Travel and Loneliness

On the final night of our trip to Europe last year, Mat and I treated ourselves to dinner at an exquisite little place in Amsterdam called Restaurant Johannes. This visit was the product of some brief TripAdvisor research, an easy online booking form (always welcome in foreign countries) and the financial freedom of having come in well under budget at the close of the trip. The experience was perfect. I’m now convinced that there is no better way to spend the last evening of a great adventure than over a delicious tasting menu and many glasses of good wine. In fact, I am now determined to make a tradition of it.


I realise now that I’ve not been particularly good at ending trips before this. On my first overseas venture, to New Zealand – a great big group of College friends on the back of a great big Jetstar sale – I wasted the last couple of days in a right sour funk. Most all of my friends had dispersed: one half of the group had long since split off northward, whilst the rest of us made ourselves cosy in Queenstown. But even by the end, most of the Queenstown crew had either caught their early flights home or begun the drive back to Christchurch to drop off their Wicked Van in time for the main return flight (in true College kid form, we’d arranged ourselves in quite a hodge-podge of comings and goings). The trip had been amazing. Spending two more days in Queenstown after that big group bubble popped, though, and I suddenly felt such a strong pang of desertion that I really quite ruined my remaining time there. I was that child who turns bitter and gloomy after a friend has been taken home by a parent the morning after a sleepover. 

A year later, my cousin and I finished off an incredible South-East Asia trip with five ‘relaxing’ days in Phuket – or perhaps, more pertinently, in the beach resort town of Patong. It didn’t take very long for me to realise that Patong is so stupendously not my kind of place. This place was a stark contrast to the low-key, local travel we’d been doing for four weeks straight with our wonderful little Intrepid Travel group. I wanted that back. I wanted out. But get out I could not, and so I counted down those five days like a captive waiting release from a veritable tourist trap. Couple that with an unprecedented case of excruciating acid reflux that lasted the entire Phuket stay, and it became an altogether pretty miserable way to cap off the trip. 


It goes on. After two months of travelling Europe for the first time, the sheer emotional exhaustion of solo travel finally got to me. I cut the trip short by a few weeks (though not quite short enough that I wasn’t counting down the days before I could just go home already). I did another month solo in Central America a couple of years later, and almost got it right by meeting up with friends in Anaheim for a YouTube convention and a trip to Disneyland afterward. I had one more long, solo day just waiting around the hotel lobby and LAX to finish with, though, and it felt like torture. Plus, I was pining hard for a guy who hadn’t exactly given me high hopes for the continuation of a budding relationship when I returned.

Lucky for me, that particular bit all turned out in the end. And this brings us back to Amsterdam and an exquisite little place called Restaurant Johannes. 

I think of that night in Amsterdam and my heart lifts with blazing joy. Tucked away off a canal at the foot of The 9 Streets district, Restaurant Johannes was intimate and welcoming, and an absolute delight on a bright, balmy August evening. Mat and I were at the end of a six-week trip and exhausted in the best possible way; Johannes’ wonderful staff took in our tired little bodies and looked after us so well. We surrendered easily to the delicious seven-course menu with wine matching and all the marvellous little surprises in between. It was kind of magical. I wasn’t counting down the hours until I boarded my flight the next day. I was present and content and relaxed. This was how it was meant to feel. This was finally the perfect ending I didn’t even realise I’d been missing out on.


And of course, as it’s become plainly obvious to me in writing this (I swear it wasn’t the way I saw this post going), it was never really about the food. Sure, a fine dining degustation with full wine matching helps. A lot. But I understand now that the feeling that had plagued me at the conclusion of every trip previous is one that is pretty hard to admit: loneliness. By some way or another, it was loneliness that was my downfall. Loneliness! I know myself extraordinarily able to thrive on my own, so it feels like loneliness should be at odds with my travel style. The Solo Female Traveller is meant to wend her way through the world, fierce and fearless and independent. She gets lonely? She just goes out and makes a bunch of new friends!

But perhaps, not quite.

My love of travel has always trumped my fear of loneliness, and I think it always will. And all things considered, it’s certainly never come close to ruining a trip. Sometimes the lonely path is the only way to get out there and see the world. It’s just those damn pesky endings where it really grabs you, I suppose. The profound thing about that Amsterdam evening was the fact that it was shared – and so had the preceding six weeks of adventure across Europe – with a person who trumped even my desire for travel. And what an incredible feeling that is. 

That is the tradition I want to make. 


Creativity and Instagram: Thinking Outside the Square

I feel like I have a creative crisis every five minutes these days. I spend a lot of time theorising how to remain creatively productive and energised around a (not particularly creative) nine-to-five job, and within that how to prioritise competing creative desires. And somehow it all mostly ends up with me not producing much of anything at all. It’s frustrating. I know there’s no great secret in solving this dilemma; I need to be more disciplined, get out of my head and just do stuff


There’s a part of me also realising that a big factor in what holds me back creatively is comparing myself to others. This is a chronic habit of mine and I think perhaps the greatest manifestation of this habit recently has come through Instagram. Now – I adore Instagram and it’s essentially become my go-to for creative expression. I have discovered and connected with loads of amazing people through the platform and it provides me with so much artistic inspiration. I’m honestly blown away by how drop-dead-gorgeous the feeds of some of my favourite Instagrammers are. This year especially, Instagram has really made me want to take better photos and strive toward a feed equally as beautiful. 



Somewhere along the way, however, I think the exact nature of that inspiration warped. Instead of striving to take better photos, I was striving to take photos that looked exactly like popular Instagrammers’. I mean, it’s obvious that there’s a very particular kind of Instagram aesthetic, at least in the kind of food and travel categories I mostly follow. Muted colours awash in natural light, flatlays against pristine white backgrounds, bird’s eye shots of café tabletops that could only ever have been taken whilst standing on a chair, hands thrusting bunches of flowers or ice-cream cones or cold-pressed juices into frame, an endless monotony of marble, and that same goddamn picture of the Bondi Icebergs swimming pool over and over. 

That aesthetic is seductive. Your feed looks clean and fresh and curated. I played into it and people responded. I looked at my feed and it had finally started to look like a pretty, cohesive collection because I’d ruthlessly tried to work this aesthetic into every single photo for a good few months. Instead of feeling like I was fulfilling my inspiration, however, I felt restricted. My Instagram feed looked pretty, yes. But it felt so, so same that it kind of made me sick. It wasn’t me. That aesthetic works for a lot of people, and maybe it comes perfectly naturally to them. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I wasn’t learning to become a better photographer. I was just recreating Instagram’s most likeable photos. 

About two months ago, I knew I had to start doing something different. At the same time I noticed that the picture quality on my iPhone 5 camera seemed to be deteriorating, and so I actually came to an easy decision: I would, at least for the time being, take all of my photos with my DSLR. I want to become a better photographer and this step was suddenly so obvious. iPhone photography is convenient and fun and challenging in its own way, but forcing myself to learn more about using my DSLR and post-processing is what I needed. Doing this provided a surprisingly powerful distance between the act of photo-taking and the Instagram platform itself. It quite literally forced me to start thinking outside of the square again. 



I want to be more conscious in taking photos from a place of inspiration that isn’t Instagram likes. The more I work on that, the more I realise how hard it actually is. Once you get tangled up in that big old mess it’s very difficult to get out. But I feel like I’m on the right track. I’ve always loved taking photos, and getting back to a place of capturing and sharing things that I find beautiful and interesting and happy-making without Instagram being the motivator is a liberating goal. I realise now that this is the only way I’ll ever actually find my own aesthetic. One that is genuine and personal; a natural style that has been explored and refined through experience and skill. 

Even now, just writing this, I know I need to push myself harder to step away from the ugly world of comparison and trust in my own creative style. Not just in Instagram, but in everything. But that is an exciting challenge, and I’m ready for it. 


The photos above are a few I’ve taken with my DSLR over the past two months.

Books and Baking: The Strays by Emily Bitto

“Time and sunshine began to seem endless.”

What a treat to dive straight from one brilliant book into another. Just pages into Emily Bitto’s debut novel, The Strays, I was utterly enraptured. It is a very interesting theme that seems to be transpiring this year indeed – the books that have mesmerised me most have each been first novels penned by emerging women writers. I am sure there must be something meaningful in that!

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The Strays takes place in Melbourne, my beloved home, albeit in the 1930s. A young girl named Lily befriends Eva, who is one of the three daughters of controversial modernist painter Evan Trentham. Very quickly Lily slips into the life of the Trentham family – a life that is a very different to the one she is used to. Their home is big, old and exciting, surrounded by sprawling gardens, orchards and paddocks. Eva and her sisters are left to run wild under the decidedly disinterested eye of their parents, who are rather more livened by the idea of fostering a community of creatives also willing to push the boundaries of conservative Australia. 

Over the course of several years the Trentham home grows, a ramshackle brood of artists and children in which Lily yearns to belong. She is enamoured by and envious of these bohemian characters. It is decades later that we join adult Lily in a recollection of what eventually became the most painful and haunting period of her life. 

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For me, Bitto truly nailed the character of Lily and I couldn’t help but keenly connect to her depiction of childhood friendships. This book makes me remember that intensely peculiar feeling that came with visiting the home of a school friend; seeing another kid’s ordinary life always had an element of the extraordinary to it, even if it wasn’t quite as exotic as the Trenthams’. I recall the strange role of power that friends always took on when playing host, to whom I was suddenly at total behest – and on top of that, bearing a kind of neutral, invisible witness to the parental power structure under their roof. I still feel an embarrassed, awkward pang to remember my childhood self watching on idly as a friend was berated or punished by a parent (sometimes for deeds in which I was also inherently involved!), or on the contrary – seeing a friend talk boldly back to a parent in ways I’d never imagine. 

The 1930s, outer-Melbourne setting also rang strangely similar to the kinds of places I found myself in as a kid who grew up in rural Victoria: big old country houses with plenty of room for mucking about outdoors. It was quite unfamiliar territory, reading a book that indulged both the country kid in me as well as the accustomed Melbournian. Knowing the location and history behind every suburb and street name gave this story such a deeper level of understanding, and it makes me feel rather sheepish to realise I just don’t read a lot of local fiction. After The Strays, I will be making a more pointed effort to do just that. 

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There are many cups of tea in The Strays. There is lots of coffee and wine and whiskey, and several boiled eggs. Not much baking. But somehow, these ‘grasshopper brownies‘ from Smitten Kitchen came to me instantly and I couldn’t shake the idea of pairing them with this book. Back when I was a kid having sleepovers at friends’ houses, one friend’s mother in particular made a sensational peppermint slice that I was practically obsessed with. Whenever it appeared, I ate a lot of it. 

A little childhood excitement pricked in me when I stumbled across Smitten Kitchen’s grasshopper brownie recipe some time ago, because I thought perhaps I’d found my adult answer to that delicious memory. Of course, as these things often go, it remained unbaked in my Bookmarks folder for years.

I was just waiting for the right inspiration, it seems. 

Happy reading, folks – and make sure to let me know what wonderful books have hit your sweet spot lately. x

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