Reflecting on 19 Years of Living and Travelling in the Northern Hemisphere
A story of fear, growth, discount plane tickets and the deep desire to be always on the move…
You’d think that growing up in the paradise that is New Zealand would sate most humans. But there is something about growing up on a remote island that can lead to an inexplicable desire to escape. Or at least, that was my experience.
Is ‘escape’ is the wrong word?
The first time I left New Zealand properly (not just on vacation with my family), I just had the desire to see more places. I was 19 years old, and so green — I had no clue what I was doing. But I faced the fear and did it anyway, and was forever changed by it.
The second time I left New Zealand, it was definitely an escape. Through my own (poor) choices, I had backed myself into a corner both professionally and personally. The joy of New Zealand is the small country mentality… and in the end, it was also why I couldn’t stay.
Or perhaps my view was just bigger than the horizons on offer…
Finding my Scottish feet
Armed with a UK passport, I was able to move to Edinburgh when I was 23. My step-sister had paved the way for me, she had jokingly dared me to join her. I’ll admit, I had to look up where Edinburgh actually was (geographically) in the UK. I knew it was in Scotland, but I didn’t know exactly where. It’s embarrassing to admit that now.
I value those first couple of years in Edinburgh so dearly. They were years of exploration, of fear, of tears, and of lone walks home at midnight. I worked shitty call-centre jobs, sang my heart out at open mics, and forged friendships and love-affairs, and stupid crushes. Y’know, all the usual stuff you do in your twenties.
I suppose I would consider my time in Scotland as an epic scouting mission…
Edinburgh was where I first discovered the joy of discount plane tickets. Within 2 months of arriving, a friend and I had jetted off to Belgium for the weekend for a mere £5 each + taxes. Over the years I have been to Paris for £20 each way, Rome for £45, Dublin for £10, Venice for £30, Barcelona for £45, and Gothenburg for £15 amongst others.
Flights to North America, despite being more than £5, became infinitely more accessible to me too. With my family living in Canada by that stage, those £350 return fares to Toronto and Halifax certainly made my life easier.
With every new destination, that ‘thrill of the new’ gripped me a little bit more...
The love / hate relationship with a cold country
I loved Edinburgh. With every fibre of my being, I loved that city. And I loved living in Scotland. It was where I learned my most valued lessons. It was where I lost and found myself over and over.
But, it is SO damn cold!
The cold is like a tide. It drags you with it and sweeps you into all sorts of dark places. And to make matters worse, this creeping and insidious grey-cold lasts for 6 months of the year.
As much as I treasure that country for all it gave me, I was not born to be somewhere so seasonally-affected…
Adulting brings your values sharply into focus
As my friends branched off from that wild 20s train and onto having babies and settling down, I found myself on a different path. Some of it by choice, and some of it beyond my control.
As you make these big life choices, your values are illuminated like fireworks. As that burst of light hits the sky, not only does your path become clear, but so do your surroundings and alternative paths.
With each new choice, what I DIDN’T WANT became more clear. And that’s half the battle, isn’t it?
So… what did I want?
Once one has overcome the fear of the unknown, has come to terms with change and getting from the unknown to the known, the transition can become quite intoxicating.
Being in new environments, being stimulated by things not seen before, eating new food, and experiencing new cultures — in short, the NEW. Travel allows you to indulge in this newness in two ways: On your own terms (length of travel, budget, location), and on the terms of your chosen destination (culture shock, language, impact, intensity).
That balance means that travel, in general, is relatively accessible, even for those more averse to change and the unknown. Because you can always choose destinations that are likely to deliver minimal culture shock and impact, while tailoring your own terms for your own comfort.
When I feel like the balance of new vs. familiar is tipping towards the latter, my itchy feet kick in and I must wander…
My French dispatch
After 15 years in the UK (8 of which I had been trying to escape, but that’s another story), I moved to France.
Some people have that feeling of ‘being home’ in their birth country, some find it elsewhere. I don’t have a particularly strong connection to place, but Paris is where I feel the most at home (or as close to it as I think I am capable of feeling).
Alas Paris wasn’t in our budget, so we moved to the Poitou-Charente countryside — a short 2.5 hour dash on the TGV up to Paris. Bliss.
French residency and the heavenly prospect of being able to drive to 9 European countries within a day (and so many more on a longer trip) ticked all the NEW boxes I was craving.
And while I stumble through learning french and exploring this epic country, there will be no shortage of local NEW too!
As far as opportunities to see new places, being in the Northern Hemisphere has proven to be far beyond my expectations. When you see Europe from afar, you think about the big hitters, the bucket list destinations like Paris, Rome and Berlin. When you live here, you can (if you choose) become intimately familiar with all the treasures in between.
Until I make my ‘escape’ once more, I raise a glass to living in Europe and all that the new experiences and destinations it offers — À votre santé!