I really shouldn’t winge (read: complain). It’s Saturday and I’m sitting on a patio in St. Kilda, Melbourne. Although summer has come to an abrupt end, the sun is pouring down this afternoon. I am drinking a cold beer and I’m paying for it with recently earned cash - what a novelty. For the first time in more than a year, money is coming into my bank account instead of going out. Needless to say, I think my financial advisor is sleeping better these days. But as I sit here and write emails to my friends and family back home, I can’t help but notice the backpackers walking past. It’s easy to spot them. Their overstuffed backpack is a dead giveaway. Their clothes could use a wash. While their faces look tired from a few too many sleepless nights, they've been kissed by the sun. Their jandals (read: flip flops) have seen better days. Thankfully, they have an extra pair of shoes, still dusty from their last expedition, tied to the outside of their bag. Despite their less than affluent appearance, the latest Iphone rests in their hands and guides them to their next destination. Even as they search for their likely crowded, smelly and overpriced hostel, I’m jealous.
I find myself wondering where they've been and more importantly, where they're going? What adventures have they had? What great loves have they found along the way? What places have they liked best and where would they never go again? What stories will they only ever share with their closest friends?
Despite being gainfully employed for only a month in a job that I already love, I find myself thinking about where I might like to travel with my annual leave. My mom has always said that I don’t like to let grass grow under my feet and it seems more true the older I get. Travel has become an addiction – a drug that I can’t seem to get enough of. Thankfully, even in my work I’ve been sent abroad for two months and who knows, maybe it will take me to Singapore or China in the future.
I don’t know if other people feel the same way but lately I’ve had this overwhelming sense that life is passing by too quickly and there is not enough time to do everything I want to do, see everything I want to see or be everything I want to be. While I’ve crossed a lot of things off my bucket list, it seems to grow faster every day. Maybe it’s my age. Is there such a thing as a one-third life crisis? Because if there is, I’m having one. It sounds morbid but it seems like people are dying way too often and young these days. A freak plane crash took Jim Prentice, a hidden blood clot claimed a fellow political staffer, and cancer that, once found, was already too far gone for my mom's childhood friend. Is it just me?
Soon I’ll be back in Auckland and settling into a more permanent office. An Air B&B will suffice for a few weeks but I’ll have to find a place to live. It will need to come furnished because the thought of buying more stuff that doesn’t fit into a backpack gives me hives. While I’m excited to be in a new job and plan to stay in it for at least the next 3-5 years, the idea of having a house full of stuff makes me claustrophobic. When I get a bill every few months for a five by ten-foot storage locker back in Canada, I get annoyed. It’s full of stuff. By the way, isn’t "stuff" such a great word? It describes pointless and meaningless physical assets perfectly. Just stuff. Clutter. Strings. Things attaching me to other things.
Apparently, my problem with permanency doesn’t just apply to furnishings. As a relationship starts to get too serious, I find myself bolting for the door. The idea of being tied to a certain place or to a certain person crept up on me in a way I didn’t expect. While I hope it simply wasn't the right relationship for me, I couldn’t help but notice that it was a similar feeling that I’ve felt before. A feeling of suffocation. At least twice in my life, I have felt alarmingly stuck. Like gum to a shoe. As quickly as I fell in love, I knew with certainty that I was in the wrong place and with the wrong person. Maybe it’s in my genetics. While my Dad is as dependable and reliable as they come, my biological mother was always restless. Perhaps I’ve taken the best of both. I’m reliable in my constant desire to always want more. Ha! Who would have thought?!
But as much as I am addicted to travelling, it doesn't come without sacrifice. Every time I call home I’m reminded of the things I am missing. Someone else has passed away, another person is sick or needing surgery, or things are changing so quickly that I can hardly keep up to date. My nieces and nephews are growing like bad weeds. My nieces have turned into young women almost overnight and Noah, my very first nephew, is now in high school and going to proms. What?!? My youngest nephew Wesley, who slept so peacefully in my arms at just two months old the last time I saw him, is now walking (read: running) and has no idea who I am when he sees me on FaceTime. Many of my friends are having babies and there are at least seven new children (Will, Anna, Rudy, Henry, Max, Noelle and Wyatt) that I have yet to even meet. In June, I’ll head for Canadian shores and run around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to see as many people as I can. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I won’t get to see everyone and I won’t have enough time with those that I do. I’ve already missed two important weddings and I just about missed a third set for July 1. I’m grateful that I’ll be able to make it but I’ll suffer the consequences with a hangover on a 25 hour flight back to New Zealand. To top it all off, a few weeks after I leave, a new Spence baby will be born and I won’t likely get to meet them for at least another year. Unless, of course, I can convince Kelly (read: also Cam) to come visit me in New Zealand while on maternity leave!
So where does that leave me? Feeling this constant push and pull of living abroad. Feeling unsettled yet free. Feeling the burden of a bucket list but also the excitement about crossing off the next thing. I'm left missing my family and friends but chatting with the local at the next table about the strangely dressed people walking by. I’ll enjoy being able to pay for my beer with my hard-earned money while I’ll still watch the backpackers pass with envy.
“Oh, what’s that?” I say as the server places a second beer in front of me. “I’m sorry, I didn’t order that.” “It was purchased by person at the table next,” he clarifies with a nod to the chatty local. Yeah, ok, life abroad isn’t so bad.