On “what if”s, forks in the road and also: how do waves work?

I started this blog about four years ago to deal with my post-travel blues. I always expected to kick out the travel blues by now, and get my backpack from under the dust again. But four years after putting the backpack in storage and the post-travel blues moving in, going on the road again is not what’s next for us.

Four years ago, I met my then-boyfriend-now-husband while on the road in Australia. (I still get SO excited calling him my husband!) We were both there on a working holiday visa and whereas he didn’t really plan to go back (or plan anything at all, as a matter of fact), I had a job waiting for me back home. My plan was to go home after one year so I could pursue a PhD, starting in October 2014. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and I just had to try it. And I did. And it wasn’t for me. But I’m not one for giving up, so here I am, almost four years later, absolutely and totally ready to move on from my life in academics. So after my one year down under, I moved back to Belgium and the husband came with. We always said that after my contract would finish, it would be up to him where we go next. We might go back on another working holiday someplace else, we might move to England (where he is from), or do something different altogether. But as it turns out, making plans, even these kinds of super vague ones, for something that is four years away, didn’t work.

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(I absolutely loved waking up in a tent to absolute nothingness when we were first on the road together.)

I am now 27 and the husband is 30. Yes, I think that is freakishly old. But it is definitely too young to make long term plans. Four years ago, I was a silly 23-year old! I thought I would still have all the freedom in the world after my PhD. And don’t get me wrong, we do. We don’t have a mortgage, no pets, no kids. Nothing really ties us down. But we have opportunities. Just like my PhD was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, the husband now has a very exciting job. It drives him crazy a lot of the time, the last month more than it used to, but we know that in this job, he will get opportunities he might not get anywhere else. He’s been there for about two years now and his job has already changed so much. The company is expanding super fast and he gets to ride the wave. And he’s riding it to the top! (Is that a thing? I think you might actually ride a wave from top to bottom, or maybe from side to side? But you get what I mean, right?) So if we pack up and leave now, we would always be wondering, what if…

Ah, the million dollar “what if” question. It’s how I’ve figured out every dilemma I’ve ever faced. Which decision do I need to make so that in five years time, I WON’T ask myself “what if”. If I do the One Thing, will I regret not doing the Other? Will I ask myself: What if I did the Other Thing? Or if I do do the Other thing, will I ask myself, what if I did the One thing? It works pretty well. It made me go to Australia.

Me talking to myself five years ago: “Fast forward five years in time: will I regret not having gone to Australia for a year because instead I chose to spend time with my grandparents, or will I regret having actually gone to Australia because I didn’t get to spend more time with my grandparents?” My grandparents thought it was a stupid question with an obvious answer, so I went and sent them lots of post cards. And after these five years, me as well as my grandparents are indeed super happy I went and found my now-husband. Not once did I ask myself the question “what if I would’ve stayed home?” Even writing down that question makes me giggle because it is just too stupid for words.

For the PhD, I asked myself the same question: in five years time, will I regret not having tried the PhD to travel for a bit longer, or will I regret not having traveled longer to try the PhD. Honestly, at this moment, I’m not so sure if I made the right decision. This PhD really changed me into a much less happy person. I’ve asked myself the horrid “what if” a thousand times already. But on the other hand, if I wouldn’t have tried it, I would’ve always felt like I let an opportunity slip through my fingers and still wondered “what if”. Seems like there was just no way to win there.

So I guess my “in five years time” method isn’t as failsafe as I thought it was. Which makes it so much harder now that we are stood in front of the next fork in the road! If we want to go adventuring again (and then I mean proper adventuring, just the backpacks and us, for a long long time, with no ties to come back to a “home” any time soon), we let a lot of opportunities pass us by. But if these opportunities turn out to be the same kind of buzzkill like my PhD was, then we might end up regretting not having taken the leap.

I’ve read many a blog of young couples like us, saying that nothing prevents us to pack up and leave now or at a later stage in life. But I don’t agree. There are other things in life we also want. And what these hipster travellers fail to mention, is that you can’t have it all. The husband, he is ambitious. The jobs you get on the road hardly are. Me, I like a little bit of stability. Just knowing that we have a place to come home to. When I was younger, that was my parents house. But now, for the husband and me, that wouldn’t be a home. It would be a short-term solution. And also, we want to have a family. Tick tock says the biological clock. One baby on the road, exciting! Two babies on the road, exhausting! Not to forget wanting to give your children all the opportunities you can, including a stable home.

Does that mean this is it for us? The last fork in the road where at least one of the two options involves a crazy travel adventure? I don’t know. And I won’t know. Not all the planning in the world can help me out here. We just have to ride the wave, whether it goes up or down or sideways or maybe it’s just a really calm day and there are no waves at all. Maybe it’s time I stop thinking so much of the future and of the future “what if” moments I may have. Because if there’s anything I learned during my four years of PhD hell, it’s that you just don’t know what will come next. So rather than picking the option you think you’ll be happy with five years from now, maybe we should just pick the option we’re happy with now?

DAMN THAT’S SCARY! And: what does it mean!

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Book Review – “Tracks” by Robyn Davidson

You might have heard from this book through the movie that came out in 2014. Just as this book, definitely a must-watch! Even though the image you get from the main character is very different than in the book, the story will wow you and the images amaze you. I saw the movie in Alice Springs itself, where the story starts. It was a recommendation from my parents who had read the book, and the boyfriend (who was then not the boyfriend yet) who had seen it before and decided he’d come with me to watch it again (on what he keeps insisting was our first date). Ever since, I’ve been wanting to read the book. And now I have. And it was everything I hoped for and more.

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Let me first tell you something about the story without giving away too much. It’s actually a travel report rather than a novel. The main character and writer, Robyn Davidson, decided in to cross the Australian desert with a few camels in the late 70s. Something that returns a lot in the book, is the Why of this decision. It comes down to her wanting to show that you really can do everything you want to as long as you set your mind to it, which she expands on also in the interesting postscript to the 2012 edition, full of other inspirational quotes like:

“One can choose adventure in the most ordinary of circumstances. Adventure of the mind, or to use an old-fashioned word, the spirit.”

The first part of the story tells you about her preparations in and around Alice Springs. The second part deals with the actual journey: from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to Hamelin Pool on the coastline of Western Australia; Robyn, four camels and a dog. The book includes of course a map with the route, and a few pictures taken by Rick Smolan, the photographer chosen by Robyn herself to meet her a few times on the road to document with pictures for National Geographic, the sponsor of the whole adventure.

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I think you might agree: plenty of story material there! But the book isn’t just about the story, about the amazing and also scary things that happened on the way. It gives you an interesting insight into the mind of Robyn, which you don’t get in the movie. Suddenly all of her decisions make a lot more sense, certainly if you place them against the Australian society as it was in the ’70s (as she explains in her postscript).

The book tells you a lot about the Australia of that time. What went on in people’s minds and how they perceived their country.

The openness and emptiness which had at first threatened me were now a comfort which allowed my sense of freedom and joyful aimlessness to grow. This sense of space works deep in the Australian collective consciousness. It is frightening and most of the people huddle around the eastern seaboard where life is easy and space a graspable concept, but it produces a sense of potential and possibility nevertheless that may not exist now in any European country. It will not be long, however, before the land is conquered, fenced up and beaten into submission. But here it was free, unspoilt and seemingly indestructible.

Now, to me, the book is extra special because of its setting. When I saw the movie in 2014, I was living in Alice Springs, after having spent some time visiting the red centre and before that, having spent three months in Shark Bay, right next to Hamelin Pool in Western Australia, the end point of Robyn’s journey. The images in the movie brought up beautiful memories from my trip before, but mostly the strongest feeling of amazement I have ever encountered. Somewhere in the lines of: “Oh my goodness that is the most beautiful piece of land I have ever seen, and somehow I was lucky enough to live there and enjoy it myself.” Of course I haven’t experienced that beautiful piece of land the way Robyn did, not even closely. But still I felt it was such an honour to have spent time in that amazing country.

Reading the book brought back that feeling of amazement even stronger. Because now Robyn tells you how she felt about it. What the journey did for her and brought about in her.

The two important things I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision. And I knew even then that I would forget them time and time again and would have to go back and repeat those words that had become meaningless and try to remember.

 


 

(If you are interested in my stories from Australia, check out this post I reblogged only a few weeks ago, or have a look on my original Australia blog.

 

 

Happy Memory, Happy Desktop

A while ago I talked about one of the little tricks to make work more fun: my desktop pictures! Today I have another picture worth sharing with you.

This one was taken on the rim of the Wilpena Pound in Australia’s Flinders Ranges. We left early in the morning to beat the heat, and scrambled our way up the rim. This is one of the views from along that scramble. Once at the top, a much more smooth path gradually took us back through the centre of the pound and through the pass on the other side. We hardly passed anyone, and we were amazed by the different views all around. This hike is definitely in my hiking top 10!

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The Art of Mother Nature on the Job

I set up this fun thing on my laptop (as much as fun things go at work): every day I have a new wallpaper. Selected by my laptop himself out of my folder of my favourite Australia photos. It even makes me excited to go to work in the morning, to switch on my laptop and check what we have today. Today’s one is definitely a star one. So I felt like I should share it with you.

I took this photo at Uluru in Australia. The Red Centre looks a lot more red in real life, but I love this photo nevertheless. I can almost feel the sizzling heat of the sun when I look at it. Mother Nature sure knows how to do art.

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Memories: the Amazing Weekend of Exactly Two Years Ago

You know how facebook likes to give you these little memories , right? Like, what you were doing this time two years ago? Well, for me, apparently, this time two years ago I published a post on my very first blog, about my adventure in Australia. Since I have been low on inspiration lately, I feel like it deserves a reblog!
Enjoy!

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This is going to be a long post so brace yourselves. I won’t bore you this time with facts about the work, because it was mostly the same as last week. But the weekend, wow, it was brilliant. Australia has definitely won my heart by now!

So Thursday evening I decided to go to Albany for the weekend. However, newly made friends told me Albany isn’t very interesting. But myreliable companion Lonely Planet (the tourist guide every backpacker just has to have) pointed out plenty of things to see around town. Saturday morning I left with another backpacker from Narrogin to Albany, with a bunch of tips on what to see and do thanks too good old facebook. And guess what? I was driving! And it went well! We stopped in Mount Barker, where the lady at the tourist office told us to go to Porunjorup. So we took…

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My most inspiring travel photo, where to start?!

I was browsing facebook before I started work this morning, and I found a contest of a travel company, to win a 1000 euro travel voucher. The only thing you had to do, was upload your most inspiring travel photo.

Bloody hell, most inspiring travel photo? That’s probably one of the hardest competitions ever! But for a 1000 euro travel voucher, I’d gladly give it a go. So instead of going through all my photos, I thought back of the moment on my travels I was most amazed. There’s a thousand really, but for some reason, this one moment popped into my head. I was driving a 4WD from the Oodnadatta track to Coober Peddy in the centre of Australia. We were on aboriginal territory, so we weren’t allowed to get out of the car, but somehow I managed to take an amazing drive-by shot. The view was INSANE. It was just nothing. On all sides. For as far as the eye could reach. And that was god damn far! The only thing that changed the scenery, were the incredibly straight tyre tracks running through this dessert. Often, you couldn’t really make out the horizon, it was just a blur of land and sky.

The photo I managed to take, might not be the pretties photo you’ve ever seen. It has no colourful parrots, jumping dolphins, odd-shaped mountains, exotic looking trees in the most vibrant greens. It really has nothing. I guess it doesn’t make for the best entry in a photo contest, but hey, they asked for inspiring, I gave them inspiring. At least inspiring to me.

Have a look at my entry here: Best of Travel photo competition: Inspire Me!

Do you have any photos that to the general public might not look all that much, but for you represent all the beauty of life? I’d love to hear your stories!