I’ve been living out of a backpack for 120 days now. That’s four months of shared hostel bedrooms, lumpy pillows, wearing thongs in the shower because I’m scared of contracting tinea and four months away from my friends and family back in Australia. My diet consists of burgers, kebabs, more carbs, beer and an apple a day because mum told me that keeps the doctor away.
But it’s also been four months of adventure, laughs and happiness.
I’ve been captivated by big cities like Paris, Rome and Berlin and explored small, picturesque towns like Cadiz and Cuenca in Spain. Lifelong friends have been made in dorm rooms, in beer tents at Oktoberfest and while covered head to toe in tomato during the world’s biggest food fight. More often than not my heart is full from the kindness of strangers.
I’ve met people some of the most positive, inspiring and friendliest people. Had I stayed in Sydney and continued my increasingly hermit-esque lifestyle I doubt this would’ve been the case.
My world has (literally) opened up as I fill my days with wandering through museums, learning about the wars of the 20th century, Habsburg empire, the Berlin Wall – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When I’m not sleeping in (such a treat) I’m up early, getting lost in the city streets in search of good espresso and snapping pictures.
But there’s one thing that’s made for the best and worst part of the last few months.
I’m going it alone.
Don’t get me wrong, most days it’s amazing. I can do and eat whatever I want, travel wherever and whenever I want or even ditch the hostel pub crawl for an early night (although let’s be honest, that’s only happened once in four months). I’ve perfected the art of sidling up to people in common rooms, bars or on walking tours and introducing myself – bam, instant friends. Well, most of the time it works. This newfound (perhaps forced is more apt) confidence is incredible when just months ago my anxiety would suddenly flare up and demand I find the quickest exit out of a social situation or just avoid it altogether.
But there are some days, like today, when the familiar beckons. Sydney calls when I’m alone on a rainy day, or when the world feels a little heavier on my shoulders. Right now I’m in a hostel in Vienna wondering how i’m going to fill the next four weeks until my ticket out of here. Winter is setting in; it’s freezing, windy and wet out. My days in the Schengen zone are almost up so I’ve got to decide whether to head to the Balkans or back to the UK. There’s no one at the hostel bar to chat with and I desperately want company. It’s early morning in Sydney so calling someone is out. My back hurts from lugging my backpack around and i’m sick of stuffing my life into it every few days. Planning everything yourself, deciding on every destination and activity gets tiring. At times, like now, I do wish I had someone to share it with and bounce ideas off.
I know, I know, it’s a lot of whinging. First world problems right here.
After my News.com.au article on my mental health it’s no secret I left home in search of something meaningful. This is a time to mend, grow and ignite and enrich my mind and soul with all that the world can offer.
And for the most part these last few months have done that. I’m confident and saying yes to everything I can – as long as it doesn’t land me in a crack den or stranded in a random, remote village (although that would be quite the story). I’m eager to learn as much as I can about whatever I can. My feelings (however intense at times) or the future no longer scare me. They excite me.
However the pang of loneliness can suddenly rear it’s head. Whether i’m staring out to sea in Europe’s oldest town and wishing I had someone to share the moment with or just in a city alone, wanting company for a drink or two. Heck, even seeing a group of friends laughing and taking selfies can do it for me. I’m full of gratitude at being able to jump the ditch for so long but everyone gets a little homesick at times. Especially when you’re on your lonesome to deal with it.
The temptation to move my flight home forward has been pretty strong the last few days. I’ve craved routine, close friends and even a home cooked meal. I’ve opened my emails to contact the travel agent at least half a dozen times but I can’t bring myself to finish writing the request. There’s a nagging in my head that I’ll only regret cutting this journey short. When one of my best friends left me in Budapest a few days ago part of me really wished I was getting on that flight to Sydney, not her. Why? Who knows but thank goodness that idiocy passed quickly.
Meanwhile, my poor mother has been receiving phone calls from me which go something like this…
Me: “I want to come home.”
Mum: “Why don’t you just change your flight? It’s ok if you come back early.”
Me: “I CAN’T change my flight, mum. That’s just ridiculous. But I want to come back.”
Mum: “Home is here if you want it.”
Me: “No, I know I can’t come back. But i’m sick of lugging this backpack around. I’m sick of shared accommodation. I want to be home.”
Mum: “Darling, I don’t think I can help you.”
All I know is that in my spirit of saying yes to as many things and experiences as possible I can’t say no to what the next month over here will bring. Even if I long for the routine and familiarity of home this has been one hell of an adventure. I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone and made mentally stronger, albeit physically not quite so – I blame my extremely healthy diet of pasta, pizza and cheeseboards and perhaps the fact I haven’t properly exercised since June #livingmybestlife.
The thing is this homesickness will pass, just like everything. I’ve grown so much, learnt so many things and been exposed to so many different people, languages and cultures these last few months I really can’t wait to see what the next one will bring – even if I am lamenting my lack of company right now. Give me a few days, or even a good nights sleep, and the upbeat, way too enthusiastic Ash will be back.