I rent a 1 bed flat in London and hold down an average paying admin job. I live a fairly modest life. I shop half in Aldi, half in Tesco and walk or ride a bike where I can. I don’t have a car and everything I earn goes onto bills, food and savings (for a house deposit / travel) and occasionally a cheap night out.
Some people assume I’ve won the lottery or inherited a stash of cash when I tell them I’m taking 7 months or a year off. The truth is, despite living in London my outgoings are under £1000 a month, meaning the rest of my 'London salary' goes towards savings (read about how I managed to save £10,000 in just over a year).
I used to buy scratch cards every so often, desperate for that win. Oh, I would dream so much of winning £100,000! I wouldn’t quit work, I'd tell myself, but I’d put a deposit down and go travelling and give money to charity” bla bla bla.
Now very recently I’ve come to understand that I’m pretty damn rich! I’ve just been comparing myself and what I have to other people. I believe that having dreams and achieving things in life is one of the most empowering and exciting things about life!
Why would I want to have it all at once, handed to me on a plate, when I can achieve it slowly over time? I can then look back at everything I’ve achieved and revel in the sweet satisfaction that ‘I made it!’
I live a very rich life
In practising gratitude following a long spout of illness, I was reminded just how rich my life was. Here’s a quick list of all the things I’m grateful for on a daily basis:
A roof over my head
A warm bed to get into at night
A garden (come on, it’s London!)
An amazing husband and a lifetime supply of hugs
My morning cup of peppermint tea…mmmm minty goodness
The bottle of wine sitting in the fridge with my name on it
A job that doesn't stress me out, pays the bills and allows me to save
Adventure - oodles of it! I’ve discovered how to have adventures all the time!
I take my bike or my walking boots and spend a heap of time in nature (followed by the nearest pub).
I make sure any time off I have is glorious and I find cheap holiday deals to take myself away every now and again.
I am so privileged!
We live in a society that makes us think there's a perfect version of life just within our grasp - we have to be alert to it, spend money chasing it, keep aspiring for more and more and more. The truth is, life is about the unexpected moments, and the people we share them with. For me happiness is a state of mind and comes from being content and feeling blessed for what I already have. Sure I aspire for more but happiness is the journey, not the destination.
A lesson from Poland
Practicing gratitude and looking at how privileged I was reminded me of Poland, my ancestral home, my place of nurture.
I understood a little about privilege from my early travels there. 1980's London and Poland were worlds apart. Communist Poland was bleak - empty store shelves, censorship, rations, queues, people hired to stand in queues…
I was walking hand in hand with my Babcia (Grandmother) on our way to a market hall in Central Warsaw. We passed a group of people queuing for bread at a bread van. The queue stretched for miles and around a block so I couldn’t see where it ended. Baffled, I asked Babcia;
‘How can such a little van have so much bread?’
‘It doesn't' she replied. 'They will have to try again tomorrow.’
Another time I was sitting at the kitchen table of my old Ciocia (Aunty) Marysia’s house in Konstancin, waiting for the kettle to whistle. I heard the familiar squeak of the garden gate and the slow shuffling steps of a little old lady approaching. I’ve been told that the gate was left deliberately squeaky to warn Ciocia of ‘inspectors.’
The little lady’s head popped up at the kitchen window to greet us and whilst exchanging niceties she slipped a small, tightly wrapped parcel into Ciocia’s hand, who then slipped it into mine.
Fresh meat. Pierogi for dinner!
I minced that meat using the hand held metal mincer, a little part of me understanding how precious each piece was.
A Wakeup Call
As mentioned, I joined a Tribe of awesome people called The Yes Tribe. They hold an annual festival (Yestival) and in 2018 I attended my first one. The charity ‘Help Refugees’ were talking and collecting donations to take with them to Calais.
That night I went to sleep in our tent. It was cold but OK for October. I soon discovered I didn’t have the right sleeping bag. I woke up, spine trembling. I’ve never felt my entire spine do anything before. I mean, it was convulsing. With it my migraines flared up and my head started throbbing. My heart then went and a steady panic attack set in.
The next day I got up, recovering from the migraine, the cold and anxiety. By the afternoon I just collapsed on the grass and cried my eyes out. I’ve never been affected by anything so physically and mentally. My heart literally swelled and split for all those refugees, knowing I’d just experienced a small dose of what they go through daily.
That was the point my mindset changed.
We are witnessing a humanitarian crisis on a scale unlike any seen in recent history. Today more than 68 million people around the world are displaced from their homes, battered by the chaos of war and disaster. Behind these statistics: human beings with souls and dreams; doctors, lawyers, students, separated families, children - childhood lost to them.
What does it look like for that many people to be displaced? It would be like everyone in the UK fleeing and leaving an empty nation behind. It’s the apocalypse.
I can’t fix the problem but with others, I know I can do my bit to help. And in the words of Mahatma Gandhi I believe that “in a gentle way, you CAN shake the world.”
If I’m going to travel the World again, I’m going to do it with open eyes and an open heart and try and do some good in the process. As one of the privileged few, I see it as my responsibility.
So, I’m dedicating my future to giving back by fundraising and conservation through doing the things I love most – travel and adventure!
My next trip will be an epic, challenged-based adventure across Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia, where my husband and I will be fundraising for UNICEF.