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A letter to the ladies across the world who changed my life and shaped my path entirely for the better

 

I can quantify my travels in many different ways, but the main way is through the people I met. In particular, the women I met. Travel has — and continues to — change my life. In February 2016, the good things in my life included living in a beautiful flat in suburban Manchester with a man I loved. The bad things were that I was working an office job that made me feel incomplete, I had very few friends and very little confidence. I felt like there must be something better out there.
 

When my partner suggested we go travelling, everything changed. We planned a 4 month trip, working our way (through Workaway) around Europe to see the sights and learn how to live more locally and sustainably. We planned to acquire skills so we could one day build our own place.

Within six weeks and only our third country in, we’d cancelled our onward plans and broken up. Despite knowing it was the right choice, I felt like my life was over. I sat on a hammock at the Workaway I was at in northern Spain and I sobbed. I was completely and utterly lost.
 
Sun, sea, sand and reflection: Chesterman Beach,Tofino
Sun, sea, sand and reflection: Chesterman Beach,Tofino

Today, almost exactly one year later, I’m sat on Chesterman Beach in Tofino, British Columbia; the same girl but wiser to the world.

“I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be here were it not for the women who walked into my life between April and August last year.”

This is a letter to you, and to them. A thank you for changing my life, for changing the way I act, the way I dress, think; for opening my mind. For helping me to find… me. And to encourage you to go and do the same.

Beautiful Mas Sant Nicolau, Spain.
Beautiful Mas Sant Nicolau, Spain.
In the field of Mas Sant Nicolau, a paradise of rural holiday cottages near Figueres in northern Spain, I’m allied with six others to move two dusty spider-ridden caravans into a more prime location. One of the girls I’m working with is called Lisa. Her and her boyfriend Tom are on a year long trip from the Netherlands through Spain. Lisa is spiritual, beautiful; elfin. Her and her partner and me and my partner share dinner most nights and we talk about everything from the grotty Midlands city we both remarkably and coincidentally met, the multivitamins we are each taking through to Tom’s hilarious surprise trip to a Hare Krishna temple earlier on their trip. They’re the first other travelling couple we meet and I’ll remember the joys we shared and the crippling laughter we shared, for a long time to come.
 
The other girl in the field is Marlie and I get a strange feeling when I meet her. I sense that she is going to help me through something; I want to tell her everything. Little did I know, less than a year later, I’d be sleeping in her parents’ spare room in a suburb of Vancouver, exploring her hometown and preparing to spend 18 months exploring her country: Canada. Me and Marlie would sit and talk in our host’s home about our lives, relationships, our pasts and our futures. We would work together most days laughing at our language differences, listening to music or reading. We’d explore Barcelona and after my break up, I would follow her travels for 10 days and end up lazing on my first Spanish beach escaping in A Shadow of the Wind. I’d kayak with her off the coast of Dubrovnik and she would listen to me each and every time I bawled.
The kayaks we took out with our guide, Krunoslav, in Dubrovnik
The kayaks we took out with our guide, Krunoslav, in Dubrovnik

Our days by the Spanish coast hiking and talking about relationships would change the way I thought about life and interact with other women for the rest of my life.

“It’s when I came to understand that as travelling women, we’re here for each other.”

As kindred spirits, we better understand each other and we can support each other. It was with this wonderful new friend that I was first comfortable talking about love, about sex, about smashed hopes and dreams, fears and flaws, the influence of our upbringing, and my sense of worth and value. It was during this period that I first saw the light at the end of the tunnel. With Marlie’s encouragement, I’d push myself out of my comfort zone in many ways. After our itineraries took us in different directions, I’d be inspired by her love of hiking and hike to the top of Mount Srđ in Dubrovnik. I’d prove to myself that my fears were conquerable, but I’d learn to never walk without a full bottle of water to hand – a valuable lesson about the human body and results of dehydration. I’d keep in touch with my new Canadian friend at least weekly and she would help me support me as I travelled, to embrace my new scenario, and honour my new found freedom when I returned to England.

“Without her, it’s likely I would’ve never come here and I would’ve missed sitting on this beach and realising how far I’ve come.”

During the months that followed mine and my boyfriend’s breakup, I’d connect with (and rely on) a group of travelling women; my mother who would travel to the ends of the earth for me (and me for her) who flew out to join me in Italy, my first travelling buddy, Grace, with whom I explored Oslo and Copenhagen as an 18 year old, Saskia, a chef from the Netherlands who became an adoptive mother for me, Maud, Lisa, Helen, Marlie, Charlotte, Metka, Mary, Gabrielle, Sarah, Ellen and Hillary.

There were also other women too; women whose names I didn’t catch, women who I met in passing, women whose work I admired, women who I sat next to on planes and trains and who brightened my days. The girl from Hawaii who was also exploring Europe solo with whom I chatted whilst she waited for her tour at Škocjan Caves in Slovenia. Petra, from the Netherlands, who gave up her job in publishing to become a gardener and whose rowing race took me and my partner cycling to the little town of Wormerveer. Petra showed me that an escape from the office is always possible. The two travellers I met in an Airbnb in Ljubljana, one American and one English, who told me about their path and showed me that I could still be doing this when I’m thirty-six, fifty-six or eighty-six. Even the naked lady who left the bathroom door of the Airbnb open and I accidentally walked in on admiring her body in the mirror – thank you all for teaching me something. One girl I met in Ljubljana, I kept in touch with and who, on day two of my trip to Canada, walked me around her city: Vancouver. Despite me being terrible at texting you back – I’m very grateful Mary.

I met a girl educated in a Waldorf school in the Netherlands who, at just 19, was the most independent leader who completely understood herself and what she wanted from life; Charlotte – I loved adventuring with you, including when we accidentally lost the dog, for him to be found a few days later cooped up with a female in the neighbouring hamlet. Charlotte taught me what alternative education could do and we shared so many laughs over homemade pizza with stringy cheese. My Slovenian host, Metka, became my confidant as we folded laundry together and baked a birthday biscuits for her son. Metka offered me nothing but open-mindedness and gracious understanding when I left early to give myself some time alone - I so admire you.
 
My temporary Slovenian family - thank you Celine and Sybille for the photo and for making me laugh as we narrated parts of the home and kitchen in each other’s native tongues.
My temporary Slovenian family - thank you Celine and Sybille for the photo and for making me laugh as we narrated parts of the home and kitchen in each other’s native tongues.

There was Gabrielle, an Aussie I met in France with whom I escaped the chateau we were working at and explored the countryside. Her new home in Domme was where I found the inspiration for my first novel (I’m still working on it!) Sarah and Ellen, the two girls who took me out into town in Portugal despite me having impetigo and consoled me, despite the need to disinfect themselves afterwards. The 5 kilometres we’d walk into Odeciexe and back down a dusty gravel road contained

“...conversations that changed my life, my understanding of life, and made me aware that we all struggle with similar things. We’re all in this together, and a problem shared is often a problem eradicated. ”

Ellen and Sarah on the long and winding path
Ellen and Sarah on the long and winding path

Hillary, who I also met just outside of Odeceixe, has continued to support me as I travel. Thank you for sending me a note to tell me I was gorgeous when my skin condition cleared up (after it knocked my confidence, you helped rebuild it), for sending me a list of things to check out in Toronto, for finding me someone to hang out with when I got to Victoria and for inspiring me with your path – you are wonderful.


Helen, my host at Mas Sant Nicolau, who told me that the first bridge you jump off is the hardest, but that it would make me so much stronger — thank you. Those words shaped me.

“The first bridge you jump off is the hardest, but that it would make you so much stronger.”

I kept in touch with Saskia, a wonderful chef and joyous woman with whom I shared many touching conversations whilst we prepared lunch for guest in the Netherlands. Saskia told me what I didn’t want to hear but was true – my ex boyfriend and I were too different. Without him, you’re right, I’ve done many things I wouldn’t have. I’m so grateful we are still in touch.

Saskia, a friend and the most wonderful Dutch chef
Saskia, a friend and the most wonderful Dutch chef
Don’t get me wrong, there were men who changed it all for me too – Stuart, Tam, Ole, Owen, Caleb; you all left more of an impression on me than I think you know. But to the women – thank you for making me aware that this world is full of strong and independent ladies and we’re all in it together.

The ladies I met taught me not only how to love life, but how to love myself too. I left England in April unsure of who I was, in constant angst about my worth and my body. Through meeting these beautiful women, I learnt that confidence and graciousness is the most beautiful trait in the world. And the glow of living your life to the fullest is the most radiant light you can shine.
Sunning myself after work in Portugal, surrounded by wonderful people - photo taken by Sarah Hayes
Sunning myself after work in Portugal, surrounded by wonderful people - photo taken by Sarah Hayes
The most wonderful and ridiculous girls by the sea in Odeceixe, Portugal
The most wonderful and ridiculous girls by the sea in Odeceixe, Portugal

What I guess I’m trying to get at through this whole letter is that I wouldn’t have met these women had I not travelled;

“travelling puts you in a unique place where unless you cut to the chase and talk deeply with strangers, you’re stuck with superficial conversations about work and the weather.”

Without ripping off the band-aid of home comforts, your wounds won’t ever heal, nor will your new skin grow. Without travel and the incredibly beautiful, open and honest women I met and shared my life with, I wouldn’t be half the person I am now, nor have the knowledge, skills or awareness of how to be better, live better and love better.

Without those women, logistically, I wouldn’t be sat on a beautiful beach in Tofino, laying on a scarf/beach blanket I bought with Gabrielle in France, wearing a maxi dress I bought because Ellen told me I rock the maxis, and with my sandals by my side bought in Lisbon after sharing a weekend with two wonderful girls. Without those women, I wouldn’t be on this west coast beach with a warm heart, with belief in myself and my abilities, and the knowledge that if ever I need to call on someone for advice, I have a network around the world with whom I can do that.

And because of these travelling women, I’m blessed with worldwide, worldly connections who support and share my adventures. I would wholeheartedly recommend travel for everyone, but particularly women. It's incredible how much you can learn through time away from home and with other awesome ladies. My trip to Europe last year gave me a taste of what travel with women can provide you, and gave me the biggest desire to meet and share this wonderful world with even more wonderful women. I’m forever grateful – this is to you! 
 
A beautiful Chesterman Beach at sunset
A beautiful Chesterman Beach at sunset