My First Time Travelling
I want Coddiwomp to be a blog and community for first time travellers: a little piece of the internet to help anyone, in any way I can, looking to have an adventure.
As I sat thinking about what I might write about to get the ball rolling, I figured a good place to start might be to write an account of the first time I went travelling.
I hope it will give a flavour of my passion for travel and explain why I'm so keen to support as many people as possible to take a similar path.
I was 20 years old when I first went travelling.
At the time I had never left the country without family or friends, but I’d always loved the idea of stepping out into the world to have an adventure of my own.
In 2013, in the summer break between the second and third year of my Psychology degree at Southampton Uni, I finally got the chance to make it happen.
I was looking for experience in the mental health sector at the time and think I googled something like “psychology placement abroad”. Sri Lanka Volunteers (SLV) immediately popped up and that was that: I just went for it.
In June of 2013, after the phonecalls and emails with SLV, and all the prep work for the trip, I was ready to go.
I remember feeling a surprisingly intoxicating mixture of uncertainty, insecurity, and excitement. Did you ever get lost in the supermarket as a kid? It felt a bit like that.
That blend of uncertainty and excitement stayed with me as I waved goodbye to my parents at the gate and ventured forth, alone for the first time.
To feel simultaneously lonely and liberated is unnerving, but addictive.
Once I got to Sri Lanka everything was suddenly very real.
What had previously been a loosely held idea, imagined and hypothetical, was bang, actually happening. No going back.
Feeling completely alone and out of my depth, I remember being greeted by Raj, an amazing Sri Lankan guy who worked for SLV. Raj welcomed me, made me feel at ease and led me to the other volunteers who were to be my companions on this adventure.
We left the airport in a convoy of minibuses, bound for a place called Homogama, which would be our home for the next weeks. What followed is difficult to put into words.
Really, there was nothing glamorous about much of my time in Sri Lanka.
We stayed in homestays with Sri Lankan families, ate curry every day with our hands, took cold showers, shared beds with mosquitoes and spiders, got sick, got sicker, got lost, had money stolen, suffered long, sweaty bus journeys, crammed like sardines into every available space.
Thinking back, we were out of our comfort zone for the majority of the time, doing hard work in challenging locations like children’s homes, special needs projects, the national institute of mental health and a half way house for acutely mentally ill women.
Most people we met in these places lived in abject poverty and with the burden of a mental illness, in a culture where stigma of this subject informs social standing and even the country’s legislation.
A lot of the time we didn’t have a clue what to do, where to go, or even how to communicate. And yet, none of it really mattered: we had purpose and a shared sense of meaning in our daily struggles- it was part of the allure of the experience, which simply wouldn’t have been the same otherwise.
The daily challenges were rewarding in their own right.
But, moreover, they made every single incredible thing we did, even sweeter.
During my time in Sri Lanka I swam with sharks, had monkeys frolic in front of our homestay every day, saw a pod of hundreds of dolphins at sunrise, rode an elephant, held a snake, went on safari, went white water rafting, saw traditional Sri Lankan festivals, climbed mountains at sunrise, lay with friends under a blanket watching shooting stars on the roof of our hotel (that cost £3 a night), partied on white sand beaches, visited tea plantations under burning sun and blue skies, climbed Sigiriya Rock, got blessed by a monk, and met some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever had the privilege of spending time with.
The level and diversity of new experience throughout my first time travelling was unexpected and downright amazing. I saw and did extraordinary things that I will never forget.
I initially signed up for six weeks in Sri Lanka, which was by far the longest I’d ever been away from home. However, by week 6 I couldn’t face the thought of returning to the UK and extended my trip for another two weeks.
In Sri Lanka I had purpose and meaning. I had people around me who shared my fast developing values, who knew and truly understood all that I’d been doing in the preceding months. It was intoxicating.
When I did eventually return to the UK I remember feeling utterly deflated by the normality of home. Everything was the same as when I’d left- everything that is, apart from me.
It was dizzying and disorientating to feel so recognisably different from the person who’d left the airport only two months previously. That first experience of travel had left a profound mark on me.
Ultimately, all I could think of was going away again.