During my various travels I have fallen in love in so many different ways, be it with places, people, cultures or cuisines. These experiences have taught me that lessons in love don’t necessarily have to come from a bad relationship or heartbreak; there are so many more unique ways to learn about love. And what’s more important to life, than love? So reflecting on my own experiences, here are 6 of the most importance lessons travelling taught me about love, life, and happiness:
LESSON 1: FINDING HAPPINESS IN THE SOLITUDE OF THE SAHARA
Last year, I embarked on one of my most adventurous journeys to date. Met in the chaos of Marrakesh by two four-by-fours and an ice cooler full of water, we commenced our 2 day journey into the Sahara Desert. Driving over the Atlas Mountains past Ait Benhaddou (where Gladiator was filmed), the roads soon turned to trails, trails turned to dirt, and dirt to dust. And then, nothing. Just the midst of the Sahara, and us.
When we finally arrived at our camp we were greeted by a slice of civilisation surrounded by emptiness. Bedouin tents and four poster beds, but no phone signal, wifi or roads. One morning I woke up in the early hours and sat outside my tent, gazing up at more stars then I’d ever seen before. And then I realised something was eerily odd. I stopped and listened – it was the first and maybe only time in my life I’d ever hear absolute silence. The sound of nothing. The ultimate moment of true peacefulness. A moment of happiness in complete solitude, away from civilisation.
LESSON 2: FINDING THE RIGHT LIFE BALANCE IN SYDNEY
It’s a well-known fact that Sydney has captured the heart of more than a few young travellers. Having a couple of friends who made the move down under in the past year or so, I decided to make the long haul trip across the pond to see what all the fuss was about.
Approximately 2 hours after touching down, I was sold. Staying with a friend in Paddington, I spent my first morning on a run around the palm tree picturesque Moore Park, and explored the boutique shops just off Oxford St. I instantly felt at home. Yes the warm climate, ripe avocados and beautiful beaches are all bonuses, but what really stuck out for me was the Sydney way of living. Having spent the past few years working in the pressure cooker of London, I’d become accustomed to ‘chasing tail’ syndrome – always somewhere to be, or something to do. But after spending a few days strolling around Sydney, meeting up with friends and scoping out the hottest spots, I saw a different culture.
The sense of urgency that seems to single handedly fuel London, is almost non-existent here. People actually interact with one another. The buses were full of chatter and laughter during the morning commute, not a hollow silence. Lunch breaks were just that – having lunch AND a break at the same time. London take note. And Sydney locals in general just seemed more content and laid back about life – a fact my native Sydney friends confirmed was true. During my time in Sydney I realised how important the balance between work and life really is. Ultimately, it’s this balance that gives us happiness and enjoyment in life.
LESSON 3: LEARNING HOW TO GO BACK TO BASICS IN CAMBODIA
A few years back whilst at university, I decided to spend a summer between semesters volunteering at a school in Cambodia. So, complete with a backpack full to bursting with every type of medication known to man, I made my way to the capital, Phom Pen.
Half an (excruciating) hour of hanging out by the luggage collection point later, it became apparent that my bag hadn’t arrived with me. My heart dropped – no medicines, clothes, toiletries, food stash, camera, and what felt like entire life’s belongings – disappeared. Bag less and despondent, I made my way to the school I was to volunteer in.
Upon arrival, I was then faced with the fact I’d be sleeping on the floor for the next month. One huge room with 3 fans, full of volunteers. My sleeping bag and mat gone astray, I made do with some of my fellow volunteers’ sympathy bedding (aka towels and rolled up clothing as pillows).
After a surprisingly good night sleep and a less panicked mind-set, I soon realised there’s really not much you need. Surrounded by people who were surviving on very little, it became evident that my material possessions really weren’t that important after all. The children I taught came from extremely underprivileged backgrounds, smiling and laughing without a care in the world – a fact that really put things in perspective. Getting to know these wonderful children and the feeling of fulfilment I experienced when teaching them far surpasses any amount of happiness gained from materialistic items.
LESSON 4: LEARNING THAT LIFE IS PRECIOUS IN THE MAASAI MARA
I’ve been fortunate to have been on safaris a few times over the years, but nothing compares to my visit to the Maasai Mara, Kenya, in August 2011. Taking a small plane ride from Nairobi we made our decent into the height of the Maasai Mara animal migration season. Early the next morning, we jumped into our open top car, wrapped up in blankets and witnessed the sun and animal kingdom rise together. I felt like a trespasser in a completely different world. Miles upon miles of antelope walked single file, making their journey to new terrains.
One particular morning, we followed the antelope to a river crossing. As we approached the bank, vultures and the stench of death surrounded us. Either side of the river was guarded by crocodiles and hippos, eyeing up their 4-legged victims as they attempted to make the crossing. An existence focused on the fundamental components of survival. I felt completely helpless as I sat back and witnessed the struggle. But you know what else I realised? This is nature. This is life. And the only truth in life, is death. Dark I know, but maybe not so. After all, we’re all going the same way, but what defines us is how we make our mark. How we survive, and thrive, in the time we’re given.
LESSON 5: LEARNING THE FUNDAMENTALS OF FOOD IN ITALY
I’m a massive foodie with Italian the top of my food agenda, so naturally Italy is one of my all-time favourite European countries. I mean, pizza, pasta, gelato, and the finest of wines – what more could a girl want?
Exploring the beautiful cities and towns of Italy with friends back in my late teens, I vividly recall one particular moment. We were sitting outside a quaint restaurant in the cobbled backstreets of Venice, wrapped up in trench coats and ray-bans whilst the winter sun hit our faces. An arrabiata pasta, fresh bread, olive oil and a glass or two of wine. No fancy presentation or exotic ingredients. Just simple, wholesome Italian food, complimented by beautiful scenery and the company of my oldest friends.
This is one of the main reasons I’m such a foodie. It’s not just about what you taste; it’s the social interactions, the places you eat, the people you meet and the culture behind the cuisine. Food is an experience, a story, far beyond just what’s on the plate in front of you.
LESSON SIX: LEARNING HOW TO UNWIND IN THE MALDIVES
I’m a get up and go type of gal – always on the move, up for exploring and finding new adventures, so the Maldives has never been one for my bucket list. Don’t get me wrong, the crystal blue seas and white floury beaches looked utterly idyllic. But when I booked my trip to the Indian Ocean I wasn’t quite convinced about what I’d gain from island life.
Putting my reservations aside, two planes and a boat ride later I arrived in what I can only describe as heaven on earth. Seriously, no amount of filters does this place justice. I unpacked and hit the most secluded, peaceful beach I’ve ever laid eyes on. Sat under a palm tree, no wifi and not a person in sight, I was completely cut off from the outside world. This trip was one of the only times I can say I’ve ever truly unwound. I found myself laying on the shore mesmerised by the translucence of the sea, walking aimlessly around the island exploring its inhabitants, vegetation and way of life. I even got to grips with my SLR camera, snapping away at the most intricate, symmetrical shots I could find. The isolation and escape from reality was completely liberating.
Of course this was a once in a life time trip but any type of escape from daily life is much advised. Be it reading a book in the park for the day or going on a long walk in a secluded area. Whenever I’m stressed or in a hurry, I always bring my mind back to that moment where it was completely clear.