The birthday month. The best month (apple orchards, crunchy leaves, haunted houses, cinnamon sugar donuts, new beginnings, chocolate & pumpkin birthday cake) but a weird one this year as it was my first birthday within memory that I haven’t been in formal education.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME. On previous birthdays, I’ve treated y’all to some existential crisis essays about aging and why is this day so special anyway…That or a play-by-by of all the chocolate I ate. Well, this year I’m doing something a bit different! Today I turn 24…I’m officially in my mid-twenties *fast breathing* so over the last month or so I’ve devised myself a “25 by 25” list. Meaning I have one year to complete everything on this list! (Or, at least, try to). I thought this would keep me motivated in a year that’s doubtlessly going to be full of change.
Autumn has well and truly rolled around, and I’ve found myself in Dorset, recuperating from three straight months of travel, volunteering, and a rather nasty cold. I’ve been spending my days catching up on work on my computer and planning upcoming travels (!), sitting at the wooden kitchen table by the tall glass French doors. Outside, cooking apples and a rather large zucchini (or, “courgette,” I remind myself as English-English and American-English mix together in my brain) lie on the porch. The leaves are yellowed and drift off with each gust of wind. Autumn (or… “fall”… this is another funny word that my English brain and American brain argue over) always reminds me of change. It also reminds me of new beginnings, and, of course, my two year expat anniversary. What a journey it has been!
This post is the final installment (although I will continue to write about this topic in many forms – your feedback is welcome in the survey at the bottom of this post!) in my diary posts on volunteering in a refugee camp in Northern France with the Roland Levinsky Memorial scholarship. You can read the first three posts here: 1, 2, 3.
I’m sitting in the backseat of a dirt-covered truck, pressed between my 6 foot tall boyfriend and a very large Slovenian man. In the front seat, our driver (another large Slovenian man) and the passenger (yet another large Slovenian man) indistinguishably yell to each other over the loud crunch of rocks beneath tires. I stare straight ahead. To my right, the cliff edge and a sheer fall down the mountains. To my left, sharp bend after sharp bend of mountain road, the not-knowing of whether another car will be hurtling toward us at each corner. Our driver bangs the dashboard of the dusty truck with his fist, and my attention is drawn through the window. Briefly, I see a small figure whip by, at least a hundred meters above us, on a thin wire. “That’ll be you” our driver yells, this time in English. I can feel my stomach clench. It’s early morning, and we are driving up a mountain in order to throw ourselves off it. We are heading to the largest zipline park in Europe to go ziplining with Aktivni Planet, and I’m questioning my sanity.
Why do we choose to travel the way we do? I think this is an important question because in an industry such as travel, our small decisions often have economic implications for communities around the globe. However, in the last few months since I began my “nomadic” lifestyle, I have experienced a huge diversity in travel experiences. The most acute example of this is perhaps comparing my time working in the refugee camps to the luxurious seaside English hotel I found myself in a week later. My lack of a consolidated “travel style” makes it difficult to answer my initial question: why do I travel the way I do?
It’s 2am. My eyes are open, adjusted to the grey light and the odd flash of headlights that whoosh by, reflected through the window onto the high vaulted ceiling. The room smells of Oil of Olay, my Mother’s beloved nightly moisturizer, mixed with the faint smell of plumbing to be expected of a centuries’ old Italian mansion. And there it is. My Dad’s snore. Again.
At the start of September, I had a slight shock to the system. I returned to the UK after a month galavanting through the European heatwave and, in my absence, Autumn had arrived. An even greater shock came when I boarded a train to France, where I worked in a refugee camp for most of the month. My summer of short shorts, beating sun and lazy hikes started to seem ridiculously luxurious as I spent each day covered in mud and rain, sleeping in a broken campervan with no hot water, helping homeless refugees in the forests of France. In all honesty, I’m still having a hard time reconciling that experience with my general daily life. Returning to the UK for my graduation and a family reunion, I felt overwhelmed by the superficiality, excess, and associated guilt of my blessed life…. this contrast is quite evident in my blog posts from this month, alternating throwback posts on my Eurotrip with in-the-moment diary posts of working in the refugee camp.
It didn’t take much for me to fall in love with Ljubljana, Slovenia: a hug of mountains circling the city, an expansive farmers market, the purest tap water, even vending machines lined with locally produced milk, yogurt, and juices. It would be hard not to feel your heart flutter as you take in the blue canal peppered with paddleboarders, the skyline of red roofs, and inhale the smell of clean, crisp air so unfamiliar in a European capitol.