This blog was primarily about keeping my friends back home up to date, so I never really wrote much about myself as a person and how I got here. However, I have readers who don’t know me, which I still find incredible, so here’s a bit about me.
How did I become Helen The Bristolian Backpacker?
As the name suggests, I’m originally from the wonderful town of Bristol, located in the south west of England. I headed to the University of Worcester where I graduated in 2011 with a degree in Drama & Sociology. Did I know what I wanted to do with that degree? No way. Do I know what I want to do now? No way.
I graduated and worked in my Students’ Union for a year which was great. I had always been keen to travel or work abroad, and after that year it would have been an ideal time to do it. However, I was in a long-term relationship and my boyfriend got a job in London, so I moved with him and found myself a theatre-based job.
My time in London changed me as a person in so many ways. I broke up from my relationship, did a couple of jobs and some volunteering but stuck in the theatre, got promoted and really found my independence. I went from hating London to loving it. So many months I was broke and thought, what am I actually doing with my life? However, I cannot lie that those two years were incredible and I wouldn’t change them for the world.
Every year on December 23rd, my friends and I in Bristol have an annual Christmas meet up. We drink, catch up and have a general night of merriment. It was on this particular night in 2013, when I was very drunk, that I met Mitch.
After a drunken conversation, we established that I lived in London and he lived in Oman (a country I later had to google because I had no idea where it was). It was clearly never going to work. However, we met up in London before he flew back to Oman and we really hit it off. Mitch was so interesting to me because he’d literally done the thing I’d always thought about doing; going away and living, teaching, experiencing another country.
Two things happened at the same time over the next couple of months: Firstly, Mitch and I spoke a lot via Facebook/Skype etc, secondly, I started reading ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’ Hearing about Mitch’s travel adventures, plus reading about this woman who just dropped everything in her life and travelled inspired me to look into doing something similar, travelling, working, exploring.
Up until then, my travelling had been limited to family holidays and a party holiday in Corfu with my friends. I saw some great places and had great times but knew there was something more to see.
Mitch had two weeks off at Easter so we both booked flights to meet in Istanbul. Effectively, it was a 5-day-date to see how we felt about each other in person, rather than via e-mails.
The flight to Istanbul was the fist time I’d ever been on a plane on my own. It was thrilling, scary, and exciting. Mitch and I met at the airport and I had my first experience of staying in a hostel.
It wasn’t long into the trip before we both realised how crazy we were about each other. Mitch’s contract in Oman finished in June and he told me he wanted to bugger off to South East Asia and do some travelling. He then asked me if I’d like to go with him.
Naturally, I said I’d have to think about it. Leaving my wonderful life in London to travel with a guy I hadn’t known long was a big deal. When I got back to my flat after returning from Istanbul, I walked into my kitchen to make a cup of tea. I looked around and realised that as much as I loved it here, I need to go now. I could spend another two or three years making tea in that kitchen, working my way up at the theatre (and I really did enjoy my job), but if I didn’t go then, would I ever?
Mitch had continued his Easter break by going to Egypt. Through some awful Skype connections two things happened: Firstly, we decided that 5000 miles wont keep us from being a couple, secondly, that I would join him on his travels in the summer.
Despite only being two months until his return, my new-found travelling excitement encouraged me to book a flight to Oman. Two months previously I’d never flown on my own, next I was flying 10 hours on my own to a country I had never even heard of six months ago – Yes, my mother was worried.
It was phenomenal. Click here to read about my trip to Oman. During my time there Mitch and I booked our flights to Vietnam: August 7th.
I went back to London and handed in my notice, finishing my job near the end of July in order to head off to Vietnam in August. We had a one-way ticket, some saved up money and wanted to do some work along the way.
Mitch returned to England the end of June and then the countdown was on until we left. Not long after he got back, Mitch complained that his eye seemed a bit funny and his vision was a bit odd, I told him to go to the opticians before we left, just to make sure everything was okay.
It turned out that he has retinal detachment. Basically, the retina (which attaches the eye to the brain) was detaching, therefore he was going blind in his left eye, he was booked in for surgery as soon as possible.
There were no complications with the operation but we wouldn’t know the results until a couple of weeks later. I remember the day vividly. I was in Brighton visiting a friend and nervously awaiting a call from him. After not hearing from him for a few hours I wasn’t feeling optimistic. I called him and my fears came true: The operation wasn’t successful, he would need another, and this would postpone being able to fly for a longer amount of time.
By this point, I’d left my job, my dad was driving up to London the next day to move the rest of my stuff back to Bristol, and the flight was booked for about 9 days time.
(And I hardly ever swear).
I immediately I decided I wasn’t going. This was a trip we’d planned and booked together, it was Mitch’s idea really, he invited me along. I would move back to Bristol, get a job there and we’d go when Mitch was better. Not an ideal situation but I wasn’t going to leave my boyfriend before surgery, especially after waiting seven monthly to finally be in the same country.
I came back to Bristol, back with my parents after being away for six years and immediately wanted to leave. I sat in my living room, unemployed and missing my favourite place (London), and felt so miserable.
The next day I tried to be positive; updated my CV and started looking for jobs. I met Mitch in town and he asked me, if I could do anything right now, what would I do? I had a flight booked and adequate amount of money in my bank, no ties to a job or flat. It was a good question. I said I didn’t know but I didn’t want to be in Bristol.
He told me to go. He’d been saying this all along but I never really listened and thought logically about it all. The flight was booked, if I went and found I didn’t like it or couldn’t cope on my own, I could just fly home, right?
He reminded me of the brilliant Mark Twain quote:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Discover. Dream.”
I thought about it all afternoon and by the end of the day I thought: I need to go. I would regret it if I didn’t, I’d regret not trying. Of course, by this point, the flight was a week away and I had nothing organised. So I had one week of madness to sort myself out, but I did it.
A week later I was on my flight to Vietnam. I stayed in South East Asia for two and a half months before heading home via Amsterdam where I met Mitch (who still couldn’t fly but got the megabus instead). It was incredible. I am so glad I went on my own, I found out so much about myself.
I worked back in Bristol over Christmas and Mitch and I headed off to Eastern/Central Europe in January. We’re now back home with the next adventure awaiting (it’s going to be China but shhhh, it’s not all confirmed yet so I can’t talk about it).
So that’s how Helen The Bristolian Backpacker came about. I have no regrets for leaving my job and seeing the world, I feel so happy and free when I’m travelling, and have learnt much about the world we live in.