By Taylor Doyle
It has been seventeen months since I was supposed to depart on my next adventure across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. I had planned everything for the three weeks I would be there, including a Hobbiton Movie Set Dinner Banquet. Sadly, that got cancelled when I heard the news of COVID-19 spreading. I had hoped it would be short-lived, and yet here we are stuck with our dreams of where we hope to go and the memories of where we have been. All we can do is reflect and hope we can travel again soon.
We travel ‘to lose ourselves…to find ourselves’. We travel to see what lies outside the small glimpses brochures provide us, to turn ignorance into awareness and to disrupt the mundane. In doing so, we discover our true selves. But fear can cloud our judgement and true desires, especially when deciding where to wander next. However, ‘what gives value to travel is fear’ – a lesson I learned when I began my own journey across the globe. I can’t help but laugh thinking about how afraid I was when the opportunity for international travel presented itself for the first time, and it would be over ten years until I would fully evolve into who I am today.
The Beginning – Japan
In 2009, I applied to go on exchange at Motoyama Junior High School in Nagoya, Japan, where I would travel with seven other students and three teachers and be adopted into a family for ten days. Our schools had been mistakenly paired together years ago as we didn’t learn Japanese at mine. However, after getting along so well, our respective principals kept the program.
It wasn’t like I had not travelled before or never been on a plane, but I had never left my home country. The wider world was unknown to me and that was terrifying. The fact that Dad had watched Air Crash Investigations the night before I left didn’t help. I began to cry, half in fear, half in shame. Everyone was so excited for me to go, and I didn’t want to let anyone down. Mum pulled me into a hug and sternly asked Dad to turn the television off. She told me I didn’t have to go if I didn’t want to, but I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t. At fourteen, I didn’t understand, but I dried my eyes and nodded anyway.
The following morning, I said my goodbyes.
My new parents and two sisters, whom I had only seen before in pictures, were waiting for me, and greeted me with excited smiles. Towering over them all, I bent down slightly to shake their hands. After a bow from my ‘dad’, they led me to their car. The drive was quiet as we tried to communicate, but broken English and hand gestures was all I got after my awkward attempt at speaking some basic Japanese phrases. I began to realise that I might have a ten-day game of charades on my hands.
We arrived at their home, where I was shown to my room that I was to share with my new sisters; a bed on either side and in between them, a mattress on the floor. As I placed my suitcase at the foot of the mattress which I thought was my bed, my ‘eldest sister’ gestured that I was to have her bed instead, as I was a guest in their house. I protested at first, before realising that this was customary, a show of honour.
I lay in a bed that was not my own that night, the absence of familiarity making me miss my real home. My fears returned, and I tried my best to keep my sobs quiet, but I felt someone sit at the end of the bed. My ‘mum’ placed a hand on my shoulder and said something I didn’t understand. I shook my head anyway. She patted my shoulder and opened her arms to me, a stranger, yet also a mother. I hesitated but eventually accepted her embrace. We understood each other in a way I never thought we could.
As the days passed, we soon became at ease with one another and communicated better, thanks to the help of Google Translate. They took me to various places they enjoyed visiting together and it felt lovely to become a part of their daily lives. It all began to feel so normal, like how it was back at home. I wasn’t an outsider anymore, but a part of their family.
Before I left, they gave me a Yukata robe, a gracious gift to a stranger that I cherish to this day. When I returned home, I wasn’t quite the same as when I left. Something inside me had awoken, a desire to see and learn more of the wider world.
It is said that this experience ‘occurs naturally through travel, and can impact a person’s self-identity and how they view their place in the world’.Alan A. Lew, 2018
The Journey – Egypt
After Japan, I travelled to Canada and Central Australia, places I felt very comfortable in. But as my confidence to travel grew, so did my desire for a greater adventure. Egypt had always fascinated me, but it was always somewhere I had only dreamed about. Many people warned me to be cautious about Egypt, but seven years after Nagoya, I decided to make up my own mind and chose to embark on my Ultimate European and Egypt Contiki trip in 2016.
Surprisingly, only eight out of the 50 of us chose to go to Egypt for the week, while the rest went to the Greek Islands. Even though I was a little on edge about how the experience might be like, I quite enjoyed the intimacy of a smaller group as we became close and looked out for one another. Our local guide, Mo, named each of us after an ancient god or goddess from his people’s account of the world’s creation to keep track of us. I was named after Isis, goddess of magic and healing.
I’ll never forget when I saw the Great Pyramids of Giza for the first time. In my ignorance, I thought they were in the middle of the desert, when actually they closely neighboured Cairo. The city itself looked unfinished. The buildings’ exteriors were plain and covered in satellite dishes, left unfinished on purpose to avoid housing tax. Surprising, yet very smart. Mo told me that he wished more tourists would come to boost the economy, though not too many as they might overrun his homeland.
Soon after the Great Pyramids, we took an overnight train from Cairo to Aswan and from there onto to Abu Simbel. Mo wanted us on the road by 3 a.m. to see the sun rise upon the sandstone faces of Rameses II. It was a majestic sight to behold. I swam in the Nile and the Red Sea, visited the Valley of the Kings, saw Tutankhamen’s tomb, and stood within the Great Hypostyle Hall in the Karnak Temple. Everywhere I went, I entered historical sites still standing thousands of years after their construction, each holding an eerie feeling as though the spirits of past pharaohs were lingering close by.
Throughout my time in Egypt, I could feel myself changing in different ways compared to my experiences in Japan. I used my camera less, explored more and found myself wanting to soak up everything around me. I think Egypt taught me a great deal about how I wish to travel in the future. Whenever I travel now, I now try to blend in as much as I can, follow my instincts, learn the basic greetings, and try the local delicacies. Not only to keep myself safe, but to show my respect as a guest in another country.
Many people I meet who have chosen not to travel to Egypt because they thought it might be dangerous tell me they’ve regretted it – especially after hearing my stories. . Travelling is all about immersion and I’ve come to understand that when travelling in a country that is not your own, you must embrace it as if it were.
‘What makes a…fulfilled traveller, has less to do with the destination but more to do with…the way you’re looking at what you’ve come to see’.Alain de Botton, 2014
The Destination – Morocco
After Egypt, I found myself attracted to other countries in North Africa and the Middle East. I read somewhere that ‘previous travel experience and risk perceptions influence future travel behaviour’. This rang true for me, as I now had a desire to see Israel, Jordan and even to revisit Egypt one day. As luck would have had it, a dear friend I met on my trip to Egypt asked me if I would like to accompany them to Morocco in 2019, considering we enjoyed the former so much. Of course, I agreed.
Waking up in the Sahara Desert, I could still hear the distant echoes of the Berber people drumming and smell the smoke from the bonfire the evening before on my clothes. Even though my head was fully wrapped in a scarf to stop the sand going in my ears and nose, I rolled over to face the blaze of the dawning sun. I freed myself of my headscarf and camel fur blanket to admire the sunrise before me. A moment of pure, undisturbed tranquillity.
My travel companions continued to sleep as I walked away towards the golden light. I never thought I’d find myself sleeping under the stars in the Sahara Desert, but then again, I never thought I would have attempted to belly dance on stage in front of a live audience in Fes two days prior.
I strolled barefoot on the sand towards where the camels were still resting. The sun was already half risen, the sand wiped clean of any evidence of life from the night breeze. One of the men looking after the camels greeted me and began feeding them. I helped a little and as a sign of gratitude, he offered to take my picture with one of them.
‘Guidebooks distort the psychology of our curiosity. They present a vision of the world that is already known.’Alain de Botton, 2014
It is memories like this one that implore me to invite everyone to travel. I have learnt so much about who I am as a person that I never would have known without travelling. I know that I prefer smaller groups or to fly solo, as I prefer to travel with like-minded people or even explore alone at my own pace without fear of being an inconvenience. I travel for immersion and absorption; to live it through my eyes and not my camera lens. Most importantly, I now know I can brave the unknown and trust my instincts to choose the right course of action.
I am overjoyed I found the courage to get on that plane to Japan over ten years ago, as it was the first of 25 countries I have seen since then. I would not be the person I am today without each journey and the people I met within them, the friends from all around the globe whose relationships are forged upon my travels with them. I love to share my experiences and even if I make only a small difference to others’ perceptions of the countries I’ve visited, I say the only way you can change pre-conceived notions is by challenging them.
Looking back at my travels makes me miss the time when we were free. Free to roam and wander to undiscovered corners, to explore places we always knew we’d end up in. But for now, they shall remain in our dreams and memories until the world is right again.
‘This is why we travel.’Alan A. Lew, 2018
Taylor Doyle is currently studying her Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing in the University of Melbourne and hopes to enter the publishing industry with her novel she started in August. She is an old soul when it comes to music, a movie goer and quoter, and is completely obsessed with dumplings. In the meantime, her writing journey is documented on her Instagram page @taylorwrites_ .
Cover image and all other images provided by Taylor Doyle.