There’s an old saying that “travel broadens the mind” and I think this is true. The main reason I initially decided to travel Australia in 2013 was because I wanted to seize the opportunity that my brother’s wedding handed to me. It was time to see the world and educate myself.
Truth be told; it was the best thing I ever did. I honestly think I’m a very different person to the one I was at the start of that year and, in my humble opinion, a better one (minus the beard!). I think I’m more independent, more confident and much more culturally aware and understanding than I was back then. That’s not to say that any of the above were really an issue previously, but it’s always nice to feel you’re bettering yourself.
A Different Purpose
On my travels round South East Asia in 2014, I found that travel served a much more different yet equally, if not more important purpose for me. To fill you in: I was in Melbourne in May 2013 getting ready to settle down, find a job and save some money to fund my future travels. One morning, preparing for a solid and soul destroying day of dishing out CV’s to employers who really weren’t interested but took one out of courtesy, I received a phone call from my Mum. I instantly knew something wasn’t right.
She was ringing to tell me that after some scans at the hospital, she had been diagnosed with suspected brain cancer. She was quick to reassure me that nothing was certain; she told me not to worry and to carry on with my travels – she would get in touch if anything got worse. I broke down in tears. I’d never felt so helpless in all my life and I spent the next week thinking about nothing else. I couldn’t enjoy my time in Australia having heard this – how could I?
A week later, after conversations with my wonderful step dad Fred, it was decided that I would jump on the next flight home and surprise my Mum by turning up at the house unannounced. I’m pretty bad when it comes to letting things slip, but we had this absolutely locked down. When I walked through the door both my Mum and I burst into tears – I’ve never felt so good about making someone cry. What followed were seven months with plenty of ups and a few downs until December 30th of that year when my worst fears came to life: my mother lost her battle with cancer. I felt like my entire world had crumbled down around me; I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself.
Shortly after my Mum passed away, Fred told me that he wanted me to get back on with my life. Naturally, I did too. My Mum had always encouraged me to travel; heck, she even felt guilty that I’d come home just for her! Fred and I both knew that I had unfinished business with travelling, and my Mum wouldn’t have wanted me to do anything else so it was decided that once I was ready, I would book my flights and start making plans.
I flew into Bangkok on February 22nd 2014 to start my latest adventure and 14 months later, I can honestly say that it was a completely different experience to Australia. Of course, I was still backpacking, still being a tightarse and still (probably) going out on the lash a little more than I should – so not a lot had changed in those aspects!
What had changed, however, was my mindset. I feel like travelling cleansed my mind and was helping me deal with my loss. Prior to returning from Australia, I hadn’t lived in Todmorden for almost six years. Readjusting to life in a small town in the Pennines where not a lot happens was a real challenge, especially after spending the last half a decade living in cities and discovering Australia . Add to that the fact I was trying to process everything with my Mum and you have a recipe for a fairly unhappy time.
Unintentionally; I imagine I was becoming a fairly miserable person to be around. I noticed my patience running even thinner than I was used to and, perhaps worst of all, I was drinking more than I ever had before. It says a lot when you go to a place where beer often costs less than £1 and you’re drinking less than you were at home! I am, understandably, a much happier person thanks to travel.
If I’d stayed in Tod I would have been stuck with the constant reminder of my last nine months there and I would probably have got into a real rut. Instead, I got out and about again, discovering the world and meeting new people and was able to take my mind off the things that would have haunted me every hour back home.
That’s not to say I blanked it out of my mind; I think about my Mum every single day – but day by day I feel like I’m coping a little better. What’s more, I feel like I’m doing my Mum proud by seeing all these places. Asia was one place she’d always wanted to see more of, so I feel it is my duty as a son to travel on behalf of the two of us. Every day I see something that makes me think “I wish I could show my Mum that” or, more often than not, “Bloody hell, Mum would have hated that!”. It’s moments like this that make me smile and keep me going.
I had my doubts about whether to write this post. It’s a very heavy and personal topic, especially when you consider that I try to keep the tone fairly lighthearted usually. That said, I made the decision to post it as I instantly feel better for writing it down and letting off some steam. My Mum used to always tell me not to keep things bottled up and her advice served me well for 25 years – why would I start ignoring it now?
You can read more about my Mum’s story on the Just Giving page we set up in her memory here.