Xizhou, Far from the Tourist Crowds

Xizhou was exceptional in that there were no tourists whatsoever. The town is not geared up for that and it was just wonderful to experience an authentic town. We walked down a street with shops selling pyjamas, slippers or even burial clothes which are the traditional Chinese blue shirts and trousers that people seldom wear on a daily basis, even caught a glimpse of a barber in the midst of shaving someone’s head. Continue reading


I believe I have to stay awake during a flight. In my mind, it is the fact I am wake that keeps the plane up. And the thought of nearly 12 hours of terror and self imposed torture were daunting. In the end, it was as easy as pie. The flight was very smooth and I even managed to doze off twice. Thank you Diazepam. Arriving in Bangkok was a surprise as I had spent months convincing myself I would never actually get there. As I got into the taxi driving me to the hotel, I thought “Now what?” Continue reading

Preparing for the Flight

cockpitOne thing about getting older for me is that I have become more and more terrified of flying. It was when I became a mother and aware of the implications of my own mortality that the uneasiness set in, ever so slightly. I developed coping strategies over the years and I am ok with short flights, once the flight is over 4 hours, I have run out of things to do and I begin to suffer, my heads feels like it will explode any second. Returning from California a couple of years ago I thought I was going to die. Continue reading

The Week Before

Madness the Week BeforeIt is madness. This is not an exaggeration. You know what the week before you go on holiday is like? Running around like crazy trying to get things done before you go?  Well, imagine times a hundred…There is so much to do, I can’t sleep because I know I will never manage it all. The movers packed the furniture but I am packing personal things. Mine and that of my kids. Getting rid of things I don’t want or need, making sure the house is ready for the potential tenants, cancelling utilities, sorting out the bank and credit cards…it is endless.

Rather foolishly, I left my jabs for the last minute so it means that in between all of this I am having to run around to get the jabs done hoping I don’t get a sore arm because I can’t afford to have a day off.

Clever son graduated from Glasgow so I spent 3 days there. Before getting to Glasgow I thought about those 3 days away the week before leaving on my trip and how it was a luxury that I wasn’t sure I could afford, I kept thinking about the things left to do in my very long list. Once I got there though, I was glad to have a break where there was nothing I could do but sit back and enjoy the celebrations. It gave me the chance to take a step back and I realised I had been so involved with the trip preparations that I had forgotten to breathe.

The Itinerary

Grace airportAs I started to daydream about this trip, I made a wish list of all the places I wanted to see. After a while it was clear that it would be impossible to visit them all and it was difficult to decide which ones I would not get round to visiting. The way I feel about flying at the moment, I do not see myself doing a similar trip at a later stage, so it is very likely that I will never get to see the places I miss now. And there is such sadness and finality about it. But I have to practical and realistic. For example, it would have been nice to visit Christmas Island during the crab migration, but it is expensive to get to it.

I have a basic idea of where I want to go though I am certain my itinerary will change many times. And that is ok. Funny how I have always been someone who plans everything to the last detail. Yet, this trip is the opposite. So the basic idea is that I will go to Asia, Australia and North America. The first five months I want to go to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. After that it is unclear, will I still have the desire to continue, if so, where will I go? I have a vague idea of perhaps going to India, China or Japan. Too soon to tell.

This trip is totally flexible and organic. My approach is that I turn up somewhere, if I like it, I stay and if I don’t, I can move on to the next place. I spent close to ten years saving airmiles and I am confident that I can pay for most of the flights that way. I have only bought the first stop, London to Bangkok and two nights at a hotel. I will let the rest unfold by itself.

Preparing for the Trip

The idea about this trip is that I would put my things in storage, rent the house and live off the proceeds. I have given myself six months to get the house in order. It has been slow at times. I have done endless trips to the charity shop, it was wonderful to get rid of things. I am amazed at how much I accumulate that I don’t need. One of the things I look forward to in my trip is just having a suitcase and not an entire wardrobe of things I don’t wear. I have been strict, have not worn this in two years, clearly I don’t need it, so out the door it goes.

Three months before leaving I got in touch with movers with a storage facility and a month later they came to get most of my things. The approach was, if I am way for one year it is going to cost me X to store this junk, am I better off ditching it and buying new things when I get back. Which is what I did for a lot of it. I feel I should have done it even more. I had the decorators in and the house was ready to start showing to potential tenants eight weeks before departure.

People keep asking if I am nervous or worried, they mean the trip, actually being away. For me what is stressful is getting ready, making sure everything falls into place. There is so much to coordinate. Once I am out there, I know I will be fine. I have done a trial packing session, the truth is I don’t plan to take that many clothes so a small wheelie suitcase will do the trick. I will be away for perhaps a year and I  am thinking about including one luxury item, something I don’t need but really want to take with me…I have an idea but can’t decide…what would your luxury item would be?

You Are Going by Yourself?

That is what most people say when they find out about my project. Project, you ask. Yep. A long term one, in fact. Ten years of daydreaming, making school runs, baking cookies, accumulating airmiles, homework tantrums, bedtime stories, becoming an armchair traveller par excellence and witnessing in awe as my kids have become adults.

I have always liked the idea of gap years, marking the transition between school and university, taking first steps, let loose onto the world. And this is a gap year of sorts. First steps onto the next stage of my life. One where I can lay claim to my space and time just as my fledglings take first flight.

It may sound crazy and irresponsible to leave two months before my youngest starts university. Part of me feels I should remain and be close to her. Part of me knows I have to do this trip, for me. And I hope both my children understand this. I think they do.

In many respects, I feel my life has been on pause for a long time. Knowing that they were small and needed me completely, utterly and without reserve and I was happy and privileged to be there for them. Ten years ago the idea came into my head that when empty nest time came, I would do a trip. I spent a long time thinking, first a vague notion in my head, then acknowledging this crazy idea and figuring out where I would go. And it seemed so far away. Something to aspire to, but far, distant.  For so long it was hard to imagine this day would come. Yet I have blinked and it is round the corner. Time for new discoveries, cultures, projects. Time to put my adventurer hat on.  Close your eyes and imagine putting your own hat on, what will it say?