Everyone knows that travel is beneficial: you are exposed to other cultures, you relax, and you might even learn something. But occasionally you meet someone – or discover you are someone – who needs to travel, who feels that pull in the pit of their chest when they’ve been stationary too long.
Everybody changes as they get older but it was travelling that taught me lessons that I will hold dear for the rest of my life. Because of travelling I can say with certainty; I can deal with anything thrown at me, I can look after myself, and I’m not afraid to stand my ground. These are things I may never have realized about myself without the unique experiences in far flung lands.
The first step is absolutely the hardest
As a child my travel consisted of weeks of driving into, and then out of, the Australian outback with the occasional fishing holiday. Being the daughter of English ex-pats the outback was our sole destination. Until I was 13 years old and learning Chinese at school, I had the opportunity to travel to China for a month sans parents – an opportunity I jumped on.
I think my parents knew then that I was obsessed – the literal thousands of photos, the souvenirs, and the constant talking about it for months after. Being trusted, as a thirteen-year-old, to wander about markets on my own, to haggle with my own money, and to choose what I did in my spare time was mind blowing – I discovered that I was independent and more than that I discovered I was a traveler.
Many years, one U.K trip with my dad, and several outback adventures later I chose to venture to Europe on my own. I was terrified. To the point where I decided that it would be best to book nothing but tours because WHAT IF I GET LOST??? Apparently 13 year old me was braver than 21 year old me. I booked 10 days in Greece and 20 days in Turkey.
Culture shock can be physical, mental, or transformative
My trip was, what could be called, a disaster. My tour in Turkey fell through due to bankruptcy, so I panic booked an 18 day bus tour. I arrived in Athens at 5pm, thinking it would still be light. It was November and therefore it was not.
I got on the wrong bus, got off in a bad area, was refused by the first two taxis I tried to get in because ‘people in this area don’t pay’. Finally, I found a taxi driver willing to take me – however he couldn’t understand the English translation of my booking receipt because of a strange transliteration of the word βυρονος. We drove around for 45 minutes, after speaking to his bosses’ mother on the telephone we figured it out. Nearly in tears looking at the meter which read nearly 60 euros we pulled up at my hotel.
After 24 hours flying and this palaver I was exhausted. The taxi driver turned to me and said, ‘only 10 euro, if I had known better it would have taken ten minutes’. I could have hugged that burly Greek man (I didn’t). This was the first, but certainly not the last, act of completely selfless kindness I experienced in Greece and almost every other country I have visited. I could not have had a more perfect first day.
From afraid to travel solo to living overseas
I am what I describe as a cynical optimist – every single thing that can go wrong will go wrong but it will be alright in the end. This hectic first day is what sparked the first flicker of this outlook – the next few days cemented it.
I had chosen to travel in winter, to save money and because that is when I was free. As it turns out the tour I had booked did not have guaranteed departures. So when I received an email telling me that not enough people had joined and my tour – departing in 2 days – and was cancelled I had a minor breakdown.
I had exactly the amount of money I needed, my dad had paid for the tours on his credit card and I had paid him back in cash – so the refund went to him not me. I had no accommodation, and no money. At this point in my travelling life I had no idea that getting a hotel room in Athens in December would have taken about 4 minutes.
After a lot of freaking out, reassured by the receptionist who seemed terrified of the borderline hysterical Australian in his lobby, I womaned up and headed out to visit mainland Greece on my own. I bought bus tickets and booked hotels and caught the metro – because I had no other choice. Consequently I fell in love with Greece and this year will be my fifth adventure there. Coming back from this trip I was different – if I could right myself in a foreign country with no money I could deal with whatever comes.
That panic booked tour I took? I, freshly off a life changing ten days of self-reliance, suddenly found myself on a bus with 51 other people being told when to eat, sleep, and take my pictures. It was more culture shock than any of the countries I’ve visited.
Often days would go by without interacting with anyone outside the tour. Do I go about hating on tours and companies? Absolutely not. I can see how useful they are and how someone different form me would love this environment, I have taken several tours through countries I wasn’t sure I could navigate on my own. But would I take a tour exactly like this again? Not if you paid me (well actually, if you want to pay me…). However, this first experience in Europe defined who I am – independent and seeking the not so beaten track but I will also fight for my right to go to the most touristy and cliche monuments and attractions.
On my second trip to Rome, alone this time, I found my voice. Anyone who knows me would laugh at that statement – I am loud and will generally argue my point. But in an unfamiliar environment I will avoid confrontation at all costs, adopting the negotiator role and more often than not coming off worse than shrugging it off.
Wandering through the tourist centre I caught the eye of a particularly persistent vendor. After making a statement regarding the melon-like quality of a certain aspect of my anatomy he went about trying to sell me a picture with his muscle bound and gladiator costumed son. I tried laughing it off and refusing, but he grabbed me by the wrist and said that due to said melon like anatomy he would let me have the photo for 50 euros. He was promptly told that no, I would not be purchasing anything and if he said the word ‘melon’ one more time I would really let him have it. He let go of my wrist and the official looking police types wandered over and he was moved on.
I do not think that I changed his world view nor that he no longer compares women to fruit for fear of the memory of the angry short girl, but I did learn that despite language and cultural barriers that I could – and would – stand up for myself.
In 2015 I moved to the United Kingdom. Today I find myself sitting on the boardwalk of Black Pool Sands, a crescent shaped spit of pebble sand between two cliffy mountainsides in the South West of England. Writing and sipping my coffee on the first truly sunny day since Christmas and remembering all the experiences I could talk about.
I am struck not only by how incredibly lucky I am but how genuinely happy I am. Moving to the other side of the planet from my family and friends – I have made a life here. I travel, whether it is to continental Europe or taking my motorbike through the disturbingly gorgeous Devon countryside. I still feel that pull down in my soul when I think of the places I have been – and all the places I have yet to go – even though I am living somewhere new.
There is not an ice cubes chance in hell that I would have been able to do this without the experiences – positive and negative – that I had travelling the world. So, to anyone wondering if they should take the plunge – just go. Travelling gave me the tools to live the life I want to lead: independent, self-reliant, and happy.
Sam is first generation Australian and learned to love travel the hard way – long drives suffered through to see amazing things. Two of her passions, travelling and motorcycles, are conveniently interrelated and Sam dreams of taking an adventure bike from Alexandria in Egypt, down the Nile, through Kenya where her mother was born, and on to Cape Town.
Travelling on a budget has always been a necessity with ‘I’d rather starve on the streets while travelling than eat like a king at home’ becoming almost a catchphrase during her home time in Adelaide while saving up to travel for 11 months out of 18 between degrees.
After accidentally staying in Greece for three months longer than she intended Sam decided to pursue a long held dream – move to England to study. Choosing Exeter University for its reputation she was shocked to find that the Devon countryside was every bit as stunning as reported, and on a sunny day the inspiration for Tolkien’s Shire is pervasive. With more travel plans than she can communicate and an all-encompassing laziness she refuses to travel with more than a carryon backpack and her ugly yet trusty PacSafe – and writes of these adventures on her recently relaunched WordPress blog Carry On Or Bust.
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