Beach time in Ko Samui, Thailand
I am 100% sure that Nick and I made the right decision to leave England and to travel until we want to stop. With the election coming up my Twitter feed serves as a constant reminder of the things I hate about the UK although I am gutted not to be able to help re-elect Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavillion. I am voting, obvs, I just have to vote somewhere else now. It's a safe Tory seat so my vote will hardly count but I would never skip out on voting no matter how pointless it may seem. Even if you just show up and spoil your ballot paper you have to freaking show up to be counted, it doesn't register as a protest if you just sit at home like all of the apathetic non-voters. It's also important to vote for parties like the Greens in seats they have no chance of winning because if they get 5% of the vote they not only know there are people rooting for them but they also get their deposit back which is extra important for smaller parties.
Anyway, leaving the UK was an A+ idea. As well as seeing the world Nick and I are getting to spend so much quality time together. It's so much fun! I feel like our lives are now being buoyed along by a constant undercurrent of excitement rather than being punctuated by work stresses and pointless holidays - and when I say holidays I'm talking Easter not a week long trip to the Andalusian coast! Our plans for the rest of the year include 5 weeks in Austin, I can't believe how soon Vida Vegan Con is and I am so sad about it being the final one that I have pushed it to the back of my mind because I don't want to think about it. I'm speaking about my Adventures in Vegan Travel Blogging on Sunday which I am beyond excited to talk about and I'll also be making an appearance on the Feminism and Veganism panel on Saturday morning which is sure to be both awesome and empowering. After our time in Austin comes to an end in mid June Nick and I will be spending summer living in a van which is like my actual lifelong dream come true, I have been talking seriously about living in a van since my early twenties and it's going to be the coolest way to explore Eastern Europe. Plans are forming for Autumn / Winter 2015 but I currently have no idea what 2016 holds. Knowing that the choices are ours and there are a million opportunities we'd like to grab is both overwhelming and exciting. We're currently looking into volunteering in Japan and pondering whether we could somehow afford to spend three months living in California.
Exploring the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam
I don't want to paint a totally idyllic, perfect picture of life right now though; there have been many challenges and there are definite downsides to travelling for as long as we're planning to. Our plans at once make seeing friends harder and easier. I miss the people I spent the most time with in the UK but this is balanced out by how excited I am to get to spend more time with my friends in Austin. I'm also getting to spend more quality time than usual with my BFF Tabitha this year because Nick and I are staying with her for a week when we swing through Brighton and we have a week of punk festival fun and city eats lined up for Slovenia this summer. I'm also making the effort to send postcards and stay connected whenever possible, I don't want my friendships to fade away. They're all too important.
Heath care is also challenging, we've both experienced being sick on the road in situations where it has been obvious that we needed to seek medical advice asap but, what to do about those smaller niggles? I am so used to having the privilege (and I absolutely recognise it for what it is, a privilege) of having a GP whom I can visit whenever I need that not having that there as a safety net is an odd feeling. This year we're swinging through the UK twice so things like dentist check ups and the filling of repeat prescriptions can be fitted into those slots but how can Nick get physio for the wrist he injured months ago when an NHS referral will take months and we'll likely be away once the appointment rolls around? What happens when I need my IUD replaced? Do I need to go to England to do that? What do I do when my colitis flares up aside from quitting fruit for a bit? This throws up it's own challenges when you're in places where fruit is not only delicious but also the best vegan option available. I would love any answers y'all may have to those questions by the way because I really have no clue!
Sunset in Vang Vieng, Laos
One thing we've found is that travelling seems less sociable than we'd expected. I feel like this is probably because we're travelling as a couple so whilst we're taking the opportunities to hang with people when they come up, and have found that making new friends is a touch easier because we both have the time to devote to spontaneous socialising, we already have each other to hang out with so the inherant need to make new buddies isn't there. We've made great connections with fellow vegan travel bloggers and with people we met whilst volunteering but on a day to day basis we pretty much just hang together. I wonder if this has to do with us both a) being a little older than your average backpacker b) not being into drinking and certainly not being into getting dressed up in local "costumes" for a bar crawl and c) being quite fussy about who we hang out with. As soon as someone makes an offhand racist or sexist remark that's it I'm done. I also have no time for people who greet your veganism with an "mmmm bacon"... I think that I'm lucky that I've always made most of my friends through vegan groups or online vegan communities because it means that the majority of my friends would never do these things.
Long term travel also seems to mean subjecting yourself to that feeling where your holiday's coming to an end and you feel super sad about it over and over and over again! Those feelings get balanced out by how great it is that you get to go somewhere new and I am aware that that's a really privileged place to be but I still feel sad when I have to say goodbye to people and places and things. Whether that's the cat you fell in love with at a shelter, the waitress who was amazing at fielding your vegan questions the whole time you were at a resort, the beach you loved waking up by, the food you loved but that you might not get to eat again or even just the general atmosphere of a place. One of the benefits of long term travel is that it's often possible to extend your stay somewhere if you're loving it, Nick and I really took advantage of this on Koh Lanta and in Chiang Mai, as well as a few other places to a lesser extent, but still this is travel not moving house so saying goodbye is inevitable.
Connecting with a new friend at Elephant Nature Park, Thailand
I've also learnt that anxiety doesn't disappear when you travel, I've only had one panic attack since the trip started but my anxiety triggers are the same as ever. I am realising that feeling the sun on my skin every day, watching far less TV and going outside more (I didn't get to do a whole lot of that during my last three months in the UK because there was just so much to do) are conducive to good mental health. I also had a total revelation when I was talking to Nick about how I felt that I just wasn't doing enough activism / writing / all of the other things I want to do and I realised that this feeling comes from me constantly moving the goalposts I've set myself! I wanted to speak about vegan travel but before I'd even done my first talk I was already wondering why I hadn't made a zine yet, now that I approach my second talk and am super close to printing my first zine I'm asking myself why I haven't started my You Tube channel yet. I'm realising that happiness comes when you revel in your successes! You can't just constantly move your goalposts because then it feels like you're never succeeding. Having come from a place where answering the phone made me super anxious doing public any speaking at all is a pretty bad ass place to be and I'm trying to recognise all of those small achievements. I can only assume that I'm realising this stuff now because I have the time and space to think. Whilst travel can sometimes keep you pretty busy what with the constant need to book the next train, organise the next accommodation and research where the vegan food is at, you also have the choice to opt out of that for a few days or weeks or more. You can stop somewhere you're semi-familiar with at any time and just relax or work on projects or whatever. I am quite literally free to do whatever I want to do and it feels amazing.
I didn't necessarily set out on this adventure to "find myself" or to learn new things about myself but now I think that learning about yourself is an inevitable side effect of this type of travel. I had thought I'd learn about the world and discover new things about new countries and people and but I hadn't considered the finding myself thing to be an integral part of the adventure. When I was in my teens all of my friends went off on these big trips, exploring the Inca Trail, volunteering in Uganda or backpacking in Australia so the discoveries for me are different. I'm 31, I already know myself pretty well and my core beliefs haven't changed, although reading both Sistah Vegan and attending some of the Sistah Vegan Conference whilst I was in Thailand gave me a lot to think about in terms of what I consider ethical / cruelty free and how to be a better anti racist ally... I think that probably needs it's own blog post though. I'm enjoying having time to devote to being a better version of myself which I think is something I've always tried to work on but sometimes day to day obstacles get in the way of that, pushing myself outside of my comfort zone has given me the space to question some of my behaviours (or lack of them) and to brainstorm how to work on them which has been awesome. On a more basic day to day level I have realised that whilst I love long distance train travel I dislike travelling by bus. I've learnt that I'm less scared of bugs than I thought I was which is great although I didn't love the overnight train I took where the cabin was crawling with cockroaches. I also hadn't realised that they can fly! What the hell cockroaches?! I learnt that I need to travel in countries where people are going to stare / point / grab at me for a few weeks before having a break - dealing with that for over a month in Vietnam started to grate by the end of our five weeks there. It's made me have a bit of a rethink about how I'm going to go about exploring China although I am absolutely certain that I still want to go.
First beach day of the trip on Koh Yao Noi, Thailand
If this post publishes when it's meant to I'm somewhere in European airspace getting ready to descend on the UK where I'll be hanging with friends in Brighton, practicing my Vida Vegan Con talk in front of anyone who'll listen and eating all of the vegan cheese I can lay my hands on whilst I prepare for the next leg of our adventures and you can rest assured that wherever I am I am pretty damned excited to be there!