When my friend Marcin was about 22, he quit his job, sold his flat, set fire to his sports car (that was an accident), became a vegetarian, bought three surf boards using his granny’s inheritance, grabbed his beautiful Brazilian girlfriend and her adorable two-year-old son from a hippy like commune they were living in near Devon and embarked on his first ever around the world surf trip.
This was a mission that was long overdue. His friends had been encouraging him for years to pack a bag and plan a travel adventure, to find himself and find new friends. (he actually told me that they were encouraging him to “find new friends” which is a bit alarming and doesn’t say much for the strength of the friendship group! I think – well, I hope – this might be slightly lost in translations!). He had gone straight from school into the workplace without doing that millennial thing of “finding” himself.
While his friendship group of guys had all partied and surfed their way around the globe, he had put in years of hard work in an office and though he had got himself into a decent, even enviable, position financially, the day had finally arrived when he had to get the hell out of the rat race and out into the big wide world.
The plan was to spend two years travelling to everywhere he had ever dreamed of surfing, while simultaneously saving his near-broken, highly complex relationship with the beautiful Brazilian.
Six months later he was back in Britain with his tail between his legs, living back in his teenage room with his mum and dad, stone broke and in possession of huge impenetrable chunk of coal in his ripped chest where his heart had once lived.
How did this all happen to the lovely Marcin, you might ask? Did September 11th go down the day they flew out? Did his bank account get jacked by credit card fraudsters? Did he crash his hire car into a gigantic plastic cow? Did his beautiful Brazilian girl fall for an indie guitar player who wore girlie band tee’s? Did he bizarrely spend too much money of South American rugs to sell at Byron Bay markets? Did he nearly die of starvation from being a vegetarian?
The short answer to all of the above is: YES! Yes to all those things. But there was also a more fundamental truth beneath all of these failings and it was this…. he just sucked at travelling. He has never been and will never be a natural traveller. He doesn’t possess the laid back gypsy DNA that we are constantly being told is within us all, and that we need to unleash to find true happiness.
You need only look at what he put in his boarding bag before he left to know the sailing ahead was never going to be smooth. As well as his new boards he had a steamer, a juicer, a pram, a travel cot, a box of wax, about ten coats(?), a bike repair kit, a tricycle for the baby to ride in case he got bored while his wannabe step-dad to be surfed.
I’m positive the accumulated weight of that board bag and bus cases (yes cases plural – hardly a backpack!) was double that of the 747 that had to lug the things to Europe, the USA, Australia and beyond.
And what a treat it was for him to discover after 38 hours of travelling with a baby (and yes, September 11 had happened while the three musketeers were in the air on their inaugural expedition) that their first place of residence in Portugal was a windowless room the size of a port-a-loo at the top of the steel twisting staircase with 73 steps. Hooray!
To make matters worse, by the end of the six months in similar accommodation in European and USA and Aussie cities, he had barely surfed at all.
Since that trip he’s been super happy as a career passenger, happy to let someone else do the organising (on occasion that ‘someone’ has been me) while he jumps on last minute and hopefully gets to surf with the bare minimum of personal effort.
For the most part it’s been a very good system and on the back of letting people who are fantastic at travelling (ahem… that’s me! Although my family and boyfriend might not agree) handle the decision making, he has certainly scored his share of barrels.
The interesting thing is though, no matter how good the waves have been, no matter how comfortable the surrounds, or how easy the transit, absolutely none of those trips live in his memory like the godforsaken nightmare that almost broke him completely.
None of them have the epic tales of woe and triumph and none of them are discussed much beyond the post holiday catch up dinner. Unlike the round the world failure that keeps us entertained to this day.
Few of us have the time, money or inclination to take a chance on a trip that may result in no waves -or whatever you’re seeking out, for me it might be waves but sans surfboard) but through him I’ve discovered that the truest rewards come from throwing yourself wholeheartedly into your own adventure. Regardless of what sort of traveller you turn out to be be.
And remember, these kind of trips are nothing to be ashamed of. Ignore the pressure to have the ‘best experience ever’ and if it all goes to pot, take comfort in the fact that the bad trips will promote personal and emotional growth like no bucket list dream destination ever could. They’re might be seen as expensive mistakes, but the life lessons and personal growth value are priceless.
Sometimes the best thing about travelling is that it brings you closer to home. Marcin belonged in Britain and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
If you find somewhere, where you truly feel at ‘home’, there’s plenty of joy to be found in just staying there. After all, home is where the heart is, not someone else’s home.