I LEFT MY HEART IN YORK

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I’ve left my heart in more places than one.

It’s an inevitable side-effect of incessant wanderlust. I no longer feel like I have a “home” in Australia – simply a base to come back to and recharge. The idea of staying put in one place is incomprehensible to me. I can’t imagine a life without exploration and freedom.

I fall in love with some places more than others. There are some places I never want to leave; some places I feel innately drawn to. York has become one of these places.

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It’s simply magical. There’s something in the air, a feeling that I can’t describe in words. It’s something that you have to experience first-hand. There’s an energy of complete peace.

York is the quintessential English country town. It’s not small – it was the largest city in northern England for centuries – but it’s certainly not on the mass scale of London. I like this – rather than feeling lost in a sea of busyness and commotion, you are able to soak up the atmosphere. Rather than feeling like an observer, you feel like an active participant in the city’s life and history.

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And what a history! Walking around the streets feels like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s another world. The city actively restores and promotes it’s historical roots – museums take you back to the Roman and Viking settlements, and the current town still retains its medieval charm. It was so refreshing to see a city preserving its history rather than building upon it.

Perhaps my favourite thing about York (or at least on par with its historical charm) were the people! I’m not exaggerating when I say that York is home to the friendliest, kindest people that I’ve ever met in my life. Everyone from the bed & breakfast lady who made me vegetarian breakfasts and did my laundry, to the waitress and chef who spent a great deal of their work time chatting to me instead of serving and cooking… I met some of the loveliest people in the world in York. Like, over-and-above kindness. Bless them.

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I said earlier that I couldn’t see myself staying put in one place. While this is true, if one day I were to retire my tired old bones, I would retire in York. I would get a small farm just outside town, so I could keep my horses and dogs and 214 cats. I would go into town everyday and eat lunch at the vegan cafe I found. I would exchange small-talk with my fellow Yorkers on the street. I would meet my grandma friends for tea and scones at the tea houses. After a life of exploration and adventure, I would live out my days enjoying the peace and friendliness that is inherent in York.

Who knows? It’s a nice idea, but I have no clue what the future holds. For now, I know that I left a piece of myself in York. I know that I will return one day. Because when you leave a part of yourself somewhere, you will inevitably go back to it.

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MY TOP 5: VENICE EDITION

Venice has always held a magical allure for me, and my second visit to the city was just as incredible as the first. There is no place like it. It’s the place where east meets west, and where the land meets the sea. It’s an amazing little piece of Byzantium in Italy. I hate choosing favourites, and my list was endless, but I’ve managed to narrow a busy itinerary down to my five top picks.

(These are all fairly touristy, and to get a real feel for the city you actually need to get lost in it’s maze of alleyways, but this will inevitably happen anyway!)

Piazza San Marco

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No visit to Venice would be complete without a visit to the tourist destination of Piazza San Marco. The square itself is the ideal place to sit and eat and people-watch. San Marco would have to be my favourite Italian church, possibly because it’s unlike any other Italian basilica I’ve ever seen. Inside it is a golden mosaic masterpiece, more Byzantine than Italian. Next door is Palazzo Ducale, the palace of the Doge. If you enjoy art, or if you simply want to step into the shoes of the uppermost echelon of Venetian society, the Palazzo is not to be missed.

Ponte Rialto

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The Rialto bridge is a Venetian icon. It’s the main causeway connecting the two islands that comprise the city, and has arguably the best vantage point from which to view the Canale Grande in it’s romantic glory. Although the boutique shops along the bridge are a tad pricey, wandering the streets around it you will find some incredible examples of Venetian craftsmanship – from iconic Murino glass, to eccentric Venetian masks.

Ice Skating

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When people ask me why I travel to Europe in winter, I usually cite the reduced prices and smaller number of tourists. But perhaps the best part of Europe in winter are the outdoor ice skating rinks! There’s something magical about ice skating in winter. Maybe it’s because we have nothing like it in Australia. At any rate, when we stumbled across the rink in Campo San Polo, we knew we had to go for it. Despite being double the age of everyone else there, this was definitely one of my highlights in Venice.

Gondolas

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What epitomises Venice better than the gondola? The romanticism of the city surely lies in the icon of the long boat, commandeered by a serenading gondolier. It’s something you have to do at least once in your life. Seeing the city from the canals gives you a completely different perspective, and watching the gondoliers expertly navigate the narrow causeways is captivating. It’s a side of Venice that you’re unable to see from the land.

The Ghetto

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Venice is home to the first ever Ghetto. It dates to 1516, when the Doge of Venice so graciously allowed the Jews to continue living in Venice, so long as they were quarantined in their own tiny enclave. Wandering through the ghetto, which is still home to some of the Venetian Jewish population, it is the only place that actually feels lived-in. In a city that feels extremely touristy, it’s a welcome escape.

RESOLUTIONS

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Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.

– Maria Robinson

Resolutions.

We all make them.

The New Year brings with it an opportunity for change, the promise of a new beginning. It’s a chance to start over, to create something new, to live with excitement, adventure and purpose. It’s a time to chase your dreams, to explore your universe, to discover yourself.

Many resolutions fail before January is even through. Suddenly, the hope and excitement for the New Year turns into guilt and self-punishment. You failed. And now you’ll have to wait an entire year to try again.

But change doesn’t have to happen only once a year. Every day provides an opportunity for a new start. Every day you wake up and have the opportunity to live the life you want. It doesn’t have to start on January 1st. Life begins every single day of the year.

Failure happens when we view resolutions as rules. When we break a resolution we break a promise we have made to ourselves, and the result is guilt and frustration.

I prefer to see resolutions as goals. They are made to remind us of the life we want to live, and their purpose is to help us live it. Every day we make progress towards these goals, towards our dreams. And failure doesn’t mean that we give up on resolutions. We get up the next day and keep working towards them.

A mindset like this also means that resolutions can change. Goals should be flexible and attainable. And flexible goals are much easier to adhere to and achieve.

You don’t need an excuse to set goals and resolutions. The New Year creates a time when we can look back on how far we have come, and see how far we still have to go. It’s a time for re-evaluation and rejuvenation. But it’s not the only time.

Imagine how much happier we would be if we made resolutions every day. 

THE BACK-UP PLAN

You have a good chance at making some of your wildest dreams come true. Most people don’t even try, sadly. Most people try and then stop or give up. Very few people try, and try, and try, or do, and do, and do, and never give up. And those are the people who ultimately succeed and win.

– Jared Leto

I hate the idea.

The idea of a back-up, a Plan B, a safety net… The idea that you need a ‘realistic’ or ‘achievable’ dream.

I’ve had people stress the importance of a back-up plan my entire life. I’ve always been a dreamer, a creative type, and this lifestyle scares people. I knew from about the age of thirteen that I didn’t want to settle for some nine-to-five office job that simply paid the bills. I wanted something more, I wanted to create, and I wanted to do what I loved and what I dreamed of.

As I got older, and had to start seriously thinking about my future, I squashed my creative dreams in favour of a back-up plan. The things people say can inadvertently cause you to doubt and question your ability. To me, when people suggested that I think of a Plan B, I assumed that my creative talents weren’t enough for me to pursue the life that I wanted.

Recently, I’ve come to realise that you can achieve anything you set your mind to if you work at it. The first step is the most important one – so many people never take their first step toward their dreams, because they’ve settled for a back-up plan. I honesty believe that if you want something bad enough, you can make it happen. It won’t come easy – nothing good ever does – but it will be worth the effort. Pursuing dreams takes courage – it comes with the possibility of failure, and the greater the risk, the greater the fall. But if you don’t take that leap of faith, then you’ll never learn to fly.

People still try to convince me to settle for the easy option. To abandon what I really want to do with my life. I think people are scared of creative dreams. They don’t come with a salary. They don’t come with stability. But they come with so much more.

I believe there are two types of people: risk-takers and risk-avoiders. The risk-takers are the dreamers. The risk-avoiders are the pragmatists, the realists. There’s nothing wrong with being the latter – you’ll probably work in a well-paid job and own a lovely house and raise a beautiful family. But for the dreamers, this is not enough. There’s got to be something more. And you’ll never know unless you take the risk.

So I’ve abandoned my back-up plan. It’s never going to satisfy me. I’d spend my whole life wondering what could have happened had I just taken that first step. I’m chasing my dreams, and I’m not stopping until I achieve them. It will happen. I’ll make it happen.

Make yours happen too.

CREATING A TRAVEL MEMOIR

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I have a great memory. I remember faces, places, images, buildings, maps… Anything visual is imprinted in my mind. I wouldn’t call it a photographic memory – that implies some sort of superhuman remembering capability that I’m fairly certain I do not possess. But visually, my memory is 97% spot-on.

When it comes to anything aural, descriptive, numeric, or emotional… Well that’s a different story. I’ll remember a person’s face for years, but forget their name less than a minute after we’re introduced. I’ll remember a building’s location and façade, but have no idea of its name or function. I’ll remember how to navigate a maze of foreign streets to find my way back to my hotel, but I have no idea what the street next mine at home is called. In these respects, I have the memory of a goldfish.

This makes travelling both exciting and fairly natural for me, but it can also leave me feeling a little unfulfilled. Being a dominantly visual person, I always come home with thousands and thousands of photographs to sort through. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is a lie. A picture can’t tell you specifics – the name, place, date, function and history of a place. A picture also can’t relay the emotions that being in that particular location made you feel. It can’t remind you of the kind African man you met on the train and of the extremely sad and deeply touching conversation you had about his life. It can’t remind you of the woman feeding the cats behind you and your lens, nor of the charismatic old Italian tour guide who serenaded you with broken English love songs. These are the experiences that become the highlights of my travels, and never would have been if I hadn’t written them down.

This is why I journal. It doesn’t have to be long and boring, just a few sentences about what happened that day, the people you met, and the conversations you had. Some days you’ll be able to write pages; others you’ll have merely a sentence or two. Length isn’t important. But you’ll thank yourself six months down the track when you’re reading through, nostalgic about the experiences you had.

Journaling takes discipline. I can’t tell you how many trips I have taken and only made it a couple days in before giving up on my journal. In fact, it’s something I’ve only mastered in the last few years. I’ll let you in on my secret: routine. It’s so important to develop a journaling routine, and to stick to it! For me, I set aside some time before bed – sometimes only five minutes, but I’ll take however long I need to adequately describe the day I’ve experienced. Sometimes I miss days – sometimes I’m just too tired, or I’m out, or I’ve had a little too much vino – but the important thing is to pick up the pen on the next day and continue where you left off. The hard work is worth it, I promise!

So write your travel memoir – you’ll thank yourself for it later.

SEIZE THE DAY

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It’s nearing midnight and I’m physically and mentally exhausted, but I need to get this down while it’s still impacting me the way it is right now.

Many of you may have watched the Brittany Maynard video that’s currently taking over the internet (if you haven’t, go and do it right now). Having just watched it only a matter of minutes ago, I still have tears streaming down my cheeks. To summarise (doing her story the greatest injustice – seriously, go and watch the video), Brittany was diagnosed with brain cancer in January this year, and given only months to live. Rather than suffer through an extremely painful death, Brittany and her family moved to Oregon where their laws permit her to die with dignity, and she will pass away without pain when and where she chooses. Being a strong supporter of voluntary euthanasia, I don’t want to get into a debate on the topic here. I believe that people have the right to end their suffering when they choose to, and that no one should be forced to endure the type of death that comes with a painful terminal illness. You can read more about the Death with Dignity campaign here.

What really impacted me was Brittany’s outlook on the limited life that she has remaining. She challenges everyone to seize the day, to forget the unimportant and pursue what makes you happy. Terminally ill or not, life is short and life is fragile. You don’t get enough time to waste it. Everyone gets one life, and each day is a gift. Each day could be your last. So why are you not doing everything you wish to do?

Watching Brittany’s story, I couldn’t help wondering what it would feel like to have a timer on your life. To know the exact day you were going to die. In some morbid way, I think it would force me to make the most of the time that I have left. And then I realised – we all have a limit on life. Each day, each hour brings you closer to the end, and that’s one less day or one less hour you have to live. You don’t have to know when time will run out – you just have to be aware that it will. It might be 50 years from now, or it might be tomorrow. And knowing this, how could you not make the most of every moment?

Life’s too short to waste time on things that don’t make you happy. Chase your dreams, explore your wanderlust, and don’t let anyone stop you from living the life you wish to live.

Seize the day.

21 AND …

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This month I turn 21. Only a few short weeks after that, I’ll have completed my Bachelor Degree. There’s something extremely daunting about the prospect of officially entering adulthood, and a level of responsibility that I don’t feel entirely ready for.

What is it about turning 21? Suddenly, people begin to ask you what you’re going to be, and they become extremely worried when you tell them that your Arts Degree qualifies you to do absolutely nothing. People expect you to have your life completely figured out. You’re expected to make plans about your career, think about settling down, buy a house, and be married with three kids all before you’re 30. And some people can do this – some people know exactly what they want, and they have a 5-year, 12-step plan on how to get there. But the truth is, I feel incredibly lost. And I’m completely okay with it.

I don’t have my life figured out. I have no idea what I want to do. I have absolutely no desire to settle down. Marriage and children aren’t even on my radar. I don’t see myself working a nine-to-five office job, living in a neat little middle-class suburb with a white picket fence and a husband and 2.5 kids and our pet dog Barkley. So where do I see myself?

The honest truth is, I don’t. I have a very clear idea about what I don’t want out of my life, but I’m far hazier on what I do want. I think this is partly because I want to achieve so much – I just don’t know what yet. I never saw myself as living in one place and doing the same thing for the rest of my life. I have an unquenchable lust for adventure. And I think that no matter what I make of my life, it’s sure going to be one hell of an adventure.

It’s okay not to have a plan. It’s okay to enjoy the journey without being completely sure of the destination. Because life is a journey, and if you’re too focused on the destination then you’ll miss out on actually living. I love experiencing the highs and the lows, making it up as I go. I don’t believe that becoming an adult means you have to give up the adventure and uncertainty of youth.

Conforming to society’s expectations is not the only option. Some people are genuinely worried when I tell them that I have no plans. But having a plan scares the hell out of me. If life is all about the journey, then I never want the journey to end. Because the truth is, I have no idea what to do at the destination.

I really struggled to come up with a title to this post. I floated a few ideas – 21 and Free, 21 and Travelling, 21 and Living… But I couldn’t find one that truly encapsulated what I wanted to convey. And, after writing it, I’ve realised why. I don’t want my life to be defined by one word. So I’m leaving it unwritten…

100 DAYS

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The countdown is on!

It’s officially 100 days until I embark on my next adventure. The thought is both exciting and depressing at the same time: exciting because I leave in 100 days, yet depressing because I still have 100 days to wait.

This got me thinking. Why is it that the prospect of travel is so magical, yet for some reason everyday life is not? Why do we count down the days until a trip, believing that the adventure only starts when we get on the plane? Why do we anticipate the future instead of living in the present?

Adventure, excitement and creativity are everywhere. These are not things that are reserved for travel. They can be found everyday in something as simple as a sunrise, a smile, a song, or a hike.

The idea of wanderlust has always captivated me, but it has only been recently that I’ve realised that it can be created. To wander is to be free, and as Tolkien so wisely put it, not all those who wander are lost. And lust does not have to come with the negative connotations that are so often attached. To have a lust for happiness, adventure and life is a wonderful thing. To create wanderlust is to embrace a lust for freedom, for adventure. Wanderlust is everywhere.

So rather than dwell in my depression for the next 100 days, I’ve decided to create wanderlust here at home. And I’m doing this through the #100HappyDays campaign. I’ll be searching for and documenting happiness everyday for the next 100 days. You can follow my journey on Instagram, and maybe even be inspired to sign up and start your own.

Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans. Don’t let life pass you by. Live in the moment, creating wanderlust every single day.

THE POWER OF SIMPLY BEING

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Last year was one of the most intense and chaotic years of my life (aside from the death-sentence that is VCE, but that’s a story for another time…). At the end of 2012, I went on a month-long university study trip to Italy. It was insanely amazing (I’m sure I’ll one day write a post about that experience and the incurable wanderlust that I incurred as a result). Upon returning home to Australia, I madly rushed to hand in all the work required of the 12-credit-point course, as, understandably, I hadn’t done much study abroad. First semester, I threw myself back into uni, whilst simultaneously working to try and resurrect my severely depleted bank account. During my second semester, I was extremely lucky to be accepted into a six-month acting course at the National Theatre Drama School. It was an incredible opportunity, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to take again. However, 9 hours of night school, plus a full-time uni load and a part-time job hardly left any time to eat or sleep. Following this crazy semester, I took off for Europe again, studying in Italy followed by a Portuguese Christmas and New Year with my extended family. Needless to say, I returned in January this year feeling exhausted – mentally, physically, and creatively.

Before I go on, I just want to clarify something: despite the crazy whirlwind that was 2013, I don’t regret any of the decisions I made. I would do it all again in a heartbeat – the acting, the travelling… I was extremely fortunate to have these opportunities, and worked my ass off for them! I don’t look back and wish I could change the things that were; I constantly look forward, learning from every experience and using the tough times to make me stronger. It’s the difficult times that have the greatest impact on our lives, for better or for worse. I just always decide to make it for the better, living life with no regrets.

I found myself about to head into the first semester of the final year of my degree, and I was absolutely dreading it. I had taken a long and hard look at my life, and decided that whatever I wanted to do, I couldn’t achieve it in school. Life will teach you so much more than you will ever learn in a classroom. So I put my degree on hold for a semester (reassuring and promising my extremely worried mother that I would go back after a six month hiatus and finish my degree), and decided to do something that I had never done, not once, in my 20+ years of life: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

Of course, this isn’t quite true. I still had obligations. I worked full-time (financing my next round of travelling!). But for the first time in my life I had no extracurriculars – no training, no assignments, and no stress. And it was beautiful.

I learned the power of just being. I took up yoga. I meditated. I ran. I read (for pleasure!). I drew, painted, wrote, and played my guitar for the first time in probably about 4 years. I was extremely selfish, and took six months to focus 100% of my energy on me. And something amazing happened.

When you escape the distractions and stress of daily life, you tap into a world full of creativity, possibilities, and dreams. There are no limitations. You allow yourself to wander, to grow, and to simply be. Getting to know yourself is such an important thing, especially when you’re at a point in your life (like I was) where everything is changing, and when you’re questioning and searching for a purpose. I learned the importance of taking time out, and of allowing myself to breathe.

Unfortunately, not many people share the same outlook as I do. It surprised me how many people asked me what I was going to do with my semester off. When I replied with nothing, they tried to tell me that I had to do something with my time. But no, you don’t always have to be doing something. Doing nothing is perfectly acceptable – more than this, it is extremely powerful.

Now, clawing my way through my final semester of university (only because of the promises I made to some very important people in my life; if not for these, I’m certain I would have dropped out), working, and planning my next adventure, my outlook on life has completely changed. Sure, I still want to punch my lecturers in the face for wasting hours of my life that I will never ever get back. Sure, I still have to work, because I know that I need money to not only live, but also to fulfill my incurable wanderlust. But I take time out every day to connect with myself. I do this through running, through yoga, through meditation, and through creativity. For you it may be different. But for me, these things lead me to find inner serenity and peace, and to find myself.

Life is busy, but you don’t have to be. It’s a choice. Live the way you wish to live, follow your heart, make your dreams your reality, and discover yourself.

Namaste.