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By Claire D'hooghe | January 12, 2016

Traveling. view outside airplane window of mountains

Traveling: the view from the window seat.

Few seconds in life are more releasing than those in which a plane ascends to the sky… There is a psychological pleasure in this takeoff for the swiftness of the plane’s ascent is an exemplary symbol of transformation. The display of power can inspire us to imagine analogous, decisive shifts in our own lives, to imagine that we, too, might one day surge above much that now looms over us.Alain de Botton

Sitting on a chair in the sky never gets old for me. Even if it’s cramped and the other passengers smell weird, when I look out the window at the sculptural cloud mountains and catch glimpses of the curvature of the earth nothing else matters. Serenely gliding along high above the world makes me infinitely grateful to live in a time when it’s relatively cheap and easy to jump in a hulking shuttle of metal and fly above the Earth’s surface to touch down in a new and distant land.

Back in high school I had a very vague but determined future goal of travelling for a long period once I finish university. I subconsciously began saving for this event, not really thinking any further about the specifics. One half of my family is French and I was always intrigued by their stories and illustrated posters of where they used to live decorating their hand-built stucco house. My adolescent suburban wanderings, listening to my beloved iPod, led me to question what else is out there and taught me to open to my eyes to what is in front of me, to see the beauty in the nature I was walking through. Without knowing it I had travellers’ eyes without going more than a few kilometres from my home. All this added up to the deep-seeded idea that I had to travel – it was just something that had to be done; like finishing school and going straight to university.

Having many interests but no real direction, I enrolled in an Arts degree that my naïve, boy-crazy, binge-drinking attitude made pretty much redundant. Most of my education came through reading and my mistakes. Halfway through the degree I mentioned nonchalantly to my best friend at-the-time that I had always wanted to travel to Europe for a few months. It wasn’t really an invitation but she agreed to go with me. That was the closest I had ever got to making a real commitment to my lifelong dream so I said yes and we began planning. She was going to take a semester out of the beginnings of her intense Law degree to trip around Europe with me for just over 3 months.

Travel Fisheye film photo of claire above the city, gold coast

Hanging out in the clouds of the Gold Coast.

As this was our first time out in the big, bad world without supervision we decided to start off by holding hands with a busload of rowdy travellers on a 14-country-21-day Contiki tour. It was a fun, messy, confidence-building experience and the people we met and places we visited shaped the rest of the trip. Europe was a fascinating place where the fresh sky and soft sun was a social motivator; where 1000-years of culture holds pure before it’s mutilated on it’s way to 250-year old (white) Australia; and where easily-crossed borders mean greater opportunity for learning languages, finding work and, most importantly, tasting regional wines and cheeses for cheap. I got the opportunity to have a “coming home” moment when we visited Nice, the city my father spent his first 10 years before getting shipped to Australia, and took photos outside their old family home and bought market-fresh cheese and strawberries for a pebble-beach picnic.

I learnt a lot during those months aways. Traveling forces you to think on your feet and keep moving even though all you wanna do is lie down and enjoy the same sunny spot for months on end. It also teaches you that you can’t run away from the things you left behind; home follows you like a bad smell or, in my case, a tall, smart, funny, handsome man. Ben and I had gone on our first date only a few months before I was booked to leave. We were high in our bubble of love and being so far away from each other was tough. One day I was alone in Paris (because my friend was having a romantic day with the Contiki tour guide she’d “fallen in love” with) and blissin’ the fuck out, totally out of my mind with how beautiful the city was, and stopped in to a McDonalds to get Wifi to message Ben about how great everything was. Wifi wouldn’t connect and I walked away realising that my grasping need to connect with him was distancing myself from the moment at hand. ‘Til that point it was a common theme and not long after, like most lessons, I forgot it and continued to lament our distance and check my emails for his name every chance I had.

Finally my friend and I returned home from Europe, with a strangely more distant relationship than we had left with, and parted ways, back into the arms of our lovers and lives. Now I was home I had a double-headed mission: first, learn something from university, second, get a job, save some money and get the fuck back out there to see more of the planet. I’d had my first taste and I wanted more. I enrolled in a yearlong Journalism course and started work as a copywriter and resume editor for an IT company. After graduating I carried on with the work on a full-time basis. It became one of the greatest motivators and donors for travelling again. I sure needed the money but the motivation came in spades while sitting in a stuffy, silent, honeycomb-cubicle office five days a week.

Some days it felt like I was the only person to leave the office during the day. I would take my lunch and find the most peaceful, nature-filled spot and use the greenery to counteract the sterilised-blue lights of the office. The experience was positive in a resume-building sense (one of my major tasks at the time) but the content and atmosphere was draining the life from me and I had no want, or chance, of elevation in the ranks. A more career-orientated person might have looked for better work but all I looked for was a way out. I managed to take as many holidays as I could, travelling with Ben to Fiji, America and Japan during this time.

Travel. Fisheye film shot taken by Claire while laying on beach in Fiji.

Laying on beach in Fiji looking up from under the shade of palm trees.

Fiji was the tester trip for our travelling relationship. We were almost living together by this stage and still in luurve but travelling with someone is one of those things that either works or doesn’t. Luckily it worked for us and we had one the most relaxed and fortuitous holidays to date. We adapted to “island time” like we’d been livin’ it our whole lives and became friendly with the people at our Fijian owned and run hotel, one of the few on an island of mega-resorts. We saw all sides of the island; exploring the jungle with a medicine man, drinking cava with the chief and soaking in a rejuvenating mud bath; an outting at sea to a tiny island with a snorkelling reef further out into open sea; and wandering through a village with locals lighting fireworks in the streets for Dewali and shouting “bula” into the pitch-black connecting streets at invisible faces.

We left the island and started planning our next holiday together. It would be to Ben’s childhood home – the US of A – where we would have our own All-American Road Trip on the west coast for 3 weeks then Airbnb-hop on the east coast for another 3. Ben was ecstatic to show me around all the place he had been as a kid – The OC, Disneyland, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and the forever desert in-between – but we were both completely enamoured with new, magical sites like San Francisco and Big Sur. San Fran felt like a weird, progressive, creative version of my hometown of Brisbane. It felt like any of my friends could slot in perfectly with this town and it’s incredible history, literary scene and general vibe. On a more personal level Big Sur was my place. Driving the incredible scenic road we saw a gate and came to an abrupt stop – “The Henry Miller Book Store and Retreat” – or something to that effect, where I found a photo book of my spirit guide Anais Nin plus all kinds of rare beatnik goods from Henry, Jack and more. I fell in love with the open Americans I met and now crave their audience for the way their accents bring back so many memories.

My personal tour guide Ben now wanted to take me to his much-traveled, much-loved islands of Japan. We got JR Passes and hit the shinkansens, travelling to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima. While Ben was busy bumping into the Dalai Lama, I was in dumbstruck awe of how so many people can live, work and travel together so effortlessly. It must have something to do with the Eastern culture but I’m sure the futuristic infrastructure, overwhelming emphasis on convenience and a restricting acceptance to “follow the rules” were all factors too. These trips were all fun and inspiring but there was always that dread when the days to fly home were counting down and I knew that it wasn’t long ‘til instead of sitting on a barstool sipping delicious ramen noodles with egg in a corridor-sized resutoran, I’d be on my ergonomic desk chair eating cup noodles in front of my computer screen. It was never, ever enough.

Three years from when my butt first hit that desk chair, I quit that demoralising job and started slingin’ canvas shoes on the outskirts of the Brisbane Airport. Every shift I was meeting people from around the world searching for the right shoe to take with them back home or on their next adventure (let me assure you brand new Vans are not the best for this, but you gotta get the dollars for the boss man, am I right?). They’d speak loudly in their foreign tongues and drag their bags through the aisles, then ask for no box when they’d finally succumb to buying some lightly-discounted shoes so they could shove them into already overfilled suitcases. All day, to a soundtrack of Will Smith’s 00’s hits, we dreamed and schemed about how to get out of there and onto a plane that was just a stones throw and many shoe sales away.

Travel Fisheye film still of Claire standing on Eastern Australian shoreline.

Standing on the shoreline of the Northen NSW coast, ready to take a leap.

Finally the time came to book a one-way ticket, sell our shit, make tentative plans for employment in Japan and say our final goodbyes to our family and friends. I often have doubt, especially when my family almost pleads for me to come home, but every time I explain my loosely-planned trip to people I come across it’s always received with encouragement. So far the opportunities have far outweighed the home-sickness. I read that you should only “do what you love” and if you don’t have a passion to make into a career you should go out and experience the world until you find your “thing” – so I guess, for now, travelling is my “thing” and my vessel towards my “thing”.

Travelling makes me feel like my life has slowed down and I have more time to imagine the future, reflect on my past but live and react to the present. It elongates time, which on one hand helps to delay the inevitable settling down, but on the other hand leaves me open to experiences and opportunities that would never arise in my home town. This is freedom and I am goddamn addicted to it. I don’t want to touch down so that’s the goal for now; keeping me and Ben on this crazy trip and recording and sharing it with others, partly so it has a higher purpose, but partly because we want you out here with us too.

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