Five reasons why being new is a good thing

Being new anywhere – new school, new neighbourhood, new job, new country – they all come with the same set of doubts and fears, where, given enough time to think about it, you end up creating your own dystopian fantasy of a friendless, soulless void in which you fail in your quest to ever find a way to laugh again. Generally speaking though, this is not how it goes. A few minutes/days/weeks of feeling like the village idiot and sooner or later you find your way in. Still, it can be a stressful and lonely time getting there. So I’ve been thinking about why it’s good to be new, and why you should celebrate it.

  1. You get to pick your friends. As I get older (and a little bit wiser), I realise it’s okay not to be friends with everyone you meet. There’s no need to be rude, but you don’t have to add to your circle if you don’t want to – and being new is the ideal time to be picky in order to avoid those awkward moments later where you wished you’d never engaged in a friendship you have absolutely no interest in pursuing. It’s. Okay. You are not a bitch. You just don’t gel with that person, and in truth they probably feel the same way. If you start out by being discerning, you can go about your life safe in the knowledge that you aren’t going to have to go for coffee/drinks/dinner with anyone you don’t want to, and neither are they. Win win.
  2. You get to pick your friends. Friends that reflect who you are now, rather than who you were when you were 27. This is not to say there’s no value in those friends – of course they are part of your make up, part of you. But we tend to see our friends as ageless things, as the people we met and loved for who they were at that time. Even with friendships that go the distance, we don’t always help them to nurture the thing they want to become, or have become. New friends = new you. If you tell your new friends you are a writer, for example, they believe you, and accept you as a writer, want to know about you as a writer. (And hopefully even offer to pay you as one, or at the very least introduce you to someone who can. No job too small. Reasonable rates. See my website for details). Also you get to expand your world, by meeting new, vibrant people who stimulate and energise you. Being new, and meeting new people because of that, is a way to reinvent, reinvigorate and revive parts of you that old friends and family cannot reach.
  3. You can ditch things about your life you don’t like and add in new things that you do. Like, say you’re on the PTA at your school, but you really don’t want to do it anymore. Guilt goes a long way. When you’re new, you can just not do it. (Of course, this has never happened to me). Or, vice versa. You can join a gym, get a new hobby, stop smoking, learn to cook, throw your millennial kids out of the house finally – anything really. Routine is the devil’s work, and being new means you get a window of opportunity to get out of whatever rut you previously found yourself in.
  4. You have the chance to evaluate your life. Being new means you left somewhere, to get to the new place. It’s a brilliant time to take stock of what’s important to you – family, career, marriage, health – and refocus on those things.
  5.  It makes you a stronger person. Being new anywhere is hard. It takes guts. But when you look back after a week, six weeks, six months, you realise you’ve achieved more than you thought you ever could. And suddenly, you’re not new anymore.
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The ones with no choice

Here’s me banging on about how hard my life is. Woe is me. I’ve just moved from a country that gold plates almost everything and am sobbing because I can’t wear my Manolos out on the streets of my new city without ruining the heels. And the new city – well don’t get me started. The weather, the commute, the endless stupidity I feel about not knowing how to do anything; the loneliness of the whole business; the unsettling feelings of homesickness and the shock of re-entry.

Poor me. Poor expat me.

Now imagine, for a second, that I hadn’t got here by first class Emirates, I didn’t move into a very comfortable 4-bed in South West London, that despite needing new carpets and having dubious smells coming from the sink, is pretty luxurious in terms of size and location. Imagine my son wasn’t enrolled in a Very Good School and we didn’t have two brand new cars sitting outside our house. Imagine I wasn’t heading off to the shops this morning to buy warm clothes and new shoes to furnish us for the cooler weather coming. Instead, imagine I’d spent a few years wearing the same clothes over and over. Imagine my life was in danger in the place I called home. Imagine my child couldn’t go to school, and we were scared, and we didn’t have any choice any more, about where to live or not live. Imagine we’d left our home because we wanted to survive.

Imagine I’d arrived on a boat that wasn’t even a boat, to a place that didn’t want me, didn’t know what to do with me, didn’t speak my language, and struggled to find a place for me to go to the toilet or wash or eat or sleep. Imagine that was where I wanted to be, because the only other option was to stay and live in fear for my life, for my children’s lives. Imagine people taking photos of me, staring at me, balking at the smell. Imagine ‘Cathy from Manchester’ moaning about me to a newspaper about how seeing me, and hundreds like me, ruined her holiday.

Imagine I hadn’t made it at all. Imagine I watched my child drown and then I drowned and then we got washed up on a beach for the world’s media to photograph, and we were an issue for journalists to dissect and politicians to proclaim about, while everyone else talked over coffee in their offices and comfortable homes about what a terrible thing it was, and why weren’t we doing more to help, and then going back to about their day because, well, there really wasn’t much anyone can do.

Imagine how terrified I would be, of everything. Of leaving, of being on the water in a boat that isn’t a boat, of arriving, of being turned away. Of thinking life would be better and finding out it isn’t. Of being homeless, sick, cold, hungry and scared. All the time. Of being vulnerable to rape, robbery, prostitution and abuse. Of dying. Of watching my children die. Imagine that, as your expat experience.

Imagine.

Now click here and find out how you can help them, before your coffee gets cold.

Dorothy…you’re not an expat anymore

Today marks the day I stopped being an expat. Or rather, the day I realised I wasn’t one anymore. Maybe this is the wrong way to describe it. I mean – I’ll think I’ll always be an expat. The longer we are here, the more foreign I feel, to be honest. My friend says I’m just going through the ‘I feel stupid’ phase. I feel like this phase might last for years, some days. But setting stupidity aside, today I just feel, well, a bit sad. Maybe what I mean is, today marks the day I don’t live in Dubai anymore.

What has caused this sudden dawn of realisation? On the other side of the world, in the desert we called home, my friends’ kids – my kid’s friends – went back to school on Sunday. Everyone is back from their holidays. Work has begun. Pictures of proud little men and women in their new uniforms begin to adorn my Facebook page, chatter on my Dubai chums whatsapp group has increased tenfold, a new season has begun at the theatre where I spent my life these past three years, and suddenly, I realise that life is moving on without us. I watch it go, full steam ahead, and I know it’s an unstoppable train.

We are just back from a wonderful weekend in France celebrating my birthday, so it’s not like I have anything to complain about. I’ve spent three days eating butter-laden pain au chocolate and drinking cheap but delicious rose wine at various hillside idylls, soaking up the last of the Mediterranean summer at the beach, speaking bad French at everyone who will listen and gazing at beautiful old buildings backing onto impossibly blue skies at every opportunity. There are worse places to turn 41, I realise this.

But it was weird coming back here. It just felt a bit odd. Like, as in, ‘you’ve just come home to the wrong place’ kind of odd. I had a cry in the kitchen, in secret, bizarrely while trying to sing ‘I will always love you’ by Whitney Houston. I’m not sure why. But it appears my son felt it too, whatever the sensation was  – we’ve had tears this evening, about going to the new school, about missing his old house, his old school, his friends. It’s the first time he’s had a wobble like this since we arrived in England and I know how he feels, I feel what he feels – the strangeness of it all, the confusion, the lack of purpose to being here, the wave of homesickness that rears up when you least expect it. All I can do is hold onto him and tell him it will get better, that we will make new friends and it will all get better soon. ‘But how do you remember the old friends?’ he says to me, wiping away his tears and looking at me like I have all the answers. ‘You talk to them, and write to them, and visit them, and when your life fills up again with new friends and things to do and places to go, you don’t miss them quite so much,’ I reply. My heart aches.

The reality is we’re doing fine so far. More than fine. Surprisingly so, if I’m honest. I’m just a bit sad, sometimes, when I notice my old life disappearing. It’s been blurring around the edges and smudging along the lines all summer, and now school has started and everyone is back from their holidays, I know it will quickly begin fading from view altogether. When we visit, as we plan to, we will be visitors. I knew that before, of course, but it’s sinking in now. It’s the bit I was dreading, the purgatorial part of the whole process, where you’re neither here nor there, but everyone else is very definitely here or there and you don’t have any of the answers about how to be, or who to be, or what to do. It is the ‘I feel stupid’ phase. The ‘lost’ phase. The ‘helpless’ phase. Or maybe it’s better to give it it’s official name, and call it culture shock? Or homesickness? Or a bit of both? Whatever, I wish wholeheartedly it would be over, for us all, before it engulfs us along with the truly rotten British weather (sorry to state the obvious, but I’d forgotten how bloody relentless the misery-inducing greyness can be. Three days in the Med only exaggerated the whole thing, I fear).

Mainly, though, I wish it would be over for my boy. There’s nothing more saddening and guilt-inducing than seeing him upset over a decision that wasn’t his to make; an action that I can’t undo; a sickness that I can’t kiss better. He’s been amazing, so strong and I’m so proud of him, but enough’s enough and I need to fill his life up again. Next week, when term FINALLY begins (and really, I just wish it would, I think it would do everyone the power of good just to get on with everything) I will post my own Facebook photo, and embrace the start of a new life for my boy. I hope that his own ‘I feel stupid’ phase is blissfully short lived. I could barely care less about my own happiness in comparison to making sure he finds his. And he will, I know. I will be there with him, egging him on, helping him every step of the way. It works the other way too, of course. ‘I’ve got 37 friends to make, mummy,’ he says, counting all the kids in his new Year 1 who he hasn’t met yet, ‘so you’ve got 37 mummy friends to make as well.’

I do. And I’ve got a ton of stuff coming my way that will help me find a new tribe and begin to heal the wounds over from leaving the old one. I’m sad, in a mourning kind of a way, but I’m not miserable, or stressed, or any of the things I was when I first moved abroad. To coin the analogy (or whack it over the head with a big stick)*, we’re nearly ‘over the rainbow’. Nearly. We’re so close to being in a new place and point in time we can call ‘home’, while knowing that in some other dimension there’s another place just like it, but different, that we love just as much. Just a bit more time, just a few more steps along the (yellow brick) road and we’ll be there, and we’ll miss the other place just a bit less. Whether we’ve landed in Oz or woken up in Kansas is questionable. But then that’s rather the point, isn’t it?

*I can’t believe I’m reading this much into the Wizard of Oz. It must be the weather.

Still going…

So, the container left yesterday. There were tears. There’s been a lot of tears this week, and tantrums, mainly in the car to and from places behind the relative safety of my sunglasses so I don’t upset/annoy/embarrass the very people I’m crying over. I’m trying to be mature about the whole thing. Trying not to sulk about leaving. Trying, goddammit, to leave well. (I rue the day I ever heard that phrase). But every time I think I’ve nailed it, something happens, and it’s the last time it will happen, or the last time I will go there, or the last time I will see that person, and my world comes crumbling down again.

I know London is going to be great in so many ways. It’s not going there that I’m sulking about, it’s leaving here. Although, I am sure, as long as it’s not pissing down with rain when we get there, that London will score heavily over Dubai almost instantly, in that it’s pretty much a guarantee I won’t have to stand unloading a container in 45 degree heat. I don’t think I have EVER been as hot as I was yesterday, sitting by the truck ticking off 265 boxes of our stuff on a bingo sheet as they made their way into their metal hulk of a home for the next weeks.No bottle of cold beer has ever been more welcome than the one I popped last night after it was all over. A friend swung by on a mid-morning mercy trip with 24 bottles of water after we ran dry in the house, took one look at the state of me and offered an oscillating fan on an extension cord from the garage, which I refused out of kinship with my packing team. I was okay. I would survive. Of course I regretted the decision around about school pick up when I had a six pack of salt-sweat marks on my vest top and a sunburnt forehead. But I didn’t dare complain, because at least I wasn’t the poor sod lifting my 265 boxes onto the truck. Those guys are amazing to do what they do. Bloody amazing. The bloke that came to pick up some of our furniture at the weekend spouting ‘sorry I’m late, I’m just waiting for my monkeys to turn up’ nearly got knocked out cold by me on the spot. Working in this heat, lifting and carrying someone else’s shit for a pittance of a pay packet…anyone doing it deserves a bloody medal, a hefty tip and a whole lot of respect.

So anyway, now it’s over, and it feels a bit weird because I actually have some time on my hands. As in, I’ve got a stack of things still to do, but I’m not running about like a headless chicken. I’m in purgatory, caught between one world and the next and it all feels very weird. So of course, I’ve spent the day closing bank accounts and shopping for teacher gifts and having a healthy lunch for once and generally trying to ignore thinking about the next bit: getting on the plane.

I don’t want to deal with it. I  keep thinking about it and wigging out. I know it’s just an emotional time and I’ll get over it, but I’m so tired of feeling this way. I don’t feel ready for a new adventure. I like this one, thanks very much. Another one just feels like a lot of work. But, inevitably, I’m slowly coming around to the fact that we just NEED TO GO. I know, deep down, that I’m done. I’ve said my goodbyes, drunk my own bodyweight in beer, made my peace with the fact that the next 6+ months are going to be exultant and arduous in equal terms, and now I just want to get there, get the keys, unpack, stop mourning my old life and get on with the new one. It’s so difficult, letting go, and this bit is the worst, when you know you are nearly on the plane but there’s still time left, which inevitably gets spent with dear friends that you end up even more emotionally vested in than you were before. It’s some kind of torture, then, to finally let go, and walk away.

Even though we aren’t planning a return to live, leaving is not a finite act. We have too many ties not to come here again. I lived half my adult life in Dubai and I can’t act like it never happened. I refuse to act like it never happened. It’s just too much part of who I am. But I know from bitter experience, it takes discipline not to cling on too hard, not to imagine that I can keep my life on ice and pick up where I left off when I pop back here for weekends or holidays. Especially in Dubai, where the expat merry go round spins in continuous motion, I can’t ever come back thinking that it – or I – will be the same as I left it.

Maybe it takes the experience, of leaving, and of being left, to understand and accept that moving on as an expat is bigger than simply changing countries, or going home. I know that when I leave Dubai, I cease to exist. Or at least, cease to exist in the way that I existed before. I will never be the same person again, as I am right now: not even close. That is the loss I am dealing with, that is the pain I feel, the thing that I am mourning.  And no doubt I will spend a large portion of the next few months figuring out where the balance lies: figuring out how to be happy and ‘at home’ in one place and the graceful alumni of the other. Figuring out who I am next.

But for now, I just have to remember to pack my sunglasses for the plane.

Confusion, Emotion and Perpetual Motion

I’m waiting for my flight back to London. Not THE flight; this is the one before that, where I go and find us somewhere to live. Our new home. I thought this would be the exciting bit, but the stress of this responsibility is, I now realise, of an intensity way beyond what I expected. Forget all the coordinating, the logistical nightmares, the turmoil of leaving; these are small fry. They are events that will happen, and pass, and be forgotten about over time. But this decision – choosing our home – will be the lasting legacy of this move, the thing we will all have to live with every day. It forms a major part of what determines whether the transition is successful and happy, or not. 

It’s only four walls, I know. But those four walls contain us. They will gather us together as a family, nurture us, comfort us, and give us the first taste of being grounded in our new world. For my son, it is the place he will take his first impressions of his new life from, the place that will form his memories of living in London forever. For my husband, it is the place that will make him feel all his hard work is worthwhile; that although London is not where he comes from it can still be his home. For me, it is the place I can sit in, alone, and yet not feel lonely; a place I can fill with friends and family or just enjoy the intimacy of our unit of three; a place where I know we can feel at home again in this foreign yet familiar city. 

How? How do I do this? How can I possibly predict where we will be happiest, where we won’t find ourselves wishing we were somewhere else? I remember these feelings, from a near-decade ago, when we left for Dubai. That panicky, slightly sick sensation that I might royally screw up (we did) and be saddled with living somewhere we don’t want to be (we were). I have a list of beautiful homes to look at and yet I’m terrified I won’t find the right one, or worse still I will think I found the right one and then find out when we move in that I’ve made a terrible mistake. I know, I know; we can always move again. But I don’t want to. It seems such a waste of time, energy and emotion. I just want to get it right, first time. I just want all of us to be happy.

On top of this insomnia-inducing anxiety about not cocking up, the fog of sadness about leaving Dubai is finally beginning to descend. There have been at least two incidents this week where I’ve burst into tears in an awkward public display of emotion and I’m trying hard not to make it three. But sitting at the airport waiting to board, all I want to do is cry. It all feels so ENORMOUS. The idea, the notion, flits through my mind, that in some way I’m betraying Dubai. Like some torrid affair, years of sneaking off to see London are finally turning into concrete plans to elope. I’m sorry Dubai. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve changed. It doesn’t mean anything.

What a lot of tosh. It’s HUGE. Of course it means something. It means everything.

The enormity of what is about to happen pushes down on me, threatening to crush my spirit; my determination that this will all be fine wavers like a sapling in a storm, flapping and flexing and fighting to stay upright and alive. I cannot fathom how I can possibly have the stamina to keep feeling this way for months, until it is all over and I know we are going to be okay. The worst thing is, I’ve done all this before: the goodbyes, the leaving, the learning somewhere new. The loneliness, the longing for the old life, the attempt to embrace the unknown. There are so many things to look forward to, but they won’t all arrive on my doorstep the second we touch the ground. I’ve done my research, done my reading, listened to the repat war stories of friends and friends of friends. I know that it will be a long time until we are okay.

Until now, it’s been a lot of talk. Big ideas, imagined lives, self-engineered scenarios. When I get off this plane later today, it all becomes real. Step by step, I must begin the task of converting the picture we have in our minds to glorious 3D technicolor. I’m scared, because there’s no signposts, no guides, no list of rules to abide by. Like a skydiver waiting by the door, there’s only my parachute of intuition, and the trust in myself that I will get the landing just right.

 

So I take a deep breath, and jump.

Wanderlust

Meanwhile, in real life, I’ve been a bit preoccupied. Apologies for the prolonged literary silence. My MA is ramping up to the final hand in date, and quite frankly blogging has had to take second (or third, or fourth) place to writing an essay on narrative in memoir (more interesting, it turns out, than I thought), trying to get over the writer’s block and finish my book, (still working on that) plus quite a bit of performing thrown in. And that little thing called parenting. And dealing with the rather catastrophic decision to move into a new house four days before flying to the other side of the world for nearly two months. (That had just a bit of fallout to manage. Turns out boxes do not unpack themselves, the garden won’t ever grow plants in it unless I actually get it landscaped and we own a sh*tload of stuff we really don’t need)

But things seem to be calmer this week*. I have managed to create distance between me and chaos, which was a difficult parting of ways but not entirely impossible to execute. I have a small list of things still to accomplish (little things, like the final 35,000 words of a book to write), but what I really need to do is wrap my head around the business of being in Dubai again. I feel like I haven’t quite got the hang of being back yet, even though it’s been nearly two months since our summer hiatus. It’s almost like I’ve been too busy to acclimatise. I turn up to stuff and nod and smile in all the right places but feel a little bit uncommitted to the idea of life being here, of this being ‘it’. I’m surprised at myself and honestly, fairly confused as to why I’m feeling this way. Maybe the displacement from our home has left me unsettled – yet I love our new house, so I don’t think that’s the problem. More likely it’s the influx of new people who’ve arrived with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure I no longer possess. I feel a bit jaded, and groundhog day-esque, like there’s nothing new for me here. And yet that’s not true either – I have a life filled with theatre and writing and friends where, a few years ago, there was nothing. I love what I do and I love my life here. So what is the problem? It’s not homesickness per se – in fact it’s almost the opposite – dare I mutter it’s just a feeling that I might have nearly (nearly – I’m aware it’s awesome here) had enough of being in the same place.

Nomad’s curse. That feeling of wanting the next adventure, of seeing the next new place. I don’t get itchy feet very often but I feel like I’ve got them bad right now. I feel a need to see the world again, to be surrounded with the hum of a new city that’s alive with different faces, different ideas, different histories. I’m stifled; my frame of reference has shrunk to school drop offs and pick ups, negotiations with workmen, parties and play dates. Creatively, emotionally, this isn’t enough. I need to find somewhere or something new to fall in love with; to inspire me, to feed my soul and create new energy within. I need to change something before the routine becomes a rut. But I’m about fifteen years too late to just grab a rucksack and hit the road. So instead, I’m resolving to unplug the laptop, pick up my camera and a notebook and take myself to a corner of Dubai where I haven’t been before or at the very least, haven’t been for a while.  And then I’m going to write about it. It’s the best I can do, to shake things up and maybe quell the urge for something new. I need to see that there is a life outside of my bubble, to observe and listen to a wider world, even within my own city. I hope that it will quiet the wanderlust that is lurking, and allow me to see there is still plenty on offer here, if only I reach out to grab it.

Failing that, I’m going to have to steal the family air miles. Don’t worry babe, I’ll be back by Sunday…

 

*I wrote this on Monday. By this morning (Wednesday), the boy had been sick off school, given me his germs, and the gardener has just put an axe through a pipe in the garden, creating a rather picturesque mud lake and possibly cutting the water supply to our house. I’m currently waiting for the plumber to turn up and charge me a small fortune to nearly fix it. But not quite. That would be too easy.

First time expat? Read this.

Bet you’re halfway between elated and exhausted, right about now. You’ve probably done your goodbye party weeks ago; the house is packed up, you’ve shipped your stuff. The kids are enrolled into school, your husband’s been gone for weeks and you’re just about to get on the plane and leave absolutely everything behind. You might have even already arrived. You’re nervous, excited, sad and happy all in one go; you’re hoping the kids settle in quickly and that you can still get PG Tips and Marmite from somewhere and you’ve already given everyone your Christmas dates so they know you’re coming back for regular visits, just like you promised you would. You’ve spent the last three weeks feeling like you’re treading water – like you’ve said goodbye about 10,000 times. You know it’s not forever. It feels like forever. You can’t wait to go but you don’t want to.

You’re nearly there. Or you’ve just arrived. Welcome to being an expat. A thousand experiences and challenges await. But something’s already happened: you’ve changed. Life has changed you. You’ve taken a step away from everything familiar and put adventure at the top of the list of things to do. Here’s my list for you to mull over, in the coming days, weeks and months: Ten thoughts on moving and living abroad.

1. No matter what you think life will be like, it will be different. You will be different. You can try and stay the same, try to squeeze the shape of your old life into the new one. But  you will not return the same person, if indeed you return at all.

2. You’ll find yourself high on the experience one moment and crashing down the next, and you won’t be able to predict when or how or what will set you off. It’s not you: it’s culture shock. Even a culture that seems to be familiar, is still different. You’ll experience it a lot for about six months, and then it will ease off. But it won’t ever go away completely, even if your stay stretches into years. Ride the wave, accept that there will be times where you really don’t know what the hell you are doing here, and then move on as quickly as possible.

3. There will come a point when you have to get in a car, or on a train, or a bus and just get lost. Do it the first few days, to get it over with. After you’ve sat crying because you can’t understand anything and you don’t know where you are, know that it will be easier the next time.

4. Talk to people. People in coffee shops, people in the queue at the supermarket, people at school drop off. Everyone is in the same boat as you – bar none. Even seasoned expats need new friends to replace the old ones who left, so don’t be put off by their tenure. The longer you remain alone, the more alone you will be. So put yourself out there, find a club, or a group, or join the PTA. Don’t wait ‘until we’re settled in’ to do this. You won’t settle in until you have friends and in the absence of family, you’ll need them. Go get them. NOW.

5. If you are a trailing spouse, and you even think for a millisecond that you want to continue working while you are abroad, prepare for the fact that it might be a lot harder than it would be at home; because of visa issues, or lack of appropriate childcare, or because the job you do at home doesn’t exist where you are going. If it’s hard to find a job that fits, keep searching, and networking, until you find the solution. Make it work. Don’t be lulled into an expat lifestyle you didn’t want because it’s easier. If work is an important part of your self identity at home, consider the impact not working will have on you, and act on that before everyone gets too comfortable.

6. You will feel very lost, for a while. Not just in the streets, but as a person. Your identity, your life as you knew it, has just been ripped out from under your feet. It takes time to build yourself up again. Don’t feel a pressure to be ‘normal’ on day 1, or day 10 or even day 100. You need time to recalibrate, and you might go off in completely the wrong direction before you figure out who you are in this new world.

7. Don’t forget who you were, either. It’s okay to change but it’s not okay to pretend you’re someone you’re not. You’ll get found out eventually.

8. However easy it seems to get on a plane and go home every couple of months, try to resist the temptation, and commit to the place you have chosen to be in. Commitment will make you happier in your expat life and ironically make you less homesick than if you keep going back all the time.

9. Remember your spouse is new at all of this too, and if you have moved because of their job, the responsibility and pressure on them is IMMENSE, to make it work for everyone. Cut them some slack and make time to talk (not yell) about why life is different/difficult/depressing. Try not to blame them for your feelings (easier said than done, I know) because unless someone held you at gunpoint, it’s pretty safe to assume you had a say in this adventure too.

and finally,

10. It might not feel like it now, when you are lonely, stressed, don’t know how to get anywhere, or where to buy anything, or how to say thank you even – but this is the best adventure of your life. It will take time, oodles of it, to really appreciate this  – perhaps you won’t even realise until you’re back home again, what an amazing thing you did. But you’re doing it, and in between all the hard work, it’s going to be awesome. The very best of luck. Now get out there.

Ruby. x