Do you ever associate a particular ‘feeling’ with a time or event in your life? Like the feeling you have as a child when you go to bed the night before your birthday or Christmas? Eventually you grow out of it, or it goes away, but you never forget what it felt like at the time. It’s a similar feeling to the one I had when I stepped on a plane for my first remembered flight, or the feeling I associate with my first international trip to New Zealand, mission trip to Vanuatu or two month backpacking trip around Europe. It’s a beautiful, freeing and now nostalgic feeling that I’ve come to treasure.
Growing up, we did many wonderful trips in Australia. I loved going on road trips, visiting the coast and spending time with my family. I enjoyed it so much that I never really desired to travel internationally, and truth be told, it never really crossed my mind until I started university and considered an international exchange program. In the midst of preparing for a six month trip that I never took, I realised that I didn’t know the first thing about travelling, let alone doing it by myself. In the meantime I got a part time job and caught my first remembered flight to attend a work conference in Queensland. I remember thinking that planes were much smaller than I had imagined, that the windows felt like fishbowls and that I might die if the plane crashed or hit turbulence because I couldn’t figure out how to put my seatbelt on properly. After finally fixing it, I looked out the window, took a deep breath in and made a mental note that this was the moment I fell in love with travel. I later jotted a note in an old journal so I wouldn’t forget.
I think me and planes are going to become well acquainted. Everything feels a bit smaller now, and a bit more achievable.
A little dramatic maybe, but not untrue. Between catching my first remembered flight at 18 and turning 22, I visited 13 countries in three separate trips. It’s probably not a bad thing that I got married and moved out of home at 21 and had more pressing things to spend my hard earned money on, or I fear it would have all been poured into expanding the number of planes and countries I was ‘acquainted’ with.
When I was 19, my friend and I decided we would travel the North Island of New Zealand. Fondly named ‘Project Narnia’, the trip was planned out to the very last detail. We booked a tiny blue car (which we fondly called Eddie), made a very detailed itinerary and vowed not to use Google maps along the way. Between the obvious over planning, the many times we got lost and the fact that I asked a local information centre if I should put snow chains on Eddie when a dusting of snow fell one afternoon, I think my inexperience in travelling must have been somewhat evident… but I didn’t care. We stayed at the foot of an active volcano, raced the setting sun to the beach, rowed through glow-worm lit caves, chased sheep, took a tour of Hobbiton, dug hot springs in the sand and window shopped for gum boots in Wellington. The company, the experiences and the sheer joy and freedom of travel was everything I could have wished for in my first trip overseas.
If you go back through the Travel category on this blog, you’ll be able to read all about the trip I took to Vanuatu in 2013. Although the Pacific Islands are a beautiful tropical holiday destination, this visit was more mission focused, and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to see a small piece of the real Vanuatu. It’s easy to get caught up in tourism when you’re in a travel mindset – touristy things will naturally ease their way onto your bucket list because that’s what you’ve been exposed to. I mean, who doesn’t want to go to Iceland and swim in those steaming muddy thermal pools and fly a drone over the desolate landscapes while the northern lights dance in the distance?
There’s nothing wrong with tourism, but there is something particularly special about connecting with local people, experiencing their way of life and learning from them. The simplicity and richness of life on the island of Santo was confronting and beautiful, and while it shocked me when we arrived, I didn’t want to leave when the time came to say goodbye. I was blown away by the generosity, love and passion that we experienced at the church in Vanuatu. Never have I heard such loud and beautiful worship, seen such happiness amongst a small community, or experienced such servant-heartedness as I did in that place. It was a true joy, and a beautiful gift from God.
I can’t imagine any trip being as exhausting or exhilarating as our two month backpacking trek around Europe. There’s nothing quite like doing laundry in a hostel sink, carrying 20 kilograms of clothing, coats and keepsakes around on your back or seeing something of notable historical or aesthetic value every single day for weeks on end. I didn’t come back from Europe as a totally ‘changed’ person, but my world view has significantly expanded, and my love for European culture and cobbled streets has grown exponentially. I travelled Europe with Peter and our close friends Richard and Georgia, and we savoured every moment we were there. I found myself in a constant state of disbelief at my surroundings, I was wowed by the hospitality of people we had never met, and treasured first meetings with Peter’s family and friends back in England. I loved witnessing the diversity of God’s creation, took far too many photos, and still occasionally dream that I’ve woken up in Italy with three of my best friends.
One day, when we’re finished post graduate studies and working to get through the week and saving for trips back home, we’ll travel again. But for now, it’s lovely just to reminisce in that ‘feeling’ and enjoy the fact that we have these memories and experiences to hold onto for a lifetime.