Although I usually travel alone, every so often, a familiar face appears. Like last year in Spain, when I bumped into an old friend. We screamed: ‘Omg I can’t believe it!’ Hugged – slightly awkwardly, I’m not a great hugger when I’m sober – then decided to go for a drink. The next day I had a lovely message from him, saying how great it was to see me and how I hadn’t changed – still funny, still a bit mad, still gorgeous, still an ice queen.
That name again.
The ice queen.
I hate that name.
Back home, I sat down with another friend, and told him. He laughed. ‘I don’t know why it bothers you so much! It’s so true! You are an ice queen!’ I asked him to elaborate. ‘The hand-holding thing, the hugging, the inability to express any kind of love or affection in public. It’s weird! You’re weird, and that’s why we all love you!’ He smiled. ‘I just hope you get over it one day.’
‘Why? Why do I need to get over it?’
‘You don’t. You’re you, and you’re happy being single, and that’s fine!’
‘Hold on, what’s being single got to do with it?’
‘There’s just not many men out there that will understand. Men need to feel needed, we need to feel important – we need to feel like men! And you don’t need a man – you’re too independent! It’s so easy for you to just walk away! There aren’t many men who’ll go out with someone who won’t even hold their hand. It would take a really strong man to go out with you.’
Well, that’s ok then, because a strong man is what I want. A man who respects my boundaries. A man who understands that private displays of love, gratitude and affection mean more to me than public declarations. A man who takes the time to get to know me, to understand that just because I won’t hold his hand, or sit on his knee, or kiss him in public, it doesn’t make me an ice queen.
In fact I’m quite the opposite. I’m passionate about so many things, from travel to football, to politics – even my job. So what if public displays of affection make me cringe?
As a traveller, I love people and places all over the world. I love across mountains and oceans, time zones and distances, ages and years – I have never lived in the same city as my best friend, yet we love each other like sisters.
I love through the barriers of culture and class, language and religion. When you carry your whole life on your back, and share a room with eleven strangers from ten different countries, you’re all travellers – and you’re all equal.
Yes, I have said goodbye a thousand times – but it’s never been easy. Every time my heart has broken a little bit more.
But that doesn’t mean my heart has stopped working. I’ve scattered tiny pieces of my heart all over the world, and every piece I’ve left behind has been replaced with something else.
Like music – flamenco, vallenato, Bob Marley, Luis Fonsi and Justin Beiber(!) Instruments too: the koto, the accordion, the guitar – even the bongos. I don’t think I’ve ever sat around a bonfire on a beach without at least one person turning up with a bongo!
There’s sounds of nature too – the peace of Angkor Wat at sunset, the rattle of the earthquakes that shake the ground in Tokyo, the lightning making cracks in the sky at Parque Tayrona. And there’s colour! Cherry blossoms in spring, maple leaves in autumn, bougainvillea, palm trees, snow in June, sunset pinks, red geraniums, a multicoloured world beneath the ocean’s blue surface, the ever-increasing contrast of tan lines.
My heart is hungry – starving in fact – yet full too, of paella shared with a Spanish family, the fish cooked in a hungi on an Australian beach, a ziplock bag of papaya salad, my mum’s roast dinners, the chiguiro I’d never have eaten if I’d know it was a giant rat…
It’s the heart of a traveller.
A traveller’s heart knows no limits. The relief of reaching the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, the rush of adrenaline from jumping out of a plane and the scream of exhilaration from losing control and speeding down the Alps too fast. The pain of a hundred mosquito bites, the fear of finding yourself lost in the wrong part of town, and that indescribable, bittersweet feeling of loss and discovery when you say goodbye and move on to the next place.
In my heart you’ll find all this and more: the kids I volunteered with ten years ago, the friends I sailed around the Adriatic with last month, and my Grandad, who died when I was twenty. A traveller can fall in love for four days then say goodbye forever – and a four day romance can turn into a friendship, which might just last a lifetime.
No one but a traveller will really understand the depth of love you can feel for a person you haven’t had a conversation with for five years. No one but a traveller will understand how you can miss a place you’ve never been to, or crave a food you’ve never tasted.
A traveller’s heart is filled to the brim, it’s over-flowing. But the best thing of all about a traveller’s heart? There’ll always be room for another place, a new friend, more memories, more stories, more tears of laughter, and sadness too. There’ll always be a new song to sing, and enough heart to keep sharing.
I’m a traveller. And I know that love goes so much deeper than the touch of a hand. I know that some of the best moments in life happen when there’s no one else around. And I know that of all the people you meet in any journey, the friendships that last are with the ones you want to be with, not the ones you need.
So if I won’t hold your hand, please don’t ask me why – and don’t tell me I’m cold. Don’t be offended because I don’t need you – instead, feel honoured that I want to share my time with you. And take the time to find out what’s in my heart… if you’re very lucky, I just might give you a piece of it too.