I have recently been reunited with a great friend that I made while backpacking in Bali. She is returning to her home town after two years on the road and is facing the terrifying destination that awaits all travellers at one time or another. Reality.
While trying to help her resettle, I came across an old post I’d written when I first came back home and I shared it with my friend.
This is Lost (Revisited). A year after publishing.
I travelled alone, to the other side of the world, with nothing but a few spare clothes and a Lonely Planet guide for over two years.
Now, back in a city I’ve lived in for more than 15 years and I’ve never been so lost.
Lives around me have allegedly moved on and yet seemingly gone nowhere.
They’re half way along the ‘birth, school, university, job, marriage, children, death’ road and we can no longer relate.
They wonder why I don’t want to grow up and settle down. I wonder how they can be content with so few experiences of the world outside.
Last year I took a boat from the island of Ko Phi Phi to mainland Krabi in Thailand. It was the most horrific journey of my life. The tiny, over-crowded boat was being tossed all over the ocean by huge waves rolling over the top and a sizeable amount of water rapidly leaking in. People were throwing up and clinging on and children were skidding across the aisle.
A Korean boy in the seat in front of me was desperately trying to plug a gap in the leaking roof with a bundle of empty sick-bags.
He was wearing a t-shirt that read ‘Give me the sense to wonder if I’m really free‘
The slogan really meant something to me. Had I seen it a few days earlier I’d have probably have had it etched-in for life with a bamboo tattoo after one too many Thai Buckets.
Looking at the t-shirt and thinking this boat trip could be my last, I felt an enormous sense of relief that at this given moment, I was truly as free as a person ever could be. I could die at these particular geographical coordinates with no reason or responsibility to have been anywhere else.
But as every trip takes its twists and turns, a year on and I have ended up closer than ever to re-joining the old road – now at the job/marriage juncture.
Do you give in graciously? I had an incredible time up to my 30s. I’ve worked in America and Australia, skydived over the Barrier Reef, seen the sun rise over Ayers Rock, swam with reef sharks, partied in Vegas, been on safari in Kenya, rode elephants in Thailand, climbed glaciers in New Zealand, road-tripped from Niagara to Miami and travelled and skied all over Europe.
Surely that’s enough hedonism to just calmly acquiesce to a regular life and an annual holiday in Tenerife with a couple of kids; pottering around a garden centre on a weekend, doing the ironing and arguing about which one of you forgot to defrost the chicken.
Only, it’s not. I’ve tried. The more you’ve seen, the harder it is to shut your eyes to it.
I’m one of the few who is forcibly trying to orienteer their way back out in the direction of the Road Less Travelled, fuelled by the fear of living an average life but momentarily halted by the amber light that is age.
It’s a gamble though. To turn around and leave, again, would mean potentially trying to re-access this juncture at 35, 40. 45? How late is too late?
You can see the world but the world alone is not enough, you need someone to see it with and it’s hard to meet someone on the backpack trail. You’re a collection of transient souls temporarily bonding over a mindset and a dream.
I suppose the question is, would you rather be safely caged or taking your chances in the freedom that only the wild affords?
Maybe that’s not it at all. Maybe you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other without searching and one day this elusive contentment will come and find you.
I’m going to drink more some red wine and think about it.
I could ask someone for advice but you know what they say… advice is something you ask for when you already know the answer but wish you didn’t.
I showed the post to my friend. It didn’t help her one bit.