The first time I got on a plane it was 1998; I was 17 years old and I went to Pakistan. The final destination was eventually Nepal but due to bird strike to the engine, we had to emergency land in Karachi and spend 2 days emerged, fully unprepared, in a culture that terrified me in a country I had no intention of ever visiting at the time. I pretty much barricaded myself in my hotel room and cocooned myself in my jet lag, meaning I nearly missed my onward flight to Kathmandu, which I really didn’t want to do! Had that been the beginning and end to the trip, I can’t say the desire to travel much more after that would have been so great.
I had been fortunate enough to go on school trips to Europe prior to this. A cultured trip to Paris, 2 ski trips to France and Austria by coach but nothing further afield. My parents took us to the Isle of Wight as young children. I remember once, we went to Somerset. I was incredulous one time when my Dad took my younger brother to Spain for a short break and couldn’t believe why I wasn’t able to go. Two ski trips with the school was a gentle reminder that I was already points ahead in the travel opportunity department and in my mind, favourite child department too 😉
The trip to Nepal was for 6 weeks and was a group excursion by World Challenge Expeditions http://www.world-challenge.co.uk/school-expeditions where a small group of students from different schools trekked the Himalayas, climbing, traversing, overcoming and achieving in all weathers and altitudes. When the opportunity was presented to me, there was something deep within me that lit up and I felt there was no other purpose for me at that time to go on this trip and see what is further beyond my boarder and comfort zone. After a year of fund raising, saving and directly asking people to give me money, I was on my way, along with my friend Jasmin and 5 other students from other schools. Six weeks later, I had an undiagnosed case of chronic wanderlust which in a way, forged my career and my life choices ever since.
When I returned home I couldn’t believe there was so much more World out there and couldn’t understand why I was so shattered about being home. I’d never heard of post-holiday blues, itchy feet or, of course wanderlust. So I tried to settle back into normal teenage life but when one of the girls from the trip asked if I’d like to come with her to Australia just 4 months later, I was determined to make it happen.
For 17 years, we had always spent Christmas as a family. The 5 of us never saw anyone else or ever left the house on Christmas Day. We had steadfast traditions and we’re a close family. On my 18th Christmas, I completely turned my back on this tradition, as I had my Dad drive me to Heathrow at the time we would be sitting down to our 3-course turkey dinner, so I could board my flight to Sydney. The desire to travel seemingly overruling any sense of family or convention.
My brothers and I (centre, of course) politely waiting to eat at Christmas 1985
I arrived back in January 1999 with an even larger appetite for travel and 6 months later, I started work in the travel industry, joining the call centre for Virgin Atlantic. Four months after that I took my Mum to New York for her birthday (but hey, I got to go too) and 2 months after that, once I had qualified for the generous free flights provided to all staff, I went with my friend Jasmin to Shanghai on a whim, with no hotel booked and only reading the Lonely Planet guide on the flight over there. My emotions flooded by yet more culture and mystery, senses challenged at every step and eyes wide with wonder, I was officially hooked. I was addicted to travel and I loved it. 50 countries later, feeding this addiction is now a priority.
I don’t know what it is that makes some people want to travel more than others. I know we’re all different and some people travel from one comfort zone to another, whilst others, myself included, want to live on the edge of theirs or leave it far behind. From a nurture perspective, I remember the story of my Dad deciding on a whim to go to travel Scandinavia in the early 70s, travelling until he ran out of money and was expedited back home for that reason. My Grandparents never seemed to holiday where other people’s Grandparents holidayed, always going just a tad further afield. So perhaps Wanderlust could be a hereditary gene. Perhaps it is a combination of nature and nurture or it’s just an interest some people have and some people don’t. Some people use the cliché that they’re going to travelling to find themselves but really, if you know yourself well enough that travelling the World is your priority at that time, then you know yourself pretty well already. Plus, you don’t have time to find yourself when you’re travelling. There is too much other shit going on around you to have the time to look inside yourself.
So along with many other afflictions we all encounter through our lives – mental, physical, chosen and imposed we have to do our best to embrace them and live with them. Especially if they’re as luxurious as Wanderlust. I’m not as excited as I am by my next Crohn’s Disease flare up or anxiety attack as I am about my next adventure, whether it be a weekend away or a year to travel Europe and unlike the other issues I and so many others face, the overwhelming desire to defy social norm and convention – striving ahead in my career, saving for the future and making sure I have the constant company of interest rates on loans and mortgages – is something I have now accepted and will embrace.
Wanderlust isn’t for everyone but it is wonderful for me and I love it. And let’s all remember in the words of J.R.R Tolkien “not all who wander are lost.”