Itchy feet

Today’s post is about a horrible condition that I’m sure afflicts a fair few of my fellow aficionados of languages, culture and travel. A chronic condition that I’ve suffered from for at least the last 7 years since I moved away from home, started studying at university and spent various amounts of time in different countries. I’m talking about itchy feet. For any non-natives out there, this is an expression in English meaning that you feel restless in your current situation and have a strong urge to travel. Since I started uni, I haven’t been in the same place for more than 2 years at a time. Since I was 18, I’ve spent a few years in Bath, some time in London/Kent, 6 months in Zaragoza, 5 in Bregenz, 2 in Madrid, 2 in Stuttgart, 1 in Munich… And I’m pretty much addicted.

After working for a summer in Stuttgart (South Germany) in 2012, I started my current job at an app developing company, and I’ve been there ever since. I love my job and my life – I have an awesome work environment, great friends, and a fun social life. But I’ve also pretty much been in London the whole time. Ok, ok. So I travel quite a lot! I’ve been to Malawi with work and I’m heading there again tomorrow. And this year alone I’ve been to Italy, France, Montecarlo, Luxembourg, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark (so far). But it’s a bit like trying to fill up a jar that has a hole in the bottom. The feeling is quite hard to explain to people who don’t have it. I’m happy enough here and there are a lot of good things in my life. But I was born with this strong nomadic tendency. No matter how good things are, I need more than just my ordinary life in one place.

I don’t know if I’ve always been like this. Back at school I was shy and quiet, had little interest in typical holidays (my family didn’t really go abroad) and didn’t adjust particularly well to new situations. I was shy about meeting new people and preferred to spend a lot of time at home or with friends I knew well. But after I changed schools for sixth form I realised that being thrown into a new situation made me stronger, smarter and happier. The same experience was repeated when I moved to Bath for uni. But still I didn’t feel a huge urge to travel. It wasn’t until I did my ‘year abroad’ during my third year at uni that I caught the incurable travel bug. I spent half the year as an ERASMUS student in Zaragoza, Spain, and the other as a language assistant at a school in Bregenz, Austria. To be quite honest with you, before I went to Spain for the first time, I was pretty damn nervous. I’d never been to the city before, didn’t know anyone there and was travelling alone for the first time. My flight landed at 11pm in a strange city where I didn’t know anyone or anything, and I had to find my way to a hostel, alone, for the first time. And so began a life-long addiction to not being in my comfort zone, seeing and experiencing new places and trying different ways of life. It was a pretty tough experience the first time around – little problems became pretty huge issues when I struggled with the language barrier, not knowing my way around, not knowing (m)any people and wasn’t familiar with customs and procedures. But every scary, tough and annoying experience was a huge learning curve that gave me more in return than anything else. Not that the bad experiences weren’t outweighed by awesome ones! I still have good friends that I met there, and 100s of amazing memories.

With every new ‘jump’ that I made to a new place to study or work, it got a little easier in some ways, but stayed fricking hard in others. But what’s certain is that every time I learned something new about myself, other people, the world, the language, the place… For a while, because I was doing a couple of different work placements here and there, the ritual of flying to a new place, hunting for somewhere to live, fumbling my way around a strange place, trying everything from local supermarkets to bars to parks and trying to make new friends became a way of life. After I finished my training as a translator in Germany I thought I was finally ready to ‘settle down’ back in the UK with my then-boyfriend. We got a house together, I got a job, and I thought my wandering days were done. After all, wandering is kind of lonely, hard and sometimes depressing. You make a friend, then move away from them. You settle into a job, then leave it. You stop bothering to unpack suitcases and personalise rooms. Being a ‘real’ person in a ‘real’ life sort of appealed at that point. And for a while it was nice. But after a while I caught myself checking out translation jobs in Germany again. My boyfriend and I split, and I started to think: ‘maybe now’s the time to move on’.

But for some reason I didn’t at that point. I was still enjoying my job. I started a new relationship and suddenly seemed to have so many new, crazy and exciting things going on, that just moving into a flat in West London was enough and I barely thought about going anywhere else. And so it’s been until recently. This year, as I said, I’ve been on a lot of small trips, and they’ve kept me interested and not feeling bored or restricted. Until now, as I said. But the niggle that had receded for a while had started to come back. Every time I’d get on a flight somewhere else I’d wish I didn’t have a return ticket, and the feeling got stronger each time. I’ve thought a lot recently about what to do: I’ve looked for and even applied for jobs abroad, then had to pull the application. I’ve made various different plans: some sensible, some fantastic. I’ve been on the verge of quitting my job and simply saying goodbye to everyone with no warning. But it’s only just become an all-consuming force in my life. Like a magnet pushing me away from here and pulling me towards somewhere, anywhere else.

I’ve just come back from 10 days in Alicante, Spain with my partner. He’s Italian and as crazy as I am when it comes to languages, travel and having adventures. We’d talked only semi-seriously, saying ‘maybe we should move out here’, but spending time there made the idea seem real, but also just out of reach. I’d always imagined myself leaving the UK and starting a new life somewhere alone, but now I had someone else who might really want to do it with me. This is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I’m fundamentally a ‘do-it-myself’ kind of girl, a loner even. I’ve only ever travelled as a lone wolf, and adding someone else’s ideas and requirements to the mix is a new feeling. But with someone else I could push myself further and have more confidence in making the most of a new life somewhere. Coming back today was like having this dream shattered in my face. But with or without another person in the equation, the fact is I don’t feel like I can spend much more of my life living here in the same old place. Everyone has to find their own meaning in life, and mine is learning as much as I can. Being free is the most important thing to me: more important than money, success, possessions, looks and having a family or stable life. My main goal in life is to keep moving and keep learning, growing and challenging myself. No matter how nice my life may be here, I can’t really fulfill my personal and professional goals staying in London where my opportunities to develop my language skills and experience are limited.

So, to be honest, in a perfect world, I’d have my one-way ticket for the next flight to anywhere-but-here booked already. Maybe it sounds like ‘grass is greener’ syndrome, and maybe it is a bit. But my interests in other cultures, meeting people, learning languages and developing my knowledge of the world seem to require me to have a look what else is out there. So what can I say? I’ve decided to stay for a little while for personal reasons, but I think that my stay here has a sell-by-date on it, and one way or another, I hope I’ll be outta here within a year.

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