It has now been a year since I landed back at Heathrow and returned home to a London that was in love with the Olympics. Wow.
A whole year? 365 days? Really? See, this is the difference between being at home and being away. When you’re on a long trip, the days go by slowly. There’s little to worry about, no job to go to, no bills to pay, no one looking over your shoulder to see how much you achieve in a day. Time goes sl-oow-ly. Nine months could have been years. I came home after my incredible 30b430 trip feeling chilled out and excited about where life was going to take me next.
But, and there’s always a but, no matter how much you plan to keep that cool, calm, laid-back persona you developed while you were away, back in the ‘real world’ it’s almost impossible. Time speeds up. You get taken over by work, chores, racing to fit in visits to family and friends and trying to make the most of Every. Single. Moment.
So I’d be lying if I said the last year has been easy. In fact other words I’d use to describe it would probably range on the scale from stressful to soul-destroying. A big part of this was due to the fact that I spent a good deal of it job-hunting.
Now, of course, I knew when I quit my job way back in 2011 that times were tough. Companies weren’t hiring as regularly as before, journalism was a dying trade, yadda-yadda-yadda. But you never actually think it’s going to happen to you do you? When you run off into the sunset with just your backpack on your shoulders, you never expect that you’re going to return home and become one of those poor souls you read about who has to walk up and down the streets of London with a ‘Please hire me’ sign around their neck.
But that’s what happened to me (okay, not the sign bit but you see where I’m going with this). I returned home after nine glorious months away, spent a brilliant two weeks at the London Olympics and then set about the business or trying to find a job which I optimistically told myself should take no more than a month or two…
…or three…or four…
At first I embraced all of the free time I had, telling myself that one day I’d regret it if I hadn’t used it wisely. So I got working on my new blog, I wrote the first draft of the book I’d always been promising myself I’d write one day, I spent time with my family and friends and alongside all of that I applied for job, after job, after job, after job…
Now I don’t know if you’ve filled in a job application recently, but gone are the days of sending just your CV and a covering letter. Now it’s all about answering eight pages of questions, writing detailed explanations about how your skill set fits your future employer’s needs, reading page after page of detailed requirements and wondering if anyone, anywhere in the world, actually possesses all of the qualifications they’re asking for.
And then, after you’ve spent two days filling in the form, comes the dreaded rejections: ‘Sorry you’re over-qualified’, ‘Sorry you’re under-qualified’ or worse still, nothing at all. To say there were one or two tears would be a bit of an understatement. There were many moments of doubt; many times I questioned the wisdom of what I’d done. Had I been stupid to give everything up to follow a crazy dream? Had I taken myself out of the job race for too long? Was I now being irresponsible by encouraging other people to do the same through my blog?
It felt embarrassing not being able to get a job. I worried that I wasn’t smart enough, I worried that other people might be judging me and I worried that maybe this was just my karma for having had such a brilliant time the year before. But through all of this I have been extremely lucky to have a very strong support network around me. I have a family and friends who believe in me no matter what, who encourage me on the days that I’m down, read countless applications and send me job opportunities and, if all else fails, just listen to me having a good old moan about it!
And then, finally, came the light at the end of the tunnel. A former colleague told me about a one month job opportunity in Qatar and I ended up heading out there for a month before Christmas to work. Although it was a very strange experience at times I made so many great friends and realised that now I should be taking the opportunity to try different things.
When I returned home it was straight back to the job hunting but I continued to work on other projects as well. I set up the #travelbookclub on Twitter, continued with the work I’d begun for Kaifeng Ya Ge School in China and slowly began to form relationships with travel brands.
The money I earned in Qatar helped me to pay for a ticket to South Africa in April for our friends’ wedding, followed by a two-week road trip to Cape Town. Although this coincided with a failed interview (via Skype) I was beginning to realise that life is full of ups and downs and you just have to appreciate the good times, of which there are many.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the last year and it’s something that I always think about travelling too, is that just when you’re at your very wits end something always turns up. It was the same when I got back from South Africa and a friend recommended doing some shifts at a paper down in London while I continued to apply for jobs. I started there in May and continue to do it now. Working night shifts isn’t always ideal but it allows me to pursue the other things I enjoy during the day, while not constantly worrying about how to make ends meet. It also means that I can take time off to pursue other things, which is what I did when I got the opportunity to report in Zambia as part of an IRP fellowship.
So looking back on the last year how would I describe it? Hmm… Has it been what I expected? No. Has it been easy? Definitely not. But it has given me the freedom to try new things. If I had got a steady job as soon as I got home I’d never have had the opportunity to work in Qatar, to go on safari in South Africa and to spend 10 days interviewing people living with HIV and AIDS in Zambia. In fact, in a year when I’d intended not to travel at all, I actually ended up having the opportunity to explore three new countries.
And would I change anything? No. Taking a career break to travel solo was not only an incredible experience for what it gave me during those nine months I was away from home. It also gave me the freedom when I returned. It made me braver. It made me pursue new things. It allowed me to continue to travel and have experiences I never thought were possible. It gave me a new way of looking at the world: that things aren’t always going to go the way you planned and sometimes that’s just better.