I honestly can’t pinpoint exactly when I actually decided to move 18,764 km away from the only home I’d ever known, all on my own.
I was the ripe old age of 19, and not really enjoying my architecture degree. My grades were pretty good, but I remember being frustrated at only learning from books and idealistically thinking ‘how on earth am I supposed to create these amazing spaces if I’ve never actually experienced them?’
I guess looking back that it was just something in my soul that felt right, so right that I announced to all and sundry that I’d be packing my bags, letting my tenancy agreement expire, moving back in with my family and working as hard as I could for year, or until I’d saved up enough to book my flights (and qualify for the visa) – which ever came first. That way, I’d be able to see more of the world, experience some of the most amazing buildings in the world and perhaps get experience working with ancient buildings.
Perfecting the blogger pose a decade before it was a thing…
Running a gamut of research, I soon realised that as I missed out on an ancestry visa by a generation (my parents Grandparents were British) and I didn’t have the right qualifications to apply for a sponsored visa, I had to select a Working Holidaymakers visa – although at that time you were only allowed to work for one year of the two years you were allowed in the country*.
I interviewed for a pretty basic job in a sleepy town where everyone knew my family, somewhat surprising the interviewer by replying to her query of ‘what are your career aspirations within the company’ with “oh, I just want as many hours as you can give me for about a year – I’m disappearing off to England.” She was surprised, but luckily for me simply nodded and said ‘Huh, fair play to you. When can you start?’
Somehow managing to get a 45+ hour roster, and then working a day and a half a week in a second job in a nearby restaurant, with my first pay check I bought a beautiful map of the world, hung it on my wall and measured the distance from New Zealand to London on a long piece of wood. I calculated how much I’d need to save, how long I thought it would take to me to save that up, and marked out the same number of sections on my piece of wood, keeping a marker nearby to colour in every time I caught up to a goal. The name of the game was keep an eye on the prize from the moment I woke up in the morning, to falling asleep at the end of the day.
I can’t tell you how many lunchtime hours I poured over travel guides, devoured tales and daydreamed about balmy evenings on European balconies, a glass of wine in hand. If anyone even mentioned travelling, I would stop them in their tracks, insisting that they tell me every single detail, right down to the sunburns they would end up with and what tacky souvenirs they would bring home. The best advice I was given was to stop in Singapore – as a first time solo female it’s a nice taster of Asia without being too ‘authentic’ whilst on my own.
Booking Flights & A Hostel
Eventually I hit my savings target – almost – and began painstakingly researching flights. I plunked myself down in a travel agent’s chair, and we nutted out the best return fare I could get, and I slid out my debit card with an excited shake of the hand. We booked a popular antipodean hostel for the first week I was in London, assuming (wrongly) that I’d be able to find a flat pretty quickly.
Telling Your Family
This is quite an important step. They obviously all knew what my end goal was, but somehow I managed to forget to tell my nearest and dearest the date that I’d be flying the nest, or even that I’d booked the flights. I remember standing one late afternoon in my Dad’s kitchen, right next to his calendar, when the subject of travelling came up. ‘Um, Em, are you saving enough to go to England then?’ I turned to him in surprise, and exclaim ‘erm, I’ve actually booked the flights. Did I not tell you?’
Planning to fly out just after my 20th birthday, we threw a triple party – a joint birthday for my sister and I (the first in over a decade) and a going away shebang that left us with high spirits and surprisingly mild hangovers. Many of my nearest and dearest attended, new friends, old friends and those self same people that I had been terrorising for travel tales for nearly a year.
This was almost the hardest step. How on earth do you condense your life into 76cm (30 inches) by 48cm (19 inches), and a soft carry-on bag? Having never done it before, I must have repacked a thousand times, got rid of a fair amount to charity, second guessed every remaining item and then sat on it to finally do the zip up.
Not changing my mind – that was never going to happen – but literally leaving copies of all my important documents offline with family, and online in secure email accounts, as well as a paper copy that folded into my carry on bag.
This was it. The moment I’d been waiting for – and I managed to mix up the take off time. Somehow I misread the (copied in triplicate) airplane tickets that said my flight left at 23:00, not 11:00, and we rocked up at Auckland airport, only to be laughed at (fairly) by the airline staff. We wandered off, had lunch, saw friends who worked nearby and then re-queued for the most exciting journey of my life.
10 days exploring Singapore was a revelation – and hilariously turned out to be the home of one of my many cousins, settling into life in England definitely had highs and lows, but a decade on I still love it as much as I ever did. I might do another post at some point, with a few musings on settling into life in London. Perhaps. What it did teach me was that anything is possible with a little hard work, and a lot of luck (I landed a job within a week of landing, and sub-let a flat within a couple of months.)
And that is my tale, of how I decided to change my life. And what not to do when moving to the other side of the world…
* So most people just worked cash in hand for a year, entirely bypassing HMRC and a host of laws in favour of having enough money to survive the full two years allowed in the UK.