I also thought about titling this post ‘The Goldilocks Travel Conundrum – Where the F*ck is Home?”
I have always been a city girl. I spent most of my childhood in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, picking blackberries on the Burke Gilman Trail during the blissful two months of summer in Seattle yet never being able to really play outside because we lived on a busy street in a big neighbourhood.
In my mid-teens I packed up a suitcase or two and ostentatiously got on a plane to Sydney where I decided my ‘real’ life would begin, and so it did. I loved Sydney, the buzz, the beauty, the people..there was always something to do and plenty of people to do it with. I started my first really big entrepreneurial project in Sydney and I don’t think I could have done it anywhere else. A city has unlimited potential for building connections, establishing relationships, and promoting an idea, no matter what it is. There will always be an audience for anything in a big city.
My mother sent me a card early on into my life in Sydney, it said, “Bravo! You’ve escaped the rat race!” and had a little brown rat running perpendicular to a surge of little black rats who were all racing in the same direction. I still remember that card, even though I don’t think I ever really even began my run in the metaphorical rodent circus that is the modern consumerist existence loop of ‘want-earn-buy-want’. Not that I didn’t enjoy the shiny things so prominent in our society; during my life in Sydney I spent more money than I want to think about on fancy cars, brand name clothing, shoes, handbags, and all the other modern life trimmings.
After one entrepreneurial endeavour organically morphed into another and I spent some time living and working in New Delhi, India (one of the world’s biggest cities) I returned to Sydney in a state of emotional and mental exhaustion. I took the train from the airport to my beautiful apartment next to the Harbour Bridge, fell onto my couch and wanted simply to shut out the cacophony of the world.
Like Goldilocks hungry for a home instead of porridge, I packed up, sublet my flat, and left for a taste of life in the Solomon Islands. Several months and many sunburns later I had found some incredible stories, but not a home. The Solomon’s were a bit too far from some things that I liked in the modern world, a few creature comforts, and living there is not all palm trees and turquoise waters. The ex-pat porridge was a bit too hot for this Goldilocks (amusingly, I was even blonde at the time).
In love with the ocean as I always have been, I returned to Sydney for a week and after seven days of party-filled Sydney summer madness, I discovered that this particular porridge was too cold still. I couldn’t handle the noice and insanity yet.
So off I went to the Philippines in search of a less remote but still tropical island life. I started the PADI Divemaster program, made friends, and moved into a little apartment above the dive shop. Convenient yet with an often-amusing lack of privacy. Life on Boracay was beautiful and I’ll always remember those months with a smile but after my DMT (Divemaster training) I discovered the porridge was a little bit too bland for my taste, at least if I was thinking longterm and as a 24 year old, I still felt the need to conquer the world..somehow.
Back to Sydney where life resumed as normal. When you’re the one wandering, it’s so easy to forget that for those at home, whether they’re running ‘the race’ or not, things remain pretty much the same and time just passes. You return home with a mountain of stories and a new view on the world and then realise that travel has changed you, forever, and you can’t really resume your life ‘as normal’. When you travel you change your mind’s prescription of how you see the world and once changed, your vision can never go back.
Sydney felt small. Sydney felt like stepping backwards. Sydney felt finished and the horizon once again whispered of perfect temperature porridge out there still waiting to be found and tasted.
The decision was between Hong Kong and Los Angeles. Two of our planet’s greatest metropolises, and two polar opposite lifestyles. For several reasons I chose Los Angeles and four years of big city life, parties, clients, money, things and many thousand kilometres of sitting on the 405 ensued. It took me a while to find my stride in LA and many people will understand why. The city is gigantic, it might as well be its own country with a population of 3.976 million covering a geographical area of 1,302 square kilometres. It’s a place where people to try their luck at the casino of life and roll the cosmic dice to see if the stars align in their favour. Los Angeles can be a city of angels or a living hell, depending on the way you play the game. I’m grateful for some of my time there and the relationships with friends closer than family which will stay with me forever.
Fast-forward 4 years and I’m back to metropolitan burn-out. The novelty of movie theatres and gastropubs has dwindled and I spend most of my time in my beautiful little poolhouse working from my computer or swimming in my Los Angeles oasis. I found myself invited to join an expedition on a small Greek island in June of 2017, an opportunity I knew would be exciting yet I had no idea just how much it would change my life.
I first stepped onto Fournoi Korseon after an 8 hour ferry ride proceeded by almost 20 hours of air travel from Los Angeles. It was 1am and the open-air cafes were full of summer sun-seekers soaking up the balmy east Aegean nighttime air while sipping local liquors and chatting the night away. I had only learned my first word in Greek just before the ferry departed from Athens and I knew nothing about where I was, or what I would find here. A week later, I was head over heels in love with the place, the lifestyle, days spent outside diving, fishing, freediving, hiking or any other number of outdoor activities you can dream up. The locals became my friends and among them I found several truly kindred spirits. The language tasted like rich dark chocolate as I learned more and more words every day and found myself able to hold basic conversations by the end of my month in Fournoi. I boarded the ferry to leave feeling like finally, finally I had found somewhere that felt like home.
Several adventures and 2 months later, I had packed up my life in Los Angeles, kissed my darling wolves adieu (for now) and bought a 1-way ticket back to Fournoi. 6 months later while I write this, I have never been happier. Each day feels a hundred years long with the amount of activities available on the island. Friends don’t have to schedule the chance to see each other, you bump into the same people several times a day. I haven’t driven a car since I left LA and after those thousands of hours on the 405 I mentioned, that’s fine with me! I spend my time outside, in nature, under the sea, working from my computer, and enjoying every night I fall asleep to the sound of gentle waves along the seashore.
The friendships you make in a small town are unique. People in small communities tend to lose the shrouds of fakeness and pretending to be something other than who they are. In a small town you meet real people with all their faults and beauty laid out in the open. It’s an honest way of living, it has to be, there isn’t enough room for window-dressing to make it anything else.
I’ve come to realise that so much of the activities available in cities are in fact, just fillers to replace the real things humans enjoy. Shopping is simply a way to keep us in the want-earn-buy-want cycle I mentioned above. There is actually no point to shopping for nicknacks, more clothes or shoes than we’ll ever really wear, things to collect dust on your shelves, these things don’t matter when you really think about it. Yet these are the things that keep us from going places and experiencing things. In this small island I spend very little so when I want to leave the island and go have an adventure, voila!, I often have more money than I expect in order to do so.
Perhaps 50 years ago I would have missed certain things here, being able to stay in touch with my friends abroad, the ability to earn a living without having to find work on the island, arts, literature, culture, films.. Yet today, we have the internet to supply me with books I might want to read or even rainy nights of ‘Netflix and chill’. My desire to take over the world has lessened over the past few years as I began to appreciate the simple things in life far more than the big fancy ones. My childhood desire to win Oscars and fly in private jets has become my adult desire to see new places when I can and to spend as much time in nature as possible.
I wake up happy and I go to bed smiling. In summer the sun stays awake almost as late as everyone else and it’s easy to just go camp on a beach for the night. We spend a sunny Sunday spearfishing and cook our fresh catch immediately for the most delicious lunch you’ve ever tasted. Sometimes we even just make ceviche on the dock so we don’t have to go anywhere to cook. The lemons are picked from a neighbour’s tree. Friends on nearby islands have farms and grow bright, beautiful, delicious produce and wine grapes grow easily here. Good food, great friends, a myriad of things to do, surrounded by nature and some hours each day spent working on my computer to earn enough money to be here, and leave when I want to go see somewhere else. I think that’s as close to my definition of happiness as I have yet experienced.
I hear life dissatisfaction and frustration daily from my friends who live in what many consider to be the world’s most ‘liveable’ cities. Despite the seeming allure of these concrete jungles, wages often barely cover the basics and life is lived to earn just enough to live. What’s the point in trading your life just so you can eat, sleep and work? Especially if you’re not happy. We are conditioned from a young age that ‘success’ means certain things in life – big house, fancy cars, marriage, kids, high-paying job, you know the poster with the hideous house on the hill overlooking a fake-ass sunset and 6 cars in the garage I’m talking about.
That is not success, that is the bait that lures so many people into a lifelong trap of an unattainable fantasy. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to want that fantasy, but I do think that we shouldn’t be blinded by it, or assume that we have to want it. What is your definition of happiness? What makes you the best you that you can be? Those are the things that make us successful – feeling alive is being successful.
So as someone who has finally found a metaphorical porridge of the perfect temperature, taste and texture, I don’t think I could ever move back to a city. This type of life fits me and I hope that as our world becomes more connected, more jobs will be able to become remote and that we’ll see people start to leave the cities and return to towns and villages. Living in a small town is like walking into a Sunday backyard BBQ where you’re welcomed with open arms and a sausage sizzle made just the way you like it. Cities are like a nightclub full of tarted up 20-somethings looking for a cheap drink and a human hot water bottle for the night whose name they won’t even remember. I’ll choose the BBQ with my best mates any day.