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How to Escape
By: Rachel Adnyana - Also see author's expat blog listingThe late afternoon sun filters through the palm trees as I walk the dusty path through the rice fields. My little girl holds onto my hand tightly and then skips away, collecting stones and pointing excitedly at a grazing cow. My baby boy sits on my hip and giggles, resting his head on my chest as we walk together.
As the sun begins to set we head towards home with the fragrance of frangipani blossoms and incense lingering in the air. A group of young boys flying a kite call out to my daughter, and she laughs and waves back excitedly. We cross the bridge where our neighbours, scrubbing their clothes in the stream, greet us and ask where we’ve been and where we’re going. A young woman carrying a basket piled high with offerings, on her way to the temple, smiles at us as we turn into the street to our home. This is our life in Bali.
Four years ago, sitting at my work desk drinking coffee and staring out at the concrete through the rain-spattered window, I would never in a million years have guessed my life would have turned out this way.
Back in the UK my life was going nowhere. I was single with no commitments. I had a job I enjoyed, a decent social life and good friends but I felt stuck. I spent all the money I earned on travel – Iceland, Cuba, Japan, Thailand. As soon as I got back from one trip, I started planning the next. I spent my lunch breaks reading travel blogs and evenings scouring cheap ticket websites. I was obsessed with not being here.
Eventually one day I decided I’d had enough. My job was interesting and I worked with some great people but I was feeling uninspired and under-appreciated. I had no boyfriend, no kids, no car and no mortgage – what was keeping me here? I decided to do the big trip I’d been dreaming of all those years and pack up and leave for good.
It’s becoming more popular these days to take a ‘year out’ or a ‘career break’ but I think I knew from the start I wasn’t coming back. As soon as I’d bought my ticket, I started getting rid of all the junk I’d accumulated over the years. I sold a lot on eBay (useful for raising travel funds), gave things away to friends and family and got rid of the rest through Freecycle. It’s amazing what people will take when it’s free – bin bags of cuddly toys, coat hangers, broken electronics. I did keep a few boxes of things I just couldn’t part with (mainly books) at my parents house and now I can barely remember what’s in them – I certainly haven’t missed it!
I think it’s so important to try and get rid of most of your worldly possessions if you’re planning on moving to a new country. I know people who’ve moved to the other side of the world and shipped over the entire contents of their house with them. I have to wonder – what’s the point? It is rather difficult to make a fresh start in a new place with all that stuff dragging you down.
My trip was planned about six months in advance which gave me enough time to save some money to ensure that I wouldn’t need to work for a while. If you have a job with a half decent salary and no debt, it’s pretty easy to cut back on non-essentials and start saving. In the months running up to my leaving date I stopped buying luxuries, moved back in with my mother and made sure to bring a packed lunch and my own coffee to work. Penny pinching is no fun but when it’s for a limited time and you have a goal in mind, it’s much easier. If you have other monetary commitments or a not-so-great salary, you will just need to save for longer – planning is the key.
I left the UK on a chilly October afternoon with one small backpack and a RTW plane ticket in hand. The woman checking in my multiple destinations at the Virgin Airlines desk exclaimed “Ooh, Kathmandu – where’s that? I thought that was an imaginary place!” Boarding the plane, I settled back into my seat and tried to decide if I was feeling more excited or terrified. First stop – Delhi!
All the guide books say DON’T start in India, the idea being that you should ease yourself into travelling with something a little culturally closer to home – perhaps Australia or the USA. I say, screw that! Start with India! There’s nothing like throwing yourself in at the deep end. With no choice, you either learn to swim pretty fast or you drown spectacularly.
My first morning in Delhi, I woke early and headed out alone for a day of exploring. The streets were dusty and chaotic; humid air mingled with the aroma of spices, traffic fumes and something rotting. I caught an auto-rickshaw to the Red Fort and tried not to close my eyes as we sped through the traffic with several near misses. The absurdity of the situation meant that I just couldn’t be scared about where I was – I sat back and watched the sheer craziness of Delhi and just laughed to myself. Only 48 hours earlier I’d been sitting in my office in the UK sorting through my emails and here I was, alone, dodging traffic in India!
My travels were to take me through some amazing places and unrepeatable experiences. I camped overnight on the banks of the Ganges River and sailed into Varanasi in time to see a million fireworks exploding in the sky for Diwali. I hiked up mountains in Nepal adorned with fluttering prayer flags and a sprinkling of snow. I lounged on white sand beaches in Thailand and spent lazy days watching boats float by on the Mekong River in Laos.
All this time I kept my friends and family updated on my adventures via my blog and Facebook. I received so many similar comments – “You’re so lucky! I wish I could do what you’re doing!”. To which I thought, “Why can’t you?”. There was nothing special about my situation except that I’d actually taken the plunge instead of sitting around and wishing I was somewhere else.
It’s very easy to lose yourself in other people’s lives, especially in today’s world of blogs and Pinterest. But really there is so little stopping anyone from starting a new, more exciting life for themselves. Quit your job. Sell your house. Give away your stuff. Go.
I was lucky that the area I worked in (web design and development) transitioned easily to working remotely and that I’d already been freelancing on the side for a while, but there are so many opportunities for working online these days, anyone can find a way to work on the road. Writing, coding, graphics, proofreading, consulting, blogging and many more possibilities exist for those who are willing to think outside the box. Take a moment to think about your current career and where you’re heading – is it really benefitting you in the long-term or are you making somebody else rich while trading your precious time for a monthly pay cheque that gets frittered away? Do you really spend as much time as you’d like with your family and doing the things that interest you or do you wish your life away waiting for the weekend?
Children admittedly complicate matters but there’s no need to give up on your dreams just because you’ve become a parent. Here in Bali I’ve met many families with children ranging from babies to teenagers who have travelled the world together or just decided that here was a better place to raise their children and live their lives together. These well-travelled children are polite, well adjusted, confident and in most cases have learned way more from their explorations of other countries and cultures than they would have done staying at home and going to school every day.
Travelling gave me confidence, insight into other cultures and opened my eyes to new opportunities but it wasn’t until I arrived in Bali that my life would change forever. Bali was a mere afterthought on my itinerary – I had some vague visions of flower-petal-infused baths and tropical sunsets. I thought it would make a nice stop-off for a couple of weeks as my last destination in Asia. I’d applied for a working holiday visa for New Zealand and was preparing for ending my backpacking lifestyle and making some money to replenish my rapidly dwindling funds.
When I first came to Bali, it was definitely not love at first sight. I arrived in Kuta (also known as Hell) in the middle of a tropical storm and spent three days holed up in a depressing mosquito-infested room. The wind whipped sand into my face as I walked the deserted beach and I was constantly followed by crowds of persistent hawkers, trying to persuade me to buy an overpriced bracelet or agree to a sandy massage.
I hated it so much I nearly changed my flights to fly to Australia early, but instead I decided to catch a bus to a little village called Ubud. Miles away from the beaches and drunken tourists, this tiny town consisting of only a few streets was known as the cultural and artistic heart of Bali. Ubud was like a breath of fresh air and I felt right at home. Needless to say, my desperation to leave Bali evaporated after only a few hours of exploring the streets, drinking coffee on my porch and watching the rice fields sway in the breeze.
In fact, later I did end up changing my flights, but not to leave earlier – I met my husband-to-be on my second day in Ubud and eventually decided to extend my stay to the maximum my visa would allow. After a brief visit to Australia to obtain a longer visa and visit my mother, who was embarking on her own travels, I returned to Bali and never left. The rest, as they say, is history.
It’s not all sunsets and coconut cocktails living in Bali. A million things annoy me about living in Indonesia every day. Multi-cultural relationships are hard. Learning two new unfamiliar languages is hard. Raising two children under the age of two when your own mother is 8,000 miles away is hard. Living with your parents-in-law is challenging at the best of times. The culture and religion of Bali, so fascinating and magical for outsiders to observe is confusing, frustrating and a lot of hard work when you are right in the middle of it (though still magical and fascinating).
But despite all the annoyances (and I have been known to have a rant or two during my time here!), I wouldn’t change my life here for anything. Four years ago I knew nothing about Bali. Now, four years, one marriage and two children later, Bali is my life.
About the author:Rachel traded in her corporate life in the UK for a new life among the palm trees and rice fields of Bali. She married a local and now has two young children who help her to appreciate the magic of Bali through their eyes in a new way every day. She blogs about parenting, culture and their everyday adventures.
Blog address: http://www.howtoescape.co.uk Twitter: @deletia
Contest Comments » There are 11 comments
Margaret Postance wrote 10 years ago:
An amazing lifestyle, with so much change and challenge - but you have risen to and above all, and continually love and learn from your new experiences. Continue to be happy.
Lucy Rider wrote 10 years ago:
A well written and honest view of a new life in a very different country and culture. It sounds magical and beautiful with a few flecks of reality mixed in. An inspiring piece for anyone who is thinking about taking time out of work to travel.
Anne wrote 10 years ago:
A wonderful before and after story! I am sitting here in a cold, wet, windy England and you have brought colour, life, scents and flavours to enjoy. All good wishes come to you and your family! May the magic continue.......
Mimi Finerty wrote 10 years ago:
What a great article. Your writing is really compelling and your story is fantastic. I did the same - I was in England not enjoying life and thought why am I still here when I can easily leave. I didnt quite go as far as you - me and my boyfriend moved to Cyprus - but it was one of the best things we ever decided to embark upon and while we have those days where the culture clash gets too much, when I think of the alternative (the UK) I come back to earth and realise how lucky I am.
Andy Birtwistle wrote 10 years ago:
Well as her father I suppose I could be accused of bias but she does write really well and it is all true.Sitting here on a cold dreary November day it's easy to wish for a better life but to actually take that leap of faith is a brave move!It's not all plain sailing and for me it's a long way to visit and see her and the grandchildren but what a place to have to go to!
Sue Birtwistle wrote 10 years ago:
Well Rachel, a nudge to all faint- hearted armchair- travellers and a glimpse of the possibilities for change! You write so honestly and well, it is hard not to admire your achievements and to want to keep reading about your experiences.There's an inspiring book waiting to be written to show all those dreamers that life is what you make it!
Tony Child wrote 10 years ago:
Excellent story. I think what you did was very brave and an inspiration to the "stuck-in -a -job" folk who could change everything.
Lindsay wrote 10 years ago:
Thoroughly enjoyed your post - heading to check out your blog now :-)
Gemma Marjaya wrote 10 years ago:
As someone who also took the plunge and moved to Indonesia 15 years ago I can relate to your story totally, especially the "lucky you" comments. There was no luck involved and it has been hard work.It is not the paradise people think it is but I would not wish to be anywhere else!
Karen wrote 10 years ago:
Nice read Rachel. And well done making a life for yourself in Bali. A dream for many but much harder to do in reality.
Leigh wrote 10 years ago:
Great reading Rachel, I can definately relate to most of that !