion.

Loneliness, even though Tom is nearly always by my side.  Wanting to get to know locals, to form a connection, to be part of a community. Wanting to be asked about New Zealand, getting the odd question about Lord of the Rings if I’m lucky. Telling people about New Zealand anyway, often met with kind eyes and blank faces.

Always talking about home, thinking about home, until one day: home.

Right back to where we started

We went home. When people asked me about London, I didn’t know how to answer. When I am passionate about something, a place or a person or an idea, I can’t stop talking about it. I speak fast and freely and excitedly. I get frustrated when people can’t see what I mean, because my heart is so full, my soul so alive.

I felt this way when I returned home from my first big trip overseas. When I was 19 I went on exchange to Lyon, France. I arrived in the city alone, with nowhere to live, and spent my first ten days in a hostel, madly visiting flats and putting my classroom French to the test.

My six months in Lyon were exhilarating. They remain one of my fondest memories. I awakened an independent streak in me I didn’t know I had. I made new friends and spoke a new language and pushed myself far beyond my comfort zone.

It was in Lyon that I decided to move to London one day, even though I might not have known it at the time. What I did know is that Lyon was just the beginning of my overseas adventures – I quietly vowed to come back to this side of the world.

19 year old me, living in Lyon
19 year old me, living in Lyon

When I met Tom, I had been back in New Zealand a year but Lyon was still fresh in my heart and soul. He quickly established that I wanted to live overseas again, that this was something I envisaged happening in my near future.

One year later, the company he was working for went into receivership, I was stuck in a job I hated, and we decided to move to England.

We all form opinions based on previous experiences. I had no doubt in my mind that this second round living abroad would be just as exhilarating as the first, perhaps even more so, going with the man I love.

But London was no Lyon, and for some reason, for reasons I am still trying to figure out, my soul did not engage.

Moving to London was a hard and difficult process. Unlike when I moved to Lyon, there was no time-cap on the experience. We could be there for a year, we could be there for ten years.

We made decisions blindly, fumbling in the dark. We went in the wrong direction more than once. I spent a lot of time isolated, unemployed, looking for a job while Tom worked long hours. It was tough.

Things got better. We moved house, lived with close friends from home. I found a job. We met other Kiwis living in the area and we managed a few holidays in our spare time.

But our ‘everyday’ was a slog, it was an uphill climb. It took most of my energy to commute to work and then spend nine hours in a job I wasn’t passionate about. I wasn’t earning enough money for weekend escapes to outweigh the dullness of my 9-5 reality.

I felt like we were failing. I still sometimes wonder if we did fail. Did we give up too soon? Were our expectations too high? Did we make too many wrong decisions? Did we not have the right attitude?

When we arrived home, I was still working through these feelings. People asked me about London, and I didn’t know how to answer without sounding ungrateful or small-minded.

Redefining travel

My experience in London forced me to redefine what travel meant to me. I had been on three other trips: a one-month exchange in Tahiti when I was 14; a two-week trip to Rarotonga with my best friends when I was 17; and a six-month exchange to Lyon at age 19.

All three of these trips were challenging but exhilarating. They nourished my soul and mind and helped to shape the person I would become.

Before London, to me travel was synonymous with adventure and discovery. It was undoubtedly a positive experience, despite any negatives.

I am still coming to terms with the fact that London felt like none of these previous trips, and did not warm my heart in the same way. I kept wondering: where did we go wrong?

But the lessons I learned in London are now propelling me through my life in New Zealand. The complete lack of direction we felt in London has helped us define our way forward back home.

Making the everyday extraordinary

When Tom and I were living in London, we had Europe on our doorstep. We had infinite options. The city was alive and buzzing. There was always an event on, a new show to see, a new park to visit. Although some people thrive in a busy environment, to us it felt heavy, suffocating.

There were moments when it was brilliant. When I adored the city and its people and its history. But these moments were the exception, not the rule.

The day-to-day grind, the long commute to work by tube, the grey weather, the constant need to be on high alert, this didn’t feed my soul.

And it was then, when we were both trapped in a routine we didn’t love, that we decided we did not want to live our lives waiting for an exception to the rule.

We wanted every day to have a little bit of light. We weren’t prepared to sacrifice daily dullness for the odd wild weekend or once-in-three-months trip abroad. What we wanted was to love our ‘Ordinary Wednesday’, to create a life we didn’t want to escape from.

If we hadn’t lived in London, I’m not sure we would have arrived at this conclusion – at least not so soon in our relationship. After being home a few months, I realised I had been devaluing the time we spent in London because it wasn’t an incredibly positive, happy time.

Walking to Putney Bridge, where I did most of my soul searching. Always a relief to see the murky Thames.
Walking to Putney Bridge, where I did most of my soul searching. Always comforting to be near water, even if it is the murky Thames.

That was my first mistake. Just because something is hard, or not the right fit, doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. And most of all, it doesn’t mean you failed.

I’m sure everyone has bittersweet memories of some kind, anxieties about the past, worries that you could have tried harder. What if you had done things differently?

When I see glimpses of London on Facebook or Instagram, I sometimes feel sad that our time over there wasn’t what we expected. And sometimes I wonder, if everyone else is loving it so much, then where did we go wrong?

But then I remind myself that travel is an intensely unique experience for every individual. We all respond to situations differently. What works for one person may not work for another.

The beauty of travel is it awakens you to who you already are. It shines a light on your uniqueness. Through comparisons and new experiences, you are able to identify what is really important to you on an individual level. And that is invaluable.

On the road to our Ordinary Wednesday

Another lesson that London taught me is time is finite. Many people describe London as being a city made up of small cities. There is music London, or theatre London, or café London, or pub London, or history London… whatever you are interested in, you will find a group of people interested in the same things, and they will become your community.

What this taught me is that there is not enough time to do everything. We only have so many hours in each day. So, you have to be selective.

Find what it is that feeds your soul, and concentrate on investing your time, money and energy into that. Don’t worry if it’s different to what other people want, or more importantly, what other people think you should be doing.

We are all unique and life is too short not to listen to the desires of your heart. No matter how bittersweet my memories of London, I will always be grateful to the city that put me on the road to creating my ideal life.

Why I hate the little blue dot of Google Maps fame

Why I hate the little blue dot of Google Maps fame

“My natural instinct in new surroundings is to put away the map and see where I end up.”

It’s always a relief to come out of the London Underground. Miles below street level, the Tube feels claustrophobic and sticky. And even though it is one of the most reliable forms of transport in the world, never veering too far off course, I’m disoriented until I surface for air.

Yesterday we took the central line into the middle of the city, Tottenham Court Road, in 30 degree heat. As we battled the crowds and finally emerged onto the street, I looked up and around to take in my new surroundings. We were on our way to the British Museum, thought to be a mere five minute walk away. Which direction? As I scan the street for signs and clues, I turn to Tom. He’s hunched over his iPhone, face screwed up with concentration. He turns to one side, then the next, never taking his eyes off the little blue dot on his screen – the infuriating yet brilliant GPS on Google Maps.

Most smartphone owners will agree – online maps are almost reason enough to fork out the asking price for the latest and greatest Samsung or Apple product. You never get lost! No matter where you are, the little blue dot will guide the way.

But I hate it! Respect though I have for team Tom and blue dot, and their ability to get us from A to B, I can’t stand the thing. It seems so counter-intuitive to walk in new places with your head hunched over a phone, following an erratic dot that’s always five paces behind you. When you’re so focused on not getting lost, you miss out on all the new sights and smells. I much prefer the old-fashioned way – to look at street signs and follow my nose.

The only problem is, I do get lost a lot when I’m on my own. I mistakenly believe that I have an excellent sense of direction, and set out with complete faith that I’m going the right way. And you can guess how the story ends – I waste half an hour meandering around back streets until I find my way back to point A and start again.

But what if it’s not a waste of time? As cliché as it is, getting lost can sometimes be the best thing. That sense of adventure and challenge. That awesome building or park or person you’d never have seen if you’d stuck to the beaten track. There are so many metaphors about how you have to get lost to find yourself and so on. I think I ditch the map and directions because, normally being quite a ‘play it safe’ kind of gal, I secretly enjoy the oh-so-cheap thrill of wandering aimlessly.

I am scared of so much in this world. I hate making big decisions, usually crippled by fear that I will take the wrong turn. Yet my natural instinct in new surroundings is to put away the map and see where I end up. How does that work?

This contradiction in my personality got me thinking. Why is it that I love to do things like navigate without a map and bake without a recipe, when in every other area of my life, I’m craving a set of instructions?

Mentally, I feel pretty lost and exhausted right now. You may have sensed a bit of discontent and general confusion if you read my recent blog post on ‘corporate clones’. If I had to pick a word that sums up state of mind over the past few months, it would be disillusionment. Somewhere over the years, my bright-eyed, fluffy-tailed idealism has been joined by an irritating new friend: realism.

I find myself worrying about things I thought I would never worry about, like house prices, taxes, retirement and my ‘biological clock’. But on the top of my worry list is this: what am I going to do for the rest of my life?

Writing this question down, I can see how ridiculous it seems. Of course no one can truly know the answer. So why does everyone keep asking me?

I don’t know what I want to spend the majority of my time doing. I used to have a fair idea, but now that I am aware of some of the realities of working life, I feel the stakes are higher. I find it very hard to be happy in my spare time when I am unhappy in my job. Some people don’t have this problem, but me – I’d rather have very little spare time and love my work, than ‘live for the weekend’. Weekends are only two days long! Working weeks, on the other hand, are FIVE days. That’s a whole lot of feeling miserable for just a two day reprieve.

But on the other hand, there are bills to pay and money to be spent. I have dreams I want to finance. Is settling for a job that meets my financial needs but doesn’t fulfil me on a personal level a cop out? And is this dilemma unique to my generation? In the past people worked to survive, so the question of what to do was pretty simple – you did what you could, period. Today, the landscape is very different.

So what does all this have to do with Google’s little blue dot?

I think one of the hardest realities of ‘growing up’ is learning to live without a road map. Think about it – all throughout school and university you are given a clear set of instructions. If you do X, you will be rewarded with Y. It’s a very simple system. Write down the correct answer in the right box, and you get to move onto the next stage.

I thrived in this system. I was very good at doing what I was told – I was often described as studious and conscientious. And I was quite addicted to the feeling of success that came with getting top marks in a test or warm praise for an essay. University only reinforced this addiction. I often look back and think I had the strongest self-confidence and sense of purpose during my university years.  I was working towards a set goal – get a degree – and I was given support and positive reinforcement every step of the way.

And then I got a job, and with that came a whole new set of rules.

Now I sometimes wonder whether those who weren’t so good at following instructions at school thrive in the so-called ‘real world’ (a term I hate by the way – it reeks of resentment). While some careers provide you with road maps, in today’s economy, most of the rules have gone out of the window. There are no guarantees.

But, in a world where we rely on a little blue dot to guide us forward, how many of us are any good at charting unknown territory? Especially when it comes to our careers?

I fear we are no longer using our intuition to guide us, and are instead looking externally for answers when we should be looking inwards. As much as I have asked it, Google won’t tell me what career will make me happy. I painstakingly research idea after idea, trying to find the perfect fit that will see all needs align – personal fulfilment, financial security, opportunities for progression.

It wasn’t until a close friend gave me this advice that I regained some clarity and composure.

“Most importantly, don’t be afraid to make the wrong decision. There’s no way to know how it will turn out. Remember Steve Jobs’ speech – you can always connect the dots backwards.”

This advice spoke to my heart in a way no careers advisor ever has. Don’t be afraid to make the wrong decision.

When I look at people who inspire me on a professional level, a clear pattern emerges. They are all risk takers, and they are all doing jobs that are a little outside the box. I suppose you could call them entrepreneurs or innovators – people who have taken an idea they are passionate about and found a way to make a living from it. And for that, there really is no road map.

As always, it appears there are no shortcuts to success – in order to strike the jackpot we need to experiment, put ourselves on the line and be open to failure. And sometimes that means getting lost, messing up and being wrong about something you once strongly believed in. Social media can make charting new territory particularly terrifying, as it creates a false feeling that you are accountable to the digital persona you have unwittingly created. As a writer, I feel this anxiety even more keenly. I often write about my opinions, but you see there is a pesky thing about opinion – it often changes. Am I accountable to my own written word? Do I need to live up to my past dreams?

The answer of course, is no. The more I learn, the more I change, and the more I venture down new, unforeseen paths. The lesson I need to master now is how to be at peace with that change, as I drift further away from what ‘I thought I would be’ into ‘who I really am’.

Maybe the only way to move forward without fear is to accept the path will probably be rocky, unpredictable and a little bit wild – but to put away the road map and GPS anyway.

The little blue dot of Google Maps is a useful tool, but only if you know when to look up. It’s set on your final destination, but life is not like the straight lines of the London Underground. The more technology imposes efficiency on our lives, the more compelled I feel to get lost in the back streets, dancing to the beat of my own drum.

New Year, New London

New Year New London

“Grove Park offered us a safe, warm place to sleep at night and convenient transport links for work. But that’s about it. Instead of thriving in a new city, we were struggling.”

So, on my birthday we moved from Grove Park, zone 4, South East London – home to countless fried chicken shops, three barbers, a Sainsbury’s Local and not a lot else – to Fulham, South West, zone 2.

This move was the best birthday present I could have asked for. Now it feels like we’re really living in London. While Grove Park had its positives – cheap rent being one of them – it was quite possibly the most boring suburb we could have picked to live.

A word of advice: if you grew up in New Zealand, close to the water and surrounded by beautiful greenery, don’t move to a quiet suburb on the outskirts of London at the beginning of your first English winter. You will cry. Waking up to grey sky, grey brick and rubbish strewn across your grey street will make your heart ache for home. Just don’t do it.

Pick somewhere livelier instead, with great transport connections and at least a couple of eateries to choose from. I don’t have anything against fried chicken. But when you wake up on a wintry Sunday morning and you just want to pop out for a hot chocolate or a couple of pints at the pub, and all you have to choose from is Cottage Chicken and Perfect Fried, you will feel depressed.

Our adventure at Groove Park, as Tom now ironically calls it, started out positive. If anyone read this post, you’ll remember how excited I was about the fox in our backyard and the cheap chocolate at the local store.

Oh, how times have changed. Harry the fox was probably in our garden every evening, only we couldn’t see him as the sun started to set at 4pm and we were half asleep in bed, eating cheap chocolate that didn’t even taste good and contemplating whether or not to get on the next plane home.

This may strike you as rather pathetic. Why did you move there in the first place, you may be wondering? Tom and I made the best decision available to us at the time. We weighed up our options and went with the one we thought would provide us with the best chances of enjoying ourselves.

Tom had a good job in Kent and a car. In our minds we imagined taking road trips every weekend and frolicking in the English countryside. Or something. We didn’t factor in the fact that driving in England is more stressful than serene, or that the countryside looks just as bleak as brick on a cold winter’s day.

Truth be told, we were lacking in motivation. We were living in a new city, trying to settle into jobs and find a way forward. Rather than wanting to escape on a road trip every weekend, or play tourist in central London, we were seeking a little bit of normality. We wanted to be able to go out for breakfast without spending half an hour on the train. Or to go for a walk around the neighbourhood when the sun did occasionally make a presence. Okay, technically we could do these things – but fried eggs at the Filling Station Cafe or a walk through brick street after brick street just didn’t quite hit the spot.

Grove Park offered us a safe, warm place to sleep at night and convenient transport links for work. But that’s about it. Instead of thriving in a new city, we were struggling.

Of course, as it always does, it all worked out in the end. We are now living in a busy, vibrant community with plenty to see and do and a tube stop right on our doorstep. We have moved in with friends from New Zealand, so we’re never lacking in social interaction or the comfort of the familiar. And we can look back on our time in Grove Park and feel grateful – perhaps smugly so – that we get to call a country as beautiful as New Zealand, home.

Our new street in Fulham. Quintessential London houses
Our new street in Fulham. Quintessential London houses

For me, this experience has also underlined the key difference between travelling and living in a foreign country. Travel brings on a specific mindset. You are open, energised, captivated by all the new sights and hungry for more. It’s challenging, daunting, inspiring and amazing all at the same time. You collapse into bed every night feeling exhausted but alive.

Living in a foreign country starts out that way. Everything feels like an adventure. But inevitably, life soon takes over. When you have work in the morning, bills to pay, food to make, you just have to get on with it – you don’t always have the time or energy to stop and admire that old church you just walked past, or take a photo of something special.

At first this is hard. I remember when I lived in France, I felt incredibly guilty for feeling homesick because I felt this intense pressure to be “having the time of my life”. I may be four years older now, but that feeling still remains. Just like I felt guilty for missing home in France, I am now feeling guilty for missing home in England.

Sometimes I wonder if social media has a part to play in all of this. To live overseas, or go on an ‘OE’, is always depicted as this joyous, fun-filled experience. As an outsider, you could be forgiven for believing travel is synonymous with having the best time of your life, ever.

Yes, being on holiday and seeing new places is fun. But when you have a job and a ‘normal’ routine, you’re not waking up every morning with a spring in your step. Back home, I wouldn’t worry too much if I had a bad day. I’d just get through the day and onto the next one.

Here, however, I feel hugely depressed when I’m going through a difficult patch, because my emotions don’t match what I ‘should’ be feeling according to social media. I’m slowly starting to realise that it’s okay to feel crap. I am learning not to put so much pressure on myself to be having fun all the time, and to instead just appreciate the experience for what it is.

I know some of my seasoned-traveller friends will be reading this and nodding right now, as they are the ones that continue to remind me that this is what exploring a new country is all about. It’s about the challenge as much as it is about the reward. It’s about pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and just seeing how it feels.

What I need to remember is there is no right or wrong answer – there is no “should”.  You forge your own path.

The London List

Richmond, London

“The problem with a place like London is – where do you even begin?”

Sometimes, my inner control freak expresses herself in strange ways. There are moments when I catch a glimpse of myself from the outside, almost as if my subconscious leaves my body and gives me a birds-eye-view of my own unique, slightly batty, approach to life.

A few nights ago I had one of such moments. Sitting on my bed, surrounded by Time Out magazines and coloured pens, I was frantically flicking through the pages and carefully tearing out articles.

“There’s just so much to do in London!” I exclaimed to Tom, who was sitting quietly next to me, absorbed by an article on the internet and effectively blocking out my little circle of stress.

I was feeling anxious – but in an excited way. You see, I’ve had a tough few weeks. I’ve learned something new about myself: I’m not very good at being unemployed. I’d been moping around feeling blue and dreaming of flying back home to the New Zealand summer. But then I snapped out of it, by deciding to conquer London like it was the to-do-list of all to-do-lists.

I had started thinking of London as something I had to do, a task I had to tick off my ‘list of things to do in life’ before I could move on successfully to the next stage. Like a level on a video game. Or a chapter in a book. I felt as if there were certain coupons I needed to collect before I could say “I’ve DONE London.” Like visiting all the major tourist destinations. Attending a high tea. Eating fish and chips in a local pub. You get my drift.

But the problem with a place like London is – where do you even begin? London is huge, not just in terms of population or land mass, but in terms of what it has to offer. Even if you lived here your whole life, you couldn’t possibly do it all.

Besides, to make things even more complicated, there are many different Londons within London. There’s the arty London, the muso London, the foodie London – and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Whatever you’re interested in, you can find a group, club, venue which caters to your passion.

All of this only contributed to my anxiety, as I sat on that bed and tried to find a way to begin.

“I think I need to buy a clearfile,” I said to Tom. “You know, so we can organise activities by category – food, tourist, music, art etc.”

“Mmmm,” said Tom. Eyes still glued firmly to the computer screen.

“Or maybe we should just fold up pieces of paper and put them into a bucket and pick one every week? You know, be adventurous?”

“Yep, sounds good.” This time I get a small nod.

“Oh but then we will have to categorise the buckets, you know, for rainy day activities and sunny day activities, expensive activities and free ones. Otherwise we could pick out an outdoor activity when it’s raining?!?!”

At this point my voice was most likely beginning to border on slight hysteria and I was probably chewing anxiously on my pen, mind going a million miles an hour. An OUTDOOR activity on a rainy day?! God forbid.

Tom shut his laptop, placed it on the floor and turned to me slowly.

“We just have to begin,” he said simply.

Begin?! But that’s what I’m trying to do, I protest. Doesn’t he understand?

“We just start doing things. You don’t need a clearfile, or a bucket system, or to organise it logically. We just get out, every weekend. Simple.”

Simple?

And that’s probably about when my subconscious left my body and gave me a birds-eye-view of my silly state of anxiety. I could almost see the stress particles zooming around my head, in the form of Time Out cut-outs.

All of a sudden, it dawned on me how completely ridiculous I was being.

London is not a task. Living here is an experience. And here I was, trying to turn it into a chore of enormous proportions and tackle it like a project at work, or a university assignment. Armed with highlighters and post-it notes, I was ready to blow this thing out of the water. I wanted an A+ on my London report card. I wanted to tick ‘101 things to do’ off a list with a bold red marker. I could already see the blog posts unfolding. “Look at me, I’m up to number 59 – getting attacked by pigeons in Trafalgar Square!” Let’s face it, no one wants to read about me trying to play the role of ‘perfect tourist’.

Fortunately, opposites attract, and I have a relaxed, logical partner who kindly helps me see things through clearer lenses. We don’t have to begin – we’ve already started.

Don’t worry, I’m still writing a list. I like lists. But the anxiety is gone. The ‘list’ is just for kicks now :)

Living in London: my first impressions

London Eye

“We’re still in that fun period where everything slightly new is exciting and worth telling home about.”

Like 8 million other souls, I can now say I live in London. South East London, mind you, in the depths of zone 4 suburbia and country fried chicken takeouts. It’s no Notting Hill, but we have a garden and a room twice the size of a zone 1 studio. I think we’re doing okay.

I do feel a little on the edge of it all, away from the sirens, lively street markets and general hustle and bustle. But as Tom likes to say, “he’s a zone 4 or 5 kinda guy”. Me? I think I’m a “zone wherever works for now kinda gal”. And for the short term, South East London suburbia is providing everything we need.

It’s been about two months since we left New Zealand. We’re still in that fun period where everything slightly new is exciting and worth telling home about, like how much cheaper yoghurt is over here and how cold it is already.

Here’s a quick round-up of my favourite novelties so far:

1. A fox lives in our back garden.

He sleeps on top of the shed and walks with a limp. Although he’s probably a pest and gets up to all sorts of mischief around the neighbourhood, I kinda like having him around. ‘He’ might be a girl but there’s no way I’m getting close enough to find out. So I’ve named it Harry.

2. Chocolate is cheap. And abundant.

There are so many new varieties to try! This is excellent. We’ve been working our way through the entire Green & Blacks selection, which incidentally, is available in New Zealand. The dark ginger is my favourite flavour so far.

3. We pay £15 a month for prepay phone credit and receive unlimited internet data.

Yes, unlimited. I don’t even want to know how much we’d have to pay for that back home.

4. It’s fun playing the ‘guess where we’re from game’.

Until people guess Australia, South Africa, Canada, America, England (?!) and then look at us blankly as if to say, ‘where else could you possibly hail from, strange creature?’

5. It’s equally fun seeing people’s reactions when you say ‘New Zealand’.

English people who know NZ usually ask us why on earth we moved here from ‘paradise’. One bank teller actually spent a good ten minutes trying to convince us to get back on the plane and go home. People who aren’t familiar with New Zealand either: a) stare at us blankly, or b) say something completely random and inaccurate about our weather.

I could go on, but I won’t. Ginger chocolate is calling my name.

Jess x

The grass is always greener… or is it?

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence

The mind can play tricks on you. The mind is rarely bound by the present moment. It can travel miles, remember years. You’re forever dashing between seemingly perfect memories and visions of the future.”

We’re all familiar with the saying “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”. No matter where you’re standing, the next paddock over will always seem more appealing. It’s a never-ending cycle of comparison, a trap that often stops us from standing still and appreciating what we have right here, right now.

Yet people continue to climb over the fence and seek shiny new possibilities, glimmering so beautifully on the horizon.

Preparing for the climb, for the transition from old to new, is always fun and filled with possibility. Our imaginations go into overdrive, conjuring up images of how wonderful and special our lives are going to be once we become acquainted with the next paddock over.

Climbing the fence is also exhilarating, adrenalin pumping as you swing one leg over and promise to write to those you are leaving behind. Coming down the other side and placing your feet firmly on fresh ground is like tasting freedom and opportunity.

The rose-tinted glasses work their magic for awhile, allowing you to soak up your new surroundings and fall blindly in love with the alluring beauty of possibility. You wander the streets and imagine yourself living here, there, everywhere. You take more photos and wonder why you never used your camera at home. You live outside of your comfort zone and you thrive.

But, eventually the rose-tinted glasses wear off and reality starts to creep into the edges of your vision. You get tired, your brain over-stimulated. You start to notice things, like how the water tastes different or the air feels funny. And you start to think about that place you call home.

A glimpse of the other side... wandering through a former Estate in Bristol
A glimpse of the other side… wandering through a former Estate in Bristol

The mind can play tricks on you. The mind is rarely bound by the present moment. It can travel miles, remember years. You’re forever dashing between seemingly perfect memories and visions of the future. It’s unsettling, keeps you up at night, and you start to wonder – have I made the right decision? Am I in the right place? Should I climb back over the fence, or find a new path?

We are incredibly lucky to have choices, the freedom to not only imagine an existence different to our own but to actually climb the fence and see the other side for ourselves. I believe the promise of more, the lure of a better life – be it a facade or not – is what keeps us going, what propels us forward. It’s part of being alive.

But if you’re not careful, it can come at a cost. Too often we let our egos dominate our dreams, and climbing a fence becomes not about self-exploration and freedom, but about proving a point – to ourselves and to those back home. The last thing you want to admit is that the other side didn’t live up to your great expectations. Because that would be failure, an admission of defeat.

So you update your Facebook profile with glowing statuses and gorgeous images. You tell everyone back home that it is wonderful on this side of the fence and encourage them to make the climb too. And you become so busy protecting your beautiful image of what you want the other side to look like, that you forget to stand still and appreciate what you have, right here, right now. You forget to see things for how they are, not how you want them to be. And in that frame of mind, you struggle to be truly happy.

Isn’t the mind a funny thing?

What we need to remember is that it doesn’t matter what the other side looks like – the mere fact that you climbed over the fence and gave something new a try is success enough. We need to take our egos out of the picture – and with that our fear of failure – and allow ourselves to be vulnerable for a little while until we find our feet again.

In sharing my experiences, I want to be honest. I want to challenge the grass is greener mentality, as I believe it’s detrimental to our happiness – and our sanity. I don’t want to present a perfect account of my travels, focusing only on the good times and leaving out the bad. Because that’s not real. I want to remind people that the grass is never greener, it’s just different. I still have good days and I still have bad days.

Currently, I’m homeless and jobless and things feel a little daunting. Tom has a job offer on the table and together we’re searching for a new place to call home. Things are progressing, albeit slowly. It’s not easy, but it is teaching me to appreciate where I’ve come from and trust where I’m heading.

It’s also teaching me that it’s important to be flexible. We wanted to live outside the hustle and bustle of London, but I couldn’t find work. We’ve changed course many times since we’ve arrived, trying to find a path that feels right, and so far nothing looks like what we imagined it to be. But we’re okay with that.

Climbing the fence is one of the most challenging things you can do. But if you knew that before you set out, you may not have left home. If the other side looked scary and challenging, full of dark alleyways and blind corners, why would you possibly want to make the leap? Our optimistic vision of the other side is a blessing, a necessary tool to propel us forward into the unknown. The rose-tinted glasses have their place. But it’s important to know when to take them off.

The grass is greener where you water it

My brief encounter with Athens

“I felt vulnerable, scared and sensational. I had a huge grin on my face and my skin was tingling. It was one of those “am I really doing this?” moments, where everything feels surreal.”

One of the best things about travel is the people you meet along the way. I ended up in Athens by accident – I hadn’t planned on visiting the Greek capital on this particular trip. But when my new Greek Australian friend Alexia invited me to visit, I couldn’t resist the opportunity, and before you know it I was touching down in one of the world’s most celebrated cities.

I flew to Athens from Lyon via Zurich. To say it was an adventure is an understatement. It was the longest flight across Europe I had done by myself, involving a rather tight changeover at Zurich Airport. I barely slept the night before, and was up at 4am to get to the airport. Little did I know the day would unfold to be one of the most memorable of my entire six months abroad.

I landed in Athens to find the whole city was on strike. All public transport was stopped (as far as I could gather, not speaking a word of Greek). Alexia’s clear instructions were rendered useless: go out of airport, turn right, catch X96 bus to the port of Pireaus. With no bus and limited time, I found myself in the back of a taxi, placing all of my trust in a short, balding Greek man with a bright smile.

My first encounter with Athens was short-lived but it is seared in my memory. My mission upon arrival was to make my way to the port and catch a ferry to the island of Aegina, where I would spend a few blissful nights with the Demetriou family. I expected the journey to be colourful, but couldn’t have possibly prepared myself for the combination of adrenalin and fear that was to come. Continue reading

Aegina: Greece’s best-kept secret?

“It’s quaint and quiet, but at the same time incredibly vibrant – there’s life everywhere you look, but you still feel as though you’ve got all the space in the world.”

When it comes to a holiday in the Greek islands, one hears a lot about Santorini and Mykonos. But just a short ferry ride away from the bustling city of Athens lies a magical retreat: Aegina Island.

Famous for pistachio nuts and dotted with beautiful beaches, Aegina is a great destination if you’re short on time but want to get a feel for island life.

I spent a few nights there in January thanks to the kind hospitality of a close friend. I’m so glad that I met Alexia Demetriou. She’s nice, hilarious and one of the most genuine people I know. She also happens to have an amazing house in the heart of Aegina with sea views from every window.

Was our friendship fate or what? Continue reading

How to give in to homesickness (and for this to be okay)

I just booked my flight home. 9th of February.  A few weeks ago, in the midst of homesickness, that would have seemed like a life time to wait. But now it feels just around the corner, and the homesickness has disappeared. Vanished. Gone. I can’t tell you how weird that is, because homesickness is one of the most consuming feelings I have ever felt; it exhausts you. It’s a feeling of constant displacement and nostalgia. It’s a kind of yearning that comes right from the bottom of your gut, an invisible string tugging in the direction of home; a physical presence even though homesickness is almost purely mental. It’s the first thing on your mind when you wake up and it hovers over your thoughts all day, so that you are walking around in a dream-like haze.

Yeah I know what you’re thinking. She’s nuts! She’s in France, how can someone be homesick in France? Well that’s another reason why being homesick is so exhausting: because when you are in a country like France, and on one of the biggest adventures of your life, it feels like a sin to be missing home. So not only are you walking around with a constant yearning for the comforts of the familiar, but you are also kicking yourself at the same time for being so stupid, when you have all these new and fabulous experiences to replace everything that you left behind.

It’s only now that I all of a sudden don’t feel homesick anymore, that I can actually reflect on this and put it into writing that seems remotely coherent. Because when you are in it, you can’t describe it. You can only feel it. And it’s different for everyone. Continue reading