The Littlest Hobo

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(Photo – Aidan Webb)

Why do I travel? Why do I bother to get on and off planes, trains and ferries? Why do I spend my hard earned cash on it?

Because of all the times my darling Mother tucked me under her arm when I was just a tiny tot and took me away with her, our little family saw plenty of beauty, be it in a white washed villa in family complex, a pool and a beach type family soujourns.

My Mum had alot of travel and adventure under her belt before us kids were born, she zipped down the slopes with a James Bond stunt man, slipped an ashtray into her bag at the original Playboy Club, took herself to a tiny airfield cafe and ended up learning to fly a single engine plane with a handsome pilot (I mean as Mother’s go, she’s badass, right?).  My Mother is fearless, bold and kind, qualities she got from my Nan along with a very stubborn side….which I might have inherited!

When Nan travelled she collected a ring or precious stone from every country she visited, just a working class lady with a passion for remembering her great travels. I guess you could say the women in my family are a sassy lot with a touch of wanderlust born into their blood.  It seems adventure, travel and independence are born into my blood, far be it from me to ignore my roots.

When I grew up to be an averagely functioning human being with a shiny passport of my own, I flexed it and jumped on a plane to escape life, stress, men (often). Flopping under a palm tree with a dear friend on an island far away, with a lastminute.com deal was the cure, or sometimes the tonic was walking  around feeling so small amongst the sky scrapers and gorgeous accents of New York, or being fed jambon and cheese in Paris and wistfully listening to a language I used to know how to speak.

My friends didn’t back pack, we could barely pay for college. No one said to me ‘Come on, let’s find ourselves in South America or fall off the map in the South Pacific’. My travels weren’t off the beaten track, my hostel stays amounted to a couple of weeks spent in Florida wheeling my impractically large suitcase around with a giant grin, a fistful of dollars, meeting a cat called Spanky, a dodgy dude on a jet ski and my best mate and me getting utterly ripped off like tourists all the way.

Still I knew, there was a delicious freedom in climbing on board a plane, gripping the armrests, hoping to God for my Mother’s sake I’d take off and land in one piece and even more when I started flying solo to see my friends or for work. I thought I was Little Miss It, with my airport strut, freshly blow dried hair and majorly American stamped passport, little did I know that the adventures I have now for a fraction of the costs would blow the younger little-miss-sassy-pants out of the fricking water.

As with all of us, life happened and work was all encompassing. I was on a career track, that was running 90 miles an hour.

I grafted so hard to get a foot in the music industry door, I wanted to be a female music executive, and for all of my twenties I worked like an absolute maniac, all the hours, almost every day, all year round with newbies and celebrities.  Welcome to the music industry.

It wasn’t luxury, it was graft and I adored it. It was 2am club visits with your artist when you want to be home, it was taking a conference call at 11pm outside the restaurant your friend is celebrating her birthday in, it was bye bye romance and zero relationships – except for with your trusty blackberry. My Blackberry was my boyfriend, I would fall asleep and wake up to him, he was with me in the bar, the office, the loo, my Mum hated him and my family didn’t get him, so I hid him but I couldn’t quit him.

On a photo shoot with my client at the time, Kelly Rowland

Let’s not pretend that I don’t know how lucky I was…I got to go on work trips to some great places – Paris showed me it’s cobbled Marais streets, LA’s palm trees and blue skies waved at me and Barcelona’s beach looked wistfully at me.  All these things I only saw through glass; hotel windows, conference rooms, buses and taxis. I never just got lost somewhere, or take a beat to melt into a place. I passed through and I figured one day I’d make a huge plan, save, see, do, taste, touch, live it, walk it, lose myself. Really just take time and put a backpack on and go, go solo, go with friends.

One day, I would. But I didn’t.

Life threw me a huge curve ball. At the age of 31 having felt ill and in pain for over a year, sometimes unable to get out of bed,   I was none the wiser as to why.  Then one day, I was sitting in a stark and clinical hospital in London sitting talking to a Consultant with the inter-personal skills of a slab of concrete, when he told me I was actually very sick, that there was a mass in my spleen and I was going to lose the organ. Say what now?

I met my rock star surgeon and though he told me the grave risks of the surgery all I could think was ‘Right, let’s do this.’ He operated on me 10 days later, unable to save my spleen he removed the whole thing, as the mass inside had grown to the size of a large grapefruit when your whole organ is meant to be about the size of a kiwi fruit.

I had to lose the organ or I’d be a goner if I fell over and ruptured it. You can’t really prepare for something like that, so with the end goal of feeling like myself again I powered through, asking a million questions and being a giant pain in the NHS’s backside.

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The dark orb at the top right was my enlarged spleen, squashing my stomach and pushing up to my lung (the blackness above it). I was short of breath and at risk of the organ rupturing.

What do you do when facing a complex surgery with enormous risks? I went home, cracked opened my laptop and booked a ticket to Paris for 6 weeks after my surgery. Mum sucked in her breath and protectively told me I’m absolutely not going away so soon after such a thing, she kept saying ‘it shouldn’t be happening to my baby’, but the trip ahead kept me sane and I remember I kept telling her that it probably wasn’t cancer, so I’ll be alright. I had no idea if it was, or was not.

Ten days later I woke up in a hospital bed minus an organ, with a huge scar from ribs to belly button, surrounded by beeping machines, nurses and things poking into veins, loaded to the eyeballs with opiates and absolutely unable to move, I couldn’t sit up or get further than the seat beside my bed without two nurses helping and alot of morphine. I had a zimmer frame and physio to get me walking an exhausting 6-10 feet every day. I was in hospital for a fortnight and I talked alot of nonsense and kept the nurses amused.

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On a hell of a lot of strong drugs and bionic from all the machines that I was hooked up to, loopy!

These things have a way of making you think and well what an absolutely prize winning cliche I was.  I had been all about my career and nothing else.

A week later my surgeon told me it wasn’t cancer. How lucky I was. They told me it was a rare benign cyst which had grown inside my organ and they’ll never know what caused it.

I got talking during my two week long stay in intensive care to a lady in the bed opposite me on my ward, she was a real go-getter who gave me so many giggles, I learnt heartbreakingly from the nurses that she didn’t have a good prognosis. She would tell me she’d give it all for a round of golf, or a pina colada on a beach somewhere. She asked me what my life was all about and what had I been doing? There I was fart arsing around thinking work was everything, that I’d travel and go off the beaten path one day. Yup, you’ve even said that old chestnut to yourself haven’t you? ‘One day I’ll go….’ to some place you keep in a dream box in your mind.

It might have taken me a while to get my little warrior woman arse in gear and travel, really see places, but I’m doing it now.  I’m not one of those seriously strong women who have beaten cancer and have these incredibly inspirational stories, I’m just a normal girl but I did survive something that terrified me and that could have killed me – untreated or on the surgeon’s table, it broke my body took me a year to recover from it and scared my family and loved ones. If that isn’t a cliche short of a carpe diem waiting to be jumped on, then I don’t what is?

That’s when I started my Dream List, which is a living bucket list. I’m not kicking the bucket anytime soon, but I wanted to start doing all the things I ever wanted to do, try, or places I wanted to visit and that’s how I live.

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Doing mad things like yoga in Times Square – just because!

You shouldn’t even need to get so broken, or so on the edge of your health, or meet a terminally ill woman before you delve into your mind’s dream box, write a living bucket list and change how you live.

I have been in full health for over 3 years now, I work a full time job as Personal Assistant to a wonderful CEO (oddly I really love organising other people), I’m not made of money, I only use my annual leave, I tuck my spare cash away and I can sniff a travel bargain out like nobody’s business, and by December this year I will have touched these little feet down in 6 countries in the last 13 months. It has been the most heart swelling, eye opening, inspiring year of my little existence and I am hand on my heart aka my passport, utterly and completely in love with travelling.

I hope this little corner of my mind will inspire you to do the things you wished you could do one day, but sooner and I hope that it helps you realise travelling is wonderful thing, that it doesn’t have to cost the earth but as they say ‘its the only thing you can buy that makes you richer’.