Travel

Life after travelling

My year abroad taught me many things. About life and about the world and about people and about contentedness.  I’ve been back home 6 months now and thought it apt to reflect on the decisions, the journey and what I’ve learnt being back home.

Life before travelling

Before I started pursuing my travels, I was your average eight-to-five-and-sometimes-later’er who spent Friday nights celebrating the end of a brutal week with a double and a sharing session with friends. Sure, we enjoyed our jobs and we had good fun embarking on local adventures and participating in local activities.

But what I think served as a shield from enlightenment was our lack of that sense of awe of the world and of the universe. Life had become such a day-to-day thing that our tunnel vision left us, to some extent, in the dark.

I’ve written quite a bit about how travelling changed me and my mindset, but it seems that it had this profound impact because it was such a significant upgrade on the outlook I had on life before I broke free.

Why I went travelling

By no means was I unhappy.

I think I just needed to learn to appreciate everything around me more. To wake up in the morning with fresh eyes. Because we tend to stare out across foreign oceans with more awe than we do our own. Which is pretty stupid on our part. But it remains inevitable.

I imagine many of us young folk have this desire for adventure. We have a picture in our mind of an inconspicuously placed wooden swing under a palm tree on a flawless beach with turquoise water. Or a rooftop scene with a small table and a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with two glasses and a full moon. It’s what the internet people want you to imagine. It’s how they sell trips.

What I desired was to know more and see more and feel more and nothing quite makes this happen for me like looking out of a train window across a landscape I’ve never seen before. Or walking through a new street and absorbing that foreign feeling of hearing a new language all around me.

For me, it was less about a getaway and more about living the life. I wanted to, for at least a little while, be like them. Live like them. Talk like them. Be them.

I wanted to live a different life. If I lived a different life, maybe the quarter-life crisis and the doubts would fade and the questions would be answered and I would finally know my true self. Away from peer and cultural and religious influence. It would be me making decisions based on the self I really was and not the self I was expected to be. Just a pure me. The me I want to be.

It’s like Eleanor Roosevelt said:

It’s your life – but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.

Life while travelling

Loved every minute ‘cause it made me feel so alive.

It was perfect. Most days. I built a new support system on my own terms. I chose friends who shared my outlook on life. I chose to carry myself with confidence. To venture to new places alone. To dive into adventure.

Travelling taught me that you can find friendship in the strangest and most unsuspecting of places. That you can connect with strangers on a level far deeper than lifelong friends. That you can find your place in this world through connecting with others like you. And that it is up to you to reach out and connect and grow with those around you in order to find that sense of belonging.

It also taught me that “having it all” isn’t something to try and achieve but something to try and develop within yourself. It’s not about things. It’s not about places. It’s about you and the self you build and the reasons you believe you can be proud of that person.

Life after travelling

So what, then, do you do when you come back home and you find yourself right back at the dawn of question number one and two – who am I and what am I in this world?

Inevitably, travelling cannot be a lifelong thing. Somewhere along the way you have to stabilise your life in order to fulfill other desires such as having your own little place where you can play your piano. Grow your vegetable garden. Cultivate your spices. Raise your dogs.

So you find yourself sitting on this fence in the midst of responsibility and adventure and your being is torn through its centre.

But what I’ve learnt, as time has gone by in my little hometown, is that this new me that has surfaced – the individual whom I have developed on my own terms and in my own pursuit of meaning –  has outgrown the old me.  I do not want the same things anymore.

And the toughest part of that realisation is admitting that the life you need to build for yourself from here on out will not compare to the one you lived before you left. And through this process, you might lose some friends and you might go through a whole new level of self-discovery. And it’s not easy and some days you will feel more lost at home than you did before your journey started.

But it’s your responsibility to cultivate this new appreciation for life and for yourself and to be strong in your conviction that you have everything you need to build the life you desire. A life built on your own principles and your own confidence and your own vision.

Your adventure never ended.

It has only just begun.

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9 Countries | 19 Cities | 365 Days

There’s a song I listen to every time I’m about to leave a place. It gives me a feeling of coming home. Like all the Lego blocks fit just right to build up a little place for my soul to rest in.

For a long time I believed that home was something I would find looking out from atop mountains or sitting next to rivers or peering across endless farmland. I thought I’d find my home hopping across countries and oceans and continents. I thought that it would have a name and that it would have a little space for me to live in.

But once I found it wasn’t a place, I started thinking that maybe home was something you build inside yourself. Through discovering what you want from life and what kind of person you want to be from here on out. It takes a really long time and a lot of hurdles before you reach a point where you can go “Yes. This is who I want to be. This is someone I can be proud of.”

But as soon as you’ve reached that point where you can look at yourself in the mirror and smile without cringing, you somehow find that, still, that is not enough. Being content with yourself is only one little Lego piece needed to build the home you’re so eager for.

Because after a year of pondering its meaning, what I found home to truly be, is the people you surround yourself with.

It’s all those souls you meet along the way who make you feel less alone in this world.

So this is my goodbye to the home I built here in Neverland. To my replacement family who gave me more than I could’ve hoped for. To the folk I met on my travels who gave me all the memories. And most importantly, to the friends who helped me live through this year with no single ounce of regret.

Doei, Nederland! Het was echt een leuke feest!! I love you and I’ll miss you xxx

On being The Foreigner

Travelling is amazing and uplifting and inspiring and life-changing. It has taught me a whole lot about the world and about myself, but I’ve been failing to put the whole experience into words lately.

This is mostly because I tend to be quite sceptical about things and my past year has been a real positive one, so I haven’t really decided yet where I need to shove my cynicism.

However, I had a discussion with a good, new friend over a beer the other night and have finally found a way to express a little something about this experience. So right now, I’d like to place emphasis on one very real reality… which is the phenomenon of being the foreigner.

People generally tend to like the foreigner.

You’re interesting because you come from a different world and you speak a different language and you were raised with strange traditions and customs that are fascinating and sometimes even exciting. When you speak English you have a weird accent that few people are able to pinpoint and sometimes the way you do things is simply laughable to these new-country people.

It’s fun for locals to chat to you, find out about your life and stalk your Facebook profile to try and gauge what your country looks like and what kind of people your friends and family are. It’s just as fun to talk about you because having a foreigner in town somehow seems to be fundamentally noteworthy.

Being the new, foreign girl is similarly thrilling for you yourself. Not only because you’re immersing yourself in this new world but also because you know that, to them, you’re interesting. Your visit here somehow gains more purpose when you discover that the people you converse with are also learning new things about the world with you being here. They find your language and your background entertaining, and somehow their interest makes you appreciate where you come from and who you are.

Though at some point, you’ll start wondering whether these locals actually consider you a friend, or whether you’re simply a temporary form of entertainment to them with your weirdness and your awe of their country.

Being the foreigner, realistically, gives you little chance at blending in.

Even after 11 months of trying to perfect my Dutch accent, people will probably always notice that I sound a little bit like a goat (apparently) when I speak it. Being super short, not having blonde hair and lacking the ability to cycle 5 km’s and still look like a total babe undoubtedly makes me very not Dutch. No amount of time in this country will ever change that and I will always be the tiny alien from Africa.

And somehow, living in the shadow of your foreigner status, the place you’ve travelled to hardly becomes home. It gets pretty close to it. Some days I feel so normal it’s like I never travelled far to get here at all. After some time, people warm up towards you. The lady at the supermarket learns your name and the bakery dude gives you a special yet creepy “I already know what you’re gonna buy” nod when you enter his shop lately. The barman does this too.

But this still somehow is not home. You’re from a different world. Your past is there and your people are there and that is where your heart is embedded.

And some days, missing a place that is so very far away can cause for the hurt to travel straight to the fibers in your bones.

But there is a way to overcome your foreigner feeling.

When I left home the first time to go to Italy, I wrote about how Paulo Coelho made me feel less foreign through the words in his book, O Aleph. On a journey through Russia to promote his new novel, the main character has a couple of revelations about moving through spaces where everyone and everything is unlike anything you’ve come to know. Somehow he managed to discover that we, as foreigners, are not that much different from the locals…

Because we are all travelling. We are all full of the same questions, the same tiredness, the same fears, the same selfishness and the same generosity.

We are human. And so we innately have something in common with everyone who crosses our path. We may be from different worlds. We may eat different foods. We may drive on different sides of the road. But we all live in this world and the world is small and our fears are frighteningly similar.

And as such, you reach a point where, even when you order a beer in Dutch and they look at you with a smirk on their face, you enjoy that beer like a local. And even when you still struggle to pull away up a hill with your bicycle, you build your confidence right back up again with your ability to cycle with only one hand.

Because no matter how foreign you are and how much you simply do not fit in, this experience has shaped you in ways that make you more aware of the world than you would’ve become simply sitting there at the southern tip of Africa.

So be foreign. Be weird. Be different. Annoy the shit out of the locals with your foreignness. Just make sure you leave something positive behind for them to remember your people by. They may forget you. But you represent a nation when you enter the world. You represent a language and a culture and, essentially, a country.

So make their memory a good one.

Four of my biggest revelations while travelling

It’s been six months since I left my people and my things and my life behind to venture into the unknown. Six months of brave quests, amazing adventures and priceless friendship. But it’s also been six months filled with numerous challenges and a great amount of fight.

And, of course, a couple of revelations:

Revelation number one: You can’t run away from yourself

The internet places this stigma of joy and fulfillment on the whole idea of travelling.

It has a tendency to fairytale-lise the concept as if travelling is the greatest escape from a monotonous life or an unfulfilling career or heartbreak or depression. As if travelling is the answer to everything that is wrong with the life you lead. As if it will soothe your memories of sitting in traffic for hours or spending your days slaving away behind a computer. As if it will heal your heart. Or re-balance the chemicals in your brain.

And sure, it can be those things. It can heal and it can serve as an escape. It can make you happy. It can fill the empty parts of your soul. But it will not do this automatically. There is much more to the story. There is much more reality buried beneath the happy Instagram posts and the ambitious Facebook feed. Because no matter how far you run and no matter how many people you meet and places you see, you are still there as you.  The you with the past that you have. The you with your memories. The you with the need to make sense of it all.

It kind of gets that Bob Marley song stuck in your head … “You’re running and you’re running but you can’t run away from yourself”.

At some point, no matter where you are in the world, you will have to look yourself in the mirror and accept your defeats and accept yourself. You are human. You are not perfect. Some things you are great at and some things you inherently suck at. That’s just the way it is. And it’s okay. And it’s gonna be okay.

Revelation number 2: The gap between the first and third worlds is ENORMOUS

To me, this venture was all about getting out of my country for a while.

I know most posts you read about travelling are written by people from first-world countries visiting the third world so they can again appreciate what they have back home. So that they can see how the “other half” lives and gain some perspective on their lives and their privilege and their luxury.

But it’s been quite a different experience being a third-world born venturing into the first world. I’ve had many discussions with fellow travelling third-world nationals in an attempt to grasp how they experience the first world and what it will be like returning to our countries – countries much less developed and functioning than the ones we find ourselves in now.

I have no water restrictions and no electricity outages in The Netherlands. I’ve only been approached by two homeless people in the past six months. I confidently cycle 5km through to the neighbouring town without constantly looking behind me in fear of being a target. I, to some extent, have stopped clutching my handbag with furious protection when travelling by train.

How do I go back to living in a country that switches my electricity off for sometimes 24 hours at a time, has an incredibly corrupt government, is suffering through one of the worst droughts in centuries causing for multiple towns to have no water for weeks, and one that is so riddled with crime and violence that I basically never leave the house by foot?

Not to mention, one that is so divided on the basis of race that people hate each other so much they publicly declare that their fellow South Africans, as a race, be murdered out completely.

There is no doubt that my heart lies with my country. That I love being South African, that I love its vibrancy, its culture, its diversity, its languages, its nature and its beautiful chaos. I just have the biggest hope that, at some point, by the grace of peace and love, it will live up to its potential and be the South Africa we all desperately wish for.

Revelation number three: A place is only as good as the people in it

I am not a rock. I am not an island.

Without the amazing people I find myself surrounded with in this country, this would’ve been a completely different experience. It’s not that I struggle with being alone or that I need to surround myself with people in order to be happy. I am quite content by myself. And I’ve ventured to various places and countries by myself since I’ve been here.

But there’s something about sharing an experience with another person that tends to enhance the memories you make. When you travel alone, your memories are your own and it’s hard to explain to others how epic that journey is. Not that they don’t care or won’t listen, but because their eyes didn’t quite capture the things yours did. And their hearts didn’t quite change in awe of their surroundings alongside yours.

Experiencing epic things with friends by your side, even if you’ve only just met, gives you something amazing to share and connects and enhances your souls on a level far beyond what you could ever imagine.

Revelation number four: It is what you make it

The journey is only as good as you believe it can be.

I never imagined I’d find the corny kind of happiness I have. It’s not that I was unhappy before I started this quest, but there’s something about waking up with a smile and laughing as much as I do lately that is a little bit unfamiliar. And the more I wake up with smiles and laugh ‘til tears stream down my face, the bigger this happiness grows and the bolder my joy becomes.

But it’s not like happy mornings and laughter just happened naturally.

There’s a switch in the mind that allows you to feel and experience things more deeply. It’s a switch that allows you to appreciate stupid little things like autumn leaves falling from tall trees and snowflakes blinding you as you cycle to the supermarket.

It’s noticing how a ladybug’s wings curve perfectly over its tiny body and seeing a spider’s web illuminated by thousands of tiny water droplets. It’s laughing at the things kids say and appreciating the people around you for their quirks and their faults and their drinking habits.

You make your own happiness. And you get to choose how you go about making that happen for yourself.

It’s all up to you in the end.

 

follow the white rabbit

Follow the White Rabbit

I am not good at doing the same thing all day every day. I don’t believe it’s that I get bored or feel unsatisfied. I think it has more to do with the idea of having to do it forever and then losing myself along the way and becoming a stay-at-home mom with monster children and cats and then trying to deny my life crises by painting one of the walls in my house some shade of red.

At one point I started going into work and then I’d just Google the British Monarchy and take virtual tours of Buckingham Palace and stalk Kate and try and learn how they make her hair look so freakin’ amazing all the time. So the situation got pretty serious and I had to make a plan. I knew few people would approve and it’d be quite a mission to get this plan rolling. But I needed an adventure.

And that’s when Alice in Wonderland came into my life:

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.”

Which was when I started planning on following this White Rabbit with such fight and joy straight into Wonderland that the world would scream at the sight of my enthusiasm.

Following this White Rabbit basically entails following an unlikely clue, an innocuous, unbelievable (but also, a bit ridiculous) sign, to find oneself in the midst of more or less extraordinary, marvellous, amazing circumstances that challenge one’s fundamental beliefs, expand one’s horizons &/or perception of realities, transform one’s perspective, and change one’s life.

There’s something that changes in us when we travel for extended periods of time. It’s different when you’re taking a quick trip with a friend and seeing new sights and eating weird food and walking through strange cities. You see new things and I guess you also experience something different but it doesn’t necessarily affect you. It doesn’t cause for a switch to flip on the inside. It’s just a trip. It’s a holiday. And you can take it again whenever you want.

What’s different is immersing yourself in that world. In a different culture and language and way of life. Everything you’re used to falls away and everything you’ve learnt for survival disappears because it’s all so vastly different where you’ve travelled to.

“After weeks on the road, listening to a language you don’t understand, using a currency whose value you don’t comprehend, walking down streets you’ve never walked down before, you discover that your old “I,” along with everything you ever learned, is absolutely no use at all in the face of those new challenges, and you begin to realise that buried deep in your unconscious mind there is someone much more interesting and adventurous and more open to the world and to new experiences.”

I cannot explain how this changes you. How it changes your view of life and your priorities and your appreciation for things.

When we stay in one place I like to imagine we fall asleep a little. When we’re asleep, we dream and we relax but at some point we wake up and realise that we’ve been dreaming. And what we’ve been dreaming is just that – dreams. But when we get up and go out and live, we wake up and the things we discover and experience wake up parts of us that have been asleep for a really long time.

This is why I’m choosing to travel

I need adventure

I know this now. It took me a while to get to know the part of myself with the inability to stay in one scenario for too long.

Though I love Cape Town and am mesmerised by the mountains I drive into view of every morning, this just is not enough. There are many more mountains to see. And climb. And I mean that both literally and figuratively.

We’re only young until we’re old.

I have people to meet and languages to learn and lives to change. I am not quite done.

I need to not be ordinary

I still pray for help at times when the world doesn’t seem to be enough. Maybe I get too philosophical and fail to wrap my head around the idea that life is this:

eternal emptiness

Which makes the idea of settling in one place right now… for the rest of my life… having children and working so I can raise them, and then going through the same routines for the rest of ever, kind of seriously depressing to me.

The idea of exploring at least the speck of the universe I’m forced to live a life on – that makes my existential crisis a bit easier to deal with.

I imagine most people yearn for a sense of freedom within a world in which time just constantly ticks us closer to death, after which we’re still unsure what happens. Maybe we just dissolve into eternal emptiness. Maybe we get to live a similar life in a different realm. Maybe we’re sent to another universe where we get to try all over again.

But with this one little life given to me, I can’t imagine not living it with an eagerness stronger than the rays of the sun. I am not the girl who could ever stand for being the moon that doesn’t have its own light. There have been times in my life when I have been the moon. I’ve reflected the light of others and now it’s my turn to go out and be the sun.

So I’m taking the plunge.

I’m following the White Rabbit.

Meet South Africa

South Africa is not defined by its politics and its crime and its inequality.
It is defined by its natural beauty and its awe and the inspiration that ensues.

I have climbed Cape Town’s beautiful mountain.
Soaked my feet in the warm, eastern waters.
And wandered along Mpumalanga’s waterfalls.

It is the connection with nature.
The feeling it instills.
The loyalty to the universe beneath your feet.

This is where I live.

This is South Africa.

Home is where you least expect it

Watch on YouTube if you can…

We all leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place. We stay there. Even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there. We travel to ourselves when we go to a place where we have covered a stretch of our lives. No matter how brief it may have been.

– Pascal Mercier, Night Train To Lisbon