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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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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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Travel_World_Happiness

This is a re-post of an article I wrote for Elite Daily.

Happiness: You wish for it every year as you blow out the candles of your birthday cake. You swipe right on Tinder hoping to find it, fly halfway across the world to experience it and slave away at your cubicle in the name of it.

You know you deserve to have it and dedicate your entire life to the chase. After all, it’s the only thing that makes life worth living, right? Except, there’s a problem.

No matter how much you accomplish, laugh, live or love, it never feels like the real deal. Even when you’re bursting with excitement, you believe there’s something more, something bigger out there waiting for you.

But is there? This question’s plagued me for as long as I can remember. Like you, I wanted to believe true happiness existed. But as the years went by and I was still pursuing it as hard as ever, I worried it would always be out of my reach.

Until, one day, something happened. While I shoved a sh*tty, tasteless rice cracker down my throat, I learned a lesson that changed everything. I know this sounds crazy, but I promise I can explain. Before I get to it, though, you need to hear the full story.

How I Ran Out Of Happiness Options

I once promised myself I would never settle for anything less than true happiness. So when I became disillusioned with my life choices and career, I did what any irresponsible 20-something would do.

I quit my job and booked a one-way ticket to the other side of the world. Armed with a backpack stuffed with too many clothes and way too many expectations, I embarked on a six-month backpacking trip across Southeast Asia.

I was desperate to find happiness along the way. I was desperate to find the kind of happiness I hadn’t experienced in my job, relationships or hobbies.

At first, I believed I’d found it. I felt peaceful, blissful and alive. But as the months passed, the novelty wore off. Instead of being excited, I felt tired, grumpy and horribly guilty. It’s as if I’d been hooked to a drip of liquid happiness, and doctors decided to cut me off.

So, I had to admit it. My quest had failed, yet again. What now? Had I just run out of happiness options?

Two Inconvenient Truths About The Pursuit Of Happiness

I’ll spare you the details of that ridiculous pity party I threw for myself after that epiphany. But, I refused to admit defeat and tried another approach instead.

I turned to people who are way smarter than me in the hope that they could tell me a thing or two about true happiness. So, I maxed out my Kindle with books about neuroscience, psychology and anthropology.

I googled Buddhist teachings and watched YouTube videos about Hindu philosophy. I even spoke to a spiritual guru in Bali. (Yeah, I was kind of desperate at this point.)

Throughout my research, I learned two inconvenient truths. I came across the theory that happiness is genetic. According to research, each and every one of us is born with a different level of happiness that’s embedded in our DNA.

In other words, unless you’ve won the happy gene lottery, you’re screwed. I also realised that what I’d been chasing all my life was quite possibly nirvana. It’s a perfect place of enlightenment, peace and happiness, aka the ultimate goal of Buddhism.

Now, unless I can somehow become a Buddhist monk, take a vow of celibacy and spend my days meditating in silence, I’ll probably never get there. Basically, the situation didn’t look so good.

After thinking about it for a while, I made a radical decision. I stopped pursuing happiness. Maybe I lacked the happiness gene. Maybe I lacked spirituality and faith. Or maybe, true happiness just wasn’t worth the chase.

Giving up on finding happiness was a blessing in disguise. Once that huge weight was lifted off my shoulders, I was ready to experience what happened next.

What I Learned About Finding Happiness

A couple weeks later, when I was snacking on a sh*tty, tasteless rice cracker, wishing it was a Kit Kat, everything changed. I took a bite, and I heard a voice in my head.

It was my own voice, and it was angry. It said, “Bitch, this is happiness. Right here, right now. Just f*cking look at it.” Yeah, I know, my inner psyche and I are going through a rough patch right now.

But, it taught me an important lesson that day, and I believe the lesson is this: These dull, boring episodes you’re wishing away? That’s your life. Everything else is just a bonus.

Stop thinking about these moments as lulls in your existence because they’re so much more than that. Once you take away pleasure, sorrow, joy and misery, these moments are all you’re ever guaranteed to get.

They’re like the building blocks of a house, the structures that hold everything together. They’re the foundations that will remain when the pretty wallpaper wears off and the expensive furniture disintegrates.

They might be boring and ugly, but you have to get them right. Because there’s no point adding stuff on top if everything’s crumbling underneath.

For the first time, I understood these seemingly boring events, like eating sh*tty rice crackers, are an integral part of our lives. They’re not just fillers or lost time best spent planning the next pleasurable experiences that lie ahead.

Now, I know there’s no way we’ll find pleasure in these things. That’s not what matters, though. What matters is that we can look at these unmemorable moments in the eye and tell ourselves, “This is all there ever really is to life, but you know what? I’m OK with that.”

And truly believing these words when you think them, that’s happiness. It doesn’t mean we have to settle for mediocrity. We can — and should — chase our ambitions and dreams because they matter.

We just have to stop thinking we’ll find true happiness along the way. Happiness has been on this journey all along. It’s just hard to recognise because it looks different from what we expect.

It doesn’t look like that alluring, smiling sexpot who turns heads when he or she enter the room. Instead, it’s that sh*tty, boring nobody clinging on to you, waiting for you to give him or her a chance.

Originally published in Elite Daily.

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Girl_Gone_Vagabond

Originally published in Thought Catalog

Quit your job. Sell your sh*t. Buy a ticket to the other side of the world. Travel in your twenties or miss out on life…might say an inspirational quote on Instagram, because #wanderlust.

Many people have fallen in love with the idea that pressing pause on their careers is the best way to satisfy a travel bug. And some take the leap, like I did.

Six months ago, I traded a promising marketing job for a one-way ticket to South East Asia and a backpack full of dreams. While this journey has been incredibly rewarding, it hasn’t always been an easy one. When you ditch your career to travel the world, you embark on a learning experience of a lifetime.

1. Life on the road is mostly business as usual.

It’s tempting to believe that once you leave your job and get on that plane, your life changes beyond recognition. But here’s the truth: it doesn’t. Your daily habits remain the same and you don’t become a different person overnight.

You still message your friends all day, read the news, stalk your ex on Facebook and binge-watch your favourite shows on Netflix. The biggest difference is that your 9-5 now consists of exploring the world rather than sitting at your desk. But even that starts to feel normal after a while.

2. Not having a plan is awesome but scary AF.

When you’re no longer obsessed with climbing that career ladder, you finally feel you can live life to the fullest. Instead of spending your life playing the office politics game, you’re meeting amazing people, learning new skills and educating yourself about the world.

But not having your future mapped out can be terrifying. Deep down, you know you’ve got this, but you can’t help but worry you’ll never find another job, or run out of money sooner than planned.

3. Office life isn’t actually that bad.

Never trust the social media accounts of anyone who quit their job to travel. The gorgeous beach pictures and bikini selfies might be jealousy inducing, but they rarely tell the full story.

Nobody shares pictures of smelly buses, mouldy street foods and cockroach-infested hotel rooms on Instagram, but these situations are far from uncommon. After sitting on a bus for 12 hours, crushed between a trash can and a cage full of chickens, you start to consider the possibility that your office wasn’t such a horrible place after all.

4. Not giving a f*ck about your appearance is liberating.

No longer having to dress up and look flawless everyday is one of the best things about being unemployed and on the go. When you travel, you start embracing the hobo way of life in no time.

You proudly wear the same outfit five days in a row and hardly ever wash your hair, because you can’t be bothered and would rather spend the shampoo money on beer anyway. There’s nothing quite as liberating as not caring what you look like and what other people think of you.

5. You don’t need to spoil yourself to enjoy travel.

When you’re trying to make your savings last as long as possible, you can’t afford the same luxuries you enjoyed when taking a holiday from work. But you don’t need a fancy hotel, swanky restaurant or infinity pool to have the best travel experience.

When traveling on a budget, your standards drop so low you realise you never needed these things in the first place. Nowadays, any hotel room will do, as long as the sheets are clean and there are no cockroaches in your bed.

6. Travel blues are a thing and they suck.

Just because you’re living the dream doesn’t mean you never feel like crap. Some people find it hard to believe, but travel blues do happen.

Sometimes you have zero desire to get out of bed, even if you’re staying next to the most beautiful beach in the world. Other times you can’t help but feel bored, exhausted or just uninterested in the places your visiting. And here’s the worst part: this makes you feel sick with guilt.

7. You’ve been wasting your paycheck on the wrong things.

Once you realise that wearing the same cheap clothes for 6 months isn’t actually that bad, your attitude towards shopping changes.

You regret spending your earnings on things you never really needed. You now understand that splashing your hard-earned cash on experiences rather than material things makes you much happier.

8. Finding yourself is harder than you think.

Most people assume that quitting your job to travel goes hand in hand with finding yourself. But self-discovery is much more challenging than anyone ever tells you.

You can’t just show up in a foreign country and wait for it to happen. It takes a lot of work and it certainly won’t happen overnight. Travel makes you question who you are and who you want to be, but it rarely gives you the answers right away.

9. Ditching your career to travel is the best decision you can ever make.

“So many people tip toe through life, so carefully, to arrive, safely, at death” – Tony Campolo

Taking a career break is not the safest or most responsible life decision you can make. But it’s 100% worth the risk. Travel shapes you in ways no corporate job ever can. You shouldn’t miss out on a huge learning opportunity just because it’s an unconventional one. You’ve got the rest of your life to climb that career ladder. So what’s the rush?

This article was originally published in Thought Catalog.

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