Reverse cultureshock is one way to describe that feeling of coming to somewhere you consider home, only to realise that it has changed (or perhaps you have changed, and are seeing it differently). The familiar is suddenly unfamiliar. The returnee feels unsettled, alien in their own place, and frequently heads back out into the world with a sigh of relief.
I’m not going to say I’ve never felt it. Heck, I grew up feeling this – as a third culture kid, I was constantly told I was ‘British’ and Britain was ‘home’ (one home, at least) yet visiting Britain felt so strange. Even now I have a mismatch on some basic assumptions, and those trip me up.
(Immigration is perhaps a good example – until I was 20, Britain was somewhere you emigrated from not immigrated to, and I still assume the traffic flows both ways, and we (Brits) must keep welcoming EU nurses if want to be allowed to retire to sunny Spain.)
Coming back from travelling for six months, stuff had changed. There are new buildings, the one-way systems in Bath, Cambridge and Oxford seem to have been rearranged, friends have moved, grown beards, changed their hair colour… all the usual stuff.
But what really made it hard to adjust (apart from the weather, let’s be honest) was people. I love so many brilliant people, and K is very social, so we had a bit of a whirl. And it was exhausting. People change plans! People are late (often us, I’m sorry to say)! People say yes, when they mean no, and no when they mean ‘let me text you on the night and we’ll sort it out then’. People fail to give you all the information. People have needs, desires, other friends, kids, all that stuff.
Planning a night out is like juggling cats, and I was really out of practice. I’m not going to pretend that aerial feline manipulation has ever been my forte, but in the 6 months we were away, we stayed with friends and family for about 4 weeks, total, and they were all pretty well organized so mostly we just let ourselves be taken around and about. Turns out when you get back to ‘real life’ you have to be a little more self-propelled. It was fun, but knackering and strange. And the strangeness was strange.
Now that we’ve been back for 3 months, Christmas is over and I’m starting to settle down. Things have gone quiet, and I’m getting used to all the Englishness around me. Our village is very pretty (very small and very pretty) and it’s good. But strange, in its goodness. We had a house party, and it went well. I’ve remembered how this social thing works, I think.
So what I’m saying is, I’m ready for people again. Shall we go out for coffee, you and I?
I completely dropped this blog in the last quarter of the year, so thank you for waiting out the drought.
As usual, in the last three months my life has shifted course. We got back to the UK on 2 November, but didn’t stop travelling until mid-December. We spent the first month shooting around the country, trying to see people we missed, make it to important events and pull the threads of a settled life together.
We’re making our home in Oxfordshire again. I DID NOT see that coming at all, but we’ve had a couple of lucky breaks so hopefully this winter will be a good one. Although I love the caravan to bits, last winter was very wet, which made getting out harder and it did get lonely. A lack of both public and private transport made it hard to get to events and meet new people (or just buy groceries). Distance kept us from the people we already know and like, so it was an isolating experience.
This winter looks to be very different. It’s already drier, we have a working car, a regular bus service and good train connections. we’re based in a pretty village, instead of on an isolated farm, and have WALLS. Yep – one of our pieces of luck means we have a lovely house to live in. K has work in an office, and I’ve got plenty of freelance work.
We’re close to the Thames and are enjoying walks by the river, visiting local pubs (there are 5 within a 15-minute walk!) and spotting local wildlife. There is a lot of bird life here – I’m not going to say I’ve seen a flock of cockatoos, but I’ve seen hundreds of water birds, gulls, pigeons, a few song birds (they’re harder to spot) and up to 8 red kites in one go.
The kites are absolutely beautiful birds, and the way they fly is amazing. They have such elegant control over their trajectories. Watching them makes me cross about the mechanistic descriptions of flight in Jonathan Livingston Seagull all over again… I love that I can sit at my desk and see them out the window. It’s even better on a sunny, blue-sky day, but those are in somewhat short supply during an English winter.
We’re settling in nicely, and even bought some furniture. I don’t know how long this phase will last – I’ll let you know what new adventures turn up, in Oxfordshire and beyond!
Today is our 150th day on the road, and we have exactly 30 left. We’ll be back in the UK on 2 November (late) after a round 180 days away. We didn’t plan it like that – our main goal was to get back before my birthday which is also when our travel insurance runs out.
Anyway, this week, we’re in Kuta, the backpacker / surfer / clubber capital of Bali, Indonesia. It’s like staying in a bar, honestly, but one with a great beach. And tiny sea turtles.
We went into Denpasar today, using the entertaining local bus service. It’s not so much a bus service as random minibus drivers who are probably going in the direction they say they are. It’s like hitchhiking but (a) you pay for it (pence!) and (b) the bus is full of school kids and grandmothers and market produce.
To celebrate 150 days on the road, a few bits of trivia about our trip:
- Indonesia is our 9th country
- Denpasar is our 33rd city
- Our shortest stop was 28 hours in Singapore (we’re going back, though)
- Our longest stop was 6 weeks in the US (it’s a little bigger than Singapore)
- Our longest time in one place was 18 nights in Nha Trang, Vietnam (which was nice but kind of dull)
- We’ve travelled on 14 planes, 9 trains, 3 ferries, 1 campervan and an uncountable number of taxis, cars, buses and metros.
We’re spending this last month travelling from Bali to Bangkok, mostly overland. As it’s quite on-the-go, the-journey-is-the-trip sort of travel it feels like we’re heading home already. I feel like the apex of our trip, the point we were working towards was seeing family in Oz. After Melbourne, we were definitely on the return leg of the trip.
It’s nearly the end of September, and I’ve only got one post up. One! I have no excuse, either – I had good wifi, plenty of time, plenty of things to write about – in fact, too many. I’m getting a bit frozen trying to figure out how to give you a fair treatment of any of these places, as there’s so much to say.
Flicking through my photos, I realised that I took more photos of birds than anything else in Australia. I was so impressed by how many different brightly coloured birds there were everywhere, particularly because species that are really exotic pets in the UK are more common than sparrows down under.
Yellow-crested cockatoos are incredibly common. We saw dozens of flocks of dozens of birds. They’re pretty noisy, too, so the locals aren’t so fond of them as I was.
I took all these photos wandering around Canberra. It’s an incredibly green city, particularly given that it’s the nation’s capital. The original plan was to integrate the city with the natural environment, and I think it’s worked pretty well. It’s called the bush capital, which seems fair enough when you can see kangaroos and galahs within a few hundred meters of the parliament.
After leaving New Zealand, we had a bit of a stop-and-go tour of south eastern Australia. We had a few days in Sydney, where we celebrated our 10th anniversary and had a proper Aussie BBQ with friends. Then off to Canberra, where my rellies generously hosted us for 2 weeks, taking us to great restaurants and lots of tourist stuff too. A few days at the coast, and a final hop (8h by bus and train) to Melbourne to see my cousin and suddenly our the Australian leg of our journey was over.
We flew to Bali a couple of days ago, and although we’ve got plenty of trip left (just over a month) it feels like we’re heading home. We’ll be travelling mostly overland through bits of South East Asia, then flying back to Europe in time for my birthday in November.
I started this blog post a couple of days after we arrived in New Zealand. Here’s how far I got in the last almost 3 weeks:
We’re in New Zealand and it is BRILLIANT. Really, it is ALL CAPS good.
It turns out that if you’re staying in a campervan (we are!) driving around a lot (we are!) and freedom camping (cheap and legal, hurray NZ) you don’t get much online time. Sorry guys! I have lots of thoughts I want to share about this part of the trip, but in the interests of posting at all before we leave, I’ll hang fire. Instead, here are 6 pictures that show some of the things I love about this part of our trip.
1. The van
I’m not going to pretend it’s perfect, but it’s great to be back on wheels again. I was really stoked to try campervan life, after the caravan (trailer, for the Americans). It’s been a brilliant way to get about and has meant we could afford food and petrol (not much else though, first world prices are a bit of a shock after Vietnam).
2. The beaches
Even I’m not quite mad enough to swim when the air is below 10C and I’ve no hot shower (otherwise, sure, obvs), but they are thrillingly gorgeous. And everywhere.
3. Doing random stuff with K
It’s a little hard to explain to other people (sane, rational people with jobs and mortgages and whatnot) why we’re on this trip, or why we’re going so far out of our way to do a particular thing. The only real answer is ‘because we want to’. We’re having a lot of fun, even if it seems a bit mad!
This one’s a bit of a cheat because there’s a sunset and a volcano and a hot spring and a public park in there. Anyway, I’m enjoying all the geography they’ve got here!
Skiing in August! The snow was good and I was enormously entertained by the piste names. We skiied ‘The M1′ and ‘Ego Alley’ and ‘Greengates’ among others. Oh, and you know those bits of just-off-the-piste that everyone skis? Yeah, here they name them and stick a black diamond on them. Random.
6. Bird watching
I know, I know: it’s not a penguin or a kiwi. (We did see penguins. I’ll let K tell you about those since he’s still hugely excited by them!) I’m really enjoying all the wild birds we’ve seen around. I know that New Zealand is famous for ‘drab, ground dwelling and dull’ birds but we’ve seen lots of really fun ones. One fantail followed us half way home, and a green one gave us a full concert clearly inspired by a fax-modem combo! It’s bizarre to look at the rest of the wildlife (bats are the only indigenous mammals, e.g.) & plants and realise just how much of an impact humans have had in the last 200 years. More on that another time – the library closes soon!
Just a reminder that the UK can be beautiful…
… and sunny.
We’re on Mersea Island, in Essex, spending a few days with my mum before we leave on our Grand Adventure. It’s really pretty here. We’re staying in a 3-bedroom static caravan, which is as neat and carefully designed as our own van (it’s even made by the same people: Swift). I rather like it – I think there’s plenty of space for a permanent home, and easier to keep clean and tidy than a flat or house. The park is lovely and green, too, and very close to the sea.
I’ve also been trying out my new camera, and am really impressed by how much I got for my money. I bought a Panasonic Lumix TZ35 for about £120 (we had a voucher) and took this standing in the sea, pointing downwards. The snail was about the size of my thumbnail.