The more that I explore this vast and mighty planet, the deeper I find myself rooted in the common ground of humanity. Each journey down a new path fuels my fourth chakra by time spent with those along the way.
I believe in acceptance. I believe that the things that divide us are issues based in fear and ignorance. As a child I was exposed to diversity with a side of apple pie. Romanticizing the unknown was what freed me from the gravity of suburbia. Compared to most parts of the U.S., New Jersey and New York have always offered a metropolitan mix of cultures, but many people never seized the opportunity to learn about their neighbors. We were all the parts of a well-oiled machine, disassembled and placed side-by-side on the table. Normalcy and comfort glazed over our blissful lack of awareness. Still, this fascination called to me, thirsting for exploration, knowledge, and connection.
Currently, I’m working onboard a cruise ship, sailing the seas for a second six month period of time. I first embarked early March 2016 as an American and left that fall a Global Citizen. Through those first six and a half months my family grew in size and diversity and offered me deeper connections to a world outside my own. There are roughly 1500 employees on this vessel and with only 58 of us being American, it was the first time I had ever truly been a minority. Suddenly I was living with people from almost every continent, social, economic, and religious background making our bubble like a floating UN. I have never seen a place where everything just worked.
Down time onboard is often spent communally in designated crew areas. Crew members shoot the breeze with others, rapidly evolving relationships from strangers to friends/lovers/family. These seemingly small experiences blessed me with a refreshed love for humanity all over again.
During my time here I have strengthened my ability to listen, which I believe is one of the most important qualities to possess. Fundamentally, we all want to be heard. When you give your undivided attention to another person you are not only fulfilling their social and emotional needs, you’re also gaining a broader perspective without even trying. By being a silent listener. I have strengthened my inner empath, stepping outside of myself and into the experience of the sharing soul. This ability is a completely golden opportunity in itself. Carrying that out into the world continues to help me meet people where they are, in the timeline of their own life experience. These magical abilities don’t even stop with the human race. Strong listeners and empaths are able to extend their influence out to all other aspects of the conscious world.
When you are not exposed to the world outside your front door, it isn’t always easy to figure out who you are. Through this experience and my travels since, I have become more deeply connected to my core identity. There is a certain confidence and fearlessness acquired by diversifying your circle. By challenging the limits of my comfort zone I have been able to really cultivate these qualities, trusting in my own ability to understand what I need to thrive, based on who I am. I was stifled by my safety net for so long that I seemingly changed completely to those who knew me before. In reality, all I had done was uncover layers of disguise and years of expectation from my true self. Shedding the extra skin was just as liberating as it was to travel across the world and back.
So here I am on my fourth month of contract number two, an evolving human who can confidently say that I am constantly falling in love with the human race. I continue to bond with as many people as possible, both onboard and on land, to expand my heart’s pallet. We bond over passions and art forms and we push past the small talk early on. We embrace similarities, respect differences, and let the armor fall to the ground. When I return home again I try to bring these moments with me allowing them to free me time and again from the gravity that once felt crushing. We all keep searching for our little piece of freedom but what we can easily forget is that freedom grows from an accepting heart. Open your arms to the world and the world opens its arms to you. We are points in the universe connected by invisible thread, a mighty collection of stellar lines creating the most beautiful constellations.
SAUDADE (saʊˈdɑːdə/) noun. A feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament.
In an ever-globalized world, often it is oceans and seas (and perhaps now Brexit and the arrival of Donald Trump to the world political stage) that separate us from our loved ones. Having a French mother and an Algerian father, family gatherings were never a spontaneous affair: our school holidays were always spent in France, whilst a legal blip (I have my mother’s and not my father’s last name) and the continuing civil war in the country meant that I was only able to meet my Algerian family for the first time at the age of 22. This included my grandmother.
For me, like many young people huddled under the banner of ‘Third Culture Kids’, my Algerian family had been the pixelated faces that I saw over Skype calls. As a teenager I was reticent to speak to these fast-moving images, mainly because I had nothing to say. What relationship can you have with strangers that so happen to be your relatives?
In November 2016, I was finally able to go to Algerian capital Algiers and see where my father had grown up. I was welcomed into the happy cacophony of a family house where my 9 aunts and uncles and 40 cousins would pass through every week. But more importantly, I was able to experience for myself the family roots whose strength and vitality I hadn’t felt up until this journey. It was as if upon meeting my family that I did not have around me when growing up, that I had discovered a part of myself. I had become aware of a part of me that in fact had always been there.
I was soon initiated into one of the richest parts of Algerian culture, the food. Mhadjeb, a rolled pancake with a spicy tomato filling, is a staple of Algerian cuisine and one that my aunts continue to make by hand. Its preparation and the family’s recipe have been passed down the generations, though Fatiha, pictured below, repeatedly reminds me that each sister has their own way of making them. As a quick snack or part of a wedding banquet, Mhadjeb always feature on the Algerian dinner table.
However meeting your family for the first time is no walk in the park: I had for a long time carried around the heavy burden of expectation that I thought my family would have of me. Whilst I was welcomed with open arms, feeling the warmth of an unconditional love that only now could be physically expressed, it soon became apparent that I had grown up in a culture very different from that of Algeria. I was asked all the time ‘What are your job prospects?’ and anxiously by my grandmother ‘Have you found a kind Muslim boy to be your husband?’. My cousins mirrored my own unease when I asked them ‘What are you passionate about?’ or ‘Why did you choose to study medicine?’.
But I come away from this trip understanding that such differences are not barriers to shun or to be fearful of, they are to be celebrated for adding richness to my complex family tapestry. On our penultimate day, we had a picnic on the Promenade des Sablettes esplanade in downtown Algiers to celebrate my grandmother’s 88th birthday. Passersby stopped, as we sang Happy Birthday in Arabic, French, and English.
“In Ecuador, poor spelling is fought with red spray sword”
Quitos’s nights can be really cold, at almost 3000 metres above sea level… but not cold enough to stop Agents X and Punto Final on their special crusade: correcting the graffiti misspellings that decorate Ecuador’s capital.
‘¿Para que, por qué, mi amor?
Por ti. Por mí. lo siento.’
‘For what and why my love?
For you. For me. I’m sorry.’
“I used to pass in front of that graffiti phrase quite often… It looked like a love declaration, but I couldn’t stand that there were so many misspellings in it, 10-12, maybe! I just felt I had to highlight that, it was so hilarious.” Punto Final remembers laughing. That famous graffiti used to stand on a virginal white wall in Lugo’s alley, a narrow street in the bohemian neighbourhood of La Floresta.
It was his first correction. With a friend, they grabbed some red spray, an old pizza box, a cutter, and they corrected the theatrical mix of grammatical horrors, adding commas, accents, question marks, as a teacher would do with his students’ essay. The anonymous zorros signed themselves as “Acción Ortografíca Quito” (Orthographic Action Quito).
The group started the “correctional operation” in late 2014, searching for the misspelt graffiti around Quito, Ecuador’s capital. By night, away from police eyes and always protecting their identity, (“We want to share the cause, not be the protagonists”), they started to fight the bad grammar armed with the dreaded red spray.
Graffiti is by its definition a vandalistic and anarchic act – it’s a resistance, a fight against the rules and order of our society, the correcting agent explains.
“You have to be completely crazy, in some way fascist, and obsessive, to decide to go and correct a misspelt graffiti: it’s like wanting to put order into the mess, into the anarchy, into the vandalism. For me that makes it just so funny and ironic”, Final says.
But then, something none of them expected happened. Someone who was walking down that little one-way road, amused by the misspellings’ corrections, decided to take a picture of the graffiti, to tweet it and to share it with a friend living abroad. So, a funny but educational activity turned into a veritable movement going viral on the Internet.
“Brazilian BBC wrote an article about us, then it was BBC Mundo: I was stupefied, I just love the BBC so much!”, tells Punto Final. Local and international journalists started to seek them between the Andean capital roads, while homologues groups spread out in different countries. “They wrote us from Brazil, Argentina, Spain; people from Colombia want us to go correct their graffiti misspellings. If they pay us a ticket we go!”
But fixing all Quito’s misspelt graffiti is not a simple labour. Even if the “situation” is under control in the far north of the city, in barrios such as la Guangüiltagua, Floresta, Avenida America, much more contaminated public space needs to be tidied up. Acción Ortográfica hasn’t considered giving up because people thank them, considering what they do as a campaign, an act that can help people think more about how to communicate. Especially in graffiti.
“We happily realised that the messages are now better written, even if we know that some grafiteros hate us for what we do; but this makes it even funnier because making them angry wasn’t our purpose at all”, accepts Punto Final.
Now that the group is well known in the city, a lot of people ask Acción Ortográfica to help them with the Misspelling Purge. “We just got two beautiful new interns in our ranks; they want to be called Ninjas”, jokes Punto Final.
Even if in some unintentional way, Acción Ortografíca Quito reminds people how important a good grammar and syntaxes are. Their message inspired a graffiti artist to paint its tags (the graffiti writing sometimes used as a signature) on white walls using Times New Romans fonts.
The antiheroes, the anarchists that put order on the mess, won the respect and sympathy of more than one. For example, Susana Puente, the 75 years old owner of the wall that was first graffiti modified by the agents, decided to keep the correction because she found it funny and she is now famous among her friends for that. Acción Ortografica also brought glory to a small village in California, where lives the grandmother of Final’s roommate. She just got crazy when asking his grandchild if he had an idea about whom “these people who correct graffitis in Quito” were, she got a “he’s my roommate” as an answer. Local newspaper probably had content for weeks to write about.
In Quito, sunsets arrive early, and the shadows allow Acción Ortográfica agents leave for their job. When I ask Punto Final which is the most difficult graffiti he found on his paths, he smiles before answering.
“It said: << god is movement… >>. And we decided not to correct it. In our society, God with a capital letter refers to the Catholic god. We think instead, the author wanted all the people reading his phrase to identify, no matters their beliefs. And we decided not to correct it” Final remembers, laughing with a red spray can in his hand.
Written by Sara Andreini, edited by Bethany Naylor
I often forget I ever went to Alabama. I fell asleep in Chatanooga, Tennessee, and woke up to palm trees and high-rise apartment blocks half a day later. Themed bars with broken neon lights and cheap wire fences called out to Florida, ten minutes down the highway, and the whole placed seethed with a white-trash nostalgia that up until that point I had believed only existed on TV.
Welcome, my host chuckled, to the Redneck Riviera.
Redneck, sure. I couldn’t even call the place a town; it felt like several highway rest stops had been folded in on one another, littered with a couple of souvenir mega-stores and dropped on the unsuspecting coastline tucked away at the very bottom of Alabama. But Riviera? It transpired that behind some of the biggest buildings I have ever seen – tall, wide, and adorned with thousands of identical balconies – was an enormous golden beach and an endless horizon. The buildings acted as a frontline, the only thing stopping fast-food chains and strip malls absorbing the tranquil beauty of the shoreline and the infinite ocean.
It was in this strange nowhere-place, so quintessentially American and yet bafflingly foreign to me, that I spent my first thanksgiving, on the 27th floor of one of the enormous, identical buildings. I was amazed to see how much food could be crammed into one apartment – and in one person’s mouth for that matter (mine). I learned that there are people in America who consider a bowl of candy corn an appropriate starter, that it is mandatory to make three times as much food as necessary and attempt to eat it all anyway, and that pumpkin pie is cold. This last realisation both disturbed and disappointed me and I chose to stick with chocolate chip cookies and the remains of my multi-coloured entrée.
I stuffed myself on thanksgiving but ate very little the rest of the time. I felt too awkward to ask my hosts for food or to help myself to their snacks, so I subsided on copious amounts of coffee and avoided leaving my bed as much as possible. I was staying with the family of a friend, family which she herself barely knew and who expected very little of our company. So in our beds, we remained. They believed we were doing work, as we had stressed just how rapidly finals were approaching and just how many essays we had to complete for the following week. To no one’s surprise, least of all our own, our work remained untouched for the majority of the trip. We found the place unsettling and fidgeted restlessly in our yellow-wallpapered rooms wondering if we were going crazy. ‘It’s like The Yellow Wallpaper,’ we decided. ‘Something about this room is driving us nuts.’ It occurs to me now that any room would probably drive you nuts if you didn’t leave it for three days expect to walk the ten feet to the coffee machine, but when you are 27 floors from the nearest exit, leaving does not necessarily feel like an appealing option.
One night, overcome with cabin fever and probably overdosing on caffeine, I had finally had enough of the yellow room to motivate myself to leave it. I announced that I was taking my work to the balcony, and disappeared behind the huge living room curtains into the night. The essay lay forgotten, as ever, on the table behind me as I breathed in huge gulps of fresh air and leant forward into the empty sky.
My mind had gone stagnant in the yellow room, but as I stared out to sea, my thoughts began to shake free, tumbling out one after the other after the other. I wanted to go home, home-home, England-home, Queen’s English and hot tea and rude strangers home. I wanted to float out across the horizon, to tread the invisible line between surging coal-dark sea and soaring coal-dark sky. I wanted to throw my laptop over the balcony and forget about such thing as finals and classes and the futility of writing an essay on a topic I didn’t believe in or even understand. I tried to imagine America. I tried to grasp the idea that I was in America, tried to picture the 4,000 miles which stretched between me and almost everyone I had ever known until four months ago. I pictured my mind drifting outside of me and floating up into the sky, watching me recede to a dot on the balcony, watching the building recede to a dot, watching the whole of Alabama, America, Earth, recede to nothing but a dot in the impossible vastness of the universe and time. With a sudden slip, I fell. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, back into myself. Standing on the Balcony. Staring out to sea. In America and unsure what that meant, if it meant anything at all.
When you travel alone, you travel light. The only expectations you have to worry about are your own. The only plans and desires you must navigate are your own. The only arms wrapped around you when you lie down to sleep at night are your own. (For the most part, hey?)
When you travel as a couple, things get both more and less complicated. You have someone to split cab fare and hotel rooms with. You have someone to engage with in conversations about everything and nothing. If you’re lucky (like I am), you’re travelling with someone who has all the earmarks of a best friend.
Last year I undertook my first big, solo, overseas trip to India. I spent five months there, more or less on my own. I made friends during my travels, of course, and spent time on the road with them. But at the end of the day where I spent the night, where I went next, were my choices—and mine alone—to make.
I ended up in Arambol Beach, Goa, for Christmas. It was the perfect place to be, I think, for so many reasons. Being a Portuguese settlement, the catholic influence there is relatively strong. That fact didn’t quite sink in until I turned down an alley one day and found myself stumbling upon a huge, glittering nativity scene built by children out of found objects (what some people might call trash).
On Christmas Eve I was invited to a live show with a few bands I’d never heard of, at a sweet venue called Twice in Nature. If you’re ever in Arambol, search it out. Great food, perfect ambience. I wasn’t into the first act that night, so I took off for a while in search of food, letting the streets of Arambol guide me, as I had so many times before. I finally landed sat my favorite egg sandwich place and found myself having some of the most delicious (and spiciest!) fish, cooked up by the owner for a couple of his friends for the occasion.
After dinner, I went back to Twice just in time to see Anna RF start their set. When I decided to go to the show, I had no idea I would leave that night with a new favourite set of musicians. I went right up to the stage while they played, dancing my heart out. Several power outages and turns of events later, I found myself onstage, in the dark, surrounded by the band, going absolutely mad with my body. When the power finally came back on, I was breathless and elated and drunk on magic.
This Christmas was a radically different experience. First, I am in Peru, which is NOT India. Second, I am traveling with my partner, which shifts dynamics dramatically.
We spent Christmas Eve in the beautiful, white stone city of Arequipa. A forty foot tall Christmas tree graced the Plaza de Armas, off to one side of the enormous cathedral that dominated the square. Nearly every store—including pharmacies and gas stations—sold panettone, a sort of fruitcake like baked good oddly popular in Peru. Advertisements saying one thing or another about Navidad dotted the city.
After wandering through the city and indulging in a really good dinner at a Mexican restaurant, we headed back to the hotel in order to watch Nightmare Before Christmas. It has been my tradition, for well over a decade, to watch this movie every Christmas Eve. When we discovered our stolen copy was in German, we abandoned the idea. For a second, I wondered why I wasn’t struck with the loss of it. Then I remembered—2015 broke my tradition, and I hadn’t even noticed until a whole year later.
I can’t remember what movie we settled on, but I do remember falling asleep pretty fast. Then, at midnight, loud booms interrupted my sleep. I came awake with that feeling you get as a kid on Christmas morning: all of the sudden awake, and anticipatory. Steven moved next to me, and together we came up on our knees to peer out the window above our bed.
Fireworks. Everywhere. From the farthest edges of the city to the street behind our house, people were setting off fireworks. Not just bottle rockets and sparklers, though, These were full-on, probably illegal in the United States, light up the sky fireworks. While we could only see a small slice of thecity from our window, it was still magic.
I guess that’s what it comes down to, for me. My Christmas in India was about as different from my Christmas in Peru as it could have been. Solo versus coupled. (Largely) Hindu versus Catholic. Beach town versus desert city. Raucous versus chill. The thing they have in common, though, is magic. In India, I was free to make whatever choices I wanted, whenever I wanted. I was not free, however, to take the hand of someone I love and enjoy those choices together.
I’m not saying one is better, or worse. I tend not to believe in distinctions like that, especially when it comes to personal experiences. They both had beauty, in their ways, and pain, in their ways.
That first morning, light burst through at a time my body told me it should fade. Thoughts scattered across my eyes, as inconsistent as the light that touched them.
We lay intertwined and marvelled at the concept of flying. Home felt close, connected by only a days travel. Familiarity lingered between us as we repeated the comforting words our families had left us with, comfortable vowels and nouns are reshaped and reused. Wrapped in the sheets of our new home.
Yet at the end of our embrace, the connection drifted. Familiar smells were replaced and goodbye hugs washed away. Soon we were wrapped up, completing the backdrop of our new surroundings. Familiar items we had brought with us became part of the now and the new. A bracelet my Mum had given me before we left clung duly to its previous context. My carry on, so carefully organised for the flight now contained a mixture of biscuit crumbs and books.
It was scary and yet exciting to step forward into our present. To accept the distance between us and everything we knew. To not cling so violently to the memories of home. To not hope so avidly to see those we missed the most.
We embraced the drift.
Home became the foreign land. It held the tang of excitement, just as New Zealand had before we arrived. Nostalgia twisted memories into perfection. Travel no longer felt like travel. The easy rhythm of our new country felt like home. Being far, was what we had become accustomed to and although at times it stung, overtime the ache dulled. Still, when my guard dropped, sharp memories hit hard like a wave, stopping me, recalling me to home. I learnt to let them slip and glide away. Not cling to them and demand they stay, like the mad king and the sea.
As time drifted past, friendships blossomed and opportunities arose. I took up offers to explore and to settle. Festivals and future plans in our new home. But as plans stretched on ahead of me, their distance took me by surprise. “Will you be here next year?” New friends chirped and I choked. I’d reply with a quiet “no” and a vague promise that I might return someday. Just as I settled it was time to start leaving again. I hadn’t planned to enjoy myself this much, to love people this much. We’d planned to arrive, explore and flow on. Collecting experiences, not pain.
This is where the great contradiction in travel arises. To explore is to stretch yourself thin, building connections and memories everywhere you go. There is always somewhere not here that beckons. There is always the pang of what lies behind and the enthralling excitement of what is to come.
To lurch forward and to reach back. Endlessly longing, in one direction or another.
Written by Charlotte Greenstock, edited by Bethany Naylor
Sitting down in a small independent coffee shop in Fayetteville North Carolina, the sun has been steadily growing stronger since my coach from Atlanta, Georgia, arrived at 6:30am, till at 8:30am it is already burning the back of my neck. This is the first chance I’ve really had to write for a few weeks, and there’s something I have to get off my chest.
Since being invited to America last summer and booking my flights in November for the best deal, I had patiently been awaiting my adventure with no small amount of trepidation. In all honesty, I had never really thought about going to the States at all, or at least it wasn’t on the top of my list. However, when a couple of very good friends I made whilst working as an au pair in Rome invited me out, I suddenly couldn’t get it out of my head. Originally the idea was to spend the summer up in Maine with one of the girls, where we could relax and pretend to be in Rome before travelling down to North Carolina to celebrate with the second friend at her wedding reception.
Within months those plans had changed, the wedding reception had been postponed and the first girl had accepted a position with Cityyear with Americorps and was due to be in San Antonio, Texas half-way through my journey. ‘Road trip?’ I said. ‘Road trip.’ She agreed. So the plan changed. A month in Maine, a week long road trip down to Texas with my friend and her wonderful mother, a week in Texas helping her to explore and settle into the new flat, then a three week journey by myself back up to New York City for my flight home.
So I’d like to say some thank yous. Firstly, and probably most importantly to the Flanagan family. In the time I spent with them they treated me like a family member, making me feel absolutely at home and welcome in the time I spent with them. They taught me about American history and current politics and culture, drove me hours to show me amazing sites such as Salem, which had been a dream of mine since I was a child, and Boston, where I was surprisingly not hated automatically for being from the wrong side of the pond. They introduced me to their friends and family, who it seemed were just as happy to meet me as I was to meet them finally, after having heard so much about them, although looking back that may just have been typical American hospitality. This family provided so much for me and treated me so well that I will be grateful forever, and never forget my time there.
Secondly, a word of thanks to the strangers. Thank you to the bartender in Boston who poured me a large glass of free whiskey after I looked upset when he asked me what I thought about Brexit. Thank you to the Flanagan’s family members who hosted us on our trip down, I learnt so much from you and you showed me such kindness. Thank you to the Turkish man in San Antonio, who teared up and thanked me heavily when I returned to his store to ask him if his family was okay the day after the coup in Turkey started. Thank you to the bus driver in New Orleans who refused to let me leave the bus station until he had confirmed that I knew exactly how to get to my hostel and that it wasn’t too far. Thank you to the Jack Black lookalike from New York City who took me out that next night, got me drunk for free and regaled me with stories about his travels in south and Central America. Thank you to the couple from Kansas who invited me out with them and took me to see one of the coolest blues bands I’ve ever heard. Thank you to the Brit/ Aussie who got drank hurricanes with me on my last day and talked to me about such deep things? Thank you to my couchsurfing host in Atlanta who provided me with a double bed and silk sheets and explored the city with me, I had an amazing time with you.
Thirdly, a word of forward thanks, to the friend hosting me here in North Carolina, despite having a busy household with a beautiful Siberian Husky and a new puppy. Thank you to the family friends in Virginia who have been looking after my backpack for a month to save my poor shoulders, and who will be putting me up for a few days next week. Thank you to the couchsurfing host in New York City who is just as excited as I am to show me the city and see it from a strangers eye
Finally, thank you to the family and friends I have back home, who have provided me with the life skills and character to be able to get through the difficulties of travelling. It really is rough sometimes. Sometimes you are there, sitting in a hostel, craving a conversation with someone who really knows you, a hug from someone who feels safe, a coffee with an old friend. You guys have given me the foundations, now I’m learning to build for myself.
Written by Bethany Naylor
Read about my final arrival in New York City here!
Your eyes meet over the box of brie cheese and discarded baguette crust between you. The slowly descending sun creates a rough mirror upon the powerful water below, throwing golden reflections bouncing across the surface. Two sets of footprints mark a path up the rippling sands of the dune where you have spent the last few hours eating good food and butchering both the Greek and the German languages. To your direct left up the beach, you can see a lighthouse. Tall, red, white, and proud, it marks the head of the windswept coastline beyond which you can see a haze which is the mainland of Portugal, a solemn reminder of the ticking clock.
As he leans in to hear you better above the wind, you see a line of silver in his hair and remember the differences between you. Culture, age, and language, even your basic interests do not align. If you were at home, this guy would be a no-go. Beautiful, yet not the kind of guy you touch if you don’t want to get hurt. Then you catch yourself breathing in, staring, and you have a decision to make.
You look around the deserted island and feel a sharp pang of envy for the solitary fisherman who remains. What a simple life that must be. You notice your hand moving towards the wine bottle half buried in the sand as he asks you what you’re doing for that dinner that night. At some point, you realise he’s not asking you personally what you’re planning on eating but expects that this day would carry on until it was time to part ways with a whispered goodnight. He sees it as a team plan and you realise that despite travelling alone to avoid that, you don’t mind at all.
Do you let yourself fall whilst still trying so hard to get over someone else? Do you open up to this dark haired beauty who’s side you had not left for three days? Or maybe you end it now, before it’s too late. Maybe you go back to Faro on the last evening boat, and watch the sun’s vibrant colours until it descends too far and you are left to stumble in the darkness hand in hand to your hostel.
That night as you are cooking, he’ll try to help but in the end, will just make sure your wine glass filled at all times and talk with the other guests. When the couple from America ask if you are together, don’t laugh awkwardly. If a kindly elderly gentleman from France asks if you are in love as you carry out more glasses onto the terrace, just smile. Enjoy it. You know it’s not real. It was never going to be real, but it can still be beautiful. In bed, you’ll promise yourself that you’ll forget him when you leave and that you know it’s nothing. You can’t even hold real conversations because of the language barrier, you have nothing in common, what are you doing?
When he leaves, you walk him to the coach station. He promises to message you and you promise not to reply. You didn’t exchange numbers, and he doesn’t have internet. It will be easy to forget. You kiss him on the cheek and turn around to walk away just as you see his coach pull in. You walk without looking back and congratulate yourself for that on the way back to the hostel.
It surprises you somewhat the next morning when you find yourself back in the same place, ticket in hand. It surprises you more when he’s there walking towards you, knowing as he did that you’d be on the first bus in the morning.
In the end, it doesn’t work. He tries to buy you flights to see him and you’re too proud. You message him for a coffee when you pass through his home-town later that month but he’s too busy. You meet someone else, and he meets someone else. However, that doesn’t matter, none of that matters. That was never the point. Is it not just enough to share a beautiful experience in a foreign land? Why do we have to hold on to these insignificant relationships? When you travel you are able to be whoever you want to be. You are probably not the same person as that girl who stuck her tongue out at the show that night, and he is probably not the same person as the care-free and relaxed kid you hung out with that week. You are both playing a part, and whatever part that is it’s important to remember who you are and what’s important to you.
My biggest piece of advice in terms of love on the road is this. Let it be beautiful, let it have no boundaries and let it open your heart and mind to new people and experiences. Be spontaneous, go on adventures and have moonlit walks on the beach. Have as much fun as you want, but do not let it be real. Learn and grow from it, but never make yourself have to get on a flight home two days before Christmas with an aching chest.
One of the most common question that those of us with tattoos are asked is -‘Why did you do it?’ Here’s why I did it.
As anyone who travels frequently, either on soul-searching adventures or daily commutes will know, music is the food of the road. How else can you block out the screaming baby behind you, the arguing family on the metro or even the unwanted noise from the bed two feet away? Two hours into my second twelve-hour bus journey in two days, with no phone, no music, and no more books, I began to ponder this question. For the next couple of hours until daylight departed I rambled on in a newly acquired notebook about the subject. Now let me tell you how music is a life saver.
Firstly, finding someone with a shared enthusiasm for your music is one of the quickest ways to form an intimate bond with a stranger. You can never underestimate the importance of this. When you consider your friends at home, there’s a high likelihood that at least some of you have similar tastes in music. The same happens at a gig, you instantly become best friends forever with the people around you due to the combination of good music and alcohol, which is also the atmosphere of a good hostel. There really is no difference travelling.
To give an example, I doubt I will ever forget the afternoon I spent driving through the Tuscan Mountains with my couch-surfing host, both singing out hearts out to Gong, a band I had no idea anyone except me and my Dad still listened to. This led to wine filled evening singing and playing Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Guns n’ Roses. (We couldn’t keep up with Gong.) Another one of my best memories from travelling took place in the summer I spent working in Sevilla with my best friend. Ten minutes of conversation led to a six-hour dancing, singing, andguitar night, on the riverside of Triana, which only came to an end when the increasing morning heat reminded us of a flight to catch back home.
P.S The band are called Triana Paraso Fiscales and are getting quite popular. Perhaps I should have accepted that 4am marriage proposal from the cute guitarist
P.P.S Alejandro if you’re reading this, I never forgot you, and as I no longer have EU citizenship…. hit me up.
Secondly, I grew up with music. To this day, my favourite bands are still the ones my parents introduced me to. I remember driving through the welsh countryside standing on the back seats, my brothers and my heads sticking out of the open roof of the 2CV watching the convoy of those beautiful but terrible cars stretch out in front of us. ‘Knocking on Heavens Door’ was playing I think, but maybe I made that up, I have been known to have an overactive imagination. After abandoning violin because neither my parents nor I had the patience to put up with the screeching until I got better, I began to play clarinet with the promise that if I got on with it I’d be allowed to learn the saxophone, like my hero Lisa Simpson. (I’ve also tried Veganism, Buddhism and being better than my brother too but it didn’t really work out.) Throughout school, I played in three bands and two choirs, and as soon as I had a job saw live music as often as I could, probably contributing towards my minor case of tinnitus these days. When my saxophone needed to be fixed during my A levels whilst I working towards a still unachieved grade 8, I lost a big part of myself and didn’t really realise for at least a year. It was actually my Grandparents who encouraged me to get back into music in the last year, and I’ll always be grateful to them for that, especially my Grandad, who very recently passed away. He was probably my biggest inspiration musically growing up, always singing and encouraging all his grandkids to practise their instruments. Even a few months ago I remember playing my new saxophone to him over skype, and how proud he looked.
Thirdly, music is really, really cool. In much the same way as taste and smell, important songs, small melodies or even a certain key change can fire us back into the past, as we remember the first time we heard that song on a night out, or when we first kissed our partner to that song so long ago. Every time I listen to the Mary-Anne and the Grave Diggers album by Regina Spektor I am transported to Sri Lanka, staring with excitement and disbelief out of the window as my brother’s head annoyingly hits my shoulder every five minutes as he drops off to sleep for the fiftieth time. I can see the colours, smell the trees and feel the shaking of the bus. Bebe’s ‘Siete Horas’ takes me to Rosas Spain, my first real experience of freedom, when my friend and I realised how much it annoyed another friend so decided to play it as much as possible. When I hear that song I develop a slight hangover. Rudimental’s ‘Feel the Love’ reminds me of my best friend and every great weekend we had over the years in London, pre-drinking and wondering aloud if we’d get served that night. Anything from the Kill Bill soundtrack or Pink Floyd ‘The Wall’ instantly reminds me driving to school with my Dad, whilst Coldplay’s ‘X and Y’ album reminds me of my mum working in her studio and ‘Wires’ by Athlete reminds me of the months after my brother was born fourteen weeks premature.
I will never be able to listen to ‘St Christopher is coming home’ by Frank Turner without remembering that evening in Rome when I realised how much I missed all my old friends. Being on the road a lot is really tough. You leave your friends, family and safety nets behind, any friends you make whilst on the move are usually (but not always) temporary ones, and it can be really hard to feel yourself when no one you’re with knows the real you. Music which reminds you of old and new friends is one of the best ways to feel in touch, even if you really aren’t.
So, as previously said, music is just tops. I love it. I need it. Having said all that, one of the worst things to happen to me travelling also involves music. Now, I’m the type of girl who can barely walk in a straight line without some kind of beat to keep moving, and the selection of music on my (already cracked and therefore worthless) IPod was a collection I’d spend 6 years building up. Through no-ones fault but my own inability to wake up even during an earthquake, one early dawn my IPod, camera and laptop were stolen out of our tent near Barcelona. Three months of travel photos and 6 years of music, gone. I hate to admit it, but that really threw me. Due to spend the next month walking through mountains and fields, how would I cope without music? Well as it turned out, I treated my (very understanding and very gentle with criticism) travel buddy to 40 days and 40 nights of Broadway renditions.
It wasn’t until three months later walking across a bridge in Rome, after a couple of months of disillusionment and confusion, when I realised what I had been missing. Singing along to ‘Jet Lag’ by Frank Turner and having the wobbly moment about travel and leaving people behind that the song induces, I suddenly felt a complete peace. I worked out that I had barely been listening to or doing any music, explaining my feelings of loss. I think it was maybe 2 days later that I got my first tattoo, a small heart on my wrist made up of a treble and bass clef. In doing this, I conquered three of my biggest fears.
1) Wrists. I’m not sure how normal this is, but I can’t stand wrists. I think they’re fragile points of weakness in otherwise well-designed bodies. Veins? Don’t get me started. They are definitely not something which should be visible, let alone raised! However, rather than beginning to shake and hyperventilate when the sweet talking Italian begin to gently sterilise my wrist, I pushed through, even watching him work the design into my skin. I only got lightheaded once, despite his clever little joke about this being his first tattoo as well when I told him it was mine.
2) Permanence. From Ice cream flavours and pen colours to degree choices and relationships, I think it’s fair to say I’m not the greatest at making decisions, although some people wouldperhaps phrase that with stronger words. More often than not I’m the one who still hasn’t decided when the waiter comes and ends up just ordering the first thing they see when they look down. Important decisions have been struggled over for months, only to inevitably be decided through a coin toss, game of darts or on my better days, a long page of pros and cons. To choose my degree, I applied for five completely different courses at five completely different Universities and then just went with a prettiest campus when the day came. (Spoiler Alert: I dropped off that course after a week.) Sometimes the decisions you make in a rush don’t ruin your life forever, hard to believe I know.
3) Losing my music. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever stop wanting to make music again, but it has happened before and I didn’t expect it then. This is a reminder that music makes me happier, stronger and more creative. It’s hard to describe the rush when an audience breaks into applause in a huge auditorium, whilst you are all standing there trying to recover from what just happened. In typing up this article I’ve realised that the worst thing that could ever happen to me would be sudden onset deafness.
Tattoos, although certainly becoming more popular these days especially amongst the younger crowd, are still not entirely accepted. When it’s pointed out to me that ‘tattoos need to mean something, nothing is so important to be marked permanently on my skin’, I tell them how music has made me who I am today and that without it I would be lost. Every day I have a reminder that life always looks better when you give it a soundtrack.
Written and edited by Beth Naylor
On the highest of mountains and the lowest of places