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.

Advertisements

Japan here I come…

DSC_0007

Photography by Erika Kochanski.

This little piece of metal and plastic. I bought it over a decade-and-a-half ago, around the time I used to steal travelogues on Japan. You know, before they handed them out freely and used to keep them hidden behind counters at travel agencies for serious clients who had serious potential for purchasing tickets, not young teens with sticky fingers.
 
This little piece of plastic and metal sat in a drawer for years before it got its first use: flying to the U.S. to spend time with my then boyfriend and meet his family. I was thankful that it was finally useful, even though in my heart I still pined for it to be used in Japan. When I told him this, we started planning to go. I bought [more] books and excitedly wrote [more] lists of things we could see, but this dream slipped away yet again when I realised it was never going to happen, that we weren’t meant to be, and so I stuck this little gadget back inside a box in a drawer and there it has stayed ever since.
 
It has travelled in that box to every place I have ever rented and lived, and now it sits back in the same drawer it was first put in all those years ago (although that drawer has been stylishly painted and refurbished since then). I had travelled to 23 countries outside of my own in that time, seen the world in so many different forms, and yet I still continued to deny myself the one place I desired to see the most. A denial for good reason perhaps – a certain stigma had been created around it through various events – and so I didn’t find myself worthy of ever bringing this dream to fruition. Until now.
 
On Monday I was tired of dreaming. I threw aside all my other plans and research, the half-a-dozen other countries I was mistakenly putting ahead of it on my list as if purposely keeping true dreams on the back-burner, and started reconnecting with old ideas again. Over time they had become less tainted by the past, and so a new excitement grew inside stemming from the old.
 
On Tuesday I bought a ticket to Japan.
 
On Wednesday I took this little piece of plastic and metal out of its box and smiled while looking at it for the first time in a long time. Out of all the things I have donated to charity to downsize my belongings while travelling abroad, this I was never able to let go of and now after all this time it will finally be able to realise its potential (as do I).

What a way to see out 2016 – an emotional roller-coaster of a year already – and get me ready for my 2017 life teaching English abroad. It is crazy wonderful how time moves our desires around in circles until we reach the places and maturity levels needed to go after them properly. I don’t think I would ever have been able to fully appreciate the opportunities presented me these next 12 months at the level I currently am if it wasn’t for the pain, hardship and sacrifice of my past. It has made all of this that much sweeter.

Three questions to bring you closer to a happier reality…

DSC_1231~2

I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to searching for quotes on Google that inspire me. I am very picky about what I like, but when I find that perfect quote that looks as good as it makes you feel (big praise to those great people with amazing typography skills) it works as an awesome mood booster. I know for a fact that I’m not alone in this obsession, the internet’s abundance of “quote imagery” proves that, but as far as time wasters go I think this is a fairly positive one.

Once you learn how to be happy, you won’t tolerate being around people who make you feel anything less.” – Unknown.

I think if I had of read this quote at any other time in my life I probably would have kept scrolling, but after being on the roller coaster high of a lifetime and then coming off of it and tripping over all sorts of messy and unnecessary road bumps, I’ve now reached a place where I actually got it when I came across it today: We are all in control of our own reality, no one else, and we are also responsible for our own purpose, direction, and the people whose lives we opt to put our energy into. Our choices are everything, and they’re especially important when they’re not easy.

 

The best project you will ever work on is you!” – Unknown.

Don’t forget that the value you put into yourself will become the value you pass onto others and the world around you. There is a huge difference (mammoth, really) between being a self-centered or selfish human and the idea of working on making yourself better with the intention of benefiting the whole world and people that surround you. The current social state of this planet has proven it can be incredibly mean and unfair, but that does not mean you have to be. The phrase if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em does not apply here. Fight until you are forced to walk away. Work on yourself and push your limits. Don’t coast through life, and learn to recognise the difference between people who also want to build themselves and those who just want you to do the work for them.

Ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Is what I’m doing building me into a better person?
  • Can what I’m doing be shared for a greater good (either now or in the foreseeable future)?
  • Am I doing the work needed instead of making excuses to get out of it?

If all your answers point to yes, then you are on a wonderfully constructive path. That is your reality, so cherish it. Don’t over-complicate it because success is measured in many ways. If the answer was no, things can be changed. That’s the beauty of life!

Be-Type-Of-Person-You-Want-To-Meet

How to fashion a travel itinerary…

Cambodia

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill.
 
Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.” — Peter Hoeg.
 
The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” – Anna Quindlen.
I’m sitting here searching for flights, deciding what I still want to cram into this amazing year that I’ve had, and asking myself, “Where does your heart want to take you?” I think my heart is following a new path, not one of ticking off boxes, but one of embracing people, places and moments that have made me experience something bigger than what I am. I have warmed up, calmed down, gone crazy, and enjoyed everything that has come my way. I have cried, but I have learned it’s actually quite a wonderful thing when you ugly cry in front of people and realise that no matter how insane they think you are they’ll still love you. I may have done a lot of solo-travel in my life thus far, but I have rarely been alone. What I have done is met a ridiculous amount of good people, made a few great new friends, done some hilarious things and often found myself in hysterics for sometimes days or weeks on end. I am a serious girl when left to my own devices, and I have taken very little time to be serious about anything for a good portion of this year, and it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s not as childish as it sounds, it’s actually been incredibly liberating and necessary. There will be more bumps along the way I’m sure, but my path is getting clearer everyday and my priorities are getting more focused and stable.
World 2016

The trouble with goodbye…

image

Let me get this out of my system from the very beginning: travel is not a story that ends softly to reassure you that all loose ends find their rightful places. This is a reality, my reality, and it is not always perfect, pretty or fair. You do not need to know who I was before I got to the Balkans, how I became such a shell of a person – that story will leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth – the only thing you need to know is that I have been reborn somehow. I have been reanimated.

I have been struggling to put Kotor into words. The two or so months prior that I had spent in the Balkans I had written home regularly. It was exhausting. I am a writer, sure, but I always feel as though I’m writing for other people. So, I stopped writing, and it was freeing. What I was feeling seemed too indescribable to me anyway. How on earth could I appropriately describe Kaitlin or Jake? How could I ever capture Danilo, Vlado or Moco in even the best formed sentences? Impossible.

I could certainly have described the beauty of the town, the mountains, the bay of Kotor. I could have created a detailed representation of Old Town Hostel, a place and people who I grew to love on such a grand scale. It was another home for me, another family, one who taught me how to have fun again and let people in more than I had before. I often say I don’t believe in love, but Kotor I believed in. It was a crazy, messy, kind of love. It was easy and awkward at the same time and I got addicted to it.

While I know the party goes on in every place after you move on, walking out on this one hurt more somehow. I mean, I have done all the things I did in Kotor in other places sure, but there it was different and I know the answer to that riddle lies with the people I spent my time with. I honestly can’t picture my life clearly before my Montenegrin month. Obviously it existed, but my slate has been wiped clean. Thank fucking goodness.

There are people I don’t feel like I got a proper goodbye with. There are friends I know that I’ll need to see again one day to feel complete. I’m so lucky my return to Germany reunited me with my running gear and armed me with a nostalgic music playlist to keep me both distracted and motivated or else I’d go mental. This way I can take care of myself and stay real for the people around me here. I remember the ugly tears, but now I can smile at the flashbacks as they hit me, hoping there’ll be another round.

eee1879c9c86212fad695eaf6aacbc13

 

Cocoons and changing leaves.

image

If Kotor was my rollercoaster, Skopje is my carousel. That one’s for you, Jake. The Balkans is one hell of a themepark and I would love to stay here forever and never have to say goodbye. I don’t feel done with this part of the world, I want to keep exploring it, living it, but I know this has to end at some point, even if this particular themepark never closes. I leave on Saturday, but I’m glad that farewell doesn’t have to be forever. I can always return, and I absolutely intend to.

It’s been six months since this ship set sail, since I left Australian soil in search of myself, and I think what I have found is that I’m the best me I can be only when I’m hunting. That’s not to say I haven’t been crushed along the way – I don’t think anyone has seen me cry as much as Kaitlin – but in order to truly feel the great heights one must embrace the pits that sometimes form inside. Use them for comparison so when you’re looking down inside you feel dizzy and nauseous. If you’re barely holding on to your insides, you know you’re doing it right.

The number of times I’ve been called crazy for not fitting the “travel mould” really is insane, and kind of amusing when you think of what I’ve been through. Some people don’t get that there is no prescribed way to do this. I travel to unravel, not to check things off of some kind of bucket list, although there is nothing wrong with having one. Someone once referred to what was happening to me as emerging from my cocoon, and he was right: it has to be slow and in your own time. I don’t think I would have come this far if all I was doing was jumping puddles instead of exploring oceans.

I will enjoy these days while they last, and when the dust settles after I leave the Balkans and return to Germany, I will evaluate my position and what I want to achieve in the next three months while I am still in Europe. Where to go, who to see, how to spend my time… there are no wrong answers, only worlds of wanting amidst all of the emotional upheaval. I crave the potential to expand beyond what I have been because this is what the traveller’s heart is born for.

Let the leaves change, the snow fall, and the sun emerge when it’s ready to melt my heart once more. This is only one awakening, but it has been my favourite one.

image

Consumed.

image

Consumed. My new friend Kaitlin has used this word on multiple occasions about her stay here in Kotor, and the longer I am here the more I understand what she means. Kotor is consuming me, us, and when the time comes for us to leave I am sure to feel further consumed by the overwhelming sadness that will follow.

Tonight marks 3 weeks for me here at Old Town Hostel, and double that for Kaitlin. When you stay so long in one place you develop this strange cycle of attachment, and my addictive personality is warring hard against my usual Vulcan logic at the moment. I know I must leave and I know where I am going is wonderful, but my heart is so torn about moving on.

This is where I became a person. This is where I finally stripped my heart raw and let my head run wild.

image

image

image

image

Sarajevo.

image

“Wherever you fall to sleep in your secure existence, never forget that wherever there is war there was once peace, wherever there is death there was once life, and wherever there is danger there was once safety. You cannot predict change, with the exception of the changes you have the power to make on your own accord, so remember this and ask yourself: What would you expect from the world if your circumstances suddenly violently shifted sideways?” – Erika Kochanski.

War is a common theme lately in both my travels around the Balkans as well as everytime I give attention to the news. It’s something I grew up aware of coming from a German family in Australia, being called a Nazi by ignorant school children who knew nothing of what they were talking about. I see a lot of that on social media now on a bigger scale, it saddens me and it’s a shame.

But I don’t want to talk about war today, no matter how topical it may or may not be. I want to show you Sarajevo as a beautiful city which is constantly rebuilding itself. I think the best way for me to do that is in pictures. As much as I am aware that there is a wartime undertone to anything associated with this city, I want you to see the beauty that it is now, and in some cases, once was before the horrors that it endured.

 

image

image

image

image

image

image

Behind green windows.

image

Photograph by Erika Kochanski.

I have a new roommate in the hostel tonight named, Yahya. He is a refugee from Syria trying to make his way to Germany to hopefully use his contacts there to find work. A highly skilled medical engineer, days ago he left his family behind to take an extremely risky journey to escape from Syria, via Turkey, onto Greece and then into Serbia through Macedonia. He speaks to me so he can practice his English, which he had to learn in secret because it is not something that is taught back home. He apologises profrusely for his “bad English” but I can understand him perfectly fine as he shows me pictures of the dinghy he crossed into Greece on where he spent six hours shoveling out water and navigating the person who aided their crossing with his phone GPS. Even still, he stopped to take a picture of the sunrise.

Yahya shows me pictures of refugee camps, and of his children Hani and Aziz back in Syria, and although he has literally trudged across multiple countries in recent days, asks me if I need any privacy in the dorm room as he is “happy to leave if I need” because he doesn’t want me to feel uncomfortable because he knows his home country has a “bad reputation”.

His hope is to settle in Germany where they will likely want his skills and even then it will take him at least a year before he can expect to bring his children and family over safely. He does not want to risk their lives as he risked his own. A year or more before he gets to see them again, only holding on to digital pictures of them on his phone to remind him what he is doing all this for. They’re absolutely beautiful children, and you can see he loves them and is proud to show me their smiling faces. He apologises again for his poor English, but as far as I’m concerned he need not apologise. As the storm rages outside I wonder how it must have felt to cross all those countless kilometres through the elements and how tonight he ended up, in all places, on the bunk bed on the other side of my room. He risks all of this for his children’s future because he wants a better life for them away from all of the terrifying things going on there. Yahya hopes change comes for the good people of his country who are caught in the middle and don’t have the education he was fortunate enough to have and the opportunity to perhaps build a better life elsewhere.

Tomorrow he hopes to continue his journey towards Austria where he hopes to get on a train, and here I was this morning wondering how I was going to get to the airport on Wednesday. I am in awe of this man, this refugee, and his sincerity. Mostly I am so pleased that he shared his story with me and allowed me to write it, and touched that he is still able to smile even with all he has faced and the uncertainty that still lies ahead for him. Makes you think, doesn’t it? It should.

Goodluck Yahya.

Flies and their mutterings.

image

Photo by Erika Kochanski.

It’s one thing to secure yourself a bottom bunk at a hostel so you can live a blissful ladder-free existence, it’s another when you fall back on your childhood skills and build yourself a really sweet fort. I’m staying in my cocoon tonight with snacks, books and a lamp, and I refuse to feel bad about it.

There’s this thing, you see, called guilt. It’s generally put into existence by other people’s shaming yet entirely adapted into our brains on our own accord. Someone tells you that a traveller needs to do this or see that, and your brain takes out the whip and cracks it as if to say, “snap to it, motherfucker.”

If this springs true to you, put down the whip. You are allowed to retreat from the world. There will be new dogs barking at your feet tomorrow, ringmasters and their orders, flies and their mutterings buzzing about your ears, but do yourself this one kindness. It matters. Traveller or not, put yourself into timeout.