Don't get me wrong, it's not like I hadn't been anywhere already. After all, in my 26 years up until that point, I had seen more of the world than my parents had in their lifetime combined. I had done much of Europe - beginners skiing in the Alps in Austria, wild parties in Mallorca, sunset spying in Santorini and Ibiza, and citybreaking in various capitals across the continent. But I'd never travelled across the Atlantic, unless you count a dazzling Disney World trip when I was five years old - which I don't, because as badly as I want to remember it, the only memories I can pull up of Florida are of the balmy rain and the magnificent firework show of a night at the Epcot centre. And I had certainly never ventured alone, yet.
But on the 31st August 2013, everything changed. I had fidgeted with excitement for months with the anticipation of what was to come. I spent the entire month ferociously pawing through guidebook after guidebook, building up a repertoire of what to expect from my next big adventure. I bought myself a brand new backpack - 33 litres in deep plum purple from my local shopping centre's badly-stocked Trespass - and proceeded to fill it frantically with all the wrong things. I was so unprepared, but so amazingly ready to put one foot in front of the other with nobody else in tow. Nobody else but eleven perfect strangers, that is. And when the last day of the month rolled around, I took myself off to Heathrow Airport with a hop and a skip and boarded a flight to Vancouver, Canada.
I had booked my trip with Trek America literally at the turn of midnight of the brand new year some months before, umm-ing and ahh-ing over the 'Confirm Booking' button before hitting it with a vengeance as Big Ben began to chime, like some dusty forgotten old cliché. It it without exaggeration that I credit this crazy whim, as it were at the time, as one of the best decisions I have ever made. Up until that point, I had never embarked on a travel solely for myself, always having to consider one or more people in tow. Parents, boyfriends, friends and future foes - they had all played a part in my postcards over space and time. But Canada was my thing. It almost felt like my baby, something that I could love and nurture and look after and I had grown it and even though it became a shared experience, it was mine and mine alone. Canada was the best thing that ever happened to me, even if I never considered it at the time.
There is a deeper appreciation to it now. The 31st August 2013 also happened to play host to the wedding of two of my oldest friends, which I never got to attend due to my wanderlusty ways. They knew; they understood. After all they had the vagabond bug within them too, having been to Vancouver not long before I had; having themselves become engaged while on a dreamy Pacific Coast Highway trip in California not two years before that. Their honeymoon carried them to far-flung islands in the Indian Ocean and they excitedly began to carve out a life together buying the house that they so wanted, planning whimsical bouts of globetrotting and to eventually bring brand new pretty faces into the world. Back then hashtags barely existed and there was no such saying as #relationshipgoals, but they certainly embodied it.
Fast forward three years later and much has changed; drastically and cruelly as it so often can be, and their story journeys on a different fork in the road to what everybody imagined. The groom was stolen away from this planet far too young. The bride keeps on walking that path and is indeed the strongest, most courageous person I have ever come to know. But all that inner strength that doesn't for one second justify having your every dream shattered, as it has been for her. How can you prepare yourself for the end of the world? You can't. You know it's happening, and you keep on walking.
Then suddenly, in the distance, there is a twinkling of sunlight. A new dawn, an awakening. A hard-hitting realisation that the notion of life is sweet, yet precious and fragile. But that thought alone is enough to rejuvenate any soul, even if the engine is shattered. For we are lucky to have the power and the motivation deep down within us. We are lucky to have access to so many personal goals if we work hard enough for them. We are lucky to ever know love and experience it so deeply, and we are lucky to have the world on our doorstep. We are lucky enough to have any life at all. But, we only have one life, and that is not luck but fact.
In crushing moments of self-doubt I remember my friend and all what he experienced, and all what he never got to. It drives me to not be so stagnant. It stops me from rooting myself to one spot forever, yet convinces me to make my mark wherever I am. It stops me from settling for second best, an pushes me to be a something somewhere with somebody someday. It might not be today or tomorrow, but it doesn't mean that you shouldn't enjoy each and every day like it's your last. What if it was? What would you look back on and be most proud of?
Canada. I credit much of what I am today to it. I was bold and therefore sold to a lifetime of wanting to explore every nook and cranny of this world. Every time I think it's time to stop, I find something that re-ignites that wanderlust - no, that wanderLOVE - even harder. Because wanderlust is not just about scratching out country outlines on a fancy map. It's about finding the real you. The best you. And that, my friends, is why my journey must continue. 'Til death do us part.