In February 2013, I boarded a plane to Moscow, and then boarded a train to Beijing.
Call me clichéd but… Life was never the same again.
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I’ve had an interesting upbringing in that, for 21 of my 23 years, I’ve grown up living in a pub. My parents are your through-and-through landlord and landlady – extremely sociable, outgoing, but above all, business minded individuals who know how to run things and make money. All whilst making a lovely home for my two sisters (both older) and I.
It was through working in the pub that I found my first “real” job – that is, an adult, fully grown up, now-you-have-a-salary-you-can-pay-us-rent kind of job – working for a local recruitment company. It wasn’t easy but, in my naivety, I didn’t realise that cold calling wasn’t fun, I was happily lapping up the jobs no one else wanted to do; that making 200 phone calls a day is a lot, BUT…. Lo and behold, as it turned out, I was good at it.
Really, really good at it. If I do say so myself.
Working as a recruitment consultant is a brilliant job – I really mean that. But what no one really tells you is that it is damn tough after a while. Hugely salesy, incredibly fast-paced – blink-and-the-candidate-has-a-job-elsewhere type stuff – and, all in all, pretty soul-destroying in honesty. You can do every single thing in your power to prep someone for their interview the next day, down to helping them pick out a tie because you know your client’s favourite colour is purple; you can put 110% into that Power Point presentation, only for the business you’re tendering for to be told a big fat “no” to the budget from their Financial Director. The problem with recruitment is, no matter how good you are at your end of things, you’re every day battling against hundreds of miscellaneous variables.
After two years with the company I was doing well, but I was knackered. Like, properly knackered. I felt about 90, rather than my modest 19 years. I’d had enough – but what did I want to do? Absolutely no idea. But what I did know is that the idea of interviewing for other jobs – jobs that I had nothing to compare to, jobs that could be more tiring than this one – terrified me. Better the devil you know, right?
I am the classic traveler: I am the one who ran away.
I didn’t want to face the real world. I didn’t want to fall into another job for another two years for another company to make more money to spend on more things… So I looked at a map and started to plan a trip. I wrote down a list of any and all random places that sprung to mind, near and far, that took my fancy at all. I had rarely left the village that I lived in – all of my friends were here, thanks to my parent’s pub, my office was here, my whole life was in Twyford. So no one really believed me when I told them I was flying to Russia to take the Tran Siberian express, all the way to China. I didn’t really believe me either (but my bank account did).
I knew nothing about travelling, backpacking, anything other than nice holidays to Spain, but I learnt fast. I flew into Moscow in the dead of Winter and never looked back…
Okay, that’s a lie. Not only did I look back, I actually came back. After 7 months of lounging on the beaches of Thailand, heli-hiking glaciers in New Zealand, snorkeling with whale sharks in the Philippines and eating THE BEST FOOD EVER in China, I returned to England. To my little village, to the same job with the same company, people and stresses. I was made an monetary offer I couldn’t refuse and, in the ensuing year, became hugely successful and made loads of cash and swanned around London like the high-flying young professional I thought I was and had loads of pals all over the place and was COMPLETELY UNHAPPY.
In June 2014 I lost my beautiful Nanny to cancer and, a couple of weeks later, quit my job on the Wednesday, packed up my desk that Friday and left the country the following Monday. It was quick, unexpected, devastating; it taught me to live every moment as if it is your last, even the tough ones, and take whatever good you can out of every situation. It gave me the kick I needed to stop living-to-work, and to see the parts of the world I’d missed the first time round. My trip the previous year had opened my mind to the planet; I’d never seen poverty before, not really, until my tuk-tuk driver in Cambodia, invited me in for dinner and we sat on the floor of his mud house. I didn’t appreciate how much hard work goes into cultivating the thousands of packets of rice on our shelves in Tesco, from the old ladies irrigating the paddies to the young boys pulling the mills in the factories in Vietnam. I didn’t realise how unaware the Chinese are of the outside world, until I went in.
I’ve been travelling since then, but I’ve visited home along the way. I travelled to 20 new countries in the first 12 months; I have no plans to settle down any time soon. My parents, family, friends often ask, “When are you going to rejoin the real world Joanne Suter?” The truth is, I’ve decided to make this my real world, rather than settling for the 9-to-5, marriage-mortgage-kids reality that most of us adhere to.
I am going to read books in my spare time, which is basically all of it. I am going to find a job on a farm somewhere with no internet, rather than sitting behind a desk for 12 hours a day. I’m going to hike to the top of mountains, or hills, or anything that takes my fancy, just because.
I’m no longer running away; I just can’t see how I can spend the rest of my years living on this planet without seeing all of it.