I am a travel addict. I just cannot stop exploring. Whether it’s overseas adventures or local places just down the road, I feel a constant urge to learn and experience new things. My curiosity and wanderlust has taken me to all corners of the globe, several different continents, and over 40 different countries. I’ve stood in the freezing cold beneath the aurora borealis in Iceland. I’ve walked along the roof of the world in the fjords of Norway. I’ve swum above the Great Barrier Reef, ridden on the back of motorcycles to work in Hanoi, wandered amidst the throngs of lights and people in Times Square, NYC and lived on a farm in the Swedish countryside. I certainly haven’t seen all the world has to offer (has anyone?) but I’ve seen a lot so far. My wanderlust will never disappear; it’s a central part of who I am. But right now, I really want to be home.
Many of my fellow travellers can probably relate to feelings of wanting to get away from a place. It feels too small, you’ve seen and done it all, you want to experience something different. Whatever our reasons, I think most of us at some stage have felt a need for change, and travel offers that to us. And so, spurred on by wanderlust, tragedy, or simply a need to get away, we set out on budget backpacking trips, volunteer stints or working holidays in all corners of the globe.
We update our social media feeds with snaps of us lying poolside with cocktails in hand, partying the night away at exotic nightclubs, tasting local cuisine, boarding planes, standing in pristine landscapes astride camels, elephants and all manner of exotic creatures. Sometimes, we include the dodgy parts, such as when we miss our plane, get food poisoning, lose our mobile phone or get ‘lost’ in a new city. No matter how frustrating and stressful our travel tribulations encounters are, we know that even our mishaps and tribulations provide a wealth of entertainment for our followers and friends. And in a digital world that never switches off, there’s constant pressure to maintain the image that everything we’re doing is wonderful, exciting, delicious and carefree.
So what we don’t tell you is how we’re also keeping tabs on what you’re doing. We watch your snaps of Friday nights out in town with your mates. We see your Instagram stories and Facebook photos of when you all get together for a ‘family dinner’ with all the besties. Our younger siblings come of age and begin to venture into the big bad world and we’re not there to tell them which shoddy bars they should avoid and offer our expert advice on their life problems that we went through years ago.
One of our best friends comes out. A member of the extended family passes away. A close friend is unexpectedly dumped by her boyfriend of five years and moves back in with her parents. A former colleague is facing bullying from his boss at work. High school friends get engaged. Married. Buy houses. And through all of this, we’re not there.
Even when we’re having the time of our lives, we’re still thinking about everyone back home, and when something happens, we wish we were there for them.
Many laud the virtues of technology and how it brings us closer even when we’re far apart. How Skype is so amazing for people like us, enabling us to chat to friends and family as though they’re right there in front of us.
Except that you’re not right there. Your face might be there on a screen, but we can’t reach out and touch you. We can’t drive round to your place after work for some wine and Netflix. And when our relationship falls to pieces, our job is stressing us out or we’re just having a really shitty day, there’s a 10 hour time difference, which means that it’s probably 3am where you are and by the time we send you our emotional essay we’ll be over it anyway. Half our Skype conversations are spent trying to catch up on weeks and months of life and the question, always asked, “so, how have you been?” sounds so forced.
Sometimes, months go by without speaking to some of the people we shared every detail of our lives with at school and university. Those friends we used to talk to for hours every night about their crushes while our parents screamed at us to get off the phone so that they could check their email (oh the wonderful days of dial-up). One day, we get a message from one of you and spontaneously arrange a Skype call, and suddenly we’re laughing hysterically just like old times. Nothing has changed. Nothing at all, except that we’re on the other side of the world, and our lives are moving forward, and we have slightly less in common than we once did.
I recently made the decision to leave Sweden for a while and come to Auckland in New Zealand, where my dad’s family lives (I was born to a Kiwi dad and Aussie mum, so the extended family is split between two countries). For a long time, I’d been feeling a bit out of place in Sweden. Expat life there certainly had its positive sides, but it also had a lot of challenges. I wrote a bit of a humorous post on these and I usually make light of them when speaking to others. But in all seriousness, I was at a breaking point.
Homesickness comes and goes when you live abroad. There are certain times of year – Christmas, your birthday, the anniversary of a loved one’s death – when you miss home more than usual. For me, it’s not so much a place that I miss but the people who are there. I can grab a coffee, binge trashy period dramas on Netflix or go for a hike anywhere. But doing these things with friends and family makes them so much more fun.
We meet plenty of people overseas. These encounters can be fleeting – like when we join a pub crawl with a bunch of Aussies from Perth and spend an entire night doubled over in hilarity, add all of them on Facebook and never, ever see any of them again. Sometimes people you meet on the road or while living abroad do become good friends (or more than friends) for life. But there’s still something special about the people back home with whom we’ve spent such a large part of our lives and share so many memories.
Life presents us with a great many challenges. But being surrounded by people who love and support you – and who make you laugh, possibly the most important of all for me – makes overcoming those challenges so much easier. Already, after having been here in New Zealand for a month, spending time with my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins, being only 2 hours ahead of Sydney time instead of 10 hours behind, is making a huge difference to how I feel. You simply cannot put a price on spending time with people.
So this is a shout out to all of my friends and family. I’m not sure what you thought when I went off travelling solo for the first time back in 2011. When my gap year turned into gap years. When I met someone overseas and decided to stay. When I took days – weeks even – to respond to your Facebook messages. When I didn’t respond at all. When I missed your birthdays, your milestones, your heartbreak, your achievements, your difficult moments. I’m sorry for not being there. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that you still call me a friend, even when you haven’t seen me in months or years.
When we travel and live abroad, friends do become more scarce. There are people who obviously feel like it’s not worth the effort to stay in touch with someone who may not ever come home. I completely understand this, and I bear no animosity or hard feelings towards friends who have dropped off the radar. We all live busy lives and sometimes we just can’t stay in touch with everybody when we’ve got so much going on in our own world. But to those who have stuck around, thank you so much.
I’m never going to stop exploring. I love travel like nothing else and it will always be my number one passion. Right now though, my explorations will need to take place on a smaller scale, and closer to home, as I really need to take some time out to reconnect with the people I’ve been away from for so long. You may see my Instagram pictures and assume I’m back here in New Zealand only because it’s minus temperatures in Sweden and I simply want to lie on the beach in the sunshine with a glass of wine in my hand. Well, you’d be correct. I do want to lie on the beach in the sunshine with a nice cold glass of sauvignon blanc. But more importantly, I want you to be there, too.