For a long time (and without sounding too smug), I've been rather proud of how much travelling I've managed to accomplish.
When I finished university in 2011, I spent six months interning in London before I realised I couldn't handle not being on the move and seeing new things, so I caught a flight to Nepal for February 2012. Six months spent in Asia was followed by six months exploring Europe, before I left for Ecuador in February 2013 – the very same date I flew to Nepal the year before, in fact – and I've been in South America ever since
Basically, I haven't settled in over two and a half years, and while I still absolutely love the travel lifestyle, there's a part of me that's screaming to stop.
I've reached a point where I miss the qualities of home more than I appreciate the new places I'm seeing. I miss having a solid group of friends around me, rather than always striking up new relationships. I need familiarity at the moment, much more than I used to.
So after a lot of consideration, I've decided it's time to finally leave South America and head back home to England. Earlier this week, I caught an Avianca flight from Bogotá to London, and I'll be staying here for the forseeable future.
Well, for the next year at least.
What am I going to do in London then?
Obviously it's a little terrifying to contemplate staying put somewhere for the long haul. It throws up a whole load of questions. What about this site? What about being a travel blogger? Surely I'm going to run out of things to write about if I'm no longer travelling all the time?
But I'm not putting a permanent end to travelling; I'll just be exploring countries a bit closer to home while I carve out a new life in London. And as for the writing, there's no chance of that drying up (I hope, at least!) – one of the major reasons I'm returning to London is because I'm starting my Masters degree in September, studying non fiction writing.
So what have I got planned for this next chapter of my life? Well, I figure that instead of being sad that my long-term travelling life is over for the time being, I should give London and England the chance to win me over. After all, millions of tourists fulfill lifelong dreams by coming here each year: just because it's my home doesn't mean I can't explore it like a tourist would, right?
And strangely enough, I actually don't know London all that well. Despite growing up in the city, I've never really experienced it as an adult, and I'm realising there's a whole wealth of opportunities to be had.
Particularly when looked at with a travelling mindset.
There are so many interesting things to do in London that I've always had an interest in but never got around to doing. Conversely, they're the exact things I would immediately jump at if I had a finite time to spend in a foreign place – life modelling, mud larking, and bizarre British traditions involving clotted cream and tea are just the tip of the iceberg.
So I'm planning to get seriously involved in everything weird and wonderful in this city. I've got a lot of ideas but would love some suggestions if there's anything you can think of!
Around the World in London
After spending so long in various countries – Colombia, Bolivia, Cuba and India, for instance – it's always sad to stop being immersed in the local culture. Suddenly the curious food you've developed a taste for isn't on your plate, and you never seem to catch snippets of the language anymore.
While I was lamenting the loss of exploring new countries as a result of living in England again, I suddenly realised that I could simply get to know the neighbourhoods of different nationalities in London itself – a city renowned for being a global microcosm.
First stop: searching out the Colombians congregating in Elephant and Castle, and take it from there…
Continuing the Spanish Challenge
I've spent the last eighteen months getting to grips with speaking Spanish, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let all that work go to waste. While I'm pretty terrified that my Spanish skills are going to vanish as soon as I touch down at Heathrow, I get the impression that there are quite a few Spanish speakers in London.
I've got some (probably rather overambitious) plans to keep my Spanish fresh while I'm living in London again – I'm thinking CouchSurfing meetups, language exchanges, watching TV shows in dubbed Spanish, finding a telenovella to get obsessed with, and hunting down groups of Spaniards and forcing them to talk to/befriend me. Easy!…
I also want to visit Spain as much as I can – even if it's just for a long weekend, I think it'll do wonders to keep my Spanish at a level I'm happy with. Although I'm a little worried about how much the Spanish lisp and the use of the fifth person conjugation is going to affect me.
When I think about it, I'm uncomfortably aware that I've visited more cities in Bolivia, India and Cuba than I have in England. It's very easy to think of your own country as pretty uninteresting when compared to more exciting foreign lands – but I'm vowing to rekindle my interest in England.
I was also more than a little inspired by this project that my friend Brenna of This Battered Suitcase is working on. While I couldn't apply because my Masters will take up too much time, I still reckon I can do a fair bit of England travel. I'm aiming to get out of London at least once a month in favour of an as-yet-unexplored part of England: I'm thinking Dartmoor, Cornwall, and the New Forest for starters.
There are a ton of festivals all around the country in the summer too, which is a great place to start. Cheese rolling en masse, anyone?
Writing, travelling, and writing some more
Obviously there's the worry that I'm not going to be writing on Flora the Explorer as much because I'm no longer travelling. In fact, it's the complete opposite: leaving South America after so long has left me desperately missing the continent, its cultures and its people.
I do promise to try and keep the “here are all the things I love about South America” articles to a minimum, but there's still a lot left to say about my time there.
Then there are numerous stories from my past travels, which I've increasingly felt the desire to get down on paper. Being in one place for a while will hopefully give me the chance to write more than just once a week on the site, plus allow me to finally recount experiences from the countries I haven't even mentioned here.
There's my year spent studying in the US; my obsession with Florence, Italy; journeying through Syria before the Arab Spring kicked off; and that time I volunteered in a Lithuanian children's camp where I got beaten up by seven year olds.
I'll also still be travelling, just a little closer to home. In the next few months, I'm planning trips to Ireland and Greece, possibly heading to Iceland and Finland, and Spain is perpetually on my horizons to keep my Spanish at a good level!
This is where I turn to you guys. I'd love some suggestions for where to travel to over the next year; places that are averagely speedy to get to from England. Georgia? Romania? Europe is effectively my oyster! Where would you like to see me travel to?
Why I'm most excited to be back in England
But ultimately, the real reason I'm returning to London is for the people.
Spending nigh on three years without properly coming home has meant I've kept a tenuous hold on a lot of my relationships, and though I'm lucky enough to have friends that are happy to keep communication at a minimum for months on end, I'm now starting to get invitations to engagement parties when I don't know the fiancees, and I'm acutely aware that I could start to drift too far from the people I love.
So it's time to dedicate myself to keeping those friendships strong – because one of the lessons you learn most acutely when you're travelling is how important your friends really are.
The issues and the unknown
There are issues with moving home, of course. Travelling has been such an integral part of my identity for so long; I already know I'm going to have a hard time not hauling a backpack from hostel to apartment to hostel again, not worrying about where my passport is, not speaking foreign languages as a part of daily life.
More crucially, I have to relinquish the part of me that's always jumped to travelling as the primary facet of my life. Suddenly, I have to adjust to not being a traveller, someone always in transit. Now I'm 'just another Londoner' – and I don't know how I feel about that anonymity yet.
When I came back from Asia two years ago, I felt like I was just continuing with my sporadic travel lifestyle. This time, leaving South America feels quite different. Like I'm putting a full stop after something which I haven't quite defined yet.
But it's a good feeling, I think. It's time for me to rediscover a lifestyle I've put to one side for quite a while, in a city that, no matter how far away I travel, I always feel a connection to.
It's time to be a Londoner again.