Why I Travel

Thirty thousand feet in the air, on a flight bound from London’s Gatwick airport to Barcelona, my third trip to the eastern Spanish coast in the last two years, I couldn’t help but think about how I ended up here. 3500 miles from the small Ontario town I grew up in; the south London neighbourhood of Brixton, where my day began, is now home.

Each traveller has their own reason as to why they pack their bags and catch yet another flight, pouring their savings into a new experience or another visit to a city that has captured part of their hearts. Travellers as people are driven by a personal want to experience the world as much as possible, and each person has their own personal reasons for doing so.

My love for Europe was born two years ago, when my first backpacking trip began in Glasgow and was made up of six weeks backpacking across Western Europe from Scotland to Italy. It is how I ended up packing my belongings into a suitcase and moving across the Atlantic to start a new life in London, to be closer to the continent that had stolen my heart. It was where my love of travelling was cemented for good into who I am, but it was not where it began. For that, I have to trace back even further.

Looking back now, I can pinpoint the exact moment it started. Not the love of traversing the globe at least, but the battle with my own brain that would eventually lead to that very discovery.

At the time, I had no idea what the symptoms of depression were, especially when mixed into a potent anxiety cocktail. I thought I was just having a bad day. I’d had a normal school day, followed by the myriad of basketball and other sports I was involved with at the time. I got home as usual, my parents were at work, my brother out somewhere with his friends. I sat down to eat the dinner left in the fridge by my mother and began to feel the onset of what I now know to be symptoms of anxiety. It doesn’t hit you all at once, it slowly creeps into your body and mind like an IV drip into your blood. It poisons your brain, fooling it into imagining all kinds of things, both mental and physical.

It began with a feeling of weakness. For that first night, I felt like I was coming down with the flu. Just getting up from a chair felt like a monumental task. I went to bed, hoping a good night’s sleep would abate the sickness and I would wake up feeling better.

Over the course of the next few days and weeks, as it progressed further, the anxiety symptoms were the ones that continued to present themselves physically. The first time I had a panic attack, I was sitting in class and all of a sudden started feeling short of breath. Developing a sort of tunnel vision, I excused myself from class in an attempt to find a quiet place to calm down. As I sat in the back stairwell of my high school, I began to feel scared.

What was happening to me?

Worried thoughts would compound the issue and over the next weeks and months, the attacks would come and go more and more often, always at the most seemingly random of times. Basketball practice, dinner with my family, at the movies. As is typical with most people experiencing these things, I was afraid to tell anyone. To this day, none of my friends at the time, or even my family know what I was experiencing back then. It was to no fault of any of them. I tried my best everyday to not give anyone cause for worry, making every attempt to hide the panic attacks and carry on as if everything was normal. I didn’t want to burden anyone with it, so the worries remained my own.

If anxiety is worrying, depression is frightening.

It’s frightening because you don’t realize it was there until you resurface from it.

If you resurface from it.

Everyone describes the feeling of depression differently. I felt that it was as if someone attached a boat anchor to my ankle and then told me to swim. Most days became an exercise in making it back home, into my room where I could stop putting on the fake smile and pretending like everything was okay. Depression is like having a person stand next to you, all day, whispering in your ear.

“You’re not good enough”.

“They don’t actually like you”.

“Why do you even get out of bed in the morning?”.

Now at 23, I can’t imagine what 16 year-old me could possibly have had to worry about that could’ve started such a downturn. I had just gone through my growth spurt, gaining nearly a foot in a little over a year. I was a straight A student, well on my way to getting into the engineering program of my choice and had a good group of friends to cause trouble with on the weekends.

That’s the part about depression that people who have never experienced it don’t understand. There doesn’t have to be a reason, it can hit, and hit hard even when you have every reason to be happy. One day you are yourself and the next you are wallowing at the bottom of a well of self-pity and despair.

The next few months would progress into a further state of misery, while gradually becoming better and better at putting on the mask in the hopes that I would not be a burden on anyone. After all, it was all just in my head right?

That is where I reached a fork in the road.

To the left was a treacherous path, paved with anxiety and the black shadow of depression as my only guide, leading me to places I can only imagine now.

To the right was a hike up a mountain where the air at the summit is so clear, the peacefulness drowns out even the most cynical of voices in your head.

If only we knew how important some of the decisions we have made were before we made them.

That day, there were two voices that pushed me down the correct path and one that urged me to the left. The first came in the form of our school’s unsuspecting secretary, making her daily announcements. Our school board would be accepting applicants for a new program, taking a trip to El Salvador to participate in a house build with Habitat for Humanity.

Like a devil on my shoulder, the other voice spoke up in retort.

“They wouldn’t accept you even if you tried”.

Thankfully, there was a third voice that day.

It’s incredible how your parents can come through for you time and time again, sometimes without even realizing that they have. I believe the term is parental instinct. Regardless of what you call it, that night I went home as usual, and mentioned over dinner about the program. I’m not sure if depression was hoping my parents would say no so I wouldn’t have to bother, or if deep down somewhere I was beginning to fight it’s tyrannical reign over my mind. Despite the fact that we had little to no information about the program, and the only information we had about El Salvador was a brief Google search, my mother and father decided that I should at the very least apply, guiding me towards the correct path, completely unaware at the time that it was some of the most important advice they would give me.

The application process became a distraction for me. It was a focus point amidst all the noise going on inside my head, allowing for brief moments of clarity. After submitting the application and progressing to the interview stage, it eventually came back that I had been accepted. There were to be 11 students, each from a different school that would be making the trip south along with 8 teachers, also from various schools across the region.

I had reached base camp.

Getting accepted to the program was enough to slightly restore confidence in myself. It was the first small step in a battle against the voices in my head that had withered away my mental state over the course of the previous months. Leading up to the trip which was to be at the end of June that year, we met each week to participate in activities that would help us on our trip. Spanish lessons, brick laying and information about the country we would call home for two weeks. These sessions became my escape, something I looked forward to each week and one of the few places I found myself actually smiling. The people were incredible, both students and teachers, joking and learning together as we attempted to prepare ourselves for our journey.

When the day finally came, I was in a better mental state than I had been in months. I was legitimately excited, a feeling I had rarely had in the previous year. Our flight was rather uneventful, and we landed safely at the Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in San Salvador.

As we walked out of the airport we were hit with a wall of both blazing humidity and overwhelming culture shock. Outside the entrance were hundreds of El Salvadorans waving and smiling at everyone who exited the terminal. Some greeting loved ones and others seemingly just greeting every new visitor to their home.

The mountain awaited.

We spent the first day split between a morning playing with the most adorable children at a local orphanage and an afternoon hike up to the mountains with a breathtaking view over the tropical landscape. The immersion into the local culture was an experience that was completely new to me, and I was enjoying every second of it.

Our residence was to be in a small town outside of San Salvador called Zacatecoluca. The town was vibrant in both architecture and personality. Our first visit to the local market left such an impression that still, wherever it is that I visit, I am drawn to local markets as they often yield a more truly honest glimpse into the culture of a city than any other place you can explore. Our residence was a small compound of hostel-style rooms with bunk beds, cold showers and a wonderfully friendly man named Carlos who maintained the place. Throughout the course of the week, using our broken Spanish and his broken English, the language barrier was slowly broken down and we were able to communicate with our new friend.

If the town was a cultural shock, arriving at our build site was a complete revelation. Over the course of the ten days, it would draw emotions from us all, some that we didn’t even know were possible to feel all at once. We were there to build a house for a family of twelve. It would be far too easy on a trip like ours to pretend that we were there solely to help the family, that we were part of the greater good and that we were changing their lives. We were building a house no bigger than most of our garages back home for a family of twelve. This was to allow the family to move out of a house the same size that they currently shared with another family of twelve. Throughout the course of the trip, we all quickly realized that to assume we were there to help them and help them alone was not only wrong, but ignorant.

Each day on the site the family prepared meals for us at lunch, and afterwards we would break from our labouring to play soccer and other games with the children of the family. I can still picture their smiles and their laughter when I think back to it. When we surprised them one day with a brand new soccer ball, the pure joy that erupted from their tiny faces was, at the time, a happiness I was not sure I had ever experienced.

Depression is a fickle creature. Despite the joy surrounding me, the voices in my head made me feel guilty.

“All it took for them to be happy was a soccer ball, what’s your problem?”

No one ever said climbing a mountain was going to be easy.

The rest of the week would go on, as the house neared completion, so did the end of our trip. The final day, we said our goodbyes, and nearly every one of us was in tears as our van pulled out of the site for the last time. The effect the family had on us, sharing their culture, their joys and their love, left us all feeling a mixture of emotions ranging from guilt to thankfulness. They had expanded our small bubbles of existence to include a piece of their own world in it.

That is why we travel.

Each experience, each person along the way becomes a part of our own world. Shaping how we view the worlds of others, and how we live in our own.

Sitting now, staring out the window of this airplane, just as I was seven years ago on our way back home from our adventure, I can remember what it felt like to reach that summit for the first time. The realization that there was so much beauty in this world I had yet to see, and so many worlds of others left to impact upon my own, had conquered the darkness in my own head, holding it at bay.

The clarity would not be something easily noticed if it had always been there. The climb is never simple, and will surely have to be made more times throughout my years ahead. Each time it becomes a little easier, signposts left along the way, inspiration to keep pushing along, the memory of what it felt like to reach the summit.

But up here, at thirty thousand feet, it is joy. It is the joy of exploring a new city for the first time, a pint shared with travellers from across the globe and the joy of a brand new soccer ball, kicked back and forth across a dirt road.

That is why I travel.

Path of the Gods

Despite what the name suggests, pizza was not in fact invented in Pisa. Similarly garnished flatbread type dishes have been around since ancient times all throughout the Mediterranean, known to ancient Greeks as plakous, and the still favoured focaccia throughout many parts of ancient Italy and Greece. However, the greasy, tomato and cheese covered dish that has been adapted and recreated in nearly every corner of the globe was in fact invented five hundred kilometres to the south of Pisa, in Napoli during the late 18th century. It was common at the time for travellers visiting the city to venture into the poorer areas of the city in search of a taste of the local delicacy. 

Unfortunately for my travel companion Jonny and I, pizza was not our main concern as we got off the train from Florence to Naples. The day was beginning to wane into the evening, and despite the urge to seek out a slice of margherita that the city was famous for, we decided it best to continue on to Sorrento as quickly as possible. Not two days prior to our arrival in Naples we had listened to the warnings of some of our fellow backpackers at a hostel in Florence proudly state that they had “survived” the commuter train from Naples to Sorrento. At first this did not seem to be a feat worth boasting about until one of the revellers cared to mention that at night, the Stazione Garibaldi is one of the most dangerous places in Europe.  We didn’t exactly feel like experiencing it for ourselves.

After surviving the pick-pocket capital of Europe two weeks earlier in Barcelona, Europe had begun to lull us into a false sense of security. That is, until we stepped onto the graffiti-laden commuter train that was to take us the fifty-some-odd kilometres down the Italian coast to Sorrento. As a traveller, you begin to develop a sort of “oh shit” radar. You know the feeling, wandering into the wrong side of town, people glaring at you like they’d like to relieve you of your belongings and if you are especially unlucky; your kidneys. Let me tell you, five minutes into our little train journey, our “oh shit” radars were blaring like a fire truck on route to a house fire. After forty-five minutes of clutching our backpacks and nervously keeping our backs to the wall of the rickety train carriage, we finally arrived at the deserted Sorrento train station, belongings in hand, and happy to report that our kidneys were still comfortably internal.

Hardly has the word beautiful so utterly failed in in the description of a place as it does when talking about the Amalfi coast. A person could spin round in circles with their camera randomly taking snapshots along the way, and not one of the pictures would turn out badly. The following morning after our harrowing train ride in, we set out for the day from Sorrento along the coast to the next town. Nestled in amongst the mountainous landscape is Positano, with it’s brightly coloured buildings climbing the hillside like steps carved into a mountain path. It’s beauty is all the more appreciated after you survive the half hour long bus ride along a single lane, hairpin turn road from Sorrento. It’s charm was temporarily lost on us as we kissed the pavement, thankful to have our feet firmly planted on the ground without danger of careening over one the roadside cliffs.

Our first stop of the day in Positano was to be brief, for that day we had something else in mind. Earlier on our trip we had met a traveller who told us of a hike called the Path of the Gods, which traversed the hillside from the town of Amalfi to the East, along 15 kilometres of stunning views back towards Positano. I am always one to listen to recommendations from fellow travellers, no internet review or brochure could ever convince you to do something like the tried and true tale of another backpacker who has done it themselves. A few stops previously in Nice, an Australian traveller we met in our hostel had insisted that of all the experiences not to miss in Italy, this one was top of the list.

After yet another stomach churning bus ride along the coast up through Amalfi, we were let off at a roadside stop with a makeshift sign denoting that the start of the trail lay just up the hill. We traversed through what appeared to be the back gardens of some of the Italian farmers who called the mountainside home until we at last crested over the top of the hill. The view from the start of the trail just about knocked us back down as we finally understood what our friend from down under had meant. As I have said before, the word beautiful just does not do justice to the landscape that unfolds in front of you. Mountains dotted with colourful little houses and sprawling farms that overlook the sapphire sparkling waters of the Mediterranean. The air is as startlingly clear as the water, allowing you to see for miles out into the unending waters, dotted with sailboats and ferries full of sunbathers and fishermen alike.

I have walked fifteen kilometres or more many times in my life. Days spent wandering the spectacular old town of Edinburgh, a particularly miserable journey from Finch to Bloor street in Toronto during the worst rain storm the city has seen in several decades, and numerous other occasions spanning all over Europe and North America. It’s not exactly an impressive feat, but what was impressive to me about this particular day, was that I desperately wanted it to continue. It didn’t matter how far this scenic trail had been, we would have followed it for days if it had gone that far. Around every bend was another breathtaking sight to behold, and slowly as we approached our final destination in Positano, the rainbow coloured town grew bigger and bigger, with the sunshine illuminating it’s quaint beauty with an almost guiding light.

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View of Positano from along the Path of the Gods

As we reached the end of our hike, the trail transitioned into a concrete path, winding between beautiful fenced in estates perched on the hillside. The path eventually reached into Positano where we were led down the mountainside via staircases amounting to nearly 1900 steps in total. Midway down we stumbled upon a couple selling freshly squeezed lemonade, made with lemons from the trees growing in their very own back garden. Many would agree that a fresh glass of lemonade after a day spent in the hot sun is as refreshing as it gets, and sitting on the concrete bench in the courtyard, overlooking the sparkling blue water, listening to the many happy sounds from the town below, one would have to agree that in that particular moment, there was indeed nothing better.

Mountain Biking in Moab

It’s been about four hours since we started our early morning descent at eight thousand feet. A rickety old van loaded up with us and our mountain bikes, slowly climbing the dirt road leading to the trailhead that marked the beginning of the days ride. It’s mid way through our trip to Moab, Utah in the south-western United States. For years, this trip has been at the top of the list for both my father and I. In North America, there is no better place to ride than here, and we have been looking forward to this week since the day our flights were booked nearly a year ago.

The day started with a slow descent through the high altitude and gradually increased in pace as we gained both confidence and adrenaline from the successful traverse of the rocky trails. Every so often we stop to take in the beautiful sights, landscapes similar to that of the Grand Canyon further to the west. Late morning was met with a brief stop for lunch at the start of the cliff-side trail that will make up the majority of the afternoon’s ride. At 16, I am the youngest in the group by nearly two decades, and have been quietly keeping up to my father near the back of the pack. During our lunch, in their typical Australian nature, the two leaders of our group insist that I come to the front with them for the next section of downhill. Nervously I agree, and once we are all packed up, I head out down the trail right behind them.

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Start of our descent at 8000 feet

The wind is rushing past me so quickly that my peripheral vision is nothing but a blur. I am focused on what’s ahead, with only a few meters of path visible behind the two adrenaline-crazed Australians I am following. In the few split seconds I allow for myself to break focus I can see that on either side of the trail is a few short feet of untamed brush, following by what must be at least a thousand foot drop. Each glimpse reminds me of the importance of keeping my eyes on what’s ahead. Despite the harrowing nature of the current nerve-wracking downhill I am facing, the surrounding beauty of the southern Utah badlands is not entirely lost on me. To either side, the vast expanses of canyons can be seen with flowing rivers, cacti and the red sandstone arches that this area is so famously known for.

Normally adrenaline seeking is not exactly in my wheelhouse, but a place like Moab brings it out in people. It also brings those types of people into it. Moab is a small town, about a four hour drive south of Salt Lake City, which is also the nearest major airport. The drive starts out surrounded by the snow capped Rocky Mountains and transitions into a desert scene straight out of a Roadrunner cartoon. It can be quite startling to fall asleep in the middle of a blizzard and wake up passing by cacti and dustbowls on the highway.

My focus is once again broken when I realize that both riders I have been following have suddenly vaulted into the air and then dropped out of sight. Realizing quickly that there must be a drop up ahead, I have no choice but to commit and hope I can pull out the landing. According to my speedometer I hit the drop at around sixty kilometres per hour, launching into the air. The brief few seconds slow down to feel like hours and for that brief time I feel like I am flying, the view of the surrounding landscape even more beautiful as I soar through the air, coming to a slightly bumpy but stable landing several metres down the trail. I pull up next to the Aussies as my dad catches up, having seen the drop in time to avoid it. The force of the impact causes my rear tire to deflate, and as we stop to repair it, we examine the drop and estimate it’s height to be at least six feet. No wonder it felt like flying. I chalk this one up as the first of many times I have nearly died at the hands of an Australian.

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My father and I overlooking the cliff side on the edge of the trail

As you wind into town from the North, crossing over the Colorado River, numerous campgrounds start to appear filled with cabins, tents and camper trailers. The town has a few small motels, but most visitors tend to “commune with nature” by tenting or renting one of the small cabins my father and I had opted to take up as our home for the week. By the second night I had wished I had brought a tent to sleep in as my father’s legendarily loud snoring was at it’s all time best. In the cabin next to us are my Dad’s friends Neil and Pritchie, who had invited us along on their annual pilgrimage to the red rocks. Due to the generational gap between us all, I had been given the nickname “Spongebob” early on, as that was dubbed to be something I could relate to. I returned the favour by taking every opportunity to remind our companions of my youth by racing past them on the trail every chance I got, often with a grab of the brake on their handlebars as I sped past.

Moab itself sits in the bottom of a canyon surrounded by burnt red rock walls and with numerous flowing rivers winding their way through the quiet town. It is no coincidence that with such a backdrop, the majority of people who make the pilgrimage to Moab are adventure seekers. Rock climbers, white water rafters, hikers and mountain bikers can be found aplenty, as well as numerous shops selling and renting the gear to go with them. The beautiful little town manages to find a way to keep itself away from the fast food chains and commercial shops that dot so much of the United States. Restaurants are family owned, each with their own specialty. Much to my chagrin, having to share a small cabin with him, my father opted for a delightfully authentic Mexican joint called La Hacienda on our first night. Despite the noxious gasses that would no doubt pollute our small but functional homestead later that evening, we gorged ourselves on platters of enchiladas, tacos and burritos. The food was so good that we would return yet again later in the trip for a repeat indulgence.

I have travelled to many places in the USA, each with their own fond memories, but Moab will always stand out to me as different. Many travellers who make the trip to the US and visit the cities often comment on how big, busy and loud it is. The same could be said about many of the people who live there. What makes Moab stand apart for me is that in a country where cities like New York and Los Angeles dominate the tourism market, there is this little town in the middle of nowhere that attracts people from all over the world without the tacky traps and gimmicks that so often comes with the tourism industry. Moab sits in the middle of the desert, offering up its natural beauty and providing the basic necessities to enjoy it. It knows what it has to offer and if you’ve come to enjoy it, it’ll welcome you with open arms. Just make sure you keep you eyes on the trail ahead.

Fishing with Grandpa

It’s early. Far earlier in the day then I would normally be awake, but at ten years old there is little that could get me as excited to be out of bed before sunrise as today. No one else is awake yet, my little brother is still well asleep in his Winnie the Pooh sleeping bag in the tent next to me. He never has been much of a morning person, regardless of the day. I climb out of my sleeping bag, putting on my biggest sweater and warmest socks. Despite the fact that it is the end of July, it is cold out on the lake in the early morning, especially before sun-up. As I struggle with my shoes, my brother stirs before rolling over. I don’t have to worry about waking him, he has been known to sleep through my mother vacuuming his bedroom.

I leave the tent and walk around front of my grandparent’s trailer, situated just across the old campground dirt road from Benoir Lake. Across the calm morning water, the beginnings of morning light are starting to rise from behind the small wooden cottages and the many trees surrounding them. This is my favourite part of the mornings here. The mist on the morning lake, where nothing has yet disturbed the water. Some mornings, if it is especially quiet, you can hear the loons calling to each other. I remember one particular early morning, out on the dock, seeing a moose swimming across the lake. One small disturbance trailing behind such a large creature, with it’s large antlers being the only real part of it that can be seen above the water.

This particular morning, there is not a sound, nor a movement anywhere to be seen or heard. It is peaceful, dark still, especially amongst the tall pine trees surrounding the trailer. I walk back from the dock towards the trailer just as my grandfather steps out. He is especially careful as to not wake my grandmother who is still fast asleep inside. Without saying a word, we both walk over to the shed to get out our tacklebox and fishing rods. We each pick out our rods, both having been set-up and cleaned by my grandfather the day before. We make our way down to the dock, with the smallest hint of the red sunrise beginning to peak over the trees at the far end of the lake. With the gear loaded into the boat, we slowly undo the moorings tying the small bassfishing boat to our wooden dock and begin to cast off. Quietly, as to not wake the neighbours, my grandfather starts the engine and we cruise out onto the open water, creating the first small waves across the lake.

The lake is small for cottage country in Northern Ontario. It is farther north than most of the Muskoka and Kawartha Lakes that Torontonians flock to each weekend, being just south of Algonquin park near the small town of Wilberforce. My grandfather knows the lake like no one else, having spent every summer for decades taking his children and grandchildren on the five and a half hour journey north from our home in St. Catharines.

We do not need to discuss our destination, as it has become routine on our mornings out on the water. Barely a word is spoken throughout the entire journey, but that is how we both prefer it. Morning fishing out on the lake is less about catching the fish, as is about beginning the day in the most relaxing way imaginable. We arrive at our familiar stretch of water, through the small channel separating the two parts of Benoir. Grandpa effortlessly guides the boat in towards the edge of the lake, careful not to go through the small patches of lily pads that will be our fishing grounds. He cuts the engine, leaving nothing but the calm sound of the wake of our boat as it collides with the rocks on the shore.

We both cast out our lines, with my grandfather’s gentle reminders of the proper technique being the only words spoken between us. The minutes pass, both of us taking in the quiet as we wait for the bobber tied to the end of the line to dip below the surface. Grandpa has promised that this summer I will learn how to use some of the other lures in his tacklebox out on Elephant lake which is connect to ours through a long and winding series of wetlands, but for now I am perfectly content to be out in our usual spot waiting for that red and white floating bobble to get pulled under by today’s first catch.

The lake system connected to Benoir is large, with Baptiste being nearly an hour away on the other side of Elephant lake. We do not usually venture much past Benoir, as we prefer the smaller of the lakes with our little fishing boat. We do however, on occasion, venture up the small river connected to the lake near our trailer. It is only on the most special of occasions that my brother and I can convince my parents to take us up the long and winding river in our canoe. At the end of the river is the most spectacular of playgrounds. High Falls, as we call it, is a cascading set of small waterfalls created by the river as it meets a large Northern Ontario mass of rocks in its path. The gentle angle of the rocks create a near perfect natural waterslide as opposed to actual falling water. Most summers, the rocks are a place to find other families enjoying a picnic while the smaller members of the clan are frolicking about in the water.

As my mind drifts off, with thoughts of petitioning for an afternoon canoe trip, suddenly I am brought back to the small patch of weeds I had been staring at. My bobber has disappeared and I can feel a gentle tug a the end of the line. I give the rod a small jerk to the side, as my grandfather taught me to make sure the fish is hooked, and I begin to gently reel in. By this time Grandpa has noticed as well, and has reeled in his own line. He grabs the net from the back of the boat and gets ready to help my bring in our first catch of the day. Based on the pull from under the dark and murky water, this might be the biggest fish I have ever had on the line, and I am extremely careful to make sure it does not get away. I get the line up next to the boat as we see a silver/green shimmer beneath the surface. Grandpa carefully guides the fish into the net and pulls it into the boat. It is a large mouth bass, the biggest I have ever reeled in.

With this being a momentous occasion in a young fisherman’s life, we prepare to pack up the boat and head back to the trailer to show off the prized bass. We will not keep the fish, merely store it in the livewell long enough to take a few pictures to show to my mother and father when they arrive later today. Afterwards we will release it back into the lake to perhaps be caught again next year.

We have been gone for well over two hours at this point, and when we arrive back at the dock we find Nana and my brother cooking breakfast in the trailer for all of us. I run off the dock, excited to share the news with both of them. Nana gets the camera and my brother runs back with me, just as my grandfather finishes tying the moorings back on to the dock. We both jump into the boat, and I proudly open the livewell door for my little brother to peer into. The fish flops around in the shallow water, slightly spooking my brother. Grandpa asks us to step out of the way so he can get the fish out of the well for a picture. He expertly grabs it by it’s bottom lip, causing it to lie still. Pulling it out of the well, he stands next to me as Nana snaps a photo. Afterwards, Grandpa gently lowers the bass into the shallow water beside the dock and allows it to swim free.

Later that afternoon, my mother and father arrive in our family car, carefully navigating the roots that cover the dirt road leading into the campground. Both my brother and I are excited to see them, having spent the last week with our grandparents while they were at home working. Around the campfire that night, I regale them all with the story of how I caught my biggest fish, Grandpa as always not saying a word when I embellish the story a tad here or there. My mother is particularly proud, having been quite the accomplished bass fisher in her childhood.

Once the embers have begun to glow, and it is nearly time for me to go to sleep, I sneak away back down to the dock where my day began. 15 years later, I can still remember staring across that small Northern lake under the starry sky. It is a gentle reminder that even while I continue to travel this vast world, the most beautiful place will always be home.

30 Days

A month is a strange amount of time. On the scale of your life, one month seems insignificant. For example if you live to say, 90 years old, one month is less than one tenth of a percent of your lifetime. It is a blip on the radar.

A lot can also happen in thirty days. For example, from experience, you can:

  • Move to a new country
  • Open a bank account
  • Find a place to live
  • Find a new job

Time is certainly relative. In my head, the past month seems like an eternity that flew by in a blink of an eye. In my first post a little over 3 weeks ago, I was discussing the little victories, and the mountains I had to climb still. Now I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve reached my Everest quite yet, but the air is certainly thinner up here, and definitely a lot clearer.

I have actually remarked to several people that things have been going well enough that I am, being the eternal optimist, sort of waiting for something to go wrong. It sounds bad but if you went back and told 6 month ago Ryan that within thirty days of landing he would have a new place to live and have signed a new job, he probably would have laughed in your face.

I’d love to say that it was all a part of the plan, and that I executed it to perfection. In reality, I’d probably comment on it a bit more like a hockey player does in the post-game interview. I was really fortunate to get the win out there, I tried really hard and just hoped for the best and was lucky enough to come out with the W. I couldn’t have done it without my fantastic family and friends (both home and abroad), they were the real MVP’s out there.

Now the fun can begin. My stress level is at the lowest point it has been in nearly half a year. I know where my next paycheque is coming from, and I even have friends! Imagine that, I managed to make friends. Who knew.

I can already feel myself falling in love with this city. I spent the better part of my free time exploring small record shops in Soho, the music shops of Tin Pan Alley, Blues bars in Shoreditch and everywhere in between. I have barely scratched the surface on one of the most amazing cities in the world, but I have certainly begun to feel its charm.

Thirty days is by far the longest I have ever spent consecutively in a country that is not Canada. I actually had to think long and hard about that to make sure it was true, but even while travelling, the most I have ever spent in another country is a fortnight.

Surprisingly, though I do miss my friends and family, I haven’t really had much in the way of homesickness. I watched a video today where dozens of people in New York city wrote on a chalkboard what their biggest regret was. I would say about 90% of people wrote about something they wish they had done, and didn’t. The way I see it, fear is going to ultimately decide what you do, but what you can do is choose which fear scares you most. Are you more afraid of taking a risk than you are of regretting not taking it 5, 10, 20 years down the road? I’d be willing to bet that on most people’s deathbeds, if you asked what they regretted most, it would certainly be something they wished they’d done and didn’t, and not something they did. And that, quite frankly, petrifies me.

In the end, you will add up those less than a tenth of a percents into a big old pile, and only you can decide which ones inspired you, which ones took your breathe away and which ones changed your life.

This past one, well it certainly did all three.

 

 

 

 

Crossing One off the Bucket List

8 years ago, in the back of my chemistry notebook I scrawled down an ambitiously long list of the things I wanted to do in my life.

Today I get to cross one of that list.

Living in another country had always been something I had thought about since I started travelling. The idea of forgetting the comforts of home and heading out to see how they do it somewhere else both terrified me and excited me. I wish I could catalogue the reactions I get when I explain myself for why I moved here. So far it has ranged from:

“Oh you want to travel, that’s cool”.
to:
“Jesus christ, that takes a lot of balls, why on Earth did you quit your job?”

I guess the latter of those reactions never really occurred to me. I haven’t really thought of this whole adventure as being ballsy at all. To me it would’ve been more of a risk to not go because I would’ve been terrified that I would’ve regretted it. The one thing that took all fear away when I made the decision to make the jump, was that no matter what happens, it’s an experience. If I don’t like it, I can always go home. The real fear would be in not going, waking up one day when I’m 35 and wishing I’d done it when I had the chance.

In terms of my list, this is a big one. Re-reading the items, some of which is nearly a decade old, this one is more than just a destination. Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, visiting Antarctica or hiking Mt Kilimanjaro are somewhat ambitious, but they don’t seem nearly as daunting as starting a whole new life. Give me hiking boots and a backpack and I’ll set out fearlessly. Ask me to make a who new group of friends in a foreign country where I barely know anyone? Someone pass the scotch please because this is going to be a tough one. How people move to a new country that is an entire different language is beyond me altogether.

I’m already beginning to experience a bit of a struggle. Not in actual difficulty, but I find it to be a bit of a struggle between adopting the way the UK does it, and maintaining my Canadian identity. I know what you’re thinking, it’s only been three weeks, but you’d be surprised how many new things can happen in 20-some-odd days. It helps to have a large community of expat Canadians here. Every once in a while I can meet up with some of them, go all “super Canadian” like Robin in How I Met Your Mother, and then get back to trying to understand the rules of cricket (seriously, if someone has a “Cricket for Dummies” book, send it my way)

So here I am. My name is on a lease, I’ve got three pretty cool British housemates and for the next year of my life, this house is my home. I’d also appreciate it if someone could please explain the rules of snooker to me, because I spent an hour and a half watching it last night and I don’t have a clue. I do however think I can turn it into a drinking game, so I might just survive yet. I’ve yet to introduce any of them to a proper hockey game but they will all be Leaf fans by the end of this year, I promise you that.

Hopefully soon I will be getting back to my travel writing, as soon as a job is signed I am hoping to get away for a week or two and get back to my happy place, whichever city that may be this time. Until then, one item down, several thousand to go.

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list”.

 

 

 

 

 

The Little Victories

6 days ago, I set out on the biggest adventure of my life so far. In the previous weeks, I obtained a 5 year visa, I quit my job, gave up my great apartment in Toronto, said goodbye to my friends and family and booked a flight.

I have travelled all over Europe, even been to London prior to this, but this time it certainly feels different. When you only have a few days in a city, you rush to soak up as much as you can before you move on to the next adventure, not really absorbing much of the culture, or really adapting at all. So what do you do when there is no end in sight?

You focus on the little victories.

So far, I am literally celebrating the littlest of victories. We aren’t talking anything major, we are talking “remembered to look the correct way when crossing the street” victories. This list also includes:

  • Remembered to call the trunk the “boot” so my cousin’s 5 year old son wouldn’t make fun of me, again
  • Sorting out how to work the lock on the flat
  • Taking the tube alone and getting off at the correct stop

Ordinarily in my life this list would never have even crossed my mind. They were all pre-programmed and I was on auto-pilot. Well guess what, Ryan’s brain, there’s a software update and it’s time to figure out how to be in manual for a while.

I imagine these little victories won’t soon go away. Nevertheless they help to give the strength to go after the bigger victories. Thankfully, my visa did not require me to have a job to get here. That also means, I don’t have a job over here. Something I would’ve considered a large victory back home, is now downright scary. What if I’m not qualified, what if no one is hiring, what if they make fun of me. Okay that last one might have been a tad dramatic. If you dwell on it, it will consume you. Thus you have the importance of the little victories. They can sustain you while the big ones are beating you down.

Regardless of any kind of adversity, there are certainly things to be thankful for. Namely, in this case, I am overwhelmingly thankful that my passport has the word “CANADA” on it. There is a group online of Canadians in the UK, and I posted to introduce myself. Within a few hours, I had numerous well wishes from Canadians all over the UK welcoming me, offering to meet for a pint and advice about everything from finding a flat to places where Canadians tend to meet up. Other countries may make fun of us for how nice we are, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

All things considered, this is barely the first step on a long, long journey. There’s lots to achieve, and even more to experience living abroad. I can’t wait to get started, but for now the important thing is to remember that no matter what ups and downs may come, life is still good, eh.

 

 

 

Why You Should Leave Your Hometown

When is the last time you experienced something new? I don’t mean a new donut at Tim Hortons or a new pair of shoes, I mean something truly new and exciting. Do you remember how it made you feel? Nervous? Full of adrenaline? A bit of both? Either way, I am willing to bet it made you feel alive. Now I don’t know about you, but that is the feeling I find myself constantly seeking. I would not consider myself a thrill seeker, and I don’t need to bungee jump off a bridge to get the feeling I’m talking about. The feeling I am referring to is the one that makes you stop and say to yourself: “Damn, this life is awesome”. I have experienced it while standing atop a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean in Italy, building a house in a countryside town in El Salvador and while sitting on a patio with my friends enjoy a cold pint.

Path of the Gods: Amalfi Coast, Italy
Path of the Gods: Amalfi Coast, Italy

While these circumstances are extremely different, there is one very important common element they all share. These moments are now pictures on my wall instead of dreams in my head because somewhere along the line I decided the fear of new things wouldn’t stop me from experiencing life.

I grew up in a small town, where things rarely changed. My friends in kindergarten graduated with me from high school and the biggest change I can remember in my time there was when they opened a bigger grocery store. I love my hometown, but for some reason I always had the urge to leave and go explore what’s out there. The most important event in my time back home came in the eleventh grade when I participated in a trip to El Salvador to build a home for a family with Habitat for Humanity. I would be lying if I didn’t say that applying for this trip scared the crap out of me. I had barely been outside my province, let alone to a foreign country.

Building a house in El Salvador
Building a house in El Salvador

My time spent in that country ignited a passion for travelling and an appreciation for experiencing life that I didn’t know existed until I left home. I spent the entire trip in awe of everything I saw, soaking up the landscapes, the language and the culture. From the moment the wheels of the plane touched down back in Canada, I couldn’t wait to head off on my next adventure.

Many travellers joke about the “travel bug” that bites you and then you are hooked. I believe that the need to explore new places and experiences exists in everyone, the “travel bug” just brings it out. Once you are hooked, you begin to find out why some people leave home and never come back.

It teaches you how to deal with adversity

Travelling isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it gets difficult, and you have to deal with it. Learning how to calmly deal with a missed train, overbooked hostel or lost passport teaches you a valuable skill that helps both abroad and at home. It teaches you how to overcome obstacles instead of giving up, because often giving up isn’t an option. Once you have pushed your way through a few of these walls along the way, it begins to give you a confidence in yourself that you are able to deal with the circumstances the world throws at you. This is as important for travelling as it is for life in general. You can plan every single aspect of something down to the tiniest details. While planning is important, there is always going to be a wild card. The most successful people are the ones who have the confidence to deal with curveballs as they come.

chang

You learn how to meet new people

In a world full of social media and text messaging, people tend to get to know eachother via words on a screen versus actual face to face interaction. The skill of walking up to someone and introducing yourself is becoming more and more rare amongst people, especially young people. Travelling, especially alone, forces you to interact with others outside the confines of the digital world. Personally, meeting new people from all over the world is my favourite part about travelling. Locals, travellers from other countries and even fellow Canadians met on the road became some of the best memories and experiences of my travels. Some people you meet, you will never see or hear from again, and others can become lifelong friends. It’s like networking except instead of for careers, it’s for adventure. The ability to introduce yourself to a complete stranger and find things in common is one of the most beneficial human characteristics you can have. It helps with careers, making new friends and who knows, maybe it’ll help you find that special someone someday. As children we were able to make friends with anyone, and somehow through the awkward teenager years we seem to forget how. Putting yourself outside your comfort zone in a city by yourself means working up the courage to say hello to someone you’ve never met. While in Prague, I made friends with another traveller simply by giving him one of the extra beers I had so he could participate in the drinking game we were playing in the hostel. I have coined this term as the “friend beer” and I would highly recommend it as a method of meeting new people.

You learn to see the world in a different light

When people are at home, they often become immune to all the world around them has to offer. I grew up half an hour from Niagara Falls, one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. To me, it has become associated with tourist traps, expensive gimmicks like haunted houses, and a general urge to avoid it at all costs during the summer. Every once in a while a friend will come to visit who has never seen the falls, and they are in awe of it. It always takes one of these visitors to remind me what an incredible wonder of the world I have not far from my front door. Travelling the world teaches you to open your eyes and absorb your surroundings rather than go through life with tunnel vision. What’s the point of spending a week in Florence if you don’t take the time to appreciate the beauty of the architecture and the atmosphere of the city? The same can be said for being at home. A city like Toronto is as vibrant, diverse and exciting as any city in the world and has so much to offer if you can learn to open your eyes to see it.

 toronto

Leaving your home is a scary and exciting adventure. Some people will do it once and never again, others will leave and never come back. The important thing to consider, is that no time spent learning about another culture or another place in this amazing world will ever truly be a waste. You will end up learning something about yourself, other people or the world that will change your point of view. Whether it makes you yearn for more adventure, or appreciate the comforts of home, seeing more of this world than our own backyards is a certainty to make you stop and say “damn, this life is awesome”.

scrubs