Back in 2010, I went backpacking for the second time. The first time was in 2008, when I worked at a summer camp in New Hampshire for a couple of months and then spent a few weeks travelling around the USA (with a side serving of Canada). That was meant to be a long, open-ended trip. But I fell in love with a boy back home before I left. Like, literally started dating him a couple of weeks before leaving. So I cut my trip short, came home, fell more deeply in love, moved in with the guy, and worked in a bar for over a year.
I saved most of my money from that job and used it for trip number two. (Benefit of having a boyfriend with his own home #1: no rent.) I don’t exactly remember when I decided that living in the countryside with my love and working in a bar for the rest of my life wasn’t enough. Evidently it didn’t take long though, since I moved out less than a year after moving in with him. But at one point, in the beginning, I thought maybe he was ‘the one’. Vague visions of marriage. Names picked out for our imaginary kids (which is weird, considering I have never wanted kids and still don’t). We even had a name picked out for our dog: Zombie. I chose that name. Now I hope he doesn’t get a dog and call it Zombie, because that is still in my future plans, tbh. It will be a glorious husky with blue eyes. Anyway, I digress.
In January 2010, I broke up with the guy. (We’re still friends though. Hi Jay! Please don’t steal my dog’s name.) In May 2010, I flew to Canada, once again with the intention of travelling indefinitely. That trip was cut short too, for a much worse reason. ‘But what if you’re not okay?’ I said to my dad before I left. ‘You can always come home again,’ he said back. And I did, six months later. Two months after that, he died.
And then I didn’t know what the hell to do. I couldn’t stay living in my home town. I just couldn’t. You know? No. I couldn’t. But I also couldn’t leave again. I couldn’t go that far away from my mum. So I found the in-between: I moved to Edinburgh, which is where my mum is from. She has five sisters here. Her mother was still alive when I came here, too. I came here in case my mum decided she wanted to leave my home town and come back here.
In the end, that’s exactly what happened. My mum lives in Edinburgh again now, too, despite spending most of her life in England. My mum is a completely different person to me. I won’t talk about her too much here, but suffice it to say I am outgoing, confident, worry-free and don’t give a shit what anyone thinks about me. My mum is basically the opposite. And I feel very protective of her. I know she doesn’t want me to leave, and I don’t want to leave her, but at the same time, I can’t stay. I have to live my own life, and we both know that.
The whole reason I started this business in the first place was so that I could travel the world more. I spent my first year and a half in this city trying to figure out how to live a life that would let me travel a lot. I thought maybe I’d become a radiographer. They’re in demand all over the world. I could live in New Zealand or something. But then I realised that I am shit at science (don’t know if you know, but medical stuff is pretty sciencey), and I didn’t want to spend another 5+ years studying. (Though it’s just dawned on me that if I’d stuck with that path, I’d have qualified by now. Ha, weird.)
Then I thought maybe if I became a teacher I could just travel for a few weeks every summer, over the holidays. But, well, I don’t particularly like kids (working at a summer camp is different, because you get to play games and run around all the time, which is my idea of heaven). And apparently it’s pretty hard to get into anyway. What chance would I have if I wasn’t 100% into it?
I had a couple of other vague ideas, and I didn’t really know how they would translate into a globe-trotting life but I thought they might be fun. Eventually I stumbled upon the idea of freelance writing and earning a living from my laptop. I went with that, and four years later, here I still am. The business took a different direction than I’d intended – I had no idea I’d end up teaching courses and selling products – and it’s allowed me to get to a place where I’m earning more than I ever have before. Admittedly that’s not hard when you were a barmaid in your previous life, though.
So, yeah, here I am. It finally feels right to go. I’ve stayed here a lot longer than I thought I would, for reasons both personal and professional. I spent much of this ‘summer’ seething about the discrepancy between Scotland’s weather and England’s. And then, by extension, the rest of Europe’s. WHY DOES EVERYWHERE ELSE GET 25-30 DEGREES AND WE BARELY HIT 18? HMM? ANSWER ME THAT, SCOTLAND. And, of course, the disastrous Brexit vote was an even stronger catalyst. I want to explore Europe while I still have easy access to it. So that’s where I’m planning to go first. Don’t ask me anything else yet. I have no idea. I haven’t booked a single thing. Ironically, I may not even try to head somewhere warm. (The allure of getting to wear my winter coat is strong. What can I say? It’s a sexy coat.) All I know is I need to be out of my flat by 27 October.
I have back-and-forthed a lot about whether to hit the road, working as I travelled, or whether to have a base to take shorter trips from. So far I’ve opted for the latter, so I could grow my business and work on my health (learning how to control my bowel disease – ulcerative colitis – through diet alone was a huge goal of mine, which I’m pleased to say I achieved earlier this year).
But now I feel the time has come to leave. This is what I’ve been waiting for. The feeling that leaving was the right thing to do. It has been gradual. In fact, earlier this year I had decided that staying in Edinburgh semi-permanently and using it as my base was the right thing to do. Less stress, easier to stay healthy, easier to work on my business. All that.
And I think I needed to make that decision to realise that it wasn’t what I wanted after all. Since making that decision, life has felt flatter. Mundane. Yes, the day to day stuff is easier: eating healthily, exercising regularly, being productive in my work, and so on. But something disappeared when I made that decision, too: possibility. Life itself became smaller. I’m just so fucking BORED – this is the feeling that’s been growing inside me these past few months.
Because I’ve realised I don’t live FOR the good health and the exercise and the productivity. Those are just things that ALLOW me to live a full life. They are my priorities, but not for the sake of themselves. They are my priorities because they allow me to live this big, beautiful, heartfelt life – of which we truly do only get one, which is ridiculously easy to forget when we’re just in it, living it, going about our days.
I’ve become too comfortable here. Comfort can be nice, but it also makes you scared of doing things. What if the comfort goes away? What if something bad happens? Well, it probably will sometimes. But if I stay in my safe, comfortable place, I’ll miss out on so much, and I’m not sure the trade-off is worth it.
Photo by Shaun Stanworth, who is one of my best friends. He will probably never see this. But what the hell, credit where credit’s due.