Finding Contentment

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” – Walt Whitman

Now this is a little off topic, but as I mentioned in my last post, I have been having a rough few weeks in Madrid and I believe it’s important to talk about the dark side of travelling and the effect it has on oneself as well as the beautiful moment.

So a friend of mine taught me a term the other day that I had heard of before, but never really understand completely, “self-sabotage.” Now for those of you who are unsure of the meaning too, it can be anything from procrastination to self-harming, but the area that I am talking about is in connections, when you self-sabotage in a relationship (be that with a family-member, friend or lover). This is when a person’s ‘survival mode’ kicks in, where one goes into stress-response and fears getting emotionally hurt. It’s when you feel as though you’re inadequate as a person, the fear that you cannot handle rejection/loss, or the feeling that you have to give yourself up to be loved. As a result of this, you end up freaking out and putting the other person down, becoming angry and pushing them away.

At the time I thought, ‘but why would anyone do that’? It doesn’t make sense. Well, that was until I did exactly that just a few days later and in that moment I realised that in fact, I often do.

Now when I care about someone I do so deeply and I would do anything to avoid hurting them, but unfortunately I can also be painstakingly volatile to those very same people. What I say in these moments of anger, I often don’t mean and it sadly doesn’t represent me as who I feel I really am. I know that I am far from perfect. I am lost. I am insecure of myself as a person. I am sensitive. But one thing I know is that making people feel bad about themselves is not something I take any joy in at all. Unfortunately, because of my fiery nature, this does happen and it’s the people I love the most that I do this to. I self-sabotage.

During my time in Madrid, I have built incredible friendships with people that I admire hugely, and all I can wish is that when I am their age (just a few years away, oof) that I can find some of that inner-peace that they possess. I feel that making these connections is one of the most brilliant parts of travelling and living abroad.

These wonderful people have taught me that to build strength and flexibility, we should open our minds to people and ideas we don’t like, and pick fights with those we do. And that is exactly what I am trying, to open my mind and my heart to everything. I know for them it cannot be easy to be friends with a lost person who is confused and contradictory at best, yet they take it in their stride.

But don’t take this post in the wrong way, I am in love with my life right now and I feel such joy at times it’s unreal. I am incredibly lucky to have these moments in my life at such a young age. I am proud of myself for overcoming crazy anxiety, selective-mutism and bouts of depression and to feel the way that I do now and the confidence that I have is something I could never imagine in a million years. To be living in another country, in a beautiful city such as Madrid with such wonderful friends was something of my dreams.

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Travelling in the Digital Age

“I maintain couchsurfing and crowdsurfing as the same thing – you’re falling into the audience and you’re trusting each other.” Amanda Palmer

People no longer appear to travel alone for the pure joy of seeing new places, but they travel to share their adventures for the whole world to see – with Go Pros attached the hip and cell phones awaiting in hostels to give birth to the next beach selfie.

Another addition due to these digital advancements are websites such as Airbnb and Couchsurfing that offer cheap or free accommodation. These are arguably a meandering positive of this new era of travel. Nonetheless, with safety of solo travelling a real worry, do these websites create even more possibility for dangerous situation?

Airbnb and Couchsurfing offer similar hooks: “Stay with locals and meet travellers” and “Live there. Experience a city like a local.” Of course, these have both positives and negatives for both traveller and host. The host is allowing a stranger to stay in their house and the traveller trusts the host to provide a safe environment.

Undoubtedly, most of the hosts on these websites are decent people, but particularly for solo female travellers, we unfortunately still have to be cautious about who we are trusting. With articles titled ‘Couchsurfing’s sex secret: it’s the greatest hook-up app ever devised’, ‘8 signs of a slutty CouchSurfer girl’ and even a website called ‘CouchBangs.com’, this concern is a sincere one.

There are ways that the fear of being endangered can be reduced, the obvious being checking the ‘references’ left by fellow travellers and the host’s own local friends, but there are resources (also thanks to the digital age) that can and will help you, including Facebook communities for travellers, the 24hr helpline on Couchsurfing.com and even researching places of safety in the city you are planning a trip to, so use them!

Ashamed of my country

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – M. Gandhi

In the aftermath of the results from the US election, the whole world is left in shock as Donald Trump takes the keys to the white house, maybe the exception of this shock is Britain. Having our own moment of foolishness earlier this year with ‘Brexit’, we are well aware that anything is possible. Many of us are now aware what it feels like to be ashamed of our nationalities, something we once uttered with pride, now a shattered emblem upon the floor.

American and British citizens are arguably more united than ever through recent events, yet also are in despair of each other’s decisions they have made for their countries. Half of Brits believed the Brexit scare would pass. Half of America believed the Trump nightmare would end. But here we both are, many of us ashamed to show our faces to the rest of the world. The world looking to us with disappointment.

Yet this feeling is nothing new, we are only experiencing a taster of what it feels like to be blamed for something that is out of our hands. We placed our votes. The rest of our nations decided against us and we are feeling the wrath of their decisions.

Screen Shot 2016-11-11 at 08.39.41.png
The first results that come up on Google.

But we would never hold innocent people accountable for someone of their race who commits terrible crimes, would we? This hasn’t been happening for hundreds of years to minority groups, has it?

We should not feel ashamed for our countries decisions; the shame should be felt from our own discrimination of other races. For example, Muslims have been looked down upon and made to feel shame for “.006625%”[i] of their population being extremist, when over 50% of Americans and Brits voted for promoters of racist, xenophobic and misogynist ideals.

As of now, nobody knows what is going to happen with Britain out of Europe or America with Trump as their president. But those who did not vote for these matters are not to blame and we should not be ashamed that we have been let down by our countries, but rather be the catalyst for a positive change and show the rest of the world that we are not all racist and many of us are just as devastated by the hate crimes that are happening as a consequence of these right-wing movements as the groups they are targeting.

As for myself, although I have fallen in love with Spain in a time I feel failed by my own country, I still cannot wait to be on that plane at Christmastime and see the rolling hills and patchwork farms of England, and oh-my-goodness I am well overdue for a good old Sunday roast and a hug from my family! This is the Great Britain I still love.

People should not be basing their pride in their nation, particularly in these disjointed times, but rather be proud of their own personal achievements and views.

[i] https://www.quora.com/How-many-extremist-Muslims-are-there-when-compared-with-the-wider-and-world-wide-Muslim-population

Thailand in Mourning

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity” – Martin Luther King Jr.

With Thailand becoming an increasingly popular destination for many different travellers, from seasoned backpackers to avid party-goers, the news of entertainment venues being closed during this time of mourning has caused a ripple of debate and controversy in the travelling community.

Following the recent death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a mourning period of one year began on October 14th 2016. In consequence, many bars and restaurants are likely to be closed or silent until the middle of next month, visitors are expected to wear respectful clothes and a shadow of sadness will hang over Thailand for a long time to come… But some individuals have expressed their frustration through social media at this ‘inconvenience’, stating that this has ‘ruined their holiday’ and others are worried about not being able visit the typical tourist sites. Of course, many others have shown nothing but respect and are seeking advice on ways they should behave.

But what does not seem to being portrayed fully is the importance that King Bhumibol Adulyadej had to Thailand, and that in fact his death may mean that the country may not the be the same place as it once was, for visitors and locals alike. The King wasn’t ‘just a King’ to Thailand, but he was the Father of the Nation and his death was a great and painful blow. The country now has an uncertain future now their figure of unity and peace has deceased.

Four million Thais depend on tourism for their income, so the decision to close and restrict hours on bars has not come lightly. It is a currently a very fluid situation which will change constantly and all visitors must be respectful at this sensitive time.

Although things are now almost back to normal for tourists; for Thais, without their beloved King, it may never be the same again.

…But is it safe? Solo Travelling

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” – Albert Einstein

Unfortunately, when a girl or woman states that she is going to travel alone, it is nearly always still met with an abundance of criticism and concern from both parents and peers. But does this stem from the media demonizing people from other countries, or is it a relevant worry?

When something bad happens to a woman, it’s often blamed on her. A woman gets raped; it’s her fault for her demeanor. A woman gets abused; it’s her fault for being weak. A woman travels alone; it’s her fault for getting murdered.

With recent stories, such as Hannah Gavios, a 23-year-old woman who was molested after breaking her back jumping off a cliff to escape the attacker and 21-year-old Mia Ayliffe-Chung (one close to home, as a Derbyshire girl myself), stabbed to death in a hostel by an Islamic extremist, fear is painfully eminent among female travellers.

Sometimes awful things happen, it’s true. But is it not a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and not that of being a solo female traveller? The same fate could have just as easily befallen these two young ladies at home, but instead they are criticized for their decision to travel solo.

There is clear victim blaming with the headlines covering these stories, such as:

  • ‘Female backpacker, 23, breaks her back’ – The Mirror. No mention of the sexual attacker, or how her tour guide molested her after helplessly injured.
  • ‘Hero Brit who died after trying to save backpacker Mia Ayliffe-Chung’ – The Mirror, again… Of course, Tom Jackson’s life is just as important, but yet again the woman is depicted as the helpless victim.

I have been made to fear travelling alone because of the portrayal of solo travelling in the media and my family’s persistent lessons in safety. Previously, my mothers concerns and intimidating news stories used to frighten me, I was afraid of the world. But now, they frustrate me. The world can be dark, yes, but it also beautiful. And if women cannot experience that because it’s deemed ‘appropriate’ for a women to travel solo, then that is a shameful situation in society. Unfortunately, anxiety does still take over me when I am walking at night, or going through an isolated part of town. But that fear is prevalent in any country.

I have been lucky enough to find an online community ‘Girls LOVE travel’, where females support one another in their solo pursuits and share their epic adventures, without fear of men or their families criticising them. These women are not reckless, and are aware relevant dangers, but they do not let this hinder them on their journeys.

Rather than wishing women to ‘stay safe’ and ‘take care’, the world should be teaching it’s men to take responsibility for their actions. However, this sadly is not something that is going to happen over night. In the meantime, women need to tell their stories, share their advice and look out for each other both at home and abroad, as no country has yet found a remedy to this inequality.

All travelers should take precautions, but everyone should be aware of the dangers in their own home countries too, as well as around the world.

 

First-year Blues

“Before you can appreciate the light, you have to see the darkness”

So as I aforementioned, I greatly struggled during my first year of university. I remember constantly staring at my bleached wooden desk and magnolia ceiling in my tiny boxed room in student halls and feeling overwhelmingly lonely and numb. Only broken by the daily dinner chats in the tiny kitchen.

“University will be the best three years of your life,” they say. But if that’s the case, then why does every other student in England I have come across feel just as bitterly disappointed as I did in my first year?

We go to university expecting a new and exciting experience where we will gain our independence, excluding the fact of the extortionate loan (a topic I shall not touch today), learn about the most interesting subjects and of course make friends for life! Yet, this is not what we get.

So, what happened?

We are sold a lie and students come to university utterly unprepared. We arrive, books clutched in our arms, a car full of our new and old belongings and a head full of hope. But in reality we cannot prepare ourselves for the utter lack of sleep, little money, strangers at every corner, extensive reading lists, little class time, drinking every night, living off potatoes, missing home, tutors that don’t even remember our names and wondering whether it’s really worth it. So is it really a wonder that depression, anxiety and eating disorders are becoming increasingly rife in our student community?

I put my sadness and loneliness down to the fact that I had just broke off a two-year relationship and my parents had uprooted and moved to a new city just before I began my degree. But now I see I was not the only one feeling desperate in this highly pressurised environment. Desperate for a kind face. Desperate for acceptance. Desperate for the work load to finally decrease. Desperate for help, of any kind! I feel like I am one of the lucky ones, I have found solace in my studying abroad, but I am apprehensive about what I will go back to

Something needs to be done about this. Universities need to recognise this and offer real support for students, not just throw up a three-month waiting list for ‘e-counselling.’