A work transfer to London sparked a new stage in my life

This article was created for The Travel Project by Leilah van der Schyff, born and raise in South Africa and now living in London.

The list of life events that I had to do in my life were: finish school, get a tertiary education, get a job, get married, buy a house/car, have children, take the same weekend break to the nearby hot springs resort every year, get old. I knew exactly what my life would look like at every quarter milestone and I hated that. There was no room for spontaneity. I was halfway through ticking things off that list when I hit a major low point in my life. I suffered from anxiety and depression, which I hid from my family and friends for months.

I knew if I wanted to continue living, I needed my life to change dramatically. I just didn’t quite know how.

I worked for a digital marketing agency in South Africa with global offices, where they encouraged staff to pursue opportunities in any of their 60+ locations in the world. I matched the criterion necessary to be considered for liquid talent, so with nothing to lose, I decided to make the application on a whim. At the time there was no open role I applied to, it was purely speculative. I had randomly put myself out in the universe with one click, and had no idea how significantly my life would change after that.

I forgot about the application abroad, continued to exist in the background. But within in a few short weeks I found myself on a Skype call with my new team in my agency’s London office. The next few weeks consisted of visa applications, chest x-rays and international house hunting; everything happened so fast and every detail of it excited me. It was the biggest plot twist of my life. I remember standing in the hallway of Heathrow Airport with my entire life packed into 1 suitcase. I had never visited London before, so I had no idea what to expect.


That first week in London was a whirlwind of new experiences that I welcomed with open arms. For the first time in a long time I felt what it felt like to be alive. And I think that was the penny drop moment for me; I found the secret to pure unadulterated happiness: for me that meant venturing into the unknown. I was the happiest I’d been in years. It felt like I had a blank canvas in front of me with a chance to rewrite the life I wanted to live without any preconceived notions of what I’m supposed to be and for that I was infinitely grateful.

But the highs were soon followed by lows, which is natural when you’re moving countries. I soon realized that I had drastically under planned for this new life. I didn’t have a lot of money, once converted to pounds, and I had no place to stay. I questioned whether I had made the best or worst decision of my life moving to a city I’ve never been to before, all by myself.


I logged on to Facebook to escape reality, and there, hidden between one of my notifications was the single message that saved me. It was from my Contiki friend.

I met Chris on the Vietnam Highlights Contiki trip the year before. People always told me that the friends you make on Contiki are the friends you’ll have for life – they’re like family. I didn’t know what this meant until this very moment. In that few days crashing at my Contiki travel buddy’s flat, I was able to relax, breathe and make solid plans to set up the start of my life in London. And although I was broke and struggling with basic life admin, like being assigned an NI number and getting a bank account in my name – I was happy. Truly, genuinely, wildly happy. I even managed to travel to other European cities soon afterwards.


It’s been three years since my first flight to London and I know that I am not the same girl who stepped on that airplane. I’ve discovered things about myself that I never knew before; I’ve grown both personally and professionally and I try not to plan my life too much. I now live with my husband and dog in a leafy London suburb, spending my weekends with other dog lovers in the park and exploring the latest pop-ups in the city. I am lucky enough to travel often and have a great work/life balance. I am exposed to so many different experiences, feelings, languages and cultures.


Has travel enabled you to fulfil new opportunities and see life in a whole new light? Share your stories with us here and you could see your work published on six-two…