Its been almost a year to the day since I gave up my sensible London life, full time career, home and income for adventure. How do I feel about that life changing decision now?
A year ago today I had my last day at the hospital where I worked, followed by a few drinks at my leaving do in the pub round the corner. The next day, at 5am, I packed up the last of my belongings, handed the keys to my home to a stranger and drove to my family home 2 hours away. Upon arrival I collapsed into a heap of tears to my mum overwhelmed by it all. I also gained a speeding ticket and 3 points on my driving licence along the way. I was scared, I was excited, but my overwhelming feeling was of determination. Determination to follow through with my plan and not to wimp out because it was the easier thing to do. Getting started was definitely the hardest part of this journey.
I turned 30 a couple of months before this. I wanted 2015 to be a year that I’d remember, a year that I’d talk about throughout my life and whereby I felt that I’d done something significant to mark it. I didn’t want this year to pass by as just another year in my life. So far my milestone year had gone something like this; I’d entered the Cordon Rouge Club mentorship competition with my Iron Curtain expedition late one night, on my phone, an hour before the competition closed. This was an expedition idea that I’d done no research into nor had I ever done anything like this before. I got a call at work a month later to day I’d won. I was stunned for at least a couple of weeks. After a lot of list writing and reflection on my very happy life, I realised I had no justifiable excuse not to chuck in the life and career I’d spent years building for this adventure. Initially I asked for 6 months off work, then a year, and now?
In the last year I’ve selfishly put myself first and done the things I want to do. I’ve sacrificed friends, relationships, stability and a little of my career in order to do so. I’ve swum from Europe to Asia in the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul, camped and walked the whole length of Finland, cycled 3,000 miles though 15 countries in Europe on my iron curtain expedition, walked half way across Wales, spent time in the mountains with reindeer herders in arctic Norway, ran nearly 200 miles in my run through Tudor history, undertaken my first polar expedition by skiing and camping in arctic Svalbard in minus 25+, climbed the highest mountains in Sweden and Finland and am currently back in Svalbard about to kayak around glaciers for 2 weeks. I’ve also spent a week volunteering supporting D-Day veterans in Normandy and raised thousands for charity through sponsorship and talks. That’s actually quite a lot when I list it, especially when the original plan was only to have 6 months off work. I've had some incredible experiences that I will cherish forever. In the best possible way, adventure has taken over my life and is now little out of control.
The adventures have been the easy bit. My new life isn't all climbing mountains, building toilets in the snow and taking photos of reindeers. It’s the time in between adventures that can be tough. I spend many hours researching, planning, emailing to get ideas off the ground. Sorting somewhere cheap to live when I’m back in London after giving up my flat, making time to see everyone, trying to earn some sort of living, maintain my career and get sponsorship is something I fret about everyday and is a difficult juggling act.
Every time I come home after a long trip I find it hard to fit back in at home and adjust. I’m often moody and take myself off to a quite place alone. I’m definitely becoming more emotional about my travels, the people I meet and leave behind. I’m finding it harder to relate to people who can’t understand my decision to jack it all in for adventure. I’m away so much and life goes on. I’ve been away for nearly 8 months in the last year. I’ve missed friends and families birthdays, weddings and get togethers. People are getting used to me not being around. They also think I have a much more exciting life than them which actually upsets me. Sometimes I crave normality and the routine they have and find myself constantly reminding them that they have many things in life that I don't currently have, and want at some point. I’m always telling them that airports, emails, keeping sponsors happy, stressing about where I’ll sleep, finances and disappointments are not fun. Nor is frequently eating alone or too much of my own company, But it’s the life I’ve chosen and right now I love it. Most of the time.
Do I miss my old life? No, I’ve moved on. Previously my life was very structured with routine and evolved around creating stability, with a mortgage, career and relationships. I have none of that now but my world is wide open. I do miss my friends and family, time in pubs with friends gossiping and chewing the fat of life. I do miss working with patients that humble me and remind me how lucky I am to be able to do all the things I want to do. I miss running through the bustling streets of London. My life was a happy little bubble without any great changes or challenges ahead. Now I see that I was starting to ruin it with rigidity and the narrow mindedness that I’d created and become very comfortable with. Change is good.
That the biggest thing I've gained through this huge lifestyle change is my openness to people, places and change. Where I sleep, what I’m doing and who I’m with changes most days. I’m also less judgmental and therefore able to connect to people and places that previously I would not have seen value in. If you’d have told me a year ago I’d be sat in a pub just a few hundred miles away from the north pole, having not had a pay cheque for months and without a home or a plan for my life I’d have said you were crazy.
I do have ‘wobbles’ about my new life every now and again and end up in tears on the phone to close friends or taking myself off for very long walks with the dog to clear my head. During these ‘wobbles’ I wonder if what I’m doing is the right thing for me and if I’m falling behind in the life that is expected of a 30 year old female. Also, if I’m slowly losing the people around me who aren't in the adventure world who mean so much to me. These ‘wobbles’ mostly happen when I’ve had a big disappointment in a plan I’ve been working on, I’m worried about money or feeling detached from normal life.
I’m often asked ‘When are you going back to work?’ and ‘What’s your plan for the future?” The truth is I have no answers. This was only meant to be a 6 month break and it has gotten out of hand. I’ve said to myself as long as what I’m doing still excites me, I can manage to maintain my NHS career and I’m not getting into debt, I’ll keep the adventure ball rolling. I do realise how lucky I am that in just a year I have created the new life I’m living, but I’ve really worked for it.
The other question I’m always asked is “How to you support yourself financially? Most of my trips are self funded though working at my hospital when I’m in London. It’s a tight rope and something that stresses me out everyday. I’m lucky now that some brands are interested in what I do and help.
Do I feel guilty? Always. Guilty for being different, guilty that loved ones worry about me, guilty that I don't give people enough of my time, guilty that I miss out on things that are important to the ones I care about. I feel incredibly selfish.
The exciting but destabilising thing is that I don't know where I’ll be in the world next month. I’m creating opportunities to go to places and do things I never thought I would. I’m learning so much, about me and about different places (I know that sounds cheesy). I’m meeting and making meaningful connections with people that, I’m ashamed to say, a year ago I’d never had made the effort. I realise now how much I’ve missed out on and how my old narrow minded attitude cost me missed opportunities and connections.
I'm often asked why I travel and do these tough expeditions, often alone, despite all of these draw backs. My answer is always this; to grow, to appreciate what I have and the world around me, to question, to challenge and to learn. Visiting new places and time spent with nature never fails to inspire me and I notice changes every time I return home. Big open spaces humble and ground me, the beauty of nature opens my eyes and imprints in my memory. Seeing how others live makes me appreciate what I have and helps direct me to where I want to be.
Any challenge I undertake always shows me that I am far more physically and mentally capable than I ever give my self credit for, but that doesn't mean it's easy it means I am passionate about what I am doing and work with nature gaining the strength and confidence as I go to rise to the challenge. The people I meet and connect with encourage me to be more open and inspire me to better myself, from learning some of their language or recognising what I like about them and trying to seek out more of that quality in myself and of those I surround myself with. Just one person, one conversation can have a huge impact.
What makes me continue? Curiosity. I’m constantly asking myself questions rather than just cruising through life as before. I want to learn and see more now and I’ll work my arse off to get myself there. My head is close to bursting with ideas of adventures I want to do and historical topics I want to learn about through adventures. There is no better way to learn than to put yourself down on the ground, speak to the locals and immerse yourself in your surroundings in the most vulnerable way you can; alone, living basically and getting from A to B under your own steam.
If it all fell apart tomorrow and I went back to my flat and full time job in my hospital that would be fine, but very different. I know that this nomadic life isn't forever. I’m grateful for winning the mentorship that gave me the almighty shove I needed and for opening my eyes to so many possibilities. This new life is far more stressful and takes much more effort to make it work than my previous life did. I hope, through hard work that I’ve carved out a new life whereby I can have it all, adventure and a serious career. When I’m in London I’m very lucky that my hospital will have me back, I put all energy into my work when there to ensure that they want me back as I love my career but also want adventures.
What would I say to someone who is considering changing their life for adventure? DO IT. DO IT NOW. It will challenge you in ways you life doesn't now, it’ll force you to grow and learn and reward you in immeasurable amounts. Just don't expect it to be all sunsets, campfires and reindeers. There will be sacrifices.
Self indulgent bore over, I hope you appreciate my honesty about my first year in a life of adventure. It’s not the glamorous life some people think it is. I hope this isn't read as appearing ungrateful, I just want to be totally honest. Right now I’m loving it and don’t want my life to be any different. For me, writing this is grounding and reminds me of how lucky I am, but I’m also a believer in that you create a lot of your own luck. Take home message: Create the life you want, even if you think its out of your reach. Now.