I’ve always been astonished by those people who, after 23 hours of flying, seem to emerge cool, calm and collected from the arrivals gate. Needless to say, this has never been the case with me. When I stepped off the plane at Heathrow I was the dishevelled backpacker you see shuffling towards the tube station through groups of waving relatives and friends.
I forged on through the crowds with a determined expression that masked the fact that I had no idea where I was going. Always a good strategy - sure enough, I found my way. After the fanfare of leaving Sydney, it felt surreal that I had finally arrived after months and months of planning. I had a strange displaced feeling of being neither here nor there. It was six o’clock in the morning, I had 40 kilos strapped to me and six flights of tube stairs to conquer with a giant roller bag. It was not a pretty sight.
Nonetheless, as the tube emerged from the underground in the outer London suburbs I was met with the cool blue morning sky of a glorious summer’s day. I had a feeling of complete independence. I had glided into another world and all that was left to do was embrace it.
It may sound silly but as soon as I reached the hostel I knew I had crossed the threshold into the world of travelling! This is a place where one day runs into the next, everyone is a potential friend and life is spontaneous, unpredictable and outrageously fun. It felt good to be back.
Traipsing through Slovenia, Hungary, Poland and now the Czech Republic has been an adventure. I've missed buses, arrived in places at 2am in the morning with no place to go, struggled to find train platforms and jumped on metros and trams heading in the wrong direction too many times to count! I've been fined for having invalid tickets by the incredibly unforgiving and unamused transport officers in Budapest, spent hours waiting in stations at ungodly times and struggled to sleep in dorms of 20 with serial snorers. And this is only part of the fun! My time has been highlighted by hiking and biking through the Slovenian Alps and lazy days on the Adriatic coast. I loved wandering through the vibrant city of Budapest, all the nights out on the town and taking in the spectacular buildings, thermal baths (where you must be warned of hugely overweight Hungarian men in speedos!) and ballet in the State Opera House. Entering Poland I found myself transfixed by the history and beauty of Warsaw and Krakow, ambling along magnificent streets and through medieval squares which set the scene for some of the darkest hours of human history.
From not knowing a soul, I now have a notebook filled with friends I’ve met along the way. Travelling solo, you are never really alone. There is an openness and ease that is so refreshing. While I’ll always be that dishevelled backpacker, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being out in the world is a freedom I feel so lucky to have. Whether buying fruit and vegetables from local Polish markets, sharing a chocolate bar with an old Slovenian woman on a train or catching the last glimpses of light lingering on the grand buildings of Budapest, it's always the small things that count.
The time to head up to Scotland and begin another exciting phase of this trip is nearly upon me. I received my student handbook last week and it suddenly dawned on me that I still have so much to look forward to! For now, I'm off to explore Olomouc, a small university town in the far east of the Czech Republic, where the streets are cobbled, cathedrals reach to the stars, buildings are picture book perfect and the beer is cheaper than water. This is the life.