27 Aug The Things we Take for Granted
Unlike some travellers, I didn’t despise my life before we hit the road. I didn’t have a job I especially hated or live in a place I found dull. In fact, there were many elements of my old life that I absolutely loved; the people, my routines and living in what I still consider to be the best city in the world: London. So, although I had an almost all-consuming, obsessive desire to travel, those last few weeks before we left the UK and all the packing, organising and saying endless goodbyes were pretty difficult for me. As is well documented on this blog, closing the door firmly on my old life – in particular the part where I left London – was pretty painful. Through that transitional period though I kept telling myself that the sadness of leaving would magically evaporate the moment we boarded that plane to New Zealand, but in many ways, I was wrong.
I write this on the day that my parents flew back to London after their two-week visit in Thailand. The goodbyes were worse today than they were when I left home six months ago because I don’t know when exactly I’ll see them next; it could be another year before I set foot in England again. After my parents sped off in a taxi to the airport I was left on my own in a hotel room in Bangkok, awaiting Andrew’s return from his trip down south with his sisters. I felt utterly miserable and sat on the bed, wondering why I was putting myself through the pain and loneliness of this nomadic lifestyle.
I know though that this sadness and these doubts will, and already are, fading to bearable proportions; reducing to a background ache which is usually eclipsed by the extraordinary every day joys and tribulations long-term travel brings. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still have times when I miss people intensely or crave London with a passion; there are times when I long to sit in a pub along the Southbank with friends or stroll through Dulwich Park; there are some days (almost every day, actually) when I’d sell my soul for a real piece of mature cheddar cheese or a night on the sofa in front of Eastenders.
Throughout these first few months of being on the road, however, I’ve learnt to accept that this missing will always be a part of what travel is for me, I can’t switch it off – but that’s ok, even if it sometimes feels like every other traveller sails effortlessly through their adventures without giving home a backward glance. It’s ok because missing home reminds me how fortunate we are to be doing this trip and it has taught both Andrew and I just how great our lives back in London were and how much we took for granted on a daily basis.
When we hit Jakarta a few months ago I started making a list of the things both Andrew and I most miss from home; some trivial, some profound, but all of which we routinely took for granted – here’s the list:
- People – although I think Andrew and I are better than many couples at being together constantly we still miss the company of our family and friends often, even though we saw some of them only rarely. Mostly I miss just being able to just randomly pick up the phone and call my mum or arrange to meet a friend for a beer after work at the last minute. Now we rely on skype, facebook, the blog and emails to keep in touch; we have to factor in time differences and sketchy internet connections – it’s just not the same. We are lucky that some of our family and friends are able to come and visit us while we’re on the road though which not only gives us a chance to catch up properly but also gives people a taste of what our new travelling lifestyle is really like.
- Our bed and sofa – I know it sounds trivial but sleeping in different beds all the time can be pretty exhausting and it doesn’t help that many of them, especially in Asia, are particularly hard and uncomfortable. There are times when I literally dream of sleeping in our old bed back in London, and then I wake up on some rock-like pillow covered with extremely questionably-clean sheets wrapped around me and despair.
- Being able to cook for ourselves – you might think eating out every day of the week for breakfast, lunch and dinner sounds appealing but it gets old, fast, especially if you’re a fussy eater like me with an embarrassingly small list of foods you can eat and enjoy. I crave being able to cook my own meals exactly the way I like them. While we were able to cook our own food in hostels around New Zealand and Australia, since we’ve hit Asia there’s no chance of that – we eat out every meal, even if it’s just crisps from the seven-eleven. What I wouldn’t give to be able to cook a proper roast dinner, or simply grill some cheese on toast.
- Cleanliness – since we’ve been travelling in Asia I’ve realised just how clean and well organised the UK actually is. After regularly walking past stinking piles of rubbish and almost retching from disgusting street smells I understand how amazing it is to have regular rubbish collection services, people to sweep the streets and food safety standards back home in the UK. I remember how horrified I was at spotting my first cockroach in our bathroom in Indonesia; four months of Asia-travel later and I barely flinch when I spot one – it’s a miracle that we’re not constantly suffering from food poisoning.
- A routine – our restrictive work routines were one of the things we couldn’t wait to say goodbye to when we left the UK but strangely, a routine is what we frequently crave. Most of the time travelling is the very definition of change; you’re constantly in new places surrounded by new people which is part of the fun, wonder and addiction of travel. However, there are plenty of times, usually when we’ve been covering a lot of ground in a short space of time, when we just want to stop, put our bags down, stay in the same room for more than a few nights at a time and establish a little daily routine. I hope that our hunger for routine will be sated when we rent an apartment in Chiang Mai for a few weeks.
- Our favourite foods – we talk about the foods we miss practically every day. While Andrew quite enjoys Asian food I can’t take rice for more than a couple of nights in a row and miss my favourite foods from home so much it makes my mouth water just to think of them. Most days I’d do anything for proper wholemeal bread instead of the white sugary Asian stuff; I crave wholemeal pasta meals, specifically macaroni cheese, which I used to eat two or three times a week as well as roast dinners, cheese sandwiches, baked potatoes with cheese – are you noticing a theme here? Yes, my most-missed food from home is definitely cheese; not the plastic processed slices you get in Asia but really strong mature blocks of cheddar. I was in heaven when we finally found a small and extremely expensive block of it in a supermarket in Malaysia. So far the only blessing is that I’ve managed to keep a good supply of marmite on me at all times – which makes the disgusting white, sugar-bread almost bearable.
- The news – back home one of the first things I used to do every day was read the news; I’d have the Guardian up on a tab at work all day to monitor big news stories and I’d tune into the six o’clock news while making dinner in the evenings. Now, I’m lucky if I can list any of the key world news stories; I feel totally out of touch and normally have no idea what day of the week it is, let alone what’s going on in the news. I often simply don’t have time or reliable enough internet to keep up-to-date – this is something I need to change.
- Andrew’s bike – Andrew misses his bike as much as I miss reading the news; riding his bike used to be a nearly-daily part of his routine. Although we’ve had a few goes at renting bikes on the road, nothing compares to whizzing along on Andrew’s very own steed through congested London traffic!
- London – speaking of London, my love for this city hasn’t waned at all since we left in March; if anything, it’s grown. The only city we’ve been to so far on this trip that comes close to matching how I feel about London is Melbourne. I’ve written before about why I love London so much and it doesn’t really surprise me that this hasn’t changed. However, I am surprised that Andrew’s affection for the city has grown enormously since we left. While he used to be fairly ambivalent towards my favourite city, being away for a few months has made Andrew appreciate just how awesome this bustling metropolis really is.
- Creature comforts – while on the road things that seemed so basic back home that they barely registered with us have become luxuries; things such as hot water, soft pillows, drinking water straight from a tap and being able to wash and dry our own clothes.
- Weather – I’m going to conform to British stereotype here and moan about the weather. Yes, non-stop sunshine and tropical temperatures sound nice in theory but to us pale Brits used to huddling in coats for six months of the year it can actually be pretty exhausting and difficult to handle at times. So, on days when the sun does refuse to come out we often breathe a sigh of relief. I do think we are slowly adapting to the humidity and fierce heat though – well, we’ve stopped ducking into shops every half an hour to cool ourselves down anyway. On the flip side, we’ve also experienced quite a bit of rain in Asia too – not just the dreary non-stop British drizzle either but pavement-pounding, skin-stinging downpours which may not last long but leave flooded streets and soaked travellers in their wake.
- Language – trying to get to grips with new languages and learning to communicate with people who don’t speak the same language as you is one of the more challenging, but rewarding parts of travel. Since Andrew is a language teacher, this aspect of travel is particularly interesting and stimulating for him but there are times when we would both love to be able to communicate quickly and competently with people without having to resort to hand gestures and hand-written phrases or place names.
- Knowing where we are – there really are days on the road when I wake up and for a moment, I can’t remember where I am or what I’m doing there. When we travel the days bleed into each other and we lose track of the date and sometimes the month entirely. After a while, feeling this disorientated gets exhausting and the only way to cure this affliction is to slow down.
What do you find you take for granted or most miss from home when you travel?