I always vowed to myself, throughout school and university, that I would never end up working the typical 9 to 5 in an office. It was mainly the ‘dull’ office environment that, despite having had no exposure to it, I decided was never going to suit me.
This decision stemmed partly from my love of lie-ins; partly because I had only heard boring stories about office work; and partly from my immediate opposition to the idea of spending every day in a state of monotony which was destined never to shift.
I left university in May 2011, threw my cap in the air at graduation a month later, and what next? I got myself an internship in an airy, open-plan office in Shoreditch, starting two days into my official graduate life.
So much for personal vows, eh?
My first foray into the working world
Interning for three months at a bespoke travel agency was a pretty good intro into office life, though. There was music playing most of the time, I really enjoyed the work I did, and they even had a bar for Friday afternoon drinks, which most people can’t comprehend, and ask me to repeat it.
It also meant that pretty much every person working there had either travelled extensively, was fascinated by other countries, or had a familiarly intoxicating mixture of the two.
During my time there, I waved people goodbye at various lunchtimes as they flew to South Africa for a fleeting five days; jetted off on a weekend break to scale the Sydney Harbour Bridge; climbed Kilimanjaro; had a frenzied weekend stint in Ibiza (back on Monday morning, bright, early and hungover); and spent their holidays leisurely travelling round Croatia. It’s amazing how much people can fit into their itineraries when the motto is most definitely ‘work hard, play harder’.
It also pushed home to me how much travel I can hope to achieve over the course of my life.
I’ve already visited quite a few places in the world, but already I know I need to head back to a fair few of them and do them ‘properly’ this time around.
Spending six weeks in Japan at the tender age of eight is all fine and dandy when you have kaleidoscopic memories of living it up in Disneyland Tokyo, but it’s not so good when trying to remember Tokyo itself. With the exception of a vast amount of deliciously strange foods (including sashimi, shabu-shabu and fried ice cream), eating microwaved spaghetti from a vending machine at the base of Mount Fuji, and getting stuck in a KFC toilet cubicle, my memories of Japan are sadly lacking.
In comparison, one of the sales agents came back from a business trip to Tokyo, and showed us photos of her visits to famous temples, geisha houses and cherry blossom gardens.
All things I don’t really remember, and wish I did.
In one of my last weeks on the job, some semblance of an idea came to me. Let’s set the scene a little – it’s a Friday, 5pm, at the front of the office for drinks. A nice cold bottle of beer in one hand, guacamole-dipped Dorito in the other.
I started chatting to a new intern; it was her first exposure to Friday drinks so she was still appropriately awed and amazed. Conversation turned to the fact that I only had a week and a half left at the job, before flying out to Iceland. She made approving noises at the idea of this trip, before asking,
“So what are you going to do after that?”
And there it was, the dreaded question that stumps so many people my age, at this same point in their lives. University is over; normal life, as dictated by education, has changed irrevocably. Suddenly we have been thrust into the spotlight of ‘real life’, in all its glory, and are expected to have some ready-made plan for how to cope with the next forty-odd years of it.
Facing the terror of needing ‘a plan’
Unsurprisingly, many of us simply don’t have a plan. More surprisingly, to me at least, many buckle under pressure and find themselves trapped in an internship-turned-job that they didn’t actually want to pursue, but felt too grateful and obliged – and scared of having no other options – to refuse. We have been so overwhelmed with the apparent reality that there are slim pickings for graduate jobs in the big wide world, that most people are happy enough to be handed a decent paycheck, and call it quits.
Part of my vow involves refusing to be part of this employment-seeking world until I’ve adequately stilled this need to travel that currently dictates most of my decisions. Maybe that day will never come, and I’ll never tire of it – and maybe (hopefully) I will end up making a career out of doing what I love, combining writing and travelling in such a way that I never need that stifling office job. But I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out yet, and hearing this question constantly in the meantime doesn’t help much.
However, stood at the front of my office, sipping beer, surrounded by travellers-turned-workers, the idea of making my travel aspirations into an actual plan – turning it into ‘the plan’, that damn plan all adults seem to need to hear about – suddenly made a lot of sense.
So, this is my version of the plan.
To visit every continent, more than once, by the time I’m thirty one.
This gives me about 6 and a half years to get all the way round the world and back again. I’ve already adequately covered Europe in multiple trips, but I always find myself back there from time to time. Africa has, in theory, been visited twice (Kenya in 2006, Egypt in 2008), but I feel that Egypt is kind of cheating; another safari and/or a trip to South Africa would probably suffice. I’d love to see Namibia too, and Morocco is high on my list. I have plans to visit Australia in the vague future – I have various friends who live out there, and in New Zealand, who will hopefully be able to put me up!
Despite living there for a year, I’ve still only graced North America with one visit (unless we’re counting my fleeting six day visit back to England, in which case I technically paid a second visit to the States on my return) – but I don’t really need an excuse to fly back. Asia is next on the agenda, with India for starters, then working up to a bigger trip later. As for Antarctica, I headed to Iceland last month, and South America is the next trip in the pipeline, the big kahuna if you will – but again, I’ll need to make it there a second time to fulfill this plan.
Obviously, the whole idea is more than possible to achieve. I see it more as a set of vague guidelines to keep me on my toes; always travelling, always planning the next trip, and keeping a written record of it as I go. All the way round and back again, until the travel bug exhausts itself. That is, if it ever does…