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With my legs wrapped up in a blanket and a glass of Sauvignon in hand, I snuggled up on my sofa to the sound of a Spotify playlist and stared at my surroundings. A see-through coffee table with glossy magazines, three abstract paintings on the wall, the same turquoise colour as the glass vases on the cupboard. Flowers: some fake, some real, all beautiful, at least for now.

A mixture of confusion and excitement rushed to my head as I examined the interior of the Sydney flat I’d just moved in to, contemplating the exotic furniture I’d ‘inherited’ from the landlord, including ceramic Buddha statues of varying shapes and sizes. That, and a zebra-stripe rug that itches and looks suspiciously real.

Most people would be put off by this type furniture, including my mum, who was very diplomatic when I gave her an inaugural Skype tour.

“It’s not that I hate it, I just wouldn’t want this for my house’ is what she said.

Despite the significant step away from the scandi-style décor I grew up loving, I’m thrilled to have all these weird things around me. For the first time in 18 months, I have a small space to call home, even if half of it is taken up by a large cowboy-style chair lined with studs.

It’s a big departure from the house share Gilles and I previously lived in, which was wonderful in many ways, but it meant I was still living out of my suitcase (or rather, a backpack) despite holding a steady 9-5.

Sydney is my home now but it didn’t feel this way until now.

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For someone who places so much importance on travel and living in different countries (hence the name of this blog!),  I’m surprised how badly I longed for all things home décor. Despite living in the same London flat for 4 years, I hardly bought any furniture or homewares, as the stay never felt permanent. I liked the idea that I could just pick up my things and go, which is exactly what I did eventually.

Except things have changed since I left. Travelling has changed me, but perhaps not in the way I’d expected. The more I moved around, the more I daydreamed of the day I’d feel physically and emotionally settled down. Now, while travel is just as important to me, I no longer feel the need to escape. My small flat and the (strange) objects that populate it have allowed me to feel settled, relaxed, and content. They’ve given me a new burst of energy and a willingness to look at life’s repetitive routines from a different, more positive angle.

It does make sense that the most read magazine in Australia is dedicated to home improvement. Our homes and their interiors have the power to bring us a dose of happiness, even for those of us with restless feet.

What makes you dream the most: a permanent home and routine or the ability to travel anywhere with no commitments?

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dsc_0079Nesting my toes under the burning sand, I wondered what makes the beach so special. We flock to it every chance we get, but why? Is it that humming noise, the constant sound of the crashing waves, or that salty smell in the air? Or does gazing into the horizon provide us with a calm and serenity that we’re unable to experience in our daily lives?

At the beach, we watch a spectacle unravel that we can’t quite find anywhere else. That’s what it felt like, anyway, that October morning on Murrays Beach –  a long stretch of white sand and turquoise water tucked away between the bushes of Booderee National Park.

The warmth of the sun of my back and the taste of the sea on my tongue, I watched seagulls dip their claws into the water before flying away. I stared at a woman running into the ocean, her eyes glowing with excitement, like she was entering an alternative universe, one that swallowed her up and returned her to Earth once she’d absorbed a sufficient dose of happiness.

I believe I felt very much the same – energised, relaxed and content. A world away from the stresses of work and the cacophonous sounds of Sydney.

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Jervis Bay – the jewel of New South Wales

Gilles and I had come to Jervis Bay to escape the the city for a weekend. Only a couple hours drive away from Sydney, I was told it had some of the most beautiful beaches in New South Wales. The bay area, including its surrounding national park, home to Australia’s only Aboriginal-owned Botanic Garden, is filled with secretive beaches boasting clear water and the perfect shade of white sand.

Jervis Bay is also famous for dolphin and whale sightings (sadly I didn’t see any) and a favourite amongst sport lovers, who can enjoy a range of activities including kayaking, windsurfing, jet skiing and other water sports.

dsc_0149-2dsc_0051One of the bay’s main draws is Hyams Beach, a long stretch of fine white sand, the type you’d find in an hourglass.

Layers of ocean crash into the sand, revealing pools of varying shades of blue – like a droplet of blue ink had entered the ocean and diluted itself unevenly. Then there’s the neon green moss wrapped around rocks like pillowcases.

dsc_0046dsc_0041When I returned to Sydney on the Sunday, I couldn’t stop thinking about the sea, and why it made me feel a certain way. As a child, my parents wouldn’t usually choose to holiday at the beach, favouring mountainous landscapes instead. I’d spent a fair amount of time by the ocean during my backpacking trip in South East Asia, but I hardly took the time to reflect and try to understand the impact of the seaside environment on my wellbeing.

So I Googled it, and came across this article from Wallace J. Nichols, a field scientist who’s dedicated his career to studying the human-water connection. He coined the word Blue Mind (also the title of his book which I’m very much looking forward to reading) to explain this phenomenon.

According to neuroscience, we can alter our brain’s positive neural pathways by being near or exposed to water. This allows us to experience a meditative state filled with calm, peace and contentment with the present moment. In order words, our connection with the ocean makes the pursuit of happiness much easier.

When we’re at the beach, we don’t just exist – we live.

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How does the beach make you feel? Do you feel happier and more relaxed in a different type of environment?

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Katoomba_Australia

As I stepped off the train, I felt the cold air on my face and hands, exposed and vulnerable. I hurried off the platform and unzipped my bucket bag, reaching out for the beige woolly frock I’d reluctantly borrowed from a friend. She warned me about winters in Katoomba and I should have listened.

I was unprepared for what came next, too. Google Mapping my through what felt like a 1950s ghost town, I wandered off into a narrow, lightless alley. Fleeing the echo of barking dogs and the clattering of broken glass trailing behind me (the tinkle of wind chimes, I would later learn), the only thing I could see was a canvas of glimmering stars, thousands of tiny lanterns floating on the surface of the night sky. I wanted to stop and stare at them but kept walking instead, aware of my disorientated state and the burning feeling in my fingertips.

Pacing from one wooden cottage to the next, I flashed the screen of my iPhone against the timber walls, searching for number 42. It was a laughable sight, really: a clueless city girl looking for her Airbnb in the middle of the night, unable to Uber herself out of oblivion.

There’s a reason for why I ended up there, and the reason is this: I decided to go to the Blue Mountains for a weekend. Alone.  I craved to get out of the city and the small town of Katoomba seemed like the perfect escape – old-fashioned, whimsical and quiet. Tucked in a mountainous region known for its array of Eucalyptus trees, Katoomba is a place where stressed-out Sydneysiders come looking for silence and serenity.

I eventually found the lodge I was looking for. It was a homely, wooden cottage built in the 1890s, adorned with white and nautical blue walls and loose wooden beams for floors. The house smelled of pines and smoke, a little bit like Christmas. I sipped on the vegetable broth my host kindly prepared me, thinking about the generations of strangers who’d lived in this house and sat in this same spot, gazing out of windowpanes and resting their hands against warm porcelain bowls.

I spent the weekend in that state of borrowed nostalgia, trying to make sense of how I was meant to feel about this town. Wandering from bistro-style cafes to dark, musky Irish pubs, Kindle in hand, I didn’t feel like doing much sightseeing apart from a trip to Echo Point where I watched the Three Sisters, a rock formation attracting hoards of buses and selfie-sticks.

On Sunday morning I stopped by the Yellow Deli, an Amish cafe where the waitresses wore thick round glasses and grey, skinny braids. Taking in the chilly breeze of the revolving doors while picking at my plate of maple syrup waffles, I felt a sudden urge to return to the city.

While I waited for the Sydney train on the platform, I wondered whether Katoomba’s charm wore off this quickly for others too; or if maybe, I just hadn’t given it a chance.

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Emma_Cline_Book_ReviewAs a serial bookworm and digital junkie, my Kindle library is out of control. I don’t own an actual bookshelf. But when I caught sight of Emma Cline’s debut novel in a Sydney bookshop, I had a feeling it would be an entertaining (and sand-proof) read for my upcoming Bali holiday.

“The Girls” in a nutshell

Evie Boyd is pretty, she’s rich and semi-famous thanks to her grandmother, a Hollywood starlet. She leads a charmed life, aside from having to put up with a somewhat emotionally unstable mother with a penchant for dating douchebags. Evie’s desperate for the nod of approval from the cool guys – basically crack to any 14-year old teenage girl. And she gets a hit by bonding with Suzanne, the “it-girl” of a Charles Manson-like cult that will compromise Evie in more ways than one.

“She seemed as strange and raw as those flowers that bloom in lurid explosion once every five years, the gaudy, prickling tease that was almost the same thing as beauty.”

My verdict

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‘The Girls’ is a fantastic novel. The story forces you to make sense of events in your life you’d rather forget. Evie’s honest, self-aware first-person narrative made me remember my 14-year old approval-seeking self in a way no other book ever has. Most of us were once Evies: insecure teenagers who would do anything to be one of the cool guys.

 “All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you – the boys had spent that time becoming themselves”.

While I loved “The Girls” I must admit  it took me a couple chapters to get into it. Cline’s striking writing voice sometimes made it challenging to pay attention the plot. Her detail-heavy prose doesn’t disappoint:

“A glut of spaghetti, mossed with cheese. The nothing jump of soda in my throat”.

Seriously impressive for a debut novelist, who also happens to be 27 years old by the way.

According to some online reviews, readers felt cheated by “The Girls”; they found the story to be underdeveloped, not juicy enough. I disagree. Emma Cline does so much more than simply retell an infamous cult story (a story that’s been told countless times). The point of the extreme setting is to force us look at our old selves in a different light and make us think: could this have happened to me?

Want to read “The Girls” by Emma Cline? Get in on Amazon

Have you read “The Girls”? What did you think?

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Girl_Gone_Vagabond_Sydney

First and foremost: please excuse the radio silence. As you can probably gather from the title (or if you follow me on Instagram), Gilles and I are no longer travelling. Our little backpacking stint came to end (somewhat abruptly – more on that in a sec) and we moved to Australia.

We’ve lived in Sydney for six months and I’ve not written a single word about it. Shit.

Why? Honestly, I don’t know why. When I first started Girl Gone Vagabond, I spent hours writing about new destinations and loved Instagramming all the beautiful sights I came across on my travels. But when I arrived in Sydney, #reality creeped in (What if I don’t find a job?/How can the rental market be WORSE than in London?!) and I didn’t really feel like writing about these things.

Originally, Girl Gone Vagabond, was meant to be a travel blog – a resource with pretty pictures I hoped would inspire people to take the leap and make travel a reality. Since landing in Australia, I’ve not done nearly as much travelling as I could (and should) have. Apart from a couple day trips and a long weekend to Bali (more on that soon), I’ve not left Sydney for six months.

So what have I been doing with my life? Well, for starters, I’m no longer unemployed, yay! I was lucky enough to snap up an awesome role at a digital content marketing agency in Surry Hills. For a couple months, I threw myself into work big time, spending weekends recovering (read: devouring books and bottles of Sauvignon).

Why Australia?

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If you’ve been following my (mis)adventures, you’ll know that Gilles and I made the rather irresponsible decision to quit our London jobs and go backpacking in South-East Asia. If you’re new to GGV, you can read more about that decision here. We travelled the region for about six months, doing lots of bucket-list worthy things like pretending to be a pirate in Vietnam, exploring Angkor Wat and meditating with Buddhist monks.

These were the best six months of my life. But it didn’t last forever. In February, the world started to feel uninteresting again. I was in Bali and no longer noticed things I would have once been in awe of, like the intricacies of the Balinese rituals local women carried out daily.

While this trip was everything we wanted it to be, and more, it was coming to a natural end. There was no point in trying to extend it when Gilles and I both knew this nomadic lifestyle was taking a toll on us. We craved normalcy – a routine, a job, a permanent home.

Now, neither of us wanted to go back to London just yet (or Europe, for that matter) so we thought we’d try another option: Australia.

Being privileged enough to hold the right passport(s), both of us are eligible to work in Australia for up to year . We booked a one-way ticket to Sydney to try our luck. And we’ve been extremely lucky – we both found jobs we love and if everything goes well with our sponsorship application (fingers crossed) we’ll be allowed to stay in Sydney permanently!

What’s next for Girl Gone Vagabond?

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Now you might be thinking: what the hell is she going to write about if she’s not travelling anymore?  I promise I won’t go AWOL again. But things will be a little different around here. To be honest, I’m not totally sure in what direction this blog will be going but I’m excited to get started.

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