Alice Gilderdale (with extracts from her diary)
In 2016-17, I spent a year travelling. It was an amazing year of wandering around, asking questions and a lot of the time feeling a little lost. It was the biggest adventure I’ve ever had. However, it was the little things that mattered to me: it was the conversations we had around a fire, or the people I met on a bus. These are the things that stick in my mind. This is something, I learned, that can be found wherever you are – coming home made me realise this. I wanted to write about my travels, not as a blog or as a story, but maybe as a way to put together some of these small, funny, scary, sad, innocent moments, photos and diary entries… moments where I learnt a little. A story of the moments that make me want to continue travelling, continue searching for these memories, no matter where I am.
‘A little smile shared before chin tucking into soft blankets’
A lot of my travels were defined by the landscapes I travelled in. I would spend long days on buses or walking through winding streets. Never really sure where I was heading, but knowing I would find a companion or a beautiful moment along the way.
‘Always aiming highest, as that’s where the most beautiful view is found, where the emotions will drain away like rivers flowing below you’
Every new journey was an adventure, not just a way to move from place to place. I remember sitting in a car with my best friend Rabia, and during the last two hours of an 8-hour journey we kept our spirits high by shouting out all the Taylor Swift lyrics to the songs we used to sing in year 8. It was these kinds of sugar rushes we revelled in – thrills that came from letting your hair fly as you shoved our head out of the window, singing at the top of your voice, your heart beating so fast with the biggest of smiles spread across your face.
‘Thank you for the silent evening, sat by the lighthouse. For the delighted dancing to lively music.’
It was about feeling truly unconnected from the world around me, finding happiness in tripping from stone to stone, but feeling grounded by my beautiful surroundings. I could sit and watch the clouds pass by the mountains for hours. Their smokey beauty snaking around trees and mountains, majestically reminding me of my insignificance.
‘Look up towards the mist, shrouding the shoulders of these beautiful giants, the moon’s threads tangling and resting on high rocks and streams. Don’t look only at your small grasping hands, your cold feet, but up, up towards the beautiful heights of moonshine and winking stars’
As a female traveller, a solo traveller, I delighted in my successes (and at just generally surviving). How I could steal all the blankets for myself when my roommate continued their travels, or when I managed to eat 6 bananas for breakfast. When I swapped clothes, addresses, stories with other people I met, I realised I was happy and doing well. I met another friend and we travelled up to the mountains. We were totally unprepared and didn’t have enough clothes for the freezing temperatures. But we would smoke beedis and drink cup after cup of boiling sugary chai to keep us warm.
These were times when people and places rushed by: we would gulp down scorching hot chai to run to catch our bus, but also times when I would sit in the Mona Lisa cafe with a book for hours because it was too hot to move. Every experience would be shrouded with excitement. I remember arriving in a new city in the middle of the night, to wake up the next morning and realising I was surrounded by the most beautiful mountains and colours I’d ever seen. The next evening I spent half an hour locked in an empty hostel room because I’d crept in to use their fancy toilet (we found a scorpion in ours). The next week I would be sitting with a haphazard group of people from the UK, up early to watch the live BBC broadcast of the 2017 general election results.
‘My feet are permanently dirty. I am so happy’
But there were times when I had to stop to think. To listen and to find my centre. Too much running around would make me dizzy. I found a spot, a cafe, a room for a month and settled.
‘I have fallen in love with my candle-lit room, the white painted walls and the blue floor tiles which I scrubbed clean. The breeze blows in through the windows and makes the candles flicker… I have decorated it with plants and colourful sheets from the market’
It was here that I came to appreciate that what sustained me during my time away was the wonderful people I met. I had a friend who would carry me over his shoulders, clutching onto each other as he ran down the street. Sarah and I sat on empty beaches at midnight when she came to visit me whilst I worked as an au pair in Barcelona. We would then dash to catch the 4am bus back home. People shared and gave me energy.
‘Natasha was amazing. She walked around in her Doc Martens with her headphones blaring Russian drum and bass music. We would sit in the Mona Lisa together and drink coke. One day she came in and declared she thought she was going to die. The next day she left her boots in a boat on the other side of the Ganga. We all walked barefoot.’
Being with such happy, alive people would energise me and inspire me. And it was the people I met who taught me my most precious lessons. It was storytelling.
‘We have met in the middle. A cross-road beneath the stars’
Travelling for me was a series of heartbreaks. But sometimes you break your heart in the right way. To me, it showed that I truly cared about the people I spent my hours with, and the places I called my home. It was just as much part of me proving to myself that I could feel something, to really connect to people in ways I never thought I could. I wrote in my diary one day that …
‘life can work little tricks on your heart’
… and I guess that’s true wherever I am and whoever I am lucky enough to be with.
Being a traveller on my own, was liberating and freeing in so many ways. For me it was being generous, and hoping others would be generous in return. It strengthened my endless faith in humanity. It was throwing up all night from food poisoning and knowing someone will be there to help you out. Even if I haven’t met them yet.
I learned how to follow the stars, I made copies of maps in my diary from old tourist guides I found in cafes. I always took the latest flights or buses and arrived tired in cold, unknown airports. There were no plans, and a total disregard of formalities. I forgot which was day or night, and would rush into the rain on warm afternoons to smell the hot pavements. But just because I’m home doesn’t mean this has to stop. I’m still travelling, with every new conversation, every new friend.
‘Tomorrow will never come if we keep inside this spiralling dance’
‘The stars would map themselves over our thick blankets. Shining brightly through our patchwork sky. Now drops of starlit rain stain my face as I sleep’