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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Road Not Taken

When I was 19 a boyfriend and I decided to travel round Europe on the trains. We went to Amsterdam, Nuremberg, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Verona, Zurich, Strasbourg, Vianden and Lieden. We didn't do it in luxury. We did it on a budget that meant living in a tent for 5 weeks. At times it was fantastic but there was a lot to overshadow the experience too. It kept raining and our tent was not built for heavy downpours. The poles kept snapping and the water would flood into our tent. There were days going by when we were constantly cold and drenched. I had also never been in someone's company, 24/7. At certain points I had to throw a tantrum to get some time to myself. I can't blame the guy who I was with as all he wanted to do was keep me safe.

As the 5 weeks came to an end, despite the travelling not being as great as I had thought it would be, I didn't want to go home. My ex boyfriend (we split up in Strasbourg) had to go home as he was starting work experience. I thought about getting a job in Holland and staying a while longer. Somehow, through the use of internet cafes, which weren't all that great at the time, I managed to get in contact with a company to arrange work.

I met a guy at a train station in Lieden for a very informal interview (we didn't even go for coffee, he just gave me the address and contact number of the campsite I would stay at while I was working). It was in a very random place in Holland called Opperdoes and from there, a bus would take us all, each morning, to a tulip bulb factory where we worked sorting out bulbs. This involved standing on a conveyor belt feeling the bulbs as they went past and pulling out any bad ones from the pile. It was brain numbingly monotonous but I chatted with a fellow worker to put the time in. My ex boyfriend left after a couple of days and I walked him to the bus. It was raining as I walked back from waving goodbye to him. The rain had been my nemesis for the past 5 weeks but walking back to the campsite I felt the hugest weight lifting off my shoulders. I felt my adventure was really beginning.

I worked at the factory for 7 weeks. Long, gruelling shifts. There was a group of about nine of us. There were others who came for a while but it wasn't what they were expecting so they left early. It was a bit like Big Brother, all these people meeting up on a campsite to live closely and work closely for a certain period of time. It was brilliant. It was the experience I was looking for. It was the first time I ever saw shooting stars. I thought they were make believe. I got a new tent that kept the rain off. I made some interesting friends. I worked hard. I earned money. I had fun. I went back home with an immense feeling of pride in myself.

That was my first taste of travel. I knew I wanted more but when I went back home I fell into the same trap a lot of people do. Love. When I went travelling the next time it was so unplanned and unexpected that I couldn't have thrown myself any further into the deep end. I was 25 and a friend of mine just got a contract teaching English in Thailand. She suggested I do it too, despite not having a TEFL qualification. I had nothing to lose and it was an immense satisfaction handing in my notice at work. When I arrived in Thailand I was glad of the support and company of my good friend. But not even she could have prepared me for what I was about to embark upon. I was totally out of my depth. With absolutely no training in teaching, I was placed in a room full of 40 students, none of who could speak one word of English. Within a week I was ready for the hills. I had planned to work long enough to get the wages to go travelling without the pressure of working in a job I wasn't good at, or prepared for. But by the time I had my first wages i had found my groove. I stayed there for 6 months and only came back because of visa problems. It was the most profound adventure I've been on because of what I achieved there. My self confidence soared and I finally grew into the fun loving, confident, friendly person I always wanted to be.

Despite not wanting to come home I was happy enough to be there and could see that it had all happened for a reason. I carried the strength I had with me and I set about planning my next adventure. This took another few years. I lived at home to save money but I didn't deprive myself of a social life and good times either. It was a slow process saving money. I wanted enough that I could travel without working. I had experienced that already and while it was amazing I wanted a proper break to appreciate life. I received a kind gift from my step-grandmother. This spurred me on. I worked as many hours as I could. I took two jobs on towards the end. I had my tickets booked. I was going to do things properly this time and be organised and have some kind of loose plan.

I was heading off on my own. Something I was happy to do because it was my adventure. I was approaching 30 and reckoned I was big enough and ugly enough to look after myself. The first month of my travels I spent very little time alone. I met with people I had fallen in with before in life. I met new people. I taught a sweet, gay French-Canadian guy to be brave and learn how to use the metro all by himself. I really had an amazing time. Mostly. At the time it was clouded. I didn't know this but it was clouded because I had so many expectations of what this experience would entail and it didn't always live up to that. And it was clouded because, essentially, I was on my own, and doesn't happiness only exist when shared? I found the days long. I struggled with relaxing all the time. I missed people back home.

I ended up creating this negativity around me that other people could pick up on. People that wanted to prey on someone who wasn't rightly at themselves. I felt uncomfortable at times and I felt vulnerable. The one thing I vowed I wouldn't be scared of, I became scared of. Fear is a terrible thing and it can be born out of lonliness. I had something ro prove to myself and, in a way, it back fired, but I can never take away the fact that I was brave enough to at least try.

All of it happened for a reason and I have duly learnt my lessons from each and every experience in life. And it is a joy to look back and have so many rich and fruitful memories to reflect back on. I have nothing to regret. And I have nothing to run away from.


Rob Z Tobor said...

Well Miss Hannah that was a long post. I have never really liked travelling much I am happy staying on the ground and travelling as far as the sea, which kind of restricts how far you can get.

It is very very wild and wet at present and is the ideal weather to image the joys of camping in a wet tent that falls apart.

I think all travelling is a mix of good and bad, much like life in general and both are better when it is sunny and you have enough money to tick along......

hootchinhannah said...

It was a long post. Once I started I couldn't really finish though. I have to say I don't miss roughing it in a tent. Travelling couldn't always be a good experience otherwise no one would ever settle down. And, eventually, we all just want to settle down.