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I’ve often thought about writing an article about how I ended up here in Scotland, and what my motives were for travelling so far and wide. But travelling (and the job I have to pay for it all) seemed to get in the way. It actually all started out with a dare! Here’s my story of a roaming Kiwi – how did I end up here?
It was 2003, and my step sister had moved to Edinburgh, as had a bunch of her friends, taking advantage of their 2-year working visas that Kiwis are entitled to. She was having such fun, and I was in a bit of a funk in NZ, so her flippant ‘come to Edinburgh, it’s great – go on, I dare you’ actually worked. While I had the pleasure of a British passport (thanks to my parents for having me in London), and my sister had a UK-grandparents visa, we saw many NZ friends come and go over the first few years. It was sad to see friends come and go, but their urgency to travel in their 2 year time limit was inspirational! Within 6 months of being here I had already explored lots of Scotland, and had trips to Paris, Brussels and Canada.
Where it all started
In hindsight though, I think it was my travels of 1999 that had started the travel-fire in me. It was my ‘traveller’s awakening’ – I learned so much about myself, about budgeting (which I was woefully bad at then), about how to prepare, and importantly, how NOT to do things. In the summer of 1999, having saved a measly $5,500 NZD (about 3k GBP), I decided I could totally manage England, France and Canada on that cash. Take away $2,600 for a plane fare (oops, yeah, that was half my budget), I soon realised Canada was off the table. I had plans to spend time with friends in London, which would help me save cash for a jaunt around Europe, but as you can see, my rudimentary calculations were both naïve and totally inaccurate.
The Obligatory Mistakes
My favourite faux-pas is that I had assumed that eating for 5 weeks in Europe was only going to cost me $450 NZD (about £240 in today’s money) – awwww, bless! Ok, so here are some get-out clauses on that one though: 1. it was 1999 – the internet was new and way less useful than it is now; and 2. I was 19 and had never travelled that far before – I had no idea how far my money would get me in Europe. Upon arrival in London, I soon discovered that my money wouldn’t really get me anywhere ($1 NZD = £0.30p at that stage). By the time I reached Paris I was down to my last $500, so became skilled at hoarding the baguettes that the hostel gave us for breakfast, and then buying 1 street-vendor panini to serve as both lunch and dinner. Occasionally splashing out on Salade de carottes râpées from the wee Vietnamese place next to the hostel. I was living the dream.
Then came the call from my dad (well, I used my calling card to call him from the phone box down the rue – cellphones weren’t that common back then and definitely not while travelling) – he had spent time in Naples Italy, and had friends down there that needed a nanny to cover while theirs was on holiday. So, the plan was set, Dad paid for my train fare from Paris to Naples and I had the chance to see more of Europe and make some cash. Check out my Naples blog post for more info on that adventure. I had a blast in Naples, but still didn’t learn my lesson about money, and ended up having to get Dad to pay for my flight back to London too. Doh!
So, the budgeting lesson wasn’t learned until much later in life, but here are some of the things I did garner:
- Pack light – don’t take an overly huge backpack that gets stuck in the Metro ticket gates in Paris. Instead, buy a wheelie case, only take the bare essentials, and learn how to roll your clothes!
- Always prepare for a long journey – pack food and water, and ensure you have entertainment (back then it was a book or ensuring you had batteries for your walkman – now it would mean making sure you had a battery pack / charger for your iPad)
- Budgeting – research costs and always OVER-estimate the cash you’ll need. I didn’t, and paid the price of a trip cut short!
- Plan ahead for the best deals, or have enough cash to afford the luxury of flying by the seat of your pants (as a lone female traveller, winging it by hitch-hiking etc wasn’t an option for me).
- Wear-in your shoes first.
So, back to the story. Edinburgh. I moved here on a whim, but soon realised how great it was to be a stones throw away from places like Paris. Our monthly ritual was to scour the Ryanair and Easyjet websites for £5 and £10 fares (excluding taxes). Over the years the destinations you can get to from Edinburgh have increased ten-fold – I have been to Madrid, Barcelona, Paris (so so many times), Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Rome, Lake Garda, Milan, Poitiers, Malta, Canada, NYC, Lyon, Venice, Nice, Budapest, Copenhagen, Geneva, Montpellier, Gothenburg, Berlin, and the list goes on.
Once you realise how cheaply, yet still in relative luxury, you can see the world, it becomes an addiction. I moved past my backpacking phase as soon as the ‘giant backpack getting stuck in the metro gates’ scenario occurred… and to be honest, I was never going to be a hostel kinda gal (read more about my naïve adventures here). I like my space and privacy too much. If I couldn’t afford a hotel room for a trip, I’d cut the food budget to accommodate. It’s your choice – prioritise what matters to you and find inventive ways to still get the most out of your adventures (I’m a big fan of buying a baguette and some salami from a supermarché for €2, then splashing out on a €2.50 bottle of wine, and having a picnic for lunch!).
I think I probably would’ve moved back to NZ many years ago if it weren’t for the fact that there is so much more to see, and it is exponentially cheaper doing it from this side of the world. NZ, I love ya, but Paris (my spiritual home, in case you hadn’t guessed), is too far away from you, and I just couldn’t handle the separation!
Kia kaha and keep travellin’, friends.
All photos & content © Hannah Henderson and may not be used without permission (sharing this blog post is fine, though!).