As a teenager I thought I wanted to travel the globe. My tiny world felt so small it was suffocating me. I wanted to breathe life in; walk off a plane into new smells and tastes, and look down at my feet and see earth that was unrecognisable to the ground I was used to. I wanted to understand the history of other cultures, the lifestyles of people I shared a planet with, and the landscapes that I had seen in photographs but did not believe could be real.

I planned to take a gap year following my A levels. Following in the footsteps of so many 18-year-olds before me, I thought I would join a company providing work opportunities abroad for gap year students. I would do something meaningful; teaching, work experience or volunteering.  When the time came to apply to university, I panicked. It suddenly seemed very important to get on with it and not take any breaks before starting life as an actual grown up. I was no longer feeling as noble, and was suddenly desperate to get on with a degree and living an independent life in general. Little did I know that starting my degree was actually the first step on a conveyer belt that ran for eight years and refused to stop until I gave birth to my daughter.

However, I did manage to squeeze some meaningful travel into that eight year slog.  Over two separate trips I travelled to North and East Africa, spending time in the mountains and meeting local tribes. I travelled across the Serengeti and found the Cradle of Humankind. I met the Maasai and tried to imagine how different my life could have been if I had been born anywhere else in the world. I reflected on how lucky I had been in my accident of birth. My life as a girl or woman elsewhere could have had a completely different meaning, and this was difficult to accept and left me feeling grateful on my return home.

I also made it to Australia for three months, working with Aboriginal communities and within the prisons in Sydney. I had plenty of time to explore the tourist hotspots, but being forced off the beaten track and into a different side of Australia gave the trip extra depth. I left feeling that I had been fortunate to see more of Australia than many travellers.

The rest of my getaways were purely an escape from work, the monotony of routine, and being an adult. There were a handful of holidays that offered little in the way of culture, but provided me with a much needed break from the treadmill I found myself on. I would get on that plane and imagine leaving the stress of daily life behind me, telling myself that my troubles couldn’t follow me abroad. For the most part this worked. However, there is one beach holiday that had been booked months in advance and then had the misfortune of coinciding with an emotional battle that raged within me.  The wreckage of this battle managed to find space within my broken mind to follow me abroad and dampen any peace I might otherwise have found beside the ocean. My theory about being able to escape from anxiety or trauma was crushed that week.

In the last few years I have learned that holidays with children are a completely different experience. There is little chance of a rest and only fleeting moments to absorb anything cultural. The strain of parenting without all of the usual tools (bribes) you have at home soon takes its toll. But I don’t think it is this difficulty alone that has changed my thoughts about holidays or travelling. Whereas the teenage me yearned to see the world and discover new places, I now crave the safety of somewhere that I know well. I like to feel settled and it is important for me to feel that I have roots firmly planted somewhere. When I go away, I miss the relative ease of being at home and I know that geographical familiarity provides me with a sense of safety. But the world is still there waiting for me, and I do want to experience it. Now I just need to learn to stretch my roots so that when I travel I can appreciate the sense of freedom without feeling so adrift.

Hannah England


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