One of the first things I remember when I left to go travelling to Australia for a year alone, is being in the arrival airport bathrooms.
I know right, weird. But bear with me – you’ll see why it’s relevant.
After my first long haul flight experience alone, exhausted and anxious, I stumbled off the plane at Perth International Airport arrivals and made my way to passport control.
Travelling to Australia alone.
My visa choice was the popular 1 year Australian Working Holiday Visa (or WHV as you’ll fondly come to know it as). I had the required £2,000 funds to support myself, that was stipulated in the visa conditions – but I didn’t have any more money.
I was worried immigration would pull me aside and demand to see my bank account. Or interrogate me as to why I’d left my life behind and travelled 10,000 miles to live in Western Australia, all by myself.
Once I’d passed through passport control with no issues, I realised I was still asking myself that question.
Why did I decide to this? Why did I give up my job, my flat, my life in the UK, sell my belongings and book a ticket and leave?
You see, if you rewind to about 24 hours ago, to me getting on that first plane – I was a mess.
The few weeks prior to leaving were so full on. Sell, book, pack, repeat.
In 3 months I had managed to squish in, moving out of a flat, selling my belongings, quitting my job, seeing friends & family, booking flights, accommodation, buying everything related & getting finances in order.
And trying to recover emotionally and gain the courage to actually go.
Everyone seemed to want a piece of me before I left, naturally they were curious and interested in my plans. But it was unrealistic to fit in farewell engagements with everyone.
The airport farewell was brutal (and subsequent ones don’t get any easier). My amazing Nan came with me to say goodbye. We spent some time walking around the airport chatting, avoiding thinking about the looming farewell.
She wanted to buy me something, I said no, she bought me something anyway. It was a Peter Rabbit soft toy.
Here he is.
He’s been everywhere with me on my travels ever since. It was a perfect gift and the last thing we did before edging towards departures.
So we said our ‘goodbyes’, our ‘I’ll miss you’s, had our hugs and we cried a little. I started the walk through the departure gate and I waved until I couldn’t see her anymore.
Then I just sobbed the whole way through security, through departures, through queuing at the gate, through finding my seat, through take-off. It was just a blur of tears and blubbering, interspersed with crippling fear and anxiety.
You’re probably thinking, ‘there must be more to this…’ and you’d be right.
Leaving friends and family behind.
It’s true I was very sad to leave my Nan for so long. She raised me from a baby, and as a result we are very close. But I was also anxious because I’d recently suffered ear problems and knew they’d cause me some pain on the flight.
And I was struck with fear because I was leaving my life behind and literally flying into the unknown.
However, I was also heartbroken. Only 3 months before I had gone through a break-up from a relationship of 5 years. Even though the relationship was difficult, the break-up was somehow worse.
My life had become the stuff that all runaway stories are made of.
Travellers sometimes get labelled as either ‘running away from something’ or ‘looking for something’. I happily admit, I was doing a little of both.
We had already received our visa’s, a few months before the relationship ended. But it turns out for him, getting the visa approved is the one thing that made him realise… he didn’t want to go.
So I went anyway – alone. And it was the bravest thing I have ever done.
Facing your fear and going anyway – alone.
I may have sobbed my way around the entire airport alone, but I got my sobbing ass on that plane and did it anyway.
I felt terrified of what I was about to do, in the weeks before leaving. However, my instinct made me push through it. I thought if it didn’t work out, I could jump on my return flight and just go home.
But if I didn’t try it, if I didn’t go – I’d never know.
Turned out to be the best damn thing I ever did.
My teary demeanour got me some concerned sympathy from a couple of fellow passengers on the first flight.
I’m so grateful to them for being so caring towards me. It made all the difference, I hope they know that.
On the second flight, I curled up in the window seat and just stared out of the window at the sky. It was the first time in so long that I’d felt peaceful.
The hardest part is taking the first step.
When I realised we were landing, reality kicked in and I was anxious again.
So I stumbled off the plane, completed passport control, hit baggage claim, and dodged the duty-free sales corridor. Then I realised I’m about to meet my friend in departures, who I haven’t seen in two years.
Emotionally exhausted and my skin’s life-force sucked away by the plane’s air-con, I duck into the bathrooms to make myself look human again.
Then I turn on the sink tap and the water drains down the plug – in the opposite direction. Wow, the water really does do that here.
That’s when it hits me. I’m in Australia, I’m in the southern hemisphere. I’m on the other side of the equator! Shit, should I be looking out for poisonous spiders in bathrooms now I’m here? Don’t they lurk under the toilet seat?
My mind suddenly shifted gear. It’d forgotten all about being that heartbroken sob monster that got on the plane and immediately went into practical, adapting for change mode.
The hard part was done. I’d made it.
So as I stepped out into the arrivals hall of Perth airport and saw my friend waiting for me, I felt complete freedom.
Now it was all about Australia. And travel, travel, travel.