For many people politically, globally and musically 2016 has been a shocker. Starting with the loss of Bowie, followed by the English Brexit, the election of President Donald Trump and ending with the death of George, with a whole heap of other maladies thrown in, I can completely understand why a lot of people will be waving good riddance to this turbulent year. But as George so eloquently put it... ‘You gotta have faith’.
And that, among with several other things is what a year on the road has taught me. 2016 was the first full year we spent travelling, it has been full of surprises, we have done things we had literally never imagined. But maybe the biggest surprise of all, is how much we have learnt and changed over the year.
I am ending this year a far happier, healthier and optimistic person than I started it, in fact then how I have started any year of my life to date.
So here it is, 5 unexpected life lessons a year on the road has taught me:
1. You gotta have faith
At the beginning of the year I didn't have it, I was getting there but I didn't quite believe that everything was going to work out for us. We were in Bali, we had basically no money, we had a dream of going to Australia, getting rich quick and going back to Asia to continue our travels, but really in my head I thought it was all going to go terribly wrong. In my head I was already making a call back to my Mum, tail between my legs, asking to borrow the money for a flight home because we were f**ked.
But that didn't happen, we got to Australia, yes the first couple of weeks where pretty crap, we had no money, we were working for accommodation in a crappy hostel, pinching chips out of the kitchen to supplement our instant noodle diet, but within two weeks we had found a job and our Australian Adventure was beginning.
Time and time again this year my natural pessimism has been challenged an ultimately been proven wrong. Every time we left a job I would panic that we wouldn't find another one, when we brought the car I was convinced it would die within a week and we would be stranded, every time I entered the sea I was convinced Joe or myself would be killed by any kind of murderous sea life. But we found jobs, the cars still going strong and we are both still alive and kicking.
Slowly, slowly over the past year I have become more and more relaxed, less panicky and less inclined to catastrophize situations. In short I have faith, in what exactly I don't know (Myself? Fate? The Big Bad World?) And finally as the year comes to an end I think I can honestly say 2016, and a year on the road has turned me into an optimist. Who would have thought it ey?
2. Appreciate your body
For as long as I can remember I have disliked my body on a good day and loathed it on a bad day. And although I can't say that I love it now, 2016 has taught me to appreciate it in all its flabby glory and the things it allows me to do.
These tree trunk legs have chased cows, trekked gorges and swam me to the bottom of the sea. These podgy arms of mine have kayaked me to waterfalls and secret lagoons, they have dug holes big enough for me to stand in and have hugged new friends. Together they have climbed, scrambled, swam and danced, they have driven loaders, quad bikes and 4x4s.
When you stop thinking of your body as something purely aesthetic and take into account is remarkable practicalities and capabilities you begin to realise how incredible it actually is, and although, like I say, I certainly don't love it, I really truly appreciate it for the first time in my memory.
As Baz Luhrmann so wisely told us "Enjoy your body, use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or what other people think of it, it is the greatest instrument you will very own". Or something along those lines anyway.
3. Be scared but do it anyway
Okay, so I am basically scared of everything....Sharks, crocodiles, heights, climbing, falling, failing, being abducted and having my eyes pecked out by crows, to name but a few. In the past these fears have held be back, they have had me sitting on the sidelines of life, they have stopped me doing things I wanted to do. But in 2016, I started doing them anyway, maybe it has something (well a lot) to do with point 1, but this year I have learnt to feel the fear and just do it anyway.
It's not that I'm less scared of things, it's more, I think, that I have come to realise that I'm less useless than I previously thought, that I am actually capable of scrambling up that rock face, that the chances are I won't fall and even if I do I probably won't die (see I told you I'm an optimist now!).
Now don't get me wrong, this is still very much a work in progress, I haven't suddenly become Brave Heart, but I'm learning to recognise the genuine feeling of being afraid, acknowledge it, and then stuff it in a little box in my brain, rather than let it consume and disable me.
Life is so much more fun as a participant than as an observer, and I have wasted so much energy and time in the past worrying worrying worrying. This year I have learnt to keep fear and worry in its place, to feel it, to recognise it and ultimately to control it, allowing me to experience all the incredible things this world has to offer.
4. Friends come in all sorts of shapes and sizes
One of my absolute favourite things about travelling is getting to meet so many different people, people I would probably never meet in my normal life. 2016, and a year on the road has allowed me to meet so many incredible humans from all walks of life and has made me understand friendship in a different way.
We are lucky to have an amazing group of friends back home, we have all known each other for years and years, we are from the same town, most of us went to the same schools, in general we like the same kind of things and have had a similar upbringing. In short we are all kind of alike. I'm incredibly grateful for these friendships, and I miss my friends at home so bloody much, but this year has taught me that friendships don't always have to be based on a long shared history, you can make real and meaningful relationships with people you have only just met, with people that on the face of it you are completely different to.
This year we have travelled and worked with some of the loveliest people I have ever met, some of them much younger than us, some much older. Most from different countries, many with very different world views. Some of the best friends we have made this year are so completely different to us in all the obvious ways, and yet something just clicks and we have the best time together.
I guess what I'm trying to say, is 2016 and a year on the road has taught me to be less judgmental and more open to people, it's taught me that friendships can be found in unlikely places and that kindred spirits can be hidden in all sorts of people, regardless of age, race, political views or anything else. Be kind, be open, initiate a chat and see what lovely, interesting people are in this world.
5. Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side
I don't understand this notion of the grass isn't greener on the other side. 2016 and a year on the road has taught me that more often than not, the grass is bloody well greener. You don't have to settle for something that isn't working for you, whether that be a job, a relationship, a lifestyle or anything else, dream big, work hard and make that dream become your reality.
Travelling is wonderful because nothing is permanent, if we don't like a job - we leave, not enjoying a campsite - we go to the next one, bored of the coast - we head in land, and I know in my normal life things aren't that simple, making changes is much, much harder. But this year on the road has shown me that there are many, many ways to live, and if you don't want to be, you don't have to be caught up in the standard rat race of life.
I know, I know, you have heard it all before and it's all much easier said than done, if I had read this a couple of years ago then I would of thought the same. But a year on the road has really made me believe, that anything is possible, that I am capable of anything, that I do not have to settle for a life that isn't what I want it to be. It takes work, you have to make sacrifices, nothing is perfect all the time, but each of us is capable of constructing and living a lifestyle that we enjoy.
It's all too easy get stuck in the proverbial rut, I spent most of my teens and early twenties firmly planted in a rut I had created for myself, jobs I didn't really like, vague ambitions that I was doing nothing to work towards, I was comfortable, I wasn't exactly unhappy but I was bored. I'm not going to let that happen again, whether I am on the road or back at home, this year has taught me to never settle for mediocre, to keep striving till I find the greenest of grass.
So there you have it 5 unexpected life lessons that a year on the road has taught me. I have no idea what 2017 has in store for us but I'm bloody excited to find out.
Happy New Year everyone, may 2017 be everything you want it be and more.