From Italy, with love and privilege

In the almost eight years since my first overseas trip to Japan, I have been on another six international flights that have taken me to Beijing and Paris, London and Saigon and so many other places in between. I have exceeded my childhood travel dreams of multiple trips to New York, and touring Graceland (tick and tick!)

In November 2015, one of my closest friends and I finally decided to start planning a trip to Turkey and Croatia. On the first day of high school we decided we’d sit together at lunch time, and not too long after that we decided we’d one day go to Turkey. Our shared curiosity for Turkey revolved around ANZAC Day. Over the years it developed into a more well-rounded desire to explore a country so different from our own.

As a female, mostly solo traveller I’ve been fortunate to have felt safe and in control of my foreign surroundings (with the exception an occasion in Delhi and another in Washington, D.C.) So when I read about terrorist attacks in Turkey in the early planning stages of our trip, my experience assured me that I would feel safe once there. That feeling changed just days before our 25 March departure, when scrolling through my Twitter feed I saw the headline, ‘Istanbul shopping area hit by suicide bomber.’ Cue panic. Unlike the earlier attacks, this one made my heart stop. What followed was a series of phone calls, emails and what-would-you-do chats between my friend, travel agent, parents, sister and co-workers about what the hell I should indeed do.

In one of the toughest decisions I’ve made, I chose to trust my initial gut feeling. I didn’t want my Turkish experience to be defined by constantly looking over my shoulder, so at the last minute I decided to go to Italy instead. Even though I knew it was the right decision for me, I didn’t fully reconcile with it until I enjoyed my first day in beautiful Venice.

My friend chose to go ahead as planned. We were disappointed about not sharing Turkey together, but we 100% supported each other – and had the best time in Croatia before parting ways at the Zagreb bus station. As expected, my friend travelled through Turkey without incident and I explored Italy, a country that was never on my radar until two days before flying out of Melbourne.

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My gondola ride in Venice (credit: Melissa J Stewart, April 2016)

I chose to go to Japan for my first overseas trip at 21 years old because I could. I have chosen to travel solo, with friends and in tour groups because I could. I chose to go to New York four times because I could. Unlike the millions of Turkish citizens who live in fear every day, I chose to remove myself from the fear (or my version of it) and go to Italy instead because I could. Unlike Turkish citizens, I was able to make, albeit unsuccessfully, an insurance claim on my losses – not for a life or a limb, but for a couple of thousand dollars – because I could.

I have been able to make all of my travel choices because I have been privileged to do so. I’ve never experienced homelessness or missed out on quality education; I’ve never been discriminated against because of the colour of my skin; I’ve always had food on the table and been able to pay my rent and bills without concern, and I’ve always had the capacity to save money for my next overseas destination. What my normal is, is not normal for so many. My life’s circumstances and options available to me have allowed me to make the best possible travel choices – the outcomes of which have at best, been profoundly life-changing, and at worst set me back two months on my savings goals.

Travelling is not about gawking at something other through an entitled lens – any overseas traveller who says they haven’t fallen into this trap once or twice is a liar. But travelling is about creating experiences and a sense of adventure, developing compassion and knowledge through eye-witness accounts, and being a respectful and respected global citizen.

I’ve had some of the most amazing experiences of my life as a traveller: seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time, hiking a 14km stretch of the Great Wall while recovering from glandular fever, touching the Bocca della Verità in Rome, and even strolling through Central Park on a rainy day. Overseas travel is a privilege I am aware of and grateful for; particularly because not everyone is in a position to do it, or even feel safe, enabled and empowered in their own country.

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2016.

To wrap up the oyster blogger for 2015, I wrote about my inspirations as well as my highlights and lowlights of the year. For my first post, on the third day of a new year, I have thought about what 2016 has in store for me:

  • Next month, I turn 29 years old – the last year of my 20s. SHIT. Am I where I imagined I would be at this age? Probably not, but my pretty excellent Melbourne life is just a stepping stone to what I hope will be a pretty excellent New York life from 2017.
  • My friend Jacque and I have our long-awaited trip to Croatia and Turkey in March and April. We’re about to secure our Turkish tour and Cappadocia hot air ballooning tickets. (I’m told it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience). Jacque is turning 30 years old while we’re there, so I can’t wait to share this trip and milestone with her.
  • Whether I remain at my current workplace for the next month or rest of the year, I hope to work more with my Communications colleagues Erin and Tim – both of whom are intimidatingly excellent writers. I’ve already learnt so much from them, and I’m keen to keep doing so. With this in mind, I hope to write on a more regular basis, attend more in-conversations and workshops, learn more from other writer-friends and explore new writing ideas.
  • I’ll for sure chuck another tantrum and deactivate my dating app for the 3,745th time. Men continue to be gross. I expect nothing to change here, which suits me perfectly, as I’ll be too busy being ***Flawless (grossness and flawlessness don’t mix).
  • I haven’t been to Sydney in a few years, so I’m excited to have a weekend there mid-year. I’ll attend a Dragons game, see my Nanna and Pa, and hang out with my cousins Simon and Emily. I can’t wait to fly somewhere (domestically) for a weekend for a reason that’s mine, and on frequent flyer points.
  • I’ll witness two sets of friends get married: Umesha and Militha in January, and Julia and Tom in September, the latter of which I have the privilege of co-MCing.
  • I’d like to get another tattoo. Maybe. It took me 20 years to get the first one, so it’ll probably take me another 20 to get the second – but that doesn’t mean I can’t think about the design now!
  • I have a big year of saving and researching. I’ve spoken and written about my NYC plan to death – 2016 is a year of action! BRING. IT. ON.
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My happy place.

I’ve written this post from my bedroom (I usually can’t fully concentrate elsewhere). I like to set the creative mood – with the lighting of a lamp and candle, and the sounds of my inspiration music. This year, I’ve begun with a new version: my cheap IKEA lamp has been replaced with a priceless antique lamp (the shade belonged to my Old Nanna), a Glasshouse Manhattan candle – a Christmas present from Mum and Dad and, recently purchased old-school Kanye tunes (how did I not have Stronger?!).

I hope my new-and-improved creative mood is indicative of my 2016: filled with strength and light.

I wish everyone a bright 2016, and to hold onto your strength and light whenever some of your days and experiences aren’t shining as brightly as you hoped.

I leave you with my 2016 ANTHEM PLAYLIST. You’re welcome to borrow it:

  1. She Works Hard for the Money – Donna Summer
  2. Drag Me Down – One Direction (yes, I’m totes a Directioner! Niall is my fave. Discuss.)
  3. Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen
  4. Power – Kanye West
  5. Wannabe – Spice Girls
  6. Empire State of Mind – Jay Z and Alicia Keys
  7. Just a Girl – No Doubt
  8. Believe it or Not ­– Greatest American Hero theme song, Joey Scarbury
  9. 28,000 Days – Alicia Keys
  10. Maneater – Hall and Oates (added for laughs for my sister – who says she originally selected this tune as my intro song for my speech at her wedding! She ended up going with with track 6.)
  11. Out of the Woods – Taylor Swift
  12. ***Flawless – Beyoncé

 

What’s in store for your 2016?

Let it snow, let is snow, let it snow!

Hardmans do Europe

It is getting colder and our friends are getting closer. We checked out of our current accommodation and caught a cab around town to our new place, the place we would be staying for the next 3 nights. We were met by our host on the street and taken up to the most beautiful apartment that had cathedral and castle views. Jeremy and I went to buy some food items to make some platters and grabbed a couple of beers to share with our friends when they arrived. Shortly after we receieved word that they had landed at the airport and were on their way! No less that half an hour later, we jogged downstairs and opened the door to find Matt and Hazel waiting…hugging, how-are-youing, more hugging, yay! After we all settled in, we enjoyed some snacks and beer in the loungeroom, then decided it was time to hit…

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Prague- Still in the top 5

Hardmans do Europe

In our top 5 favourite cities that is. Our longest stay in any city so far was in Prague and it will probably stay that way. We spent 11 nights there, 8 just Jeremy and I and then 3 nights with our good friends Matt and Hazel. Prague was on the Europe intinerary from the start. There was no doubt about it, we were going back to Prague. We wanted to relive a few memories from last time and create new ones. We stayed at great apartment in the hustle and bustle of Wenceslas Square and we couldn’t be happier with our location. Familiarity flooded us as we arrived at the train station and stepped out on the street to find our place, with constant commentary of, “Oh yea, I remember this!” More than anything, we needed to go to the Old Town Square to see the Astronomical Clock…

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Poland is so much more…

Hardmans do Europe

At the end of the last blog, we were getting ready to jump on the overnight train from Vienna to Krakow, so I guess I should tell you a little about that first. Our train arrived at 10:35pm and we were directed on board quite quickly to squeeze into our two-berth cabin for the night. Jeremy and I have done many overnight trains before, all through south-east Asia though, so we were keen to experience a European overnight train. Oh how I ate my words! Neither of us slept one tiny bit. Not one bit. The track was incredibly bumpy, the train suddenly braked and it rocked almost to the point of falling out of the bed. The overnight train in Vietnam was better (other than that one time there was a man-eating cockroach in our cabin!).  Anyway, we pin every experience, good and bad down to just that, an experience!

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2015: A Year in Review

At this time every year there is always is a chorus of “I can’t believe its December next week!” or “I swear this year has gone quicker than last year!” I agree with both sentiments. So, with a new year almost upon us, and my 29th birthday less than three months away, I’ve begun reflecting on my 2015. As always, it’s been a mixed bag but a big year of accomplishments.

Work:

I pulled off two huge projects – a gala ball (I’ve coordinated hundreds of events but never a gala ball) and a video production that seemed to take 120 years to complete, but it got there in the end. Both projects received a lot of push back from certain areas of management, but one of my favourite things in life is proving people wrong. I got to do that for both of these projects! My work year hasn’t been without stress though. My boss thought it was a good idea to – twice – suggest that I’m “offensive”, “threatening” and “negative” and those characteristics were affecting the team (not actually true, my colleagues laughed when I asked them). She’s also showered me with compliments in between. Whatever. I’m lucky that I get to work in a team with the most incredible people who I can truly call friends. It makes the shitty days feel so much better.

I also reached my two year anniversary on 23 November. This milestone has prompted me to think about moving on, particularly onto a role that would pay me what I believe I’m worth. This time of year is typically slow on the job ad front, but I’m keeping an eye out for anything that comes up.

Writing:

I couldn’t be happier with what I’ve accomplished with my writing this year. I’ve written 24 blog posts (this is my 24th!) While consistency with timing isn’t there, I’m thrilled with the content I’ve produced. Earlier this year, I considered curating my blog to a certain theme or topic but in the end decided against it. I’m still green in the writing world, so I didn’t want to restrict my creative outlet in any way – it explains how my posts fit into wide-ranging topics including dating, football, favourite things, and travel!

I also completed my Graduate Diploma in Journalism.  Reflecting back on my accomplishments over the years, I’ve never been prouder than I have of this one. I received four high distinctions, two distinctions and two credits – which resulted in a distinction GPA. In fact, I missed a high distinction GPA by 1%. I worked incredibly hard during this course, so I definitely deserved the grade. The reason why I did this course was to study something I enjoyed as a hobby and to prove to myself that I’m a good writer. I achieved what I set out to do. I still have so much more to learn, but I couldn’t be happier with where I am now on my writing journey.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me, “what are you going to do now that you’ve graduated?” and my answer every time is that I have no idea. I didn’t do this course so I could automatically change everything I was doing the minute I graduated. I’m still figuring it out, but I’ll let everyone know when I do.

Travel:

I’ve travelled overseas every year since I was 21 – 2015 was the first year I didn’t. Unfortunately I didn’t get my annual leave approved. However, in March and April of next year one of my best friends and I will be travelling to Croatia and Turkey. We’ve been talking about this trip for years, so it’s a dream come true to be finally making it happen.

I had the opportunity to apply for a support role on a 2016 New York work trip. I never thought I’d say no to an opportunity to go to New York, but after careful consideration I decided against applying: I wasn’t sure that I would still be working there by the time the trip departed, so I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time; I’ve been to NYC several times and I thought I’d give others more of a chance to apply; and I plan on moving there in early 2017 anyway. As it turns out, one of my fabulous work friends got the spot, and I’m beyond excited for her!

By the time the year is out I would have travelled to Brisbane five times and Adelaide once, even though I don’t consider it real travel. It’s meant that this year has been a financial disaster – but that’s, literally, the price I’ve paid for moving away from Brisbane the minute all my friends and family decided to get married! A few months ago I boldly and naively declared that I wasn’t going back up to Brisbane in 2016 other than for Christmas and a friend’s wedding in January which I had committed to attending more than a year ago. I’ve since been told to expect invites for two more weddings (I’m sure there are more coming that I don’t know about yet). I would love nothing more than to be at both of them, but next year I need to be selfish and focus on my savings and working toward my own goals (and not feel guilty about it).

Dating:

A disaster as always. My dating life this year has featured: getting dumped by someone I quite liked, going on dates with two guys – one of which was with the most boring person on the planet and the other had such tiny man hands his name should be T-Rex. Plus, there was the train guy who appeared perfectly normal and then disappeared without a word. I also got asked by a friend if we could be friends with benefits (it sounds dodgy, but it wasn’t) – even though it caught me completely by surprise, I was extremely flattered but I declined in the interests of “preserving our friendship”.

A few months ago I deleted my dating apps. I was prompted to act after a constant stream of dick pics, explicit introductory messages, and absolute morons. It’s soul destroying stuff. But, after encouragement from friends I’ve decided to jump back on (just one) to see what happens. Now that I’ve finished studying, I have more time to explore Melbourne and go out more. I’m trying to be positive, but I’m not holding my breath either.

Friendships:

I miss my Brisbane friends more and more each day (although a few of them are here with me in Melbourne!), but my obsession with my Melbourne friends has taken on a new level this year. I continue to learn so much from them and their selflessness is with compassion and without agenda. Love to you all.

What’s next in 2016? More savings, writing opportunities, love, and travel!

As we all crawl toward Christmas and New Year for a much needed break, I wish everyone the most amazing festive season! I also hope that 2015 has been good to you, and if it hasn’t that there have been sparks along the way that encourage you toward better things in 2016.

Perspective

Hardmans do Europe

I have been to the killing fields in Cambodia, where the ground you walk on still has teeth, bullets, shoes, bones…the unimaginable stuck in time, stuck in dirt. If it wasn’t so real, the feeling, the evidence, the tears, you wouldn’t think it was real. I have seen the atrocities of the Vietnam War, millions of Vietnamese killed or maimed, from a war the Vietnamese call The American War. I have stood at Ground Zero, before the memorial was built, when it was just a giant, gaping wound in heart of New York city, swallowed by an eerie silence of the dead, with only the footage I saw as a 12 year old girl playing in my mind, of people choosing to jump from the 80th floor, rather than be burned or crushed to death. I have stood at the ruins of the now called ‘A-Bomb Dome’, in Hiroshima, just some of…

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