When I was 19, packing a suitcase and moving to Paris on my own was never something I imagined I could find the confidence to do.
Let’s dive in to how it all happened, and how travel quite literally changed my life…
For quite some time I’d been in a relationship that wasn’t serving me anymore, I was battling with an image disorder and I wanted to cry each time my work alarm went off in the morning. I was in a rut – it was like I was stuck in a hamster wheel and I couldn’t get off.
I just couldn’t seem to shed the layers that were dulling my shine. I started to journal every day; it was my vice. Six weeks later the girls at my work coerced me into entering a modelling competition, and the prize was a contract in Paris. I didn’t want to enter; I was scared I may win and have to expand out of my comfort zone – my tumultuous relationship with food and boyfriend suddenly didn’t seem so scary at all…
I followed through with the competition and to my complete surprise, I won! It felt like the universe was prodding me with a metal fork saying, ‘sorry, you’re going to have to face those fears of yours if you want something to change’. For the next few days I smiled and thanked anyone who had congratulated me as I gulped and felt a sharp pain in the back of my throat.
After days of anxiousness, I finally opened up to my cousin. She could see I was distressed about jumping on a plane to a foreign country on my own. She looked at me with grin on her face and said, “it’s all going to be ok. At the end of your 3 months we are doing a Contiki”.
When I arrived in Paris I I walked inside to find a long desk of women who glared up from their computer screens at me. The woman at the front began to look me up and down in silence. My face dropped a little as I looked her in the eye, “Bonjour TEG UN” she said as she pointed in the direction of a waiting area and went to fetch a tape measure.
Moments later I found myself stripped to nothing but skimpy lingerie, facing the entire office of bookers. She carefully measured every part of my body until she got to my hips and stopped, looking up at me she shook her head. “You must get your hips down in size TEG UN”.
As the days passed I was more and more committed to sustaining my waif thin figure, every day I put my iPod in and did the same 1hr run around the city of Paris. I would finish with a worn-out smile as I crossed underneath the Arc De Triomphe which was only a few hundred metres from my apartment. I loved every second of my working holiday but every time I looked in the mirror I would panic. I knew there was something seriously wrong; I just didn’t know how to stop myself.
Nearing the end of the 3 months, I began counting down how many days left I had to my whirlwind tour. I could rest at ease knowing my bestie/cousin would meet me on the other side ready to explore the world, I was excited to feel less alone. As the final day approached I received a call from my agency: “‘TEG UN’ you have booked a big lingerie campaign in Paree, you must not return to Australia after your Contiki, you must come back to do this job”.
I panicked as I thought about finally locking down a big job and what that meant for my eating/exercise regimen for the next three weeks. I didn’t even want to go on the tour anymore – I was terrified I would eat too much pasta and destroy my chance of a big break.
On day one of Contiki I met my cousin at the airport in London, I ran up to her and burst into tears as she leapt into my arms. I began an eye-opening cultural experience, starting in London through to Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Swiss alps, Rome and Florence and finishing in the country I had been calling home, Paris.
I kept hearing my new friends say to one another “no regrets’ as they would pass over another gelato or cocktail, I was terrified, this was too much sugar for me. “I need to get off this trip and go back to my safe routine in Paris”, I kept saying to myself.
I let food control my every thought – how could I skip a meal without the whole table noticing? How could I avoid another night out, so I didn’t give in to hangover cravings the next day? But I was still having the time of my life on the trip, meeting new people and getting so much vitamin D that I was glowing. It was a beautiful time in my life, but I wouldn’t know the meaning of the time of my life until I returned to that Contiki bus in 2018.
When I returned home from the trip my home agency encouraged me to put some weight back on, I was back in my comfort of the Australian commercial market, a market that was slightly more embracing of my curves. Life was looking up and I was certainly in a much happier and a healthier place. Staying fit and healthy and learning to understand the power of clean food and well thought out exercise became my new passion.
Fast forward 6 crazy years of growth, a successful career in the media and a beautiful group of girlfriends who have my back and support my every decision and the universe decided to throw me another chance at experiencing a Contiki. I was in such a different headspace this time around and knew that this experience would be oh so different.
I received the email on a cold winter’s day, it was the same day that I had been thinking deeply about what I wanted the next chapter of my life to look like. I was starting to get itchy feet in Sydney and felt like I needed some new life inspiration. The email read “We would love you to join the Fiestas and Siestas Contiki in 3 weeks’ time through Spain and Portugal.”
I started to pack my bags; it was a definite yes from me! As I waited at my gate with my travel partner in crime, I had a sparkle in my eye. I knew that I was about to embark on a life changing experience that would give me clarity and passion to come home and keep working hard.
Day one – in sunny Barcelona – I had churros for breakfast and the days that followed were no different. Bread, salami, pasta, pizza and Portuguese tarts…I was in my element. I was having the time of my life, saying YES to absolutely every meal and experience and on day 6 of the trip I stopped and looked out into the Portugal sunset in Porto and had a moment of realisation: I am in a good place, I love my life and I love my body and… I love myself.
As I frolicked in the water at Caiscais beach days later, I was certainly not the fittest or most toned I had been in my life, but I was the happiest, and people were commenting “Tegan you are glowing.”
How beautiful to have reached a point in my life where I don’t care what people outside of my loved ones think of me anymore! For once people weren’t asking me for a photo and walking off to show their friends that they had me ‘Tegan Martin”. They wanted to stay and chat with me, learn from me engage in long conversation and bouts of laughter with me. My confidence was so damn shiny that it was blinding people! Oh, how I had had it all wrong in my teens and early twenties.
It’s amazing how travel can mess up your habits, not only the good ones but the bad ones too. Something dampens the soul living out your daily 9-5 routine, it’s quite easy to lose yourself. The same old responsibilities, same anxieties over not having emptied your email inbox, same old desire for that extra like or follow on the gram – it can be a dangerous cycle but one that you too can break free from.
Looking back, it’s crazy to think how two experiences that were so similar had such a different impact on me. It’s a no brainer that when you travel the world you will have the time of your life and leave with a holiday glow, but with great sadness I now realise that maybe I didn’t get the most out of that trip back in 2012. My poor ailing body was struggling to carry myself through the days, but now I smile knowing that with the tools and knowledge I have, I will never let my mind or body get to such an unhealthy place again. I’ve learned that life is too short not to have “no regrets” and too short not to love yourself, love handles, warts and all ;).
To the 2018 Contiki crew! Thank you for helping to remind me what life is really about and for being a part of this life-changing trip, a trip that has changed me for the better. I hope all of those with whom I crossed paths with, have returned home with a small piece of me.
Back to work for now, until next time…
Tegan travelled to intoxicating Portugal in partnership with The Travel Project, and Visit Portugal