It started young, at around 11, I think. Actually, it was probably younger.
Ever since I was a little girl I was completely and utterly obsessed with learning about the word and travelling abroad. I slept with an atlas by my bed and would go to sleep dreaming about all of the exotic places I would one day visit. And this wasn’t a pipeline dream; I was determined to go.
I grew up in suburban Australia, which anyone can testify and confirm is defined by three main attributes: sea, sun and surf. I was 14,085km from Europe (the continent I most desired to traverse) and two-hours from any major city. Culturally, it was thin – we didn’t have any major art shows, plays or exhibitions (since changed I am glad to hear!) and the pace of life was slow and lethargic. My weekends were defined by sport and the sea and ‘exotic travel’ meant travelling to Sydney and staying the night at the Novotel. The cultural complexities and expansiveness of Europe seemed very far away.
Don’t get me wrong, it was the best place to grow up. I didn’t spend any time in my room arduously applying makeup or taking selfies, YouTube wasn’t a thing at the time nor was social media. I spent my year outdoors running around, surfing, swimming, hiking, free of any of the social shackles that young kids face today.
But I had a hunger to explore. I desperately wanted to see other places, meet other people and immerse myself in a far more historically complex culture and place. I was tired of the burning embers of the Australian sun and the monotony often accompanied with a suburban life.
At just 18 I packed a backpack and headed to Italy. I didn’t speak the language, nor did I have any friends in the country. I headed to this romantic country because I desperately wanted to get out.As a child myself I ended up being thrusted into the role of au pair and looking after two children for a very rich, emotionally distant northern Italian family. I stayed for a year, a tough year marked by homesickness and loneliness, but nevertheless it was my first successful foray into travelling on my own.
Since this first taste I have backpacked solo to many different places in the world. Each adventure has been marked by its challenges, but they have truly been one-in-a-lifetime experiences. But what happens when things go wrong?
For me, the notion of being ‘abroad’ and away from the everyday comfort of my normal life has been accompanied with romanticism. Yet, in 2019 a few (very comfortable – might I add) foreign trips went wrong and it has suddenly quenched my desire to travel.
By December 2019, I had visited nine countries in six weeks. It was intense and only three of those places were for pleasure (the rest for work). In Munich (on a business trip) I was plagued with one of the worst panic attacks I had ever had. In a cheap motel at 2am I had to call downstairs for someone to help me – I couldn’t breathe – they changed my room (four times) and a stranger very kindly stayed with me and helped me to recover. The panic attack was brought on a by a fear of travel and being in a different place, something I had never experienced before.
It was a rough awakening: my former love and desire for travel had turned sour; I was now scared of the thing that I was once so passionate about. True, this was encouraged by a few unfortunate occurrences that had happened in the year (another post at another time) but nevertheless I was completely fearful of the one thing that I had been determined to do since I was a little girl.
The result? This post (written on a kitchen table in Milan) is my ode to myself to conquer my fears and be grateful to all of the amazing opportunities I have had and will continue to have abroad. Last night, however, my fear hit breaking point; my plane to Milan endured the most intense turbulence I have ever experienced (and not to boast, but I have been on a lot of planes). Sitting there alone crying and scared to my core I genuinely considered never travelling again: why do it to myself? Was this the universe telling me I was done with travel? Was it some sort of sign which spelt: Catherine, stay home and enjoy the mundane comforts of a monotonous cyclical life?
But then again, my character and genetic makeup is defined by most inquisitive nature and intrinsic desire to explore. To remove travel from my life would be to deny myself one of my true and passionate loves and why do that? (especially as I am still only in my 20s).
There are so many places I am keen to visit and explore in 2020 – new places and new people are in my horizon; I can feel it. And the fear I still possess? Well, it will have to be quashed. I have never taken for granted my privileged position in possessing the means, ability and capability to travel and explore – and so the question ‘to travel or not to travel?’, it’s a no-brainer. If you have the means it most certainly is your duty to go out there, experience the world and report back.
See you in 2020!