20 Years a Nomad

My mate Michelle, we met in India - 1995
This week marks 20 years since the eventful day I departed Melbourne’s International Airport with a one way ticket to London, via Nepal, India, China, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. I remember the tears of my departure and the well wishes – with many saying I’d be back within a couple of years. Even though I knew returning within two years was very unlikely, I never denied the possibility because who knows where life takes you? The only thing I knew for certain was my hunger to get out there and see the world was my strongest desire of all, and I wanted to get all I could out of the adventures the future offered me.

Over the last 20 years I’ve lived in London, Boston, NYC, Sydney, Singapore, Phuket, Noosa, and back to Singapore. In every country/city I’ve lived, it’s given me an opportunity to explore neighbouring countries – both for work and for fun - and I’m not even sure how many I’ve been to. The numbers never mattered, I just know that when I’m on the road, seeing a place for the first time, or going back after decades since my first visit, I feel alive in a way I can’t explain to people who just don’t get that same feeling from travelling. It is the central pulse of my life.

Why do I love it so? The appetite was born in 1992 when I visited Egypt, Jordan and Israel – my first time out of Australia. To be in such a dynamic part of the world, with history going back hundreds of thousands of years, where civilization started, where the modern religions started, where so much of what we take for granted started; well I was completely hooked. It wasn’t easy travelling there as a young woman alone – and it’s still not easy today – but to be in the midst of it was electrifying.

Nathalix and Saskia, at my wedding in Koh Samui 2005. We met in London in 1996
The other part that drew me in were the people I met along the way. Most were amazing, some were complete arseholes, but I became hooked on meeting people from different walks of life and understanding their journeys, plus why they thought the way they thought. I also became hooked on having my thinking challenged - my values, my ideals, my beliefs… it was all challenged and turned upside down, inside out, and mostly, it gave me the wisdom to reject the programming and keep the good bits worth holding onto.

Throughout my travels I’ve spent A LOT of time on my own. While not easy and often lonely; silence is amazing. When you have no choice but to contend with yourself, and every day you have experiences to challenge that thinking, the person that comes out the other side is often a lot different than the one who went in. I know people who spend thousands of dollars on therapy to do this, but my therapy was to travel and face myself, day after day, until I got myself to a clearer place.  Facing my mind, more than anything, is something I value from my last 20 years. It’s been liberating.

On my journeys, I’ve made many friends. People who I cherish and will always cherish. A global family, many of whom I haven’t seen for far too long, but we’re still connected, still in each other’s lives and the impact they made on my soul remains to this day. Some people you connect with immediately even if the time together is short. Some are with you for a lifetime. I definitely got addicted to people. Addicted to the ease at which people can come in and out of your life, making such an impact.

Kev, in Boston circa 1999
My career has been awesome to keep my dreams of wandering alive. Landing in London at the beginning of the technology revolution, working in marketing and communications, it ensured I have been able to get jobs that kept me on the move, experiencing new places/cultures, meeting people who were changing the world, exploring new thinking, making sense of new ideas, etc.. Sure, it hasn’t been a seamless career journey and I’ve never reached the top of my game – whatever that is. But then is that what I wanted? No it wasn’t. In fact, I’ve constantly made decisions that didn’t allow that to happen, because the only thing that is important is freedom. Freedom is still the only thing I value. Being hunkered down, not being able to fly, well I just can’t do it. That dream doesn’t speak to me.

In all the wanderings, I’ve remained Australian. I love my country and every day the yearning to return is there. It’s never gone. My community is there. My family too. But do I want to go back yet? I’ve tried twice and the world pulls me out again, on the road, wandering, seeing, experiencing. I never get bored of it and Australia feels so far away from that. But now my boys are getting to the age where they want to know their grandparents. Who is this uncle they hear me speaking about? Cousins – who are they? But only half of us is Australian, the other half is British, so we need to ensure that is catered to as well, and Singapore is still almost half way between the two…. What to do? Where to go? When to go?

Singapore has been amazing. I can’t believe it’s been more than 11 years. The opportunities Steve and I have professionally keep us here. It’s a gorgeous life for a family. It’s a safe life. The boys go to incredible schools and Lex is getting the support he needs to flourish. It’s always warm. We have a wonderful community. But we also have a wonderful global community that started here but people have moved on somewhere else. Not to forget Steve and I met here, the boys were born here. Singapore has been very good to us, very good indeed.

My Singapore family, back in 2008
However we know it’s not forever. It’s not a place to retire. It’s a place to make a big impact with your career and then the next phase comes in. We’re not at the end of that road yet and we keep thinking perhaps when the boys are in high school it’s a good time to move? But we don’t know. How can we? Life continues to unfurl as it sees fit and planning for that seems to be pointless, so enjoy the journey right? Let’s see what happens.

The one thing I know for sure after all of these years is this: once you start wandering and falling in love with people and places around the world, you never really belong anywhere anymore. You are connected to so many places, and it feels impossible to return home, to a normal life - whatever that is. Then again, home has moved on without you in it as well. People are used to you not being around. You can gain a place back in those people’s lives that you left long ago, but it’s never the same for you or for them.

And I think that’s the thing that many wanderers struggle with. The longer you go, the more rudderless you become. It’s hard to have devotion to a single nation when you’re connected to so many. This is a truly wonderful thing but it is equally a very difficult thing, because who are you and where do you belong?

On this International Women’s Day (a day I wish we didn’t need because why do we need a day for more than 50 percent of the world’s population, and yet we do need it, very very much) I am feeling grateful. Let’s face it, being born female in most other parts of the world would never have allowed me such freedom. So I am grateful I was born in a country that gave me the foundation to go out and explore. I am grateful to my parents for giving me the courage to fly the nest – Dad for filling my imagination with the majesty of the world and Mum for giving me guts. Mum was definitely the first feminist in my life. I’m grateful for the professional opportunities I’ve had. I’m grateful for all of the people I’ve met and continue to meet, as well as the lessons I’ve gained and the growth I’ve achieved in this lifetime.

Some of my Sydney gals. A GREAT day going to Billy Idol, 2002
I’m grateful for the beautiful man I finally met who became my husband. A person who is always behind me, supporting me, and making my dreams his own. I know that makes me a lucky girl. And I’m grateful for the two beautiful boys I have. Boys I hope to guide into beautiful men who will make the world a better place and both will believe that being man or woman is irrelevant – because it is. It’s only the heart and soul of a person that really matters.

So 20 years. Wow. It went fast and it went slow. It’s been amazing and exhilarating, but it’s been challenging as well. I feel so truly thankful to have had such a rich life. I wish that for everyone in this magnificent world – if they want it that is. Not everyone wants what I’ve had, so I just wish that everyone could have what they do want, no matter how simple that dream may be. Hey getting the right to an education is a good dream to pursue.

My dream has always been to travel and experience life in all its forms. What’s your core dream?

Yours, without the bollocks

Andrea
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