Home sweet home

There’s a lot of truth in the idea that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone (or in this case, an ocean away).

England is like a new place and it’s hard to understand why no one else is giggling at all the details. My town looks so English. Our currency is beautiful. The weight of a pound coin in my hand, the accent, the familiar orange of a train ticket; I want to bundle all these up and never forget them.

I know where everything is here, I turn down streets and I know what I will find. There’s something immensely comforting in that.

And of course seeing the people I love again is best of all.

When I was asked what was most different about being home, it’s that the sky is free of towering buildings, and the people walk slowly.  Supermarkets delight me, and pedestrians, and roads that are exactly the right size.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses coming back; I had pretty horrible jetlag and I still wake up not knowing exactly where I am. But I’m very glad to be home.


Changing my mind

Before I left for my six month trip, I was incredibly excited. I’d been reading a lot of travel blogs and wondered whether I, too, was cut out for a nomadic lifestyle; moving from place to place for long periods of time. Spoiler: I’m not.

I had (and still have) dozens of niche career ideas that lit me up. See: sailor, trapeze artist, adventure sports guide, etc. Many of the things I thought that I could do or be have been discounted. They’re just not right for me. It’s been interesting to discover this, and luckily I have enough of these ideas that some getting rejected doesn’t leave me bereft of identity.

Spending time travelling alone made it much easier to see the things I really value, believe in and enjoy – even and especially when this involved changing my mind.

But given that my optimum length for a trip like this is actually more like four or five months, tops, why didn’t I just come home early?

Honestly, I really only considered it once. Even though the last few weeks were hard, I felt like I learnt more accurately that six months, for me, was too long. If I’d have left after 4, I might have always wondered. Plus there really weren’t any of the places I decided to visit that I would have been happy missing. I wanted to be excited about returning home, rather than sad that this adventure was ending, and I am.

On balance, my missing home wasn’t going to detract from the experience as much as leaving would. The reason the trip was so long in the first place was because there was so much I wanted to see. And I’m completely glad I got to see it.

As wonderful as travelling has been, I now know that I absolutely couldn’t do this indefinitely. Homesickness, which still seems to me childish, nevertheless means that to be happy, I want to stick in one place. At least for a few years at a time.

I also firmly reject the idea that to travel (whether short term 8f long term) makes you better (any changes it brings are due to trying and to enjoying different perspectives, rather than travel in and of itself). While I really enjoy it (at least for sub-6 month stints), I appreciate that it’s not for everyone. This came about from meeting a rather snobbish professional travel blogger and realising to my distress that I used to share some of his views.

That’s what it’s all about though, I think, trying enough things to actually know what you think. To allow yourself to change your mind.

Englishness and abroad

Sometimes I feel like I’m getting more and more English the longer I’m away. The one thing I consistently miss is a vague bundle of stereotypically English characteristics; a sense of order and respect for punctuality, politeness and humour, honesty.

The time thing is well documented and so I was in someway prepared for it. But I can remember turning up for an 11am bus at 10:30am (eager gringo!) and other passengers laughing at my mistake. The bus left after noon.

On tours especially, no-one ever seems to have any idea about what is going to happen next, or for how long we will stay anywhere. How can you not want to know?

The method of selling is one that particularly grates on me – taxi drivers, shop assistants, restaurant staff, all delight in harrassing tourists as soon as they arrive at any big bus terminal. Simple browsing is not permitted; if you’re lucky the shopkeeper will only follow you around in silence. And it’s even okay to start rubbing oil onto sunbathers to sell a massage – regardless of whether they protest.

Since personal space shrinks in Latin America, queuing on top of someone else is considered acceptable. Pushing past is too. A cashier on the phone should be interrupted if you ever want to buy a ticket.

It’s uncomfortable adapting to these social norms, and it’s given me a new appreciation for the English. But I came away to see something different, and this is definitely different!

On a slightly happier note, here’s some more photos of beautiful Costa Rica…