It’s been 4 weeks – a month – since I landed back in Australia.
And yet it doesn’t feel like I have stopped travelling.
For starters, getting home was a travel mission itself with two stopovers and 38 hours between leaving my Spanish family and returning to my own (I feel like this may just be the most relatable thing about travel).
I’ve concluded it makes sense to see Australia as the youngest child, so free and fun and wild she is and also so darn far away from her Mother, England.
But at about hour 33, I started to get rumblings of familiarity as I loaded onto my flight out of Denpasar and ran into an old work colleague who’d been in Bali vacationing with his family.
Okay, it was more a smack in the face – my old workplace, my routines, working 9-5 – hit me with full force.
Not to mention being surrounded by people who actually spoke English as their first language, and more specifically, North Queensland English (it’s another language, trust me).
Did it feel good?
Not particularly. But that could’ve had more to do with no sleep and my body begrudgingly getting reacquainted with sweat and humidity.
Eventually, I made it through customs in Townsville and there they were: my mother, father and younger sister.
Time slowed. Music seemed to play. It was so…how do I put it…it was so…
Common. Normal. Blah.
I felt more than thought ‘Oh, I’m home. There they are, just as they’ve always been.’
Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely to see them (and nice to hear some music in the Townsville Airport).
But, it seemed so strange to just be thrust like that back into ‘reality’ or ‘normal’.
Even after 38 hours of making my way through airport security after airport security, eating my way through carrier-provided meal after meal, it felt sudden to be back.
Time had seemed to suspend itself from the moment I left four months beforehand, let me dilly and dally overseas, and then catapulted me back to the exact moment I left.
I had definitely missed home and the people there, but seeing them, I have to admit, was a bit anti-climactic.
Not in an ‘I don’t want to be here, I didn’t miss you, Get gone’ kind of way.
It just seemed weird for there to be fanfare about my return because, all of a sudden, it felt like I never left.
But, I pushed that feeling and the thought of a long cold shower, fresh clothes, and unsocked feet to the back of my mind to try and be present for my welcoming home.
At least I tried. It was difficult not to feel the weight of readjusting and returning to normal conversation – the day-to-day annoyances, the rundown on where everyone is and what they are doing and all those things I had kind of opted out of by way of living in a different time zone.
It was weird. A kind of out-of-body experience – me, an alien working out how to breathe in this new atmosphere.
Over the next week though, I slowly grew back into my body while also maintaining my travel persona, covering more than 2000km to events.
I got to see people I hadn’t seen since even months before I left. I got to see my baby niece smile in person. I got to see and do the things I had been missing.
Meanwhile, I maintained some part in the life of my Spanish family, emailing daily to update each other on what we were doing, figuring out the time of day there and thinking what I’d be doing.
Then that slowly stopped.
Now, a month later, it feels crazy to think I ever left.
Everything is the same, but at the same time, it is all different.
I am different.
And some days it can be lonely. I get frustrated with the issues that seem to just be recurring day after day, year after year here when I know how many lives can be lived in a short space of time if you let in the new and let go of the past.
When you let go of fear and embrace curiosity.
It’s also hard to see ‘returning home’ and my feelings about that with any clarity as I leave again in two weeks for another adventure.
The great news about leaving again so soon is I get to soak up all the goodness of being home and jump back out of all the heavy and bad bits again.
I’ve remembered what’s important to me, and what isn’t; what is a shiny spoon and what just looks shiny from a distance but is covered with grime up close.
I think returning home, like travel, offers it’s own very important and exciting opportunity for learning and growth.
And, I’m excited that I get to do both again very soon.
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One of the questions I get asked most is what to pack when travelling overseas.
That is the sentence I always see when I click on articles telling me what other travellers packed.
So, what better way to start my own list of all the things I shoved and crammed into my backpack? And what better time to write this list than as I pack to head home?
The first time I went travelling for a few months I took a suitcase. That suitcase weighed 30kg and all the handles eventually broke off it, as it was so heavy until I had to buy another huge suitcase to replace it.
And yet for some reason I was tempted to bring a suitcase again.
That was until, a week before I left, when I found myself rolling my suitcase in the rain and then having to lug it over mud.
Instantly, I was transported back in time to the London Underground and lugging my suitcase up stairs while thousands of people hurried beside me.
No thank you, I said. No thank you.
So I headed to Kathmandu and found myself two pretty backpacks – a 55L for the back and a 15L for the front.
When I left Australia my back backpack weighed 15kg. While the front one was not weighed, I think it’s safe to say it’s at least 10kg, conservative weighting.
But if we just consider my back backpack that alone made me feel like an intrepid explorer. So, what was in my backpacks?
2 knits (I donated one in Scotland because I was heading to the warmth and I was sick of it and the room it was taking up in my bag)
1 wintry dress
2 pairs of pyjamas (including a hard-to-roll up onesie)
2 pairs of jeans
3 leggings + 1 thermals
1 pair of shorts
12 pairs of socks (6 long, 6 short)
5 bras + 3 crop tops
16 pairs of underwear
2 big winter jackets (I donated one in Scotland as I was leaving because it wasn’t particularly warm and was taking up unnecessary space)
1 soft-shell, beautiful black Kathmandu jacket (I lost this in Seville somehow walking down the street – broke my heart)
1 casual jacket
2 kimono jackets
1 awesome hat (purchased along the way to spice up my van travel and stay sun smart)
1 One Girl school dress
1 pair tennis shoes
1 pair joggers
1 pair thongs
1 pair boots (original black boots got so soaked in Scotland, I replaced them with a grey pair in Spain)
1 selfie stick (ditched this because I never charged it and it was taking up room)
1 flimsy, cheap, eBay, made in China tripod (ditched because it broke)
Jewellery (accessories are important!)
Gardening gloves (a gift from a friend I used and then left at organic farm as they were dirrrty!)
Tiny travel sized shampoo & conditioner (replaced with large bottles that I’m leaving in Spain)
One bar of soap
Mini perfumes I bought at the airport upon departure
Moisturiser – face
Moisturiser – body
Spray for my belly button ring
Floss (sorry dentist, haven’t used)
Midge repellent (purchased in Scotland and left with van hire man to use to his heart’s content)
Notebook and two pens
2 external hard drives (movies/photos/documents)
Canon EOS 7D camera
Photos of my family and a little motto magnet a friend gave me
Daily thoughtful cards my Mum gave me
Cords cords and more cords to charge everything
European and UK power adaptors
Maps of Scotland & Madrid (accumulated along the way)
Travel wallet (including passport)
20 toilet seat covers (given to me by my sister in 2013 but never used as I always thought ‘save it for a really bad toilet’ – must use!)
As you can see, I didn’t want for anything. I don’t really know how it all fits into my backpacks, but it does. It really does (positive affirmation needed for final packing).
It helped that I bought these super handy, squishable bags for my clothes and similar Kathmandu travel packing-made-easier cases.
Sure, there have been a few times when I thought I broke the clasps on those handy orange bags, but so far, so good.
And the only damage my backpack has sustained is one of the side straps fraying due to my Copenhagen stopover, lugging the backpack like a suitcase.
Would I pack it all again?
It would depend on how long I was going somewhere.
Packing the amount of clothes I did gave me some leeway between needing to find a Laundromat, which was especially pleasant when I was vanning around.
It also meant I had plenty of layers to keep me warm because I don’t deal well when the temperature drops below 13 degrees Celsius.
But, it did also mean checked luggage was necessary whenever I was flying somewhere for longer than a weekend.
What I would recommend is packing a bikini even if you are travelling during winter to a cold country. It ended up being a purchase I really didn’t need.
And warmer socks. I am definitely investing in some warmer socks for Canada and the United States.
That’s it folks. You can definitely do it with a lot less, but my mama introduced me to Justin Case at a young age and it’s been hard to say goodbye to him.
Wish me luck, I’m off to pack!Read more link text
Do you have what it takes to be a solo travelling organic farm worker who can teach kids English in a non-English speaking home while simultaneously writing about the experience?
I know it’s specific but I just wanted to be clear where I am coming from as I write more broadly and individually about HelpX, solo travel, au pairing and writing on the road.
I think anyone could do the same as what I have done, but it might just be a matter of whether you would enjoy yourself while doing it or not.
From now on, consider enjoyment as a general description of the experience as there will be times when you feel like crap. That’s just the reality of travel.
If you’re worried you might not be compatible with travel, even in the most general terms of liking something, I’ve created a characteristics astrology chart of sorts to help guide you on your own journey into travel, or some other unconventional lifestyle.
I have put this one characteristic first simply because it’s my favourite (don’t tell the other values). Curiosity is defined as a strong desire to know or learn something. It also means an unusual or interesting object or fact. The word ‘curious’ itself came from Old French and Latin meaning ‘to care’ and has origins in the 18th century. I feel so much more in love with curiosity just knowing this. It makes perfect sense that the word came out of a century of not only great exploration and discovery, but also the century that brought us the American and French Revolutions. That’s the power of curiosity. When you have a questioning mind and are eager to learn about even the most abstract or weird things, life itself becomes curious – both more interesting and more unusual. Travel is a concentrated form of curiosity so if you find yourself eager to know more in your everyday life, then you’ll thrive travelling.
BE Rich (Or Be Willing To Work).
After such a romantic start to the notions of travel, I thought I better bring us all back down to the practicalities of pursuing your travel dreams. If you have a trust fund and aren’t worried about money, then please feel free to move onto the next part – not before leaving your number if you are a man, of course: How you doin’. For the rest of us, money is probably something that has held you back from travel. And I definitely get it. I still don’t have much of a clue in this regard. What I will say is decide what you want from travel. If you want to roam and explore freely, then maybe it is best to save save save and then travel. But, if you really want to get travelling now, then I would suggest employing a willingness to work and to find work. I have experimented with both and found equally that I should have saved more to enjoy the roaming free parts of travel with less guilt and that you don’t need much money to survive if you are willing to work. To save me sounding hypocritical, I direct you to the words of Marisa, the matriarch of my Spanish family. “Money is an energy and is all around. Stress about it is not good, but you do need a little bit of a stress so you see all the opportunities to make money in front of you.” When Marisa was in her early twenties, she needed money so decided to go on as many game shows as she could (the perks of living in Madrid). She went on a dating show, a Wheel of Fortune-esque show and one where she had to sing. She managed to make $18,000, which she ended up using to put a deposit on a house she just finished paying off. Wow. That’s a willingness to work.
I hate to have to include this one, but I have learned it’s important to remember that just because you are travelling and feel free, life is still life and humans are still humans. This is as fabulous as it is frustrating. What I mean by being realistic if that if you need to employ your reasoning skills and not just say, ‘It’ll be fine’. For example, I had an excellent experience with HelpX on the organic farm. It was fantastic. But, I have some friends who didn’t have as much luck away from the farm. They had lined up work in France – ‘it’ll be fine’ – and the week before they left, they were reading some of the reviews to me and we all agreed it was a good idea to reduce their time there to one week. The reviews included things like ‘She doesn’t like you to use your mobile phone’, which seems reasonable for any employer to say, but using our reasoning skills, we deduced there had to be more to that for the mere fact that someone had taken time to write it. As it turned out, it was a subtle warning about a woman who used walkie-talkies to bark orders at her slaves, I mean Help X workers. I’m so glad they went to this HelpX for the sheer amount of laughter it brought into my life, but the fact the woman also left them to hitch hike 20 miles back into the nearest town at the end of their exchange was less humorous. A touch of realism is not just necessary to avoid nasty work situations. I wish I had been more realistic about the photos online of a cheap Paris hotel back in 2013. When I arrived and saw the state of the place in real time, I was slapped hard across the face with the realism. But, I met some lovely German girls in the same situation and we moved hotels together.
Say what? I know this sounds ridiculous after what I’ve just said about being realistic, but as the above examples show, some great stories come out of those times you say ‘It’ll be fine’. And it is true. I’ve found that you need to be able to balance your realistic expectations with a bit of romanticism, adventure and risk. The universe has rewarded me with a whole pot of travel luck gold and travel is more fun when you aren’t so hell bent on doing the right thing, the easiest thing, or the cheapest option. I call it displaxation – a mix of discipline and relaxation. If you’re down to mix these two wines, you’re ready to travel.
Curiosity might be my favourite, but courage could just be the most important characteristic you need on your journey. There’s a whole lot of fear in us all thanks to our origins living in caves and fighting for our survival. Being able to distinguish when fear is working in your favour and when it isn’t is important. But, actually knowing fear and acting in spite of it are two completely different things. I think we all look at courage as something reserved to the greats of the world, the strongest, the ones with carved muscles and rippling pectorals. But, that’s wrong. Courage is within us all. And all it takes is one step. Literally one step. You just have to start. I don’t mean you need to start being courageous. You just need to start whatever you want to start. And then do the next thing and the next thing and before you know it people will be looking at you and saying, ‘Wow, you’re so courageous. I could never do that.’ And when they do, I hope you’ll tell them that they can.Read more link text
“The Queen of England is the head of Australia as well?”
Marisa picked up her dropped jaw and hastily started translating to Javier in Spanish.
At least it seemed like haste to me, but then again all Spanish sounds hasty to me. Seriously, every café I go to and ask for water, I know they are going to ask ‘sin gaseo’ (‘without gas’, or as we would say ‘still or sparkling’) but when they say it, it always sounds like they are saying our alphabet as if it was a word “abcdefghijklmnopq…”
And I have the face of a Western tourist and they repeat it more slowly.
But, let’s get back to Marisa, Javier and me.
It was my second week in Spain. Every day I awoke with the assurance it would be sunny and we would sit altogether around the table eating lunch outdoors.
This conversation took place during one of those very lunchtimes. The kids had left to play and we adults stayed around the table talking like adults do (still shocked I am an adult that does these things now – when did that happen?).
Having filled Javier in, Marisa turned back to me, “Wow.”
And then it was my turn to say that same word as they described to me the Spanish government, or lack thereof, at that time. (I also said it in my head when they didn’t know the Queen was our head of state, I just figured Australia is the centre of the universe, people should know this, y’know?)
As it is, Spain just swore in a new Prime Minister a couple of days ago after 10 months without a government, due to a deadlock between the socialists, conservatives, and centrists.
Spain has a monarchy too, the history of which I learned a lot more about during my walking tour of Madrid.
This isn’t to go further into the political differences of our two nations. I don’t think I really could without reading more about Spain in English.
But, it was a pivotal moment for me realising being a traveller not only tests my assumptions, it also creates space to test other people’s assumptions too.
My time as an au pair has felt much less about me teaching the kids English and much more of a cultural exchange. Which is why I chose Spain over the UK.
Well done Spain, living up to expectations even if your government isn’t.
Let me give you some examples of the cultural exchange – reader of now or future grandchildren who have been forced to read about Mama Chief’s travels.
Example One: there is a saying in Spain about bread. A woman at the bakery said it to me because it reminded her of my name. You see in Spain, the part of the bread that isn’t crust is called miga (mee-gah). (And my name’s Megan, in case that part was necessary for any of y’all).
The saying was ‘Hacer buenas migas’, which means literally ‘You make good friends’ and is used when two people get along well. Not Spain’s best if you ask me.
At least, I think that’s what it was; that’s the only saying Javier can think of with miga in it and Marisa isn’t here to clarify.
Anyway, there’s plenty of digression today (the grandkids are used to it).
The point is that the word miga was used, which provoked Marisa to ask me how to say that in English.
‘Um, bread.’ She laughed, ‘You don’t know the name?’ I was dumbfounded. Do we have a name for that part of the bread and I’ve just missed out on it all this time? No, don’t worry, it’s just bread.
That’s what I find interesting about spending time here.
We may not be able to have full conversations, but I feel that our conversations are full as we are constantly asking one another about the meaning behind something or what the equivalent is in Australia/Spain.
Every day is filled with a new ‘Wow’ moment as we learn something more about each other’s culture.
One of the other biggest wows for me came as I decided to make Sergio a snake cake for his birthday.
I went to the grocery store sure that I’d be able to get everything I wanted.
I just assumed there would be food colouring with all the baking stuff. There wasn’t.
It ain't got nothing on Woolies or Coles
And I realised something about the baking section – it was highly understocked. At least to Australian standards.
I realised the same thing about Marisa and Javier’s kitchen when I came home to make icing and found no Mixmaster to help me. So with clean, fresh hands, I set about doing the best I could with the raw materials I was given. These hands.
Once my hands had churned hard and finally made something that resembled icing and I began to ice the cake, Marisa struck with confusion at what the heck I had made.
Fair point for anyone to make, but I was also finding this reaction very particular to Spain.
It was the same reaction I got in the supermarket when I asked for food colouring to make icing and was led to the herbs rack.
Then it all clicked for Marisa, a worldly woman, and she explained that in Spain, you have to go to special baking shops to buy certain ingredients you or I would find at Woolies or Coles no worries.
She didn’t stop there.
Marisa went on to tell me the kids might not like the cake because it might be too sweet what with Spanish kids not being used to so much sugar and all.
Of course, my first instinct was to abandon this ugly wreck of a cake, but I persisted, if not for Sergio and for the euros spent on groceries than for me (to eat).
I thought to myself, ‘This is why Australians are obese’ and ‘We should really take a leaf out of the Spaniards’ book’.
Then I went to the party and saw the kids’ chowing down hard on lots of lollies and thought also of Sergio’s ice cream infatuation and it occurred to me maybe we are just in different chapters, not a completely different book.
We aren’t so different after all.
But we are.
Our supermarkets are stocked differently. Our meal times are different. The role of the man in Spain is quite unlike the role of the man in Australia. Our greetings, our sayings, our rituals. They are all different.
Some things I want to bring back to Australia.
For instance, in Spain, if a public holiday falls on a Tuesday, you get the Monday off as a bridging day.
Other things can stay here where I can visit them and then go again.
Travel provides me with so many stories, and some of my favourite are the ones that begin with, “Well in Spain, they…”
And the irony is you don’t have to be the traveller to collect those stories.
My Spanish family now have a number that begin with, “In Australia…” and usually end with “…and the kangaroo lived happily ever after.” I only speak the truth.
Of course, some stories are universal. I just said goodbye to Maralina the pregnant cleaner for the last time and we hugged and nearly kissed because I forgot about the second cheek kiss and was hugging her tightly still.
I was trying to wish her all the best with our English-Spanish-charades language and then I touched her bump and thought, Pregnant women hate that! All pregnant women. I am sure.
So I quickly recoiled and just rubbed her hand instead.
Sorry Maralina. And thank you Spain.
The stories you have given me brighten all corners of my soul.Read more link text
I’ve always been a bit of a reveller. In fun, games, anything that requires a stage and spotlight, parties, gatherings centred on food – I revel in it all.
For the past four months, I have been revelling in travel.
Now, revelling in travel, just like revelling in a party, may bring to mind stereotypes we are sold.
The drunken dancer surrounded by disco lights: Party Revel.
A beach in Thailand, huge smiles and feet in sand: Travel Revel.
But as we all know, actually revelling in something looks different for each and every person.
If I asked what’s the perfect idea of a party for you, I’m sure I’d get a variety of answers – pub, bar, at home, small gathering, large gathering, dancing, talking, drinking, sipping, you get the idea.
And, you yourself might answer differently today than you would tomorrow, or two weeks from now.
Because every day we wake up different.
I know that myself.
Yesterday I woke up and felt congested and blah. Today, I woke up congested and more huzzah.
Let’s not get into why that happens – I have a theory it has to do with a combination of sleep, the weather, the last thing I thought about the night before, and whether it’s Monday or any other of the day of the week.
For whatever reason, the way I revel in something changes just as often.
Today, being a travel revel looks like conversing with the Spanish house cleaner about her grande belly and her impending entrance into motherhood.
It’s all broken Spanish and charades, but I love talking to Maralina. She’s a doll; a Romanian doll that has lived in Spain for the past 20 years and had difficulty getting pregnant.
And, she’s off work in March, for her baby’s arrival April 12.
Did she tell me any of that in English? No.
See *points to self* travel revel.
Yesterday being a travel revel meant more about being reflective and catching up with a friend over FaceTime in Australia.
Other days it means eating a new meal that tests my assumptions about what looks good and what actually tastes good. I smelt Javier’s potato and spinach soup before I saw it and, boy, did it smell good. The fact that it reminded me of my stomach virus a few days ago nearly stopped me from eating it, but it takes a lot more than that to keep food from me. Travel revel.
Travel revel sometimes looks just like the magazines, books, TV ads and Instagram feeds tell us it should: picturesque landscapes with me twirling around in awe, wide-eyed and wide-mouthed with wonder.
Other days it’s more I don’t care what’s around me, just get me a cheese croquette or six. Stat.
Mondays actually look good as a travel revel. Well, I guess the correct word is indistinct.
Because when I’m revelling in travel, I’m also asking ‘Is today Wednesday or Sunday?’
My favourite and most revellious travel times are when I’m meeting new people, or new friends and laughing about paper-thin ham and cooing over Scottish cream.
It really is food and friends. In every way, shape, and form that I exist as a revel.
On the days I don’t have those at my disposable, I revel in books, podcasts, long walks along unfamiliar streets, desperate sprints to catch a train, a spot of sun on the sidewalk, unrelenting rain.
I revel in the freedom and sometimes I revel in having a structure to my day.
I revel in beating Sara at Monopoly or Cluedo, and revel in the times when she beats me.
I revel in hoisting Sergio over my shoulder and making him laugh, and revel less when he hits me with sticks and laughs.
I revel in yoga with one eye opened to watch Marisa because I can’t understand her Spanish instructions and revel even more when she chooses an English song to end the class specially for me.
I revel in Javier using a word correctly that he’s had trouble with and revel in shaking my head when I confuse fregar and fuera yet again.
I revel in our nightly ritual of saying sleep well to each other – me in Spanish and them in English.
I revel really hard when the kids nail the English sentences or words we have been learning.
I revel in imagining my little Spanish chicos visiting me in Australia one day and being able to talk about these days under the banner “Remember when…”
Some days I feel like a real revel, and other days it’s almost imperceptible.
But when you are in another country, you can’t help but revel in a daily basis.
You revel in going to bed when every you know is waking up.
You revel in looking at a map and thinking that’s where I am right now. Whoa!
You revel even if the only difference between a travel Tuesday and a normal one is that you spoke and listened to Spanish all day.
You revel even when you get lost and feel like shit.
You revel in it all.
Because to revel is not only a verb that means to enjoy oneself in a lively and noisy way, it also means to gain great pleasure from (a situation).
Current mood: revelling.Read more link text