My out of office is on; my flat is (somewhat haphazardly) packed into boxes and bin-liners; I’ve had all the jabs, dusted off the seriously sturdy backpack I’ve taken on every trip for 13 years and bought an unnecessary amount of swimwear and sunglasses. My sabbatical has started and in three days I’ll be boarding a plane to Bali, returning to London in the New Year. WOOHOO!
Naturally, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection on how I’m feeling at the moment – also known as regular outbursts of SHIT THE BED WHAT AM I DOING.
It might be a cliché, but ever since I first read Eat Pray Love (Elizabeth Gilbert’s tale of post-divorce adventures in Italy, India and Bali), I’ve felt a pull to go to Indonesia.
Not just because I want to make eyes at Javier Bardem across a beach bar, but because something about Bali’s spirit fascinates me. The freedom, the nature, the islands, the ocean, the yoga, the fact that most people who visit (except, I understand, those who go just to get shitfaced in Kuta) are on a journey to find something out about themselves. I’ve known that when I go to Bali, it needs to be longer than just a two week holiday. So I decided earlier this year that I’d make a long trip out of it and then add on more of South-East Asia, seeing countries I bypassed on my gap-yah in 2005 (which I spent bumming around on beaches in Thailand drunk on Sangsom buckets). I haven’t decided where to go beyond Bali – Myanmar looks sadly off the cards at he moment, but Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are all potential candidates. The beauty of this trip for me is that I am going against every planful bone in my super-organised, spreadsheet loving body and winging it.
So, you’d think I would be full of the purest excitement and joy at this point. Not entirely. My mother recently helpfully reminded me as I wailed down the phone during the process of packing up my flat that I am, in fact, not being led to an early death but simply taking myself on the trip of a lifetime.
When I first booked my flights and started planning this trip, I had the biggest rush of excitement. It was all I thought about and I counted down the days, spending hours poring over travel books and blogs and Pinterest. Keeping the trip in my sights got me through a very stressful time at work earlier this year. Then, I sort of forgot about it when life became a little less stressful and a little more fantastic.
I have fallen more in love with London than ever before – lazy days on Clapham Common, jazz at Ronnie Scott’s til 3am, post-work Prosecco fuelled antics and rooftop views of the city. I discovered a love of exercise (seriously) I never imagined I was capable of, thanks to a particularly sprightly coach in Clapham called Graham and my motivational housemates. Speaking of them, I have loved living in my little flat with housemates that feel like family. I have appreciated more than ever a Saturday morning potter in Balham and the fact I chat to the neighbours every day. I have had the privilege of helping my two best friends plan their wedding, organising their STEN, hen and writing their wedding ceremony. Work started to improve – I think Prosecco Wednesday has probably helped morale but so has working with a dedicated, talented and funny team for a charity who genuinely make a difference. I took a trip to an OAP town by the sea with my school friends where we laughed til it hurt and ate our body weight in snacks. I went home every month to see my family, watched my cousin get married and spent time in our beloved family home. I’ve strengthened existing friendships and formed new ones with people who I may not have known for long, but that have enriched my life in ways I had not expected. It’s been busy, vibrant and fun.
At the same time, it’s been with it’s fair few personal challenges. I’ve never been one to cope well with any kind of change (actually, does anyone? If so, recommendations on a postcard please).
I found my parents’ selling our family home genuinely devastating (I cannot deny I said a personal goodbye and thank you to every room in the house). Moving out of my flat in London felt really sad – yes, I made the choice but the idea of having no fixed abode when I come back to the UK then living with strangers makes me feel bleugh. I had six sessions of therapy because, it turns out, the effects of the end of my marriage were/are still loosely hanging around. It really helped, FYI, but it’s been tough. Three of my closest friends will give birth while I’m away and it makes me sad that I won’t get to be there to support them in the run up or hold their new babies at their newest. After Sarah and Jon’s wedding – I actually married them, and it was the best moment of my life – it felt really quite painful to say goodbye to them and my uni friends because, quite simply, life is best when we’re together but those moments are going to be fewer and further between.
So, rambling aside, this has all made it surprisingly difficult to jump into this trip head and heart first. It’s three days away, yet I feel like I’m reluctantly inching towards it, peeking a tentative toe out of the safety blanket of my life and the wonderful people in it. I find myself questioning why it is that, when we’re at our happiest or just starting to figure out shit out, we rip the rug out from underneath ourselves?
Perhaps it’s because something deeper than our conscious selves tells us we need it. And even my conscious self knows I bloody need it. I live my life at 100 miles an hour, but my body and mind are tired. They need a break. I’m craving freedom and exploration.
Today I’ve been trying to dwell less on what I’m leaving but more on the freedom that lies ahead. Four months of living life on my terms and my time. Exploring new cultures, meeting new people. Being able to do as much or as little as I want – whether that’s visiting endless temples, eating ALL the food, challenging my mind and body as I continue to explore yoga, meditation and Buddhism, partying like a 21 year old or simply stretching out with the sand beneath me and the sun on my face. The life I love will be here when I get back but all of this will, I hope, make me a better person.
Whenever I’ve gone through a period of change in my life, the song Hometown Glory by Adele has popped up. The first time was at the end of Cardiff University in 2008, almost ten years ago. It usually makes me cry, but it also reminds me that all those who wander are not lost and the change that has happened in my life has always been what’s needed. It feels especially poignant now, so I named my blog after that particular lyric.
I hope you’ll follow my adventures and enjoy sharing this journey with me. I’ll try really hard not to be too much of a travel blogging wanker but can’t promise too much. Thank you to all those who have given me so many wonderful words of encouragement and love in the run up to my trip. I am eternally grateful and will be in touch from Bali!