What will it be like to return to the place our adventure began, all those months ago? I vividly remember sitting in the departure lounge at Heathrow in March last year after saying our goodbyes, unable to comprehend that our new life of travel was about to begin. Back then we had no idea what was in store for us, we couldn’t have imagined that we’d end up volunteering in a disaster zone; that we’d sleep out in the jungles of Borneo, get homesick in Indonesia, learn to ride a scooter or end up spending nearly a third of our trip in Thailand. So on Thursday when we say goodbye to this adventure and board a plane back to England, I will do so hoping the next phase of our lives will be as unpredictable, intense and incredible as these past fifteen months have been.
Too Much Travel?
Since we left England we’ve travelled to eleven different countries, taken 24 flights and hundreds of journeys by bus, train, boat, taxi, tuk tuk, jeepney or trike. We’ve stayed in a few places for a week at a time and rented an apartment for a month in Thailand but on average, we’ve slept in a new bed every two to three days – yep, we never did get the hang of travelling slowly. As a result, although we’re still in love with travel, we’re also completely burnt out and ready to take a break from our nomadic lifestyle.
These last few weeks in particular have been the hardest. After volunteering in the Philippines we endured some tough days of travel which culminated in a horrific experience at Ninoy Aquino airport in Manila where we waited hours in the longest check-in queues I’ve ever seen and almost missed our flight to Taiwan. At that point I was so tired and stressed that if you’d offered me a ticket straight back to London I would have taken it in a heartbeat.
I am glad we made it to Taiwan though, it’s a beautiful place filled with vibrant cities, incredible scenery and amazingly kind people. The country is so small that it takes just a few hours to get from one place to the next and everything is clean, orderly and high-tech. Our generous Couchsurfing host Jackie gave us such a warm welcome to the country, treating us to dinner, booking our train tickets and helping us plan our itinerary. As we’ve made our way around the country countless people have stopped to give us directions, help or translate for us. Just this morning an old Taiwanese man followed us from the bakery to the 7-11 to give us some sweets to welcome us and last week when I felt ill from heat and exhaustion a kind woman massaged tiger balm into my neck.
Despite all this, we’ve been plagued by exhaustion during our time in Taiwan and in the last few days we’ve managed to take the wrong train, miss our bus stop and get lost numerous times. It’s also comparatively expensive here and we’ve been battling to keep our costs down by staying in hostel dorm rooms and eating from 7-11s. After another night of broken sleep in a dorm room silently seething as people crash around, rustling plastic bags in the middle of the night I have to admit that boarding a plane back to England in a few days will come as a bit of a relief.
Returning to the UK
I always imagined that when the time came to head back to England I’d be heartbroken and consumed with dread but instead, I’m filled with excitement. Over the past month I have found myself visualising our return over and over again; my parents will be there waiting for us at the airport, hopefully with a cheese and pickle sandwich at the ready. We’ll step outside, probably shiver from the nippy air and take in the familiar British scenery as we head back for the first proper cup of tea and plate of fish and chips we’ve had in over a year. I don’t know exactly how it’ll feel being back; maybe it’ll be disorientating and strange at first, perhaps we’ll feel like the last fifteen months never happened or maybe everything will seem completely new.
One thing’s for sure, we’re looking forward to seeing all the familiar faces we’ve missed while we’ve been away, not to mention a few brand new ones too – I am beyond excited to finally be meeting my month-old nephew Alfie as well as some new additions to several of our friends’ families. My heart also swells at the thought of returning to London, the place I still consider my true home. However far we’ve travelled I still have yet to find a city as amazing as London and I have a hunch that it’ll always be my favourite place in the entire world.
This return home will also serve as a transition for us from constant travel to temporary ex-pat life in Asia and I’m sure it won’t all be plain sailing. While Andrew tries to get some teaching supply work in London I’ll start my TEFL course and we’ll begin gathering documents and applying for teaching jobs in both Vietnam and Korea. We still need to find accommodation for our stay in London and we’ll also need to keep a tight eye on our budget. As I’ve mentioned before, the path ahead is more uncertain than ever and we don’t really know what to expect when we head back to Vietnam in August.
For now, we’re just grateful for the last fifteen months and happy to be homeward bound – England, here we come!