On family holidays, my father transformed himself. Perhaps it was the sunny climate, the change of scene or simply the long-awaited break from work, but almost as soon as the plane landed on the runway, his ordinarily reserved personality was discarded like a winter coat. He became sociable and gregarious. There was a lightness about him as he chatted to strangers on the beach, inviting them to join us for dinner, where he’d entertain them with an endless repertoire of stories and jokes. Two weeks later, clutching a bottle of ouzo as we landed in Heathrow, perhaps he hoped this version of himself might travel home with him. But as he got back to normal life and a busy hospital job, the unopened ouzo was soon pushed to the back of the cupboard to gather dust.
When I left my job as a psychologist and went on a round-the-world trip in search of adventures after a difficult time in my life, maybe I, too, was hoping to become a new person – or, like my father, a different version of myself. I was soon disappointed. It was nerve-racking to land in a strange place and know nobody. Away from the routines of life, the identity of my job and the security of my network of friends and family, I felt lonely and untethered. And, to my horror, despite visiting eye-wateringly beautiful places, I still felt miserable. Somehow, in the flurry of packing for the trip, I’d forgotten that the thing you don’t choose to bring, but can’t leave behind, is yourself. I felt a very long way from home. I missed my friends. What was I thinking?