“Our dreams are the same, in the sleep we don’t get. I’ll remember your name; but mine, you’ll forget.”
It’s a few lines from a poem I wrote for an ex-lover of mine. I was right of course, she’d forget my name and forget me. I wouldn’t forget her name or her, in the sadness of life. As I tried to shake it off back in 2009, I left Bournemouth behind. Bournemouth in England is the town where I have spent most of my adult life, essentially it’s my adult home. My childhood home was Bangor, Northern Ireland. Snakes and ladders, swings and roundabouts. Bournemouth, Bangor, Bishkek. Anywhere that begins with letter “b” will do really.
Today, in March 2016, 7 years down the line, I sit here by a private beach at Peerless Sarovar Portico, Corbyn’s Cove near Port Blair, capital city of the Andaman Islands. Where exactly am I? The Andaman Islands are an Indian owned group of islands, off the coast of Myanmar/Bangladesh. They’re damn gorgeous. A special permit is required on arrival at Port Blair international airport, but an Indian visa will suffice to allow you to spend some time here. This is the most tranquil, lonely and relaxed place I have been so far on this journey. Nobody talks to me and I talk to nobody except the hotel staff and my trusty barman. And I love it like that for 2 days. And while fate has taken me here, it’s fitting that I now have time to reflect on my life and the journey I have been on. WiFi is so shocking so I’ve turned it off to write this article, and my book, offline.
Truth is, in 2009, I got scared and ran away from Bournemouth. Calendarally, it was 7 years ago now, it seems a lifetime ago. I ran away. I did what came easiest and most naturally to me – I went travelling. Travelling is easy for me. I find it easy. No arrogance with that statement – it’s the truth. I can backpack through India, Iran, El Salvador or Afghanistan and it’s a piece of piss for me. I love the buzz of it. The late night search for the only open restaurant in town, the horrendous visa applications, the fear of backpacking in a media-faked war zone, the adrenalin rush of feeding hyenas at dusk in another unknown town, being the only tourist in an unrecognised country, a cup of coffee for sunrise in Hong Kong, hiking by the Turkey to Iraq border. I love the thrill of it all. Travel is me to a tee. I love it. You’ll find me a heaven on a broken down bus in rural El Salvador, or a Josh Magennis header against Greece over an ice cold Harp Lager.
But hold on, here I am in a plush, 5 star resort basking in the sun, private beach, fruit juices and coffee/tea on tap. A bar for Happy Hour beers. A sinking sun. I have my own private room. This is pure bliss here in Andaman Islands. I’ve worked hard for this and I know it.
For the last three years I have been self employed as a professional travel blogger, itinerary planner, online reviewer, basically all the jobs on this list and more. It has been blissfully rewarding, most of the time it has been incredible and it’s me. It’s the job I suit. I love writing, I love travelling, I love story telling. I’m so glad I started my travel blog in 2007, and later started using it as a business (from 2012). But is all of this really that good? Happiness and health come first and second, always. I’ve stayed in over 500 hotels, hostels, guesthouses free of charge. I’ve been treated to free tours and excursions in over 40 countries now. I don’t have to pay for my backpacks, my tents, sleeping bags anymore. I’ve had discounted flights, free buses, been paid to review venues and my e-mail box controls my incomings now. I’m a business backpacker on the brain.
“Sink is full of fishes, she got dirty dishes on the brain” – Noel Gallagher.
But forget all that cool stuff, all this “dream life”, “digital nomadery”, “location independent”, “freedom to roam”, forget it. Within me, deep down there is melancholia. There is a sadness.
In 2008 – 2009, after two sharp short relationships with Helen (English) and Noemi (Hungarian) I decided to flee and headed to Taiwan, then it was Australia, then it was Uruguay, then it was Suriname and so on. I didn’t stop the journey. 112 countries joined the bandwagon, a further 19 disputed states got on board too. I kept running away, travel was a cover up for the sadness. But somehow amongst all that, the smiles and the memories on those photos are all genuine. I was really happy. I made myself happy by travelling. It was all forced. I can do it all again, I can backpack forever and always be happy, but mostly as a cover up. When I stop backpacking, the sadness always returns. It’s because I have time to dwell. We can actually control our feelings a lot of the time.
“Happiness lies in your own hands” – Madonna Ciccone.
I met Panny Yu in Antarctica in 2010. Panny and I were together from 2010 – 2015 and we travelled to over 40 countries together, over 10 times we backpacked in China together, we saw each other in all seven continents (if you can count Mexico as North America). She visited Northern Ireland twice and she was there for my 100th country celebration in March 2015. She was the diamond. The number one girl I had met and all before had been forgotten, we were engaged, we spent endless days, weeks, months and years together. I returned to Hong Kong in 2015 for a few months to work out my plans, but I wasn’t settled there. After a few months living with Panny again, I was off on my travels again. Why? Because I wanted to. I backpacked through Bangladesh on route to watch Northern Ireland play football in the Faroe Islands. I wanted to do that. Panny didn’t. And the journey continued. I’m now in Port Blair, India and it seems time to call it quits on this backpacking journey.
“We [Panny and I] let love get lost in anger; chasing yesterday” – Noel Gallagher.
Panny loves it in Hong Kong. I spent the best part of 4 years in and out of Hong Kong, working in an Irish pub, various primary schools and kindergartens and for Internations. I loved it in Hong Kong too, but I don’t want to stay there long term. There was a decision to make. It’s sad but it had to happen, Panny and I love each other, and probably always will. But we just couldn’t work things out. My life is topsy turvy. I’m all over the place. I wanted to watch AFC Bournemouth, I wanted to live in Hong Kong, I wanted to live in Kyrgyzstan, I wanted to watch Northern Ireland. The reality is, I can’t do all of that at the same time. I’ve been apart from Panny for almost 8 months now, I’ve travelled with friends during that time, I’ve travelled alone, I’ve travelled with people I only just met. Often I’ve chatted to other girls in my dorms wondering if they could ever fit the mould of a girl I dream of. Nobody will and nobody can. I’m too fussy. You need to be perfect and you need to understand me. You can’t date me, I became a monster.
So why stop backpacking? I’m going to stop backpacking to see how I can make myself happy for real. I want to find a happiness without backpacking as a cover up.
I arrived here in Port Blair with my backpack. So I am still backpacking. Today, tomorrow. Yesterday. But I’m staying in plush resorts a lot of my days not. Some people don’t like to call that backpacking anymore, as they seem to think of backpacking as being cheap. Truly, I am cheap. I’m a cheapskate, tight-assed, selfish budget backpacker. But I pushed myself above the levels others craved.
I will always be the cheapest backpacker you ever met, or one of them. At my least beautiful, I’ve spent about $8 US a day on average in India and that’s me splashing out on good Paneers and beers.
I’ll continue to write all my backpacking posts of course, I’ve enough material for the next 40 years to post once a day on here. I will continue to write loads of backpacking sights and tips from my extensive travel archive. I don’t need to prove myself to myself, or to you, or to anyone anymore. Come and join me and you’ll see how cheap I am. But that’s over. There’s no need for it anymore. I’m 36 at the end of this month.
I’ve so many cool things going on in my life right now. AFC Bournemouth are in the Premier League and I’m going to the Everton away match at the end of April. I just can’t wait until kick off! Northern Ireland are in the Euros and I’ll be with my Dad and two brothers out in France for it. Again, I can’t wait. That’s in June 2016. I’m in April backpacking with Lock In Lee next month – the crazy GRODIG trip. I’ve got three weeks coming up in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Business wise, this travel blog cracked the $5,000 US mark in monthly earnings twice in the last year. It was easy. So easy, I can’t be bothered any more. It’s no longer a challenge. Something else is:
That’s the challenge. That’s the real quiz.
“That’s the real quiz” – David Brent.
This is an odd reflection post today and I haven’t really given much away about anything, but as far as backpacking forever, that’s not going to happen. India has been cool but fate has intervened once again and I’m going with my instinct and my emotion as ever. I’ll keep following my passions and chasing down that rainbow that Noel Gallagher once spoke of.
“I can’t make head nor tail of passion, oh my love” – Richard Fairgrass.
I’m not sad writing this, I’m content. I’m going to dream something new up from July 2016 onwards. See you around.