Whilst I love the irresistible pairing of solitude and beauty, I could be in a barren wasteland and still have an amazing time if I’m with the right people. So, whilst they’re not always mutually exclusive, maybe it really is the people, not the place, that makes the best experiences.
I arrived in New Zealand, after a long flight from Bangkok, and found myself on my own in a hostel in Christchurch. The hostel was a prison, not in the metaphorical sense, but in the literal sense. Or at least, used to be a prison, and still had all the hallmarks, including prison bars. Due to the tragic earthquake in Christchurch, “tourist” activity was thin on the ground and I felt horribly alone.
Luckily, I met Grace – her lovely Yorkshire accent pervaded the room as soon as she arrived and she instantly bought life into our dorm. Together, we ventured to a service station to buy some food for dinner and bonded over the fact that we can both chat. Like, really chat. We covered everything from friends to dating websites and post-op stories (she’s a nurse) to brie.
The next day, we had to run back from the mall so Grace could make her bus to Kaiteriteri and I thought that would be the end of that. But lo and behold, I walked into my new room in the next hostel and there Grace was, bottle of wine in hand. It was in that hostel that we met Lauren – a super-freaking-awesome Californian, and from then on, we were an inseparable band of three– New Zealand was our oyster and the Kiwi bus was our chariot.
During one month we climbed a volcano, froze on a glacier, sky-dived, lied our way into a sold-out gig, performed at a Maori ceremony, created a million in-jokes and “perfect sandwich ”combinations and shared the trip of a lifetime.
New Zealand was beautiful, but Grace and Lauren made it.
In Cambodia, I was feeling a little adrift – my friend Erica had just flown home and I was really, truly alone, for the first time on my sabbatical. Via a chance meeting on a bus, I was introduced to Zara and by circumstance, we were forced to share a hotel room, before heading onto Koh Rong – a remote, paradise island. And we just clicked. She was totally different to me – she hadn’t worn shoes for six months, which I was (not so) secretly very impressed about, and she was seeking a remote escape following an argument with her boyfriend.
We sat for four days on the sugar-sand beach as she drew doodles and I wrote in my travel journal. We drank 50-cent beer in the evenings, played card games and smoked shisha.
When we headed back to the mainland, she booked a bus ticket to Siem Reap with me, having still not heard from her boyfriend. 10 minutes before our bus was due to depart, her boyfriend rocked up, in chic-flic-esque last-minute style, and she didn’t get on board. I sat on the bus, giddy with a romantic ending and all the brighter for meeting Zara.
And of course, I couldn’t mention people making places without talking about my beloved mum, dad and three sisters that make our annual family holiday to Mull the highlight of my year, every year. All four of us girls share a bedroom and argue over who gets to sleep in the double bed and who is relegated to the bunk bed, but it also means we get to catch up, gossip and rake over life til the early hours of the morning.
We’ve been going for 20 years to the same place – we walk the same walks, head to the same favourite beaches and even eat in the same restaurant for my birthday in Iona, every year. But it never gets boring – not just because of the ever-changing views and ever-glorious beauty – but because we’re all together, which means I get to enjoy one week of pure quality time with my favourite people in the world.
So whilst I hope to go on discovering new places and revisiting old ones, I hope more that I’ll carry on meeting new people and making life-long friends.