I never liked that rhyme/game much. Always seemed a bit creepy to me.

Anyway, as most of you know, I’ll be going on a gap year in May. For you Americans out there, a gap year is when you bugger off for a year to travel/work/volunteer and just generally avoid anything associated with your idea of ‘the real world’ or what your ‘real world’ is going to become. It’s most closely associated with students taking off for a year between high school and university, but as I have been studying since I was about 5 (3 if you include preschool) I’m a bit over ‘the real world’ and am buggering off for a year before going to College of Law and getting my Australian permanent residence visa and then citizenship.

There are always 2 questions asked of me when I mention my gap year. The first, and most commonly asked question, is “Where are you going?”. The second, and less frequently asked question, is “Why are you going”. The first one is pretty easy to answer. (Really) Eastern Europe, North Africa, Middle East/Persian region and possibly bits of Asia. The second question I either give the “sick of studying answer” or say “To go looking for horcruxes” (I stole the horcruxes joke off of facebook). In reality though, there are a lot of reasons why I’m going on a gap year.

I think one of the most important things to look at before traveling is WHY you are going. “I have friends who live there and are letting me sleep on their couch”, “I like the food/scenery/shopping/weather”, “Change of scenery”. Whatever. I think traveling should be about more than the shopping and the weather (though those are both very important).

So why am I going?

1. I know what awaits me in ‘the real world’ (assuming I ever join it). Get my practicing certificate, get a job as a solicitor (lawyer to Americans), make money, buy a 2-3 bedroom unit at 1 Macquarie Place, enjoy my life and my job living in the place I’d always dreamed about. Not a bad life as far as lives go. That is, inevitably, my real world. That isn’t everyones real world though and I want to experience life elsewhere. See how other people and other cultures live, not just read about it in National Geographic or watch a documentary.

2. Everytime I travel somewhere new, experience something so radically different from my own life or from what I’ve experienced before, I have a childish sense of wonderment that is distinctly lacking in everyday life except for when I walk around Sydney, or look at my surroundings. I work in the city 4 days a week and every time I cross the Harbour Bridge I look out at the Sydney Opera House and then to the skyscrapers and get butterflies in my stomach all over again. Just like the first time I flew into Sydney. Just like the first time I sat on the Opera House Forecourt steps. I am the luckiest person in the world to be able to have those butterflies and that childish sense of wonderment everyday for something so simple. But I want it for other things as well.

Growing up I knew many a person who had never seen the ocean. I’d seen it from a young age, so I don’t remember what it was like to see the ocean for the first time, but everytime I look upon it now I can’t help but marvel at the sheer unwavering size and strength of it. The ocean is neutral. It may take you, it may spare you and when it decides what it will do there is little you can do to stop it. Trust me, I nearly drowned once due to a freak tide at Freshwater Beach.

I watched a documentary today called “Born Into Brothels” (highly recommended) about children born to sex workers in the red light districts of Calcutta and a photographer who wanted to help get these children out of the situation so that they would not be forced into prostitution (some, at 14 already were working). She took them on a field trip with their cameras to the ocean. Something they had never seen before, and without her possibly never would have seen in their lives. There is nothing that can describe the feelings, the emotions, the amazement these children felt. It’s just one of those things you can tell by looking at them. It is that fresh sense of amazement that I want to feel. Discovering something completely new and unfathomable.

3. One of my goals in life is to visit every country in the world before I die. May as well start while I’m young.

4. I have been battling some very personal issues and emotions for nearly 3 years now. Some days are better than others and some days are worse than others. Still though, I can’t shake the memories or the stabbing pain in my chest everytime a memory pops unexpectedly into my mind, like a little mini heart attack. If I’m prepared for it at least I can generally keep the stabbing pain down to a constant ache. Point is, there are too many reminders, literally everything and everywhere I go has a memory associated with it in relation to this issue. Even doing my laundry. I need to get away, with stuff that has no memory association, to places that have no memory association (a few exceptions will be made on my travels…unavoidable). Call it running away if you want, but I have to get away. Realise my full potential ON MY OWN, clear my head and my heart.

5 (or 4.5 as it is tied in, if you will). I’m scared shitless. The thought of going out and backpacking around the world, on my own (not how I had originally planned my first major backpacking voyage) scares me half to death. I’m not concerned at all about surviving (slight concerns in a few countries about being kidnapped and sold into the sex industry, but I’ll take precautions). I’m a pretty hearty and independent person, capable of reading street signs in non-latin languages, learning to count to 10 very quickly in a language as well as learning “please, thank you, and how much”. I’m capable from getting to point A to point B without too much drama (most of the time) and I am capable of using my feminine wiles when all else fails to flirt my way to making stuff happen. That isn’t at all what I’m concerned about.

This may come as a shock to anyone who knows me, but I’m actually quite a shy person at first. If you met me for the first time and I wasn’t hanging in the background, avoiding talking to strangers (thanks for drilling that one into me Mum and Dad) it was probably because I was drunk or had already started drinking. I do alright in one on one situations, but I’ll never be the one to initiate conversation and I’ll probably be the one to say “oh, look at the time, I really must be off”. Normally when traveling I’ve had a buffer for that. There has always been someone more outgoing with me who has been more than happy to engage in conversation with some random person on the street and ends up leading us to an awesome experience. Except for that dinner on the Amtrak with Ivo. Thanks for that Ivo. I’ll never forgive you for it.

I’m afraid that I won’t have the experiences I want to travel for because I’ll let my fear get in the way and let my emotions drag me down. It’s just one more thing to work on overcoming on my year abroad.

The places I’m going haven’t just been chosen at random. There are specific reasons I have chosen the countries that I have and the cities that I plan on going to and the routes that I plan on traveling. Basically, there is a Why and not just a Where to my trip. This trip isn’t about “who am I, I need to discover myself”. I know myself. I know who I am, I know what I am, I know what I want and a lot of people don’t like me for it. A lot of people don’t even know they don’t like me for it, they just don’t like me and can’t put their finger on why. Often they subconsciously disguise their jealousy as disklike. People don’t like the fact that I’m perfectly comfortable going out for the day wearing jeans, sneakers and a tshirt with no makeup an my hair not done while they spend over an hour getting ready. What are they getting ready for? Who are they dressing up for? It’s not themselves. They simply don’t feel free to dress as they please for fear of being judged. By friends, by strangers, whatever.

I’m not going on this trip to ‘discover myself’. I am, however, doing this trip for me and to push myself to become better and more knowledgable and experience all that I’ve never experienced before.

After all, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”.



What I’m reading now: “The Perfect Servant: Eunuchs and the Social Construction of Gender in Byzantium” ~ Kathryn M Ringrose

What I’m listening to now: Noah and the Whale “Five Years Time”