I’ve lived away from the UK for 18 months now. 18 months since I have been able to wake up in the morning and spontaneously take a trip to see my Nanna and Granddad, spending an afternoon fawning over art, literature and pulling three heads together over The Sunday Times crossword (she would always save it for me, whenever she expected a visit).
It’s been 18 months since I have been able to accept an invite to a family party, a family holiday even. 18 months of watching the photos crop up on Facebook of their beautiful, smiling faces, knowing I am thousands of miles away and totally disconnected.
In 18 months my niece and nephew have been born and celebrated their first Christmas, their first birthday. My family has grown, in more ways than one.
Friends have moved on and built exciting lives of their own.
And I have watched it all through my mobile screen.
I would not change the past 18 months of my life for anything. They have built me and they have defined me. When I look at the shell of a person I was before I left for Florence, compared to who I am now, I can barely believe the ways in which I have grown, developed. The person I have become.
I see the world through different eyes. What matters. What doesn’t.
I know my values. I know my purpose.
And I have experienced things I have only ever dreamt of. At University, I would look wistfully at my friends who had the means to travel. I envied them, certain that I would never be able to beat their adventures. That I was destined for a mundane existence, simply passing through the expected steps with the hope that one day I would land a job that fed me the big bucks to maybe a afford a lavish holiday once a year.
Yet now I sit here, waiting for a bus to take me to the extraordinary place that is Sapa, and the journey I have been on leaves me speechless. For my time in Italy, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand and, now, Vietnam will stay with me for a lifetime. The adventures, the scenery, the people.
But I am tired. And my heart cannot help but long for the small comforts of home. Its strings are wound tightly around the hands of my family, the souls of my friends.
It is the first time since I have left the UK that I have felt the draw back. The invisible force, unable to be seen but impossible to ignore. I find myself dreaming of mornings sat curled on the sofa with a cup of tea, speaking for hours on end with my Dad about any topic under the sun. Weekends visiting my best friend, where a night could be anywhere in between dressing as Cinderella and dancing all night in a Princess bar and an evening cwtched up in our pajamas, five bottles of wine deep and karaoke blaring out from the TV (both equally plausible and very, very real).
I want to be there as my niece and nephew learn to walk. Be the person who hears them say “Auntie Babs” for the first time. I want to shower them in love and gifts at every possible moment.
But there is a wall blocking me. A wall telling me that returning home would crush the foundations I have built travelling. That it would change me, and not for the better.
And for that, I am scared. Scared of what will become of me if I put an end to this intoxicating life I have created.
For how can it compare? How can I adjust to normality once again?
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett
Maybe that… maybe that is the answer.
As much as leaving was a new beginning, perhaps going back will be one too? I will continue to open up and explore myself and the world around me. I will keep searching for my anchor.
Being honest with yourself isn’t easy. I had always hoped that I would be able to just keep on going, freedom my dearest friend, constantly escaping the clutches of love and familiarity that would try to pull me back.
I guess I didn’t realise how strong love is. And it turns out I still need it.
So, for the first time, I am starting to plan my return to the UK. But, as travelling quickly taught me, you cannot plan everything. And whether this is temporary or permanent, I will be going into it as a completely different person than when I left.
“Home is where you go to find solace from the ever changing chaos, to find love within the confines of a heartless world, and to be reminded that no matter how far you wander, there will always be something waiting when you return.”
― Kendal Rob