“The trip that broke my heart – and mended it again”
It was 2013 and I just remember
feeling overwhelmed. Like I needed to break free from everything in my life – the unfulfilling PA job I’d fallen into (despite wanting to work in journalism), the never-ending social commitments (and consequential lack of money) and the manic merry-go-round of London. There was one thing I didn’t want to break free from, though: my boyfriend-of-almostfour-years, Sam.* He was a talented photographer stuck in a sales job, and equally fed up of the capital. So on April Fool’s Day (I know), we booked open-return tickets to Sydney, Australia. There, we decided – with the help of the sun and the unknown – we would start again.
We arrived that September and travelled around Australia’s East Coast for three months, exploring the Blue Mountains, swimming in the Coral Reef and driving to the Round-The-Twist lighthouse in Melbourne (essential). When we got fed up of surviving on 40-cent supermarket pizza-bread – and living in cockroach-covered hostels
– we got jobs (office work, for quick cash), a flat in Pyrmont, Sydney, and spent the weekends with friends in Coogee.
By early 2014, though, we’d started arguing (we’d even spent New Year’s Eve apart – I can’t remember what we’d fallen out about, I just remember calling my mum, crying, and feeling totally alone). The lifestyle and better pay in Sydney were great distractions, but we were desperate to carve out our dream careers, and taking our frustration out on each other. Weekend mornings rolled into late evenings as we sat in coffee shops teaching ourselves how to use InDesign and Photoshop, bickering about what drink to buy each time our free Wi-Fi ran out.
Despite both needing a break from “us”, we were still best mates.
So life continued. We holidayed on the white-sand beaches of Whitsunday Islands and spent three months exploring South-East Asia on a shoestring budget – we kayaked in Ha Long Bay, biked around Langkawi and danced on Koh Phangan till we (well, I) passed out. Moments of total freedom were spliced with fraught conversations and days apart – for every time we couldn’t bear to be around each other there was another when we laughed till our cheeks hurt.
I’ll never forget the day we spent on the beach in Cambodia working out for good how we’d afford to study and intern once we were back in the UK, scribbling down calculations on a bit of paper. We ran into the sea to celebrate. I’d never felt happier.
We flew home in July 2014 and
eventually split up for good. It’d been the most exhilarating, painful, fulfilling and heartbreaking year of my life. What may have looked like a generic “gap yah” was actually a very deliberate attempt to navigate a huge crossroads for us both. The trip gave us perspective. It gave us time to refocus. It helped us to see that the relationship we’d been in since we were 22 was no longer working, and neither of us would be where we are now without it. So thank you, Sydney. We owe you. ◆
“Total freedom was spliced with fraught conversations”