I will never do it all

I love travel. It was seeded when I used to farewell my grandparents year after year at the airport as they departed for yet another exotic location. It began when I first set foot in Amsterdam at 19 years of age and realized that my dream of seeing Europe was becoming a reality.

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Over the years, I have chipped away at my travel ‘to do list,’ and slowly built my collection of Lonely Planet guides.

A couple of months ago I found and bought the holy grail of travel guides. Lonely Planet: The World.

221 countries, 228 maps, and 700 full colour photos. When it arrived, I cracked it open in excitement… and drowned. I knew I wanted to see Morocco, but what about Monaco, Montenegro, Mongolia? What about Bhutan, Belize, Andorra, Afghanistan?

As I flicked through the book I was struck with an unsettling thought: I would never.

Just as I will never read all the books I want to read, I will never see all the places I would like to see. My life, which has seemed to stretch out so far in front of me, will not be enough.

There is one beautiful redeeming grace in the daunting finiteness of my life.

My life’s meaning and purpose was never grounded in reading all the things or seeing all the places. My core purpose is something far greater. And for that, I will have exactly the right amount of time.

 

 

 

 

 

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What not to do when you travel to another country

10435070_10152346014383143_5684411763653682514_nA couple of weeks ago I was in Mataranka, a tiny town south of Darwin famous for its hot springs. Tourist spots like this draw people from all around the world and it’s not wonder with the clear, warm water and natural foliage draped overhead.

As we swam, I overheard a Swiss couple, probably in their mid sixties, speaking in German. Knowing that one of the greatest things about travelling is the opportunity to speak to people from all around the world, I struck up a conversation with them in German. My Aussie/German friend Nelly soon joined in, and we heard all about their trip around Australia.

Perhaps they felt comfortable with us, speaking their own language, but it wasn’t long before they were expressing some strong opinions about what they’d seen. Our country quickly came under attack as they expressed their disgust at the living conditions, treatment and segregation of our Indigenous people. They capped it off with a stinging assessment: They’d travelled all over the world, and never seen anything as bad as what they’d seen here.

Having just driven across the country feeling these same concerns myself, I felt chastised and ashamed but also annoyed at their condescension.

Despite all they may have seen, they had not walked a mile in our shoes. I was challenged to recognise the privilege it is to be welcomed in to a country that is not my own, and to accept what it offers, without handing out my judgements and criticisms.

Wondering if I really know my country at all.

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I’ve just returned from a road trip with three girlfriends. We drove all the way across Australia, from one coast to the other, south to north.

On our first day of driving, as we left our city and drove through the countryside, I felt an almost umbilical connection to this land. My love for my country and my sense of pride in it runs deep. It’s what I know, it’s my home, and it’s been good to me.

By the end of my trip, however, I began to wonder how much I know my country at all.

The face of Australia is so multi-faceted, that I began to realize how vastly different my experience of ‘home’ is to other people’s. Outside the cities we drove through rural farmland; country towns that have a lifestyle and culture of their own.

Beyond that, things change even more. Decades of bush lifestyle have been carved out in remote regions, where a run down roadhouse is the central social hub and isolation is a way of life.

Further on we came to Aboriginal lands; where children roam the dusty streets with vicious looking dogs in the middle of the day.

And I wondered about school.

And I realized how much I don’t understand.

And we discussed and debated what should be done, and realized that we don’t have the answers.

And we wondered if anyone does.

And I thought of the bright lights of Sydney…

…and it felt like another world.

Why I travel as much in books as I do on planes

granada-alhambra_19-137430When it comes to traveling, there’s nothing quite like the real thing.

The experiences that you gain stay with you for life. The dingiest of hotels, the smelliest of trains and the most bizarre experiences become part of the fabric of who you are, growing only more legendary with time.

It seems strange then, that I’d even consider comparing my ‘book traveling’ with my ‘real traveling.’ But I can. As a traveler, I’ve stood before the Eiffel tower, seen Mount Everest and floated in the Dead Sea, but each of these things had one thing in common: I experienced them as me. And I’ll tell you something, being me is pretty ordinary. I’ve done it my whole life; it’s not very magical.

That’s why when I travel through books I travel as much as I do on planes. In books I’ve raised my children in Paris and lived in war-ravaged Kabul. I’ve been an early Australian pioneer, and I’ve risen from the deepest slums of India. I may not have lived their lives in reality, but through them, I’ve experienced much more than I ever could have on my own.reading_28819

And the marriage of the two is perfect, because as I walk down the cobblestone streets of Düsseldorf, I feel the shadow of a woman over me. As she glances into a shop window, I sense her fear that the Nazi’s grip is growing tighter and it becomes more than just a town, and I am more than just me.

My Post-Adventure Bucket List

Towards the end of high school, I began composing a bucket-list of sorts. It had the usual things on it: skydiving, eating snails in Paris, seeing an aurora, getting a degree and writing a book. Most of them I’ve achieved, but as I look back, I’m not sure they’re actually the most radical things I’ve done.

Bucket-lists can be beneficial but they’re all about forward-planning and imagining. Sometimes they’re not realistic. Life may bring restrictions like health, finances, time or circumstances, and suddenly our dreams are out of reach.

As I reflect on my life, I realize that my BEST bucket-list is my POST adventure one; the things that I’ve already experienced that I’d never have imagined up myself.

Here are some of the things that I’ve done that weren’t on my bucket-list:

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I took this photo while paragliding near the Annapurna Ranges in Nepal.

Flying over Mt Everest

Walking across a Burning Ghat on the Ganges River

Paragliding with eagles in the Himalayas

Cliff jumping into the ocean

Being elbow deep inside a sheep, trying to deliver a lamb

Road-tripping through torrential rain in outback Australia

Living life to the full isn’t always about planning, but about making the most of every opportunity; appreciating what we have been given, rather than focusing on what we’d like.

I may never see an aurora, get a PhD or travel into space, but I have no doubt that I will have experiences that I never would have dreamed of. I’d hate to miss them because I was so focused on my own plans.

Flying North for the Winter: Half Full

20130710_145039I think Jess and I will look back at this trip and laugh at the irony of escaping the cold to find ourselves in the rain. We’ll laugh about that, but mostly we’ll remember the good things, because experience has taught me that even the most horrible trips can get glorified over time.

And this one certainly wasn’t horrible. For three blessed days and four nights, I didn’t have to worry about being cold. Sure I always had a jacket, but for most of the time I could wander the streets in a t-shirt.

Cairns truly is a city in a garden. It’s a beautiful, vibrant melting-pot of cultures –  even in the rain. Wherever we went, restaurants, information centers or tourist sites, we were assisted by people from all over the world; English, German, French, Welsh, American and Asian.20130710_112504

We were tourists in our own country and the ‘locals’ were foreigners.

We rode in a gondola, high above a rainforest that inspired some of the scenes in Avatar, and shopped in hippie markets. We ate in a restaurant overlooking a rainforest and meandered in a heritage train past mountains and waterfalls and through tunnels carved out of stone.

20130710_144948We ate Turkish food and wandered the esplanade at night, following it up with some amazing gelati. We went horse riding through cane fields, chatted to people from all around Australia and the world, had a massage and shopped ‘til we dropped.

So really, it’s all about perspective.

You can read the ‘glass half empty’ version of our trip here: Flying North for the Winter: Half Empty

Flying North for the Winter: Half Empty

1338463_59722516I usually don’t travel during the school year because my health is too fragile to risk anything that could interfere with work. But this year, seeing photos of friends travelling through sunny Europe as I was sitting in South Australia feeling cold, I was itching to find somewhere warm to relax.

So I booked my trip to Cairns, imagining posting my own enviable facebook pics of blue skies, sun and ocean.

When we arrived it was raining and it hardly stopped. I think I got more rain in three days of Cairns’ ‘dry season’, than I’ve had all year in SA. We didn’t see a single beach and thoughts of going out to the Great Barrier Reef were squelched due to ‘unseasonably bad weather.’ On top of that, my body reminded me continually that I’m exhausted from the end of term and that CFS has stolen my right to be a good traveler.

I felt like a fool having bragged that I’d be posting photos of a gloriously enviable summer, and to rub salt in the wound, SA had unseasonably warm weather this week. While I was sitting in a wet cloud, they were having days of sunshine and blue skies, and some of my facebook friends actually posted pictures of themselves at the beach! In July!

As I sat on my bed on our final night, listening to the thunderous pelting of the rain on the tin roof, my phone chimed. I looked at the weather notification. “Warning: Cairns. Chance of showers.”

Because there are always two sides to a story, stay tuned for ‘Flying North for the Winter: Half Full.’

The Art of Enjoying Normality

Photo Credit: stock.xchng green grass

My year 12 students and I saw a play last week. It was called Random, by Debbie Tucker Green.

Afterwards as we debriefed, (they have to do an assignment on it of course – I know, we’re such killjoys) we discussed the way in which it deals with the supreme value of normality. This, as with many precious things, is not fully realised until it’s taken from us. Joni Mitchell got it right when she sang ‘Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.’

In the last few years I have purposed to try to live in such a way that I appreciate NOW those things that I am likely to appreciate later: being young, being single, freedom, travel, peace…
I am also learning to appreciate the little things. We live in a culture and a generation that seems to have subscribed to the idea that we could, quite possibly, die from boredom. I have learnt that, not only will it not kill me, but that I should find deep contentment in it.

On my overseas travels, I have been faced with countless scary times, way out of my comfort zone, when I longed to be sitting at home on my bed, bored. So when I find myself surrounded by silence and the monotony of normality, I try to remind myself that this is the grass that seems greener from the other side.