Travel will change you forever. Taking that brave step into the unknown world will blast you apart and the pieces will not go back together as originally assembled. Some parts of your unique jigsaw will be lost forever, other pieces will grow an extra arm or leg, some will expand, others will minimise and some will refuse to fit in even if they’re in the box.
Here are some of the stark pieces in my jigsaw that have stood out to me over the last 5 years: the good, the bad and the ugly.
1. This girl is waiting for no-one
I hate to admit it but if you can’t beat them in Asia (a strong focus on China here), you join them. I’m going to get in that lift. I’m going to get up that escalator. I’m going to get in that underground carriage. I’m going to get that bargain fruit that the local guy is selling on the street corner. So, I’m going to push you, move you out of the way and not just wait. You find that if you’re polite, wait, try and queue and allow others before you, you’ll fail. It goes against every bone in my body when I think about it, but now I’m just like ‘B**tch, get out the way’. People in China are known for lacking the manners Europeans value. However, when in Rome…
2. I eat like no-one’s watching
I slurp everything, have bundles of noodles hanging out of my mouth, I sometimes talk with my mouth open, I eat spaghetti with chopsticks. I once returned to London to go out for a fancy meal with friends and incidentally, ordered pretty much everything Asian I could. As I finished the soup for my starter, I just picked the bowl right up, slurped down the remains and slammed it back down on the table. My girlfriends just looked at me like I was a wild animal. Taxi!
3. Understanding everything I hear makes me feel like I’m going mad
I remember the first time I got off the plane at Heathrow airport after living in South Korea for two and a half years. I felt excruciatingly overwhelmed. I could understand everything. Everything. I knew everyone’s business, I knew what Aunt Margery was cooking for dinner, I knew where the hot guy standing behind me lived (bonus), I knew what petty stuff couples were arguing about. Too. Much. Information.
4. I’m more American than I ever thought I would be
Motorway is highway, rubbish is trash/garbage, lift is elevator, getting pissed is kind of good in England, bad in America, Z is zeeee not zed. I would never have dreamt of saying these things back in 2010 but most of my friends are American and they’ve slowly brainwashed me into a weird English/American hybrid. ‘Merica, f**k yeah!
5. I drive like a psycho
After three months of driving a motorbike in Vietnam, anything is possible. Red light? Screw that. Old lady in the road? I’ll just keep driving at 100 mph. No motorbike suit? No problem. No licence? No problem. Same goes for being a pedestrian. Green light? Better walk and pray for my life at the same time. Zebra crossing? That’s gonna do nothing for your safety. Nothing. Seat belt in the car? Don’t bother. Overall, it’s utter chaos but somehow it works and comes together beautifully.
6. I feel like the most beautiful, clever, intriguing goddess on the planet
From walking the streets of London and zero heads being turned, to stepping out of my front door in Asia and being chased down the street, being a mini celebrity totally rocks. People love the blonde hair. People stroke my arm hair in amazement. I drink lots of Korean soju and grown men think I’m hard as nails. I say ‘ni hao’ and I’m told how amazing my Mandarin is. Suddenly I have a ‘small’ face and that’s gorgeous. I can use chopsticks and that’s mindblowing…you go from zero to hero here and going from hero to zero is not what a lot of people want to experience.
7. Britain is the best country in the world
You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Fresh running water? Britain’s got that. Beautiful green countryside? Britain’s got that. Beer, Sunday roasts, BBC News, a lovely hot cup of tea with milk, newspapers, Cadbury’s chocolate, pubs with fireplaces, seriously cute cottages, the Queen. You realise how lovely everything is but once you’re back, you enjoy it for a couple of weeks and then just have to leave again.
Once you’ve gone, there’s no turning back.