Category Archives: My year of the nomad

Feeling at home

I’m in a state of pure, simple satisfaction. In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so content, relaxed, or at peace with the world. It’s not just because I’m on a year-long vacation enjoying the European summer. It’s because for the first time in years I feel at home, and it’s not a sensation I’m used to.

My mum (left), two aunts, uncle and me.

My parents have moved as many times as me, so we don’t have a family home in Australia with familiar bedrooms, bathroom or a kitchen where I know where the utensils live. The house where I grew up in Melbourne, with its black carpet and sandpit, is long gone, so the next closest thing is my aunt’s house in Emmeloord, Holland, where my earliest memories still exist.

Outside the house I grew up in with my dad and sister (me on the left).

The first time I visited my Dutch relatives in Holland was in 1988, thirty years ago when I was five. I spent nine weeks with my aunts and uncles, and returned every four years in ‘92, ’96, 2000 and beyond, to the same house I’m sitting in now.

With my aunt and uncle in Emmeloord 1988.

My aunt’s house has barely changed. The steep, winding staircase I used to run up using my hands and feet is still here. The bathroom overlooking the garden that smells of sandalwood and fresh towels smells the same. The single bed I slept in as a five-year-old still fits me, and the old toys that sat on the wicker chair beside the bed are somewhere in the cupboard.

Of course it’s not just the house that feels homely, it’s the people that fill the space. I’ve spent the last five days eating, shopping, reading, watching television and playing board games at night with my mother, aunt and uncle. The four of us break into spontaneous dance in the lounge room, fall into uncontrollable belly laughter when something Dutch is translated into absurd English, and we shriek at our 80’s clothing and 90’s haircuts as we flip through old photo albums my aunt keeps.

My uncle, mum and me in Urk, 2018.

It’s been a magical reunion, and although I’m doing nothing to advance myself financially or academically, I’m convinced I’m doing the right thing. I’m reminding myself of the importance of family, maintaining and nourishing important relationships, learning to understand differing opinions and cultures, and improving my rusty Dutch. Clearly I’m very busy!

My aunt and I eating herring.

Out of all the experiences I’ve had since coming to Europe four weeks ago, the purest moments of connection with my friends and family have been the best. I did nothing in Germany or Italy except spend time with my friends Kelly, Nael and Carissa and her family. But it’s the simple moments, sipping coffee on the couch or balcony, enraptured in conversation, that are the most satisfying.

Carissa and me.

Next week I’m heading south with my mum and aunt on an eighteen-day road trip through France to Spain. We’re ending up at the hostel along the Camino de Santiago I volunteered at four years ago, one of the most special places in the world for me.

It was whilst sweeping floors, collecting water, making beds, preparing food, cleaning toilets and washing dishes I learned true happiness comes from selflessness, contribution, connection and community. It was the first time I stopped thinking about my own self interests and put the needs of others in front of my own. It’s amazing how much time and energy you have when you take yourself out of the equation.

I relinquished my need to control the environment around me and surrendered to going with the flow. I wrote about this almost exactly four years ago in my post aptly titled: Go with the flow.

Güemes 2014.

The hostel in Güemes has become one of my many homes, and the people in it feel like family. I’m looking forward to reuniting with them, and bringing my Australian, Dutch and Spanish families together for the first time!

Güemes 2014.

Sailweek Croatia

I’m in that end of a trip mellow state when you feel heavy in your heart that it’s over, but full of great memories at the same time.

I’m actually happy to be the last to fly out from Dubrovnik today, because I now have time to reflect on all the special moments I shared with six wonderful people sailing along the coast of Croatia this week.

Firstly, this trip was an incredible privilege and not something many people get to experience. It’s not something I would normally choose to do while aiming to survive on a humble budget for a year, but when one of my dearest friends Mimi, who I haven’t seen for over three years, invited me to celebrate her 30th birthday on a sailboat for a week, I could hardly say no.

Out of the six people I sailed with, I only knew three at the beginning. But I now know all six intimately after sharing a confined space for seven days. Sailboats are a luxury don’t get me wrong, but there’s elements to consider like not being able to poop onboard (only in extreme circumstances), showering with a very small hose over a sink, sleeping in little bunks in steaming hot rooms, and battling hungry mosquitos that insist on keeping you awake all night. It was by no means roughing it, but it required a certain amount of tolerance, flexibility and good humour to stay sane, especially if you’re constipated or feeling sea sick, which members of our group suffered to varying degrees.

The best part of the trip was sharing the experience with these people. Human connection has been my theme of 2018, and this trip was a perfect articulation of the importance of reconnecting with friends. So many people float in and out of ours lives, and sometimes even the special ones slip through our fingers. But I couldn’t let that happen with Mimi, Murad and Mahi, three incredible friends who were introduced to me through my event work in the Middle East. I haven’t been back to Abu Dhabi or Dubai for over three years now, so the investment was well worth the opportunity to reconnect, and the sailing was just an added bonus as far as I’m concerned!

We visited a number of islands over our seven day journey: Palmižana was the first, then Hvar, Korčula, Mljet and Šipan, before reaching Dubrovnik on the mainland yesterday. Each day involved a completely different activity: hiking, biking, swimming in caves, buggy rides through vineyards and exploring tiny villages. But the most satisfying element was witnessing everyone being pushed out of their comfort zone in a unique way. Fears of bugs and the sea were overcome, some pushed themselves physically and mentally beyond their perceived abilities, others learned how to compromise and go with the flow, while I learned how to completely relax in the company of others, while finding ways to reenergise without flying solo.

If I were to do this trip again, I wouldn’t change much about the experience at all. A week at sea was enough for me, and having a mix of partying and adventure was perfectly balanced. Other than experiencing the Bora winds and torrential rain once we landed in Dubrovnik, we were blessed with perfect weather for the entire trip, and because we hit the season early, the islands weren’t crawling with hundreds of tourists either.

It was also fortuitous timing that we happened to be in Croatia to witness their team beat Argentina in the FIFA World Cup qualifier. The Croatians are an incredibly patriotic bunch, so even though we were on an island with a population of 400 people, it felt like we were in the front row of the stadium while eating dinner in front of the TV.

Despite our great fortune, we did experience a few hiccups on and off the boat that are worth mentioning:

– We lost the ladder from the back of the boat while attempting to surf on a stand up paddle board

– We rented a van that broke down on a 180-degree switchback on a horrifyingly narrow road

– The anchor of the boat got stuck and then fell off the rail and hit the side with a loud clunk

– Four people had their lunch come crashing to the floor when half the table collapsed while sailing

– We blocked one of the toilets… twice

– We narrowly missed collisions with other boats because our mountain of floaties were blocking the skipper’s view

– The engine of our dingy broke down momentarily

– We damaged the fin while docking

– and we lost a sun hat!

Mimi booked this trip through a company called Sailweek Croatia, and chose the Adventure option over the full Party Week, which for a mature 35-year-old like me, was definitely the right choice (though I thoroughly enjoyed our one night out on the party island of Hvar).

In a few hours I’ll be off to the airport again where I’ll be flying to Venice, Italy, and then catching a FlixBus for four hours to reach Trento where I’m visiting one of my most favourite people who I met whilst working on the Olympic Torch Relay in Vancouver. I haven’t seen my friend Carissa since 2014, and since then she’s given birth to her second child, so it’ll be interesting to see how her life has developed since then.

This has been such a fascinating journey so far. Some people’s lives have changed dramatically, while others appear to be exactly the same. In the midst of these experiences I find myself craving that feeling of home, which most of my friends have successfully established. But the itch to roam again was undeniable last year, so I need to keep faith that this journey is leading me somewhere, even if it’s just back to where I started.