Are you a fan of reflecting on the year gone by? Personally I find that casting my mind back is really valuable, and helps me to refocus, with renewed purpose, on the year ahead.
This year I’m all about the positives. For me, 2018 has been a significantly better year than the previous four, which involved an awful bus crash in South Africa, giving up my business to recover and, in 2017, unsuccessful fertility treatment. While it’s not been a year of momentous change, I’ve been steadily getting back to my old self, regaining confidence and contacts work-wise, embarking on a series of very enjoyable and waistline-expanding culinary capers around Norfolk, being more socially active and, most importantly, rekindling my enthusiasm for European travel.
So this new year I’m raising a glass to wellbeing, work-life balance, maintaining positive momentum and taking steps towards bigger life goals.
Here’s three of my travel-related reflections on the last twelve months.
1. Facing fear and phobia
Five years ago on New Year’s Eve I was in hospital in South Africa, counting my blessings to be alive after our tour bus overturned on a mountain pass near Kruger National Park and rolled several times down a hillside.
Up until relatively recently the thought of getting a bus into a mountainous region, knowing it was going to get dark before we returned, would have struck fear into my heart. But last month, during a visit to Munich with a friend, I bit the bullet and booked a bus trip to Neuschwanstein castle in the Bavarian Alps.
I was still very anxious – researching the railway options the night before in case I bottled it – but tried to keep in mind the strategies from my PTSD therapy, such as not continually watching the traffic through the windscreen (a counter-productive habit I’d developed after the accident). The member of staff in the tourist information bureau also helped by proclaiming loudly: “We have never had any accidents!”, which may have provoked unease among the waiting queue but was exactly what I needed to hear.
The fear was far worse than the journey itself. In fact, almost as soon as I was on board, I felt in control and knew it would be ok. I can’t say I was happy on the way back, in the dark and the rain, but I was able to keep calm and overall was very glad we’d done this fabulous excursion.
My experience of PTSD and phobia has taught me that there are no ‘breakthroughs’. It’s not a case of conquering your fears, getting back on the horse (such a hateful expression), and then ta-dah, you’re better. After all, your perception and awareness of risk has been altered, possibly forever, and with good reason. You have good journeys and bad journeys, but it’s about learning what you can (and want to) manage.
I think my anxiety is triggered by certain physical features or sensations that remind my brain of the accident, such as sharp breaking. It’s clearly not buses, hills or rain per se, otherwise I would have had a worse time on the Bavarian trip. When we turned up at the meeting point and saw coaches, I immediately felt more confident because I’d been fearing a smaller bus. Then, as we took our seats, I felt an emotional jolt as a minibus pulled up alongside, with a large sunroof similar to the one that had ended up providing our escape route in the accident. I’m certain the trip wouldn’t have gone so smoothly if we were in that bus.
Of course, fearing and avoiding a specific set of circumstances is (mostly) irrational – and cognitive behaviour therapy helps you to address this. But it can also be useful to tap into your new way of thinking. My therapist had said to me, in her very practical manner, “But if you crash in Norwich, you’re unlikely to roll down a hillside,” and, as ridiculous as it sounds, that simple fact instantly reduced my travel anxiety in cities. Even today, if I’m anxious as a passenger, I tell myself: it’s ok if we crash, because it won’t be as bad as before. Quite possibly untrue, but who cares, it works for me.
But I will concede that the mountainous coach trip was an achievement. Oh, and Neuschwanstein is definitely worth a visit!
2. City breaks are go
As you’ve probably gathered from the above, far-flung adventure travel isn’t on my radar anymore but I’m pleased to say my appetite for European travel has returned, in particular for the mighty city break. And in 2018 I made up for lost time. Yay!
My cousin and I ventured off to Prague in April and really enjoyed our two full days, which was ample time to get a good feel for the city. It’s ideal if you’re thinking of a spring getaway.
Palma de Mallorca
I love Palma. Under two and a half hours from airports in the South East of England, it has something for everyone. It’s a great choice for a varied city break with a good climate and beaches to boot. You can find a list of hotels on Booking.com here*.
I’d been to Barcelona* once before in my twenties but for some reason don’t have much recollection of it, apart from a grotty hotel on Las Ramblas. So it was good to return and see the sights properly, staying with friends in the nearby town of Molins de Rei. Make sure you take a walk down Passeig de Gracia, one of the central boulevards lined with vibrant restaurants, shops and unmistakable Gaudi architecture.
I used to go to Munich regularly on business and had always intended to return for a leisure trip. It certainly lived up to expectations. Such a captivating city with sights of interest on every corner, and what better time to enjoy its charm than in December with the Christmas markets and Bavarian winter in full swing.
3. Reminiscing without sadness
I am very fortunate to have done more than my fair share of globetrotting prior to my accident in South Africa (including a great trip to that very country). It had become part of my life, and realising that it wouldn’t be in the future – at least not to such an extent – provoked a profound sense of loss that was far harder to recover from than the physical injuries, in my case.
What I found especially difficult was that my heightened sense of danger tainted previously cherished memories of travel.
When I looked back, I could see nothing but perilous journeys, reckless risk-taking and naivety. Swerving around gravelly hillsides in minibuses in Cusco, Peru; an overnight bus from Cusco to La Paz in Bolivia, infamous for its appalling safety record; our tuk-tuk driver in Delhi announcing his brakes didn’t work properly as we lurched towards a chaotic highway; a rollercoaster of a flight over Botswana’s Okavango Delta in a tiny plane. In retrospect everything seemed fraught with danger, which – frankly – it probably was.
But I’d had the time of my life on these trips.
Just before my South Africa holiday I’d intended to buy a wall map to highlight the countries I’d visited and my routes. Nothing was further from my mind for the next couple of years; I didn’t want a visual reminder of what I felt I could no longer do.
In 2018 I began to feel differently. I have gradually proven to myself that I can still travel, albeit cautiously, and on a less adventurous scale than before. I can’t imagine wanting to do bus trips in developing countries, and that’s fine. As long as I can manage ‘normal’ holidays, even if it means avoiding long bus transfers from airports, I’m happy with that.
So to celebrate, I took the plunge and bought a gigantic, pinboard-style world map from the superb Maps International* that now dominates an entire wall of my kitchen! I love it, and it was a real joy to reminisce while I pinned my trips, looking up itineraries and thinking back to all the good times.
I have a feeling 2019 will bring more travel escapades and who knows, maybe some more pins on the map. Scandinavia is calling! By train, of course.
Whatever your plans for this year, near or far, I hope they come to fruition and bring you happiness.
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The places where you went to are on my list too! Thank you for sharing your story of bravery!
I loved your realistic but positive story of life after trauma, and how you’ve woven the story in with some attractive places to visit in Europe. Great photographs too, especially Munich (and what a very neat kitchen you have, nothing like mine!)
Thank you! Munich was superb – definitely recommend. (Ha, the kitchen is not always that neat…!)