The allure of far away, exotic places has obsessed me for as long as I can remember. I don’t know where this fixation with travel came from, neither of my parents have much interest in travel. My childhood family holidays consisted of long, boring weeks in cold, damp holiday cottages in Devon where my step-dad would drag us all out and force us to hike up mountains in the rain. I remember being about 14, sitting on my bed, shoulders hunched, completely absorbed in a pull-out brochure on my lap that I had ripped out of a copy of Sugar or Mizzor something. It was about taking a gap-year. I loved the sound of that, a gap-year. It sounded exciting and important, like ‘Hold everything! I’m taking a gap year!’ There were so many options. I decided I wanted to volunteer. I wanted to save wild animals in Africa, build houses in Cambodia, work in an orphanage in Tanzania. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough money to volunteer, which was pretty ironic. So then I decided I wanted to be a camp counselor somewhere in the USA. This idea OBSESSED me for years and I applied to CampAmerica and CCUSA, sure that as soon as I was old enough i’d be off to Camp Mountain Meadow River Ranch in somewhere exciting sounding like West Virginia or Pennsylvania. Now of course, I can’t think of anything worse than being stuck in a summer camp with hoards of bratty American kids.
My first taste of adventure came,finally, at 14 when I went on holiday to Portugal with my best friend Alice and her parents. We arrived late at night and while everyone else was dozing in the taxi to the hotel I remember having my nose pressed to the window trying to see how different every
thing was. I didn’t want to miss a thing because for the first time I was ‘abroad’. I had taken a plane to a faraway land (sort of) where the trees and plants were different, the food was different, the language was different even the air smelled different, foreign, exotic.Even now, years later, nothing says ‘abroad’ more than a can of Lipton peach ice tea.
When I told my Mum I was going to train to be an English teacher in Thailand she looked horrified. ‘Why would you want to go there?’ she asked, as if I had just expressed the desire to spend a month in a jail in North Korea. I couldn’t understand, who wouldn’t want to live in Asia, a whole other continent with a completely different culture! Then I realised, that was exactly it. My Mum is a creature of habit and uncomfortable with anything too ‘different’. Her most traumatising memory is of a semester abroad in northern France where, upon arriving in the country, she suddenly realised that, shock horror, everybody spoke French. As if that wasn’t distressing enough, they spoke French with a strong rural accent and she couldn’t understand a word. So she didn’t attempt to speak a word of French for the rest of the time she was there. She also immediately distrusts anyone with even a faint Irish accent because she automatically suspects them as being part of the IRA….no i’m kidding, she just hates the accent.
My Dad has always been a bit obsessed with Australia for some reason. I think his greatest regret is not being born an aussie and missing out on the good life down under. The aussie way would suit my Dad perfectly, scorching sunshine leaving him with a permanent tan comparable to a brazil nut (chocolate covered) and days spent drinking beer and tossing shrimps on the barbie. To compensate, he takes expensive trips over there every year or so with the step
-monster. My Dad is the kind of man who likes to make stupid promises to his kids and luckily my brother and I have never really been naive enough to believe anything he says otherwise we’d be seriously disappointed by now. By our mid-teens we knew for sure that we were never going to be invited on a trip to Australia, nor were we all going on holiday together to Easter Island as Dad had once promised, after his seventh beer, one Christmas. As I was next door in NZ and planning to head down under at the same time they were off on one of their Sydney jaunts it seemed we might actually find ourselves in Oz together after all and, very conveniently, he wouldn’t have to pay a penny for me. But we missed each other by a few weeks as I ended up flying to Brisbane instead and making my way down to Sydney by bus. Which was probably the biggest mistake I made because during those 3 weeks I only caught a glimpse of Australia, the East Coast best bits. After a blissful week in Byron Bay and a few days in Sydney, which I still think is the most beautiful city i
n the world, I knew I was going to come straight back after the summer with a working visa. But this meant, of course, that I wouldn’t be returning to France like I’d promised. This was the decision I had to make and the hardest one of my life.
But I made my decision and in the end travel trumped love, which if i’m really honest with myself, deep down I always knew it would.