Home is a lighthouse.

I am writing this on an overnight bus from Kosovo to Montenegro, where I will be reunited with Kotor, but this post is not about how wonderful Kosovo was (and it really was) or about the home I am going back to, it is about the home I just came from.

Skopje. Let’s not forget where this Balkan love affair began all those years ago. I know it’s hard for the travellers I meet to wrap their heads around why I have been back to this eccentric city 4 times (5 by the end of this trip). While drinking rakia and talking to travellers in the garden of my friends’ new hostel (Lighthouse Hostel Skopje, you have to stay here, seriously) I realised, I had been away for nearly 3 years but these people were still as exceptional as I had remembered.

I have been back in the Balkans for a week, and it has taken me this long to piece together my feelings and settle back into my happiness. The jetlag has been put behind me, but even in those tired weary days I was filled with the usual warmth that being in this part of the world brings, and it has nothing to do with the weather.

I didn’t realise how much I had missed Skopje. I did not take anything for granted, not even watching the sparrows fly around the rose bushes while drinking a strong cup of Turkish coffee, and certainly not the people whose company I have always enjoyed and who always make me feel as if I have always been there even when years have passed us by and so much has changed.

And so my bus pulls into Kotor after a long and arduous journey from beautiful Kosovo, and I am glad to be here but I am also glad that when those tear stained final days appear I will be going back to Skopje where it all began as if that’s the way it always was supposed to be since the beginning.

Be not afraid of where you are going, of who you are, or what might take you by surprise. The best moments are not to be anticipated, only lived.

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Under the Irish sun…

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Photography by Erika Kochanski.

I have been in Ireland for 9 weeks now and Ireland is wonderful. When I got here it was all about the frost (and we even had a little snow), and now it’s all about the daffodils. I have certainly been through some ups and downs whilst staying here but also I am incredibly proud of myself at confronting a few of my fears that I had been avoiding for a very long time. It’s just proof that you need to occasionally put yourself out of the box to challenge your comfort zone and build on top of the greatness you already have inside. Not that I’m calling myself great, but I can see my potential now and that’s a fine thing.

In just shy of 4 weeks I will find myself in Liverpool, and by then I hope to have completed my transition into veganism. From all I have read it is a good place to be a vegan, as is where I am headed in Wales after that. That has what this year so far has been about: learning about myself and trying to figure out why I’ve been so unhappy. When I reconnected with vegetarianism a month ago I rediscovered myself. I had spent so long ignoring my core principles and feeling guilty for them that in the face of everything I know it was eating me up inside. Then I learned more, and it was the first time in a long time that I had found a passion for something again and I knew what I had to do to take it further.

I am not going to preach veganism here, that is not what this blog is for, but I do encourage you all to look within yourselves and ask yourself if your eyes are open or closed to the world around you. Ask yourself what you really know about what you eat, who you compromise your ethics for, and how much you know about the political environment of this planet we call home. Your core principles are your own, but if you are unhappy try and find a way to align what you practice with what you preach. None of us is perfect, and it isn’t about perfection. This world is flawed, but it won’t get better unless we do something!

I have travel plans booked up until the end of June, but I still am deciding where I want my journey to take me after that. Luckily I have plenty of time, and plenty of options. The important thing is I know the vibe I want my journey to take, and I am generating ideas all along the way of all kinds. Useful ideas that I can see bettering my life for the foreseeable future. Business ideas, book ideas, and I am happier and more confident that ever before.

Scary, delicious freedom…

toast

I’m sitting here, drinking my coffee, staring at a piece of toast wondering what will become of me? I am here again, ready to embark on a trip to another foreign land that I only know about through words, pictures and pieces of film. Nothing prepares you, because a new place is rarely like anything you’ve ever encountered before and it rarely is what you thought it might be, it’s so much more. There is such greatness in uncertainty.

I’ve been pacifying myself for weeks and months trying not to be too eager, not to get too frustrated, not to get too ahead of myself so that when the time comes I’m open to every experience that is presented to me. I don’t want to be locked into any preconceived misconceptions or false fairy-tale ideals. Life is not a fairy-tale, but it is an adventure and that is exactly what I’m so keen to have: an adventure full of scary, delicious freedom.

I want to be scared because that gives me a chance to confront myself and grow. I want to taste what the world has to offer because there are more flavours to the world than we could possibly consume in a single lifetime. I want to meet with the open road and throw my old ideals out the window to make room for new insights. Perhaps one day I’ll eventually figure out a way to process and express all this newly obtained knowledge.

What it all comes down to is this: I am not running away from routine, I’m running towards change. Change is so important. It’s wonderful. It’s something to embrace rather than be threatened by. Adaptability is an asset, a strength, and there is nothing that requires adaptability more than an adventure. No one can tell you how it will turn out, where it will lead, who you will meet, or what obstacles you will encounter along the way.

So what if the unknown is scary and that some of the experiences along the way might be a harsh mixture of bitter and sweet? Nothing will prepare you for what it feels like to chose your own direction in life. Adventure can be found starting a new job, getting married or a many number of other ventures. It can be found anywhere that you dare to seek it out. Take the bull by the horns and really show yourself what you’re made of and live.

So don’t waste your time judging other people’s affairs. There is no logical reason to make comparisons between your journey and theirs. If someone’s daring adventure is starting a family, embrace it. If the call for you means throwing yourself into a different country, take pride in it. Not everyone was made to grow in the same direction so cheer on and encourage those who are running enthusiastically toward great change in their lives.

For me, today, it means taking a bite out of my toast knowing that in a matter of days I will be taking a bite out of a completely different culture. I can’t wait to drown my every sense in Japan. I look forward to being overwhelmed and in awe of everything I find. I can’t wait to wake up amid this upcoming escapade and see what I can learn from it. Japan: if you’re willing to be my teacher, I’m willing to be your student for five weeks of the unknown.

The collector.

Nature

Photo by Erika Kochanski.

I am a girl of nature. I think I always have been. When I was a kid I made soup out of flower petals, twigs, water and dirt then my family would sit down and pretend to eat it. I grew out of making garden soup, but not out of nature. Now that I’m older I’m the kind of girl who rescues snails and ladybugs from the pavement or a preying mantis from a car bonnet. I escape to cities temporarily for the greatness they offer, but feel most at home when it’s just me outside catching the last of the day’s sun-rays somewhere on the edge of civilization where wild things roam.

I get my kicks out of spotting a hawk flying overhead or hearing a woodpecker in the forest. I love the rain. I feel alive in the wind. I would rather spend an hour watching a bee collect pollen than ten minutes in a nightclub. Birds make me smile; I often stop to watch them swoop down over a running stream. I jump over slugs so as not to squash them. I take photos at strange moments, but it is usually because something small and seemingly insignificant has taken my attention. That’s how I end up collecting a billion photos of random things throughout any journey I undertake.

I never thought of myself as a collector, but now when I think of it I suppose I am. I am a collector of experiences and memories. My photos are a way to capture time the way I see it. When I look over them I feel an air of peace; a certain feeling of quiet. Every photo, no matter how odd the subject matter, can pinpoint a moment in my life which becomes frozen solid in my memory. This is why I take photos when I travel, because without them memories become less accessible, they may even wither and die as they fall into the forgotten. I do not want to forget.