• Nadine Almer

A Year Of Travel: Review 2021 and Preview 2022

Travel Days 353 - 365

I don't know about you but I am feeling ready for 2022!

“We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience."
John Dewey

Oh, no! Not another review of the passing year! Not another preview of the upcoming year with resolutions no one is interested in! Please, no, get creative and defy tradition!

I won’t though. Why?

Because.

Wrapping up the past year and thinking about the upcoming next one has never ever been as invigorating as it is now. As probably anyone before me, I did make resolutions at some point and did not stick to them. And I did think about the year past and had expectations for the next one. But it always was festered by deep rooted doubt.

Yes, I want to lose weight and yes I will work out. Yes, I will quit smoking. Yes, I will change my personality to a social butterfly and I will transform myself a far cry from the person I used to be in the past.

All of the above stem from the same thing, a lack of self love. Now, that is a bold statement to make and it surely does not aim to generalise that all people and all their resolutions are born out of the same. Nonetheless, for me it is very true. This truth is reflected in all my contemplations about the last year and how I am approaching the new one.


First things first:

2021 has been a rollercoaster of emotions, self exploration and travel experiences. It has been filled with the most magical and most devastating of moments. From the moment I gave up all of my security January 7th, to the moment right now writing this exactly one year later, have I never realised how extraordinarily irrational and, quite frankly, impulsive this decision was. Reactions throughout my family and friends ranged from praise for bravery, to an incomprehensible raising of eyebrows. Fairly often though I received a smile and knowing nod- the people closest to me seemed to know that this was my natural next course of action, typically me to do something rash and not thought through. Maybe it should have rang some alarm bells to get this reaction the most. Maybe it was good to let it fuel my internal fire to see it through.

Well, if you had asked me which one was the wiser of the two options specifically on the 7th of January 2021, sitting on a train bound for Amsterdam that was announced to be cancelled, I would have gone for pronouncing me madwoman of the year. The cancelled train led to Marjorie and I having to switch four more times with no guarantee to arrive in Amsterdam in the first place because of numerous very tight transition times on never seen before train stations. No one said it would be easy. But I surely would not give up now? No way. I would have still chosen the fuel on my fire to carry on. The curveball came when I sat on the second train (or was it the third one? My memory gets blurry there), receiving an email from my first host family that they were unable to host me due to raised restrictions in Scotland.

Wow.

That threw me off, directly and whole heartedly into an anxiety attack. Nowhere to live, jeopardising Marjorie’s need for a shelter as well as mine. Money would run out.

Shortcut result: We would die.

As we were approaching the border to the Netherlands, a travel companion I met on the very first train that was due to go from Zurich directly to Amsterdam, told me that they (the Dutch government that is) announced to ask people in public transport to show their negative test results in order for them to be able to enter the country. From my body already experiencing a full blown anxiety attack, my brain notched the adrenaline up more because we were not only faced with imminent death, we also were faced with deportation. Suddenly the air was not able to reach my lungs although I was gaping in breath after breath. The moving train magically transformed itself into a cube of metal with its walls closing in. My chest tightened and I was close to fainting as my stomach revolted against the water I was trying to put into it. I grew more nauseous by the second and neither lying down along the train bench nor sitting up straight could ease the muscle cramps I experienced in my back, shoulders and neck.

Cliffhanger.

Or not so much, since it is clear now that Marjorie and I made it through. We made it to Amsterdam. Eventually we made it to the Isle of Lewis. We also made it all across Scotland, England and Ireland. To be honest, I do not even know how we made it. The odds seemed to be against all of the above. The story from above is not the only example of faltering during this first month of traveling. January was filled with moments of despair, surrender, nausea, hopelessness and capitulation. An unknown country, with no support system at hand, no knowledge about custom, no home and no sense of security. Me writing this right now and losing myself in the remembering of these first four weeks, I have to admit that it is nothing short of a miracle that I kept going.

And yet, I did. Marjorie did too. In a sense it was partly her that made me keep going in the first place. After Amsterdam and three nights in a cosy cottage by the ocean, the daily routine of going for a walk opened my shocked heart again to my soul’s desire for exploration. The daily routine of going for a walk gradually eased the nausea. The sea and meeting people, having small chats, sharing my aspirations, taking in their inspirations of stories and encouragements. All of it contributed to digesting that first challenge. Although weak, because I could not keep any food down, my world was restored to the belief that, indeed, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

On the adventure of a lifetime.

Several minor events happened that then made me question my resolution that travelling was the essence of my being, at least for the near, foreseeable future. I had problems with Marjorie’s documents from the Swiss vet (which were solved within twenty minutes, a phone call, one wrong sent email, one email with an attached file that could not be opened by the ferry administrator and another email that finally had the attachment I needed to show in order to board), afterwards the English government decided on a complete lockdown with self isolation for everyone entering the country (leading to me frantically searching a hotel that would allow dogs, resulting in me finding an AirBnB apartment instead for the ten days required) and last but not least I was kept for three hours at the ferry terminal in England, passport taken away to look into my reason for travelling with the threat of them (border control that is) being able to send me back to where I came from. So, yes, when I arrived at the apartment in South Shields near Newcastle and was able to close the door behind me, put down my backpack ‘Uwe’ and heard the seagulls cry outside, announcing the ocean just a stone’s throw away, I burst into tears.

I admit it. I burst into tears, sat on the floor and felt relief sweep me off my feet. I made it. I was in the UK, I was permitted to stay for six months.

Le sigh.

Thus began two weeks (without TV or internet except my small amount from my Swiss net provider with my mobile phone), right by the sea. My first glimpse of Cliffs, beaches and almost no people because of the restrictions in place. A marvellous time, only that I almost forgot the two episodes that nearly made me gave up yet again! I won’t bore you with them, my emphasis lies on the fact that sometimes travelling is sugarcoated and the real life calamities that may occur are left out in the fantastic descriptions of those adventures, like visas.

Anywho. This is how January started off for me. Intense highs and intense lows taking turns in preparation to give me an idea of the weeks and months to come.

“We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain.”
Alan Watts

If I reminisce on the following next three months, I am smiling. All that happened in this first month taught me one thing. I was (and still am) fragile and vulnerable. My authentic self does not only contain a brave, strong and self sufficient grown up that decided to travel and did so without implications or disaster following her. In fact, the opposite is true and vital for seeing the bigger picture of me as a whole. Only by experiencing chaos and remaining the course of true authenticity was I able to keep going. Through openly communicating my hardships, continuing to practice sincere kindness and find beauty in all around me, I was presented with support wherever I went and with whatever I needed. On the ferry I met a female lawyer specialising in deportation cases, who briefed me beforehand on what to say and what not to say at border control in order to avoid confusion for the required visa (which proved to be vital and shortened the complications dramatically). In South Shields I met a retired nurse who directed me towards a test centre that was open to anyone in order to get a test, enabling me to venture on to Scotland (which seemed near to impossible as every hospital I called would only test upon showing symptoms of the virus). Not to mention the countless suggestions on wonderful spots to walk and explore with Marjorie despite every tourist attraction being closed.

After Newcastle (especially South and North Shields) and Inverness, finally I arrived on the Isle of Lewis. Probably it will not come as a surprise to most of you that this marked the peek of my happiness. In no way was I prepared for the beauty or the hospitality, the warmest of all welcomes I ever received in the course of my lifetime. The first two weeks, due to quarantine measures, I lived in a luxurious Longhouse with a view I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams. Out to the horizon with the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean stretching as far as the eye could see and crashing waves on high Cliffs with clouds tinted to whatever Mother Nature fancied bringing to the canvas. The awe-inspiring surroundings of this island was only topped by the goodness, kindness and warmth of my host family.

There is a chance, and I will never know for sure since I am only able to live within one linear timeline, that without this first month of cataclysmic milestones within my perception, I would have not been able to fully appreciate all that was given to me in the next twelve weeks.

Surely, there is no need to dive deeper into the details of what I did and what I felt and how it affected me since this blog has been a testimony to all of that. Taking action always brings out insecurities. We are human. We are prone to overthink and especially if our choice does not only affect ourself but people around us. Yet, doesn’t it all come down to this one and very simple question: Would you like to know or rather have a life full of the question ‘What if…?”.

I’d take on all of the supposedly negative events of January and all the following months, even twice over, for what I gained.

“Your heart is the light of this world. Do not cover it up with your mind.”
Mooji

What else?

Well, a lot, as you might have guessed.

There is not only the physical journey and the places I was fortunate enough to take in. The personal growth, the self development, the path to find knowledge about deep rooted or self induced belief systems, the getting to know me better part of it all, was (and still is) as important as every other aspect of travel. Granted, at times it might even be overtaking the whole aspect of traveling and be overwhelming. Then again, my choice of slow travelling (that is staying for at least four weeks wherever I went) turned out to be an advantage I was not even aware of. Beforehand I saw the prolongation of my stays as solely beneficial to fully plunge into the nature, culture and general lifestyles of the country and my hosts. And it was beneficial, but not solely for diving headfirst into lifestyles and mindsets, letting them influence me on many levels as well. Time being the lifeblood of all the change within myself, the majority of time definitely was spent on a journey to find myself, or rather try and begin unravel what my beliefs about myself are and what I want to shed, let go or what I want to be and nurture.

Most years I made resolutions I could not keep, like the once I stated up at the beginning of this text. I never quite understood why I failed to persist and a small voice in my head always told me it was because I was not disciplined enough. And another part within me, so deep within I did not even realise that it was there, did not want to be disciplined. Like I stated in an earlier piece of mine, I associated discipline with a force akin to drenching the fun and spontaneity out of all that is good. Which brings me to a significant point: If you do not really, in your heart, mind and soul, want to fulfil a resolution, it will fail to flourish in your life. The same is true if you resolve on something for the wrong reasons. Like me with wanting to loose weight. I wanted to loose weight because I thought I’d gain love from all around only if I look a certain way. Of course this issue of binge-eating as a coping mechanism for creating a safe space when I feel out of alignment with my core beliefs and need a feeling of warmth and safety, is probably a topic for another time. Quitting Marijuana and smoking in general though is a good example of resolutions I was able to manifest. I would have never been able to do it if I would not have had the prospect of travels in front of me. I knew I did not want to pursue a search for weed wherever I go. I also knew that I was a guest at my hosts houses, I did not want them to feel uncomfortable with a smoker around, if that makes sense. Anyway, not only did I have the knowledge of why I wanted to achieve that goal, I also had myself put into an upside down version of my life without any comfort zone that allowed unhealthy habits to persist. I had two or three evenings when I indulged the joys of Marijuana during the whole year. Balance being key here. I enjoyed it, however, it not grow into a habit or an addiction. I had an episode of smoking three or even five cigarettes for a prolonged time, around four weeks, and I realised that I was forming unhealthy habits, with a craving for them. I did not scold myself for it or put pressure on me, I merely observed. Therefore I was able to distinctly point my finger to where it came from and why I craved it. Because I did not want it to develop further, I resolved that at some point it was enough, and since then I did not touch a cigarette again. The longer you form new habits and stay away from the ones you do not want to be a part of your life anymore, the more educational it is to come back to them and indulge in them again. I for one realised, that I do not like them as much as I used to like them. You might say now that this only works for certain addictions or habits, I would argue the contrary to that. Binge-eating being the innermost unhealthy outburst of unhealthy habits, taught me that. I fell victim to it for so many times, and it had nothing to do with being disciplined and all with acceptance. As of now it is way to early to write a piece of ‘How I managed to defy binge-eating’. That is because it is still early stages and I am not confident, swaying between the anxiety of its defiance being a farce and swinging back to its old grip on me after the ‘streak of luck’ passes and I am caught in old ways again. Nonetheless, the so-called ‘phase’ has lasted for four months, and I am content with being kind to myself and not pressure me any more about it. Or binge-watching, consuming movies or series or even YouTube content for hours at a time. It does not give me what it used to give me, an escape from my reality. I still enjoy a movie now and again, but I haven’t had Netflix in over a year and if I binge-watch anything it somehow always relates to a skill I am eager to build up, like content creation or editing.

All of the above adds up to the simple fact that I started to like myself.

It might sound weird, but I never liked myself. Not my appearance, nor my personality. There is no point in going into detail about it, for this piece it will suffice to say that I am starting to like me. And this is why I chose the quote from above. It serves me as the compass that is able to balance out any misconceptions I still harbour about myself. I will let the toxic, self-loathing qualities go one at a time. Or I will transform them into something I fall in love with. During this last year both ways added up to being healthy and rewarding options. Letting go of the feeling that I have nothing to offer to this world, that I am nothing, were dissolved by the forming of friendships and the reassurance of the old and new people in my life that let me feel the love they have in their hearts for me, just because I am who I am. Transforming the hatred towards my non existing ability to settle down, beginning to feel restless if I spend more than a few months somewhere, into an all consuming love for travelling and accepting this as one facet of what makes my spark my own way to shine, gave me a new perspective on life and what it has to offer. I intend to grasp it, and live it fully.

“Know enough about a subject to know you are right. Also, do not know enough about the subject to know you are wrong.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson

Lastly, I came to another realisation. Traveling is just another form of living. It might have less routine than an ordinary day job, settled down somewhere permanently. Yet, it has its hardships, challenges and life lessons too. A year ago I thought I’d pack my bags and will automatically life the dream, gradually becoming the person I wanted to be. Now I know that because of the intensity of traveling, it has peeks as well as valleys to live through. I had lows, different to the lows I had in previous stages in my life, but lows nonetheless. And I had highest highs on life as well. Like most things in my life, the only real thing I knew beforehand was that I wanted to do it, and all the rest I could have never anticipated. We only ever know what we know. And I am happy to report that as of now, January 2022, I know that I want to keep on traveling for another while. I have not yet found a home for my heart, though the experience of freedom to go wherever I want to go came pretty close to what I imagine true contentment to feel like. But people change, phases come and go, what is right for me now will most certainly not be right for me at some point in the future. And I am satisfied with that epiphany. For it is nothing short of authenticity and living true to the changes life brings. A constant ebb and flow, change of views and aspirations, character and personality, environments and places. I know enough about my life at this precise moment in time that I know I will continue to travel. My only resolution for 2022 being to learn the subtle art of balance within all things. Also, I do not know enough about my life to know what this next year will bring or look like. And that is more than alright, it is exhilaratingly exciting.

[...also scary, but mostly exciting :) ]


Happy New Year, to all you beloved souls

Love and Light

Nadine

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