One of my earliest memories is looking out my window over the fields by night at the back of our house, wishing I could be out there. I cuddled my white fur seal teddy, fingers clutching the white window ledge.
I must have been six or seven and my Mum lived in Malawi, Africa after my parent’s divorce. My little brother and I lived with my (wonderful) Dad and I was safe and happy. It wasn’t that I wanted to leave him. It was that “out there” seemed so much more exciting and that preference still underlies my need for travel.Some call it wanderlust, an almost uncontrollable desire to travel, sometimes at the expense of common-sense.Click To Tweet
Others call it ‘fernweh,’ a German word meaning far-sickness, the opposite of homesickness.
I also like Jack Reacher’s explanation in Lee Child’s thriller, Never Go Back. “Ninety-nine of us grow up to love the campfire, and one grows up to hate it. Ninety-nine of us grow up to fear the howling wolf, and one grows up to envy it. And I’m that guy.” [Or presumably girl!]
I love the Reacher series for the vigilante justice he metes out, a sense of restoring balance to the world, but perhaps I’m also jealous of how Reacher leaves at the end of every book, with only a toothbrush in his pocket …
Here are some more reasons why I travel.
In 2000, I was living in London, celebrating that the Millennium Bug didn’t happen even though we’d spent years preparing for it, living well on corporate expense accounts. I was 25, partied hard, drank far too much and worked like a demon in my consulting job. I popped painkillers and caffeine tablets by day, tequila shots and vodka by night, oscillating between wild excess and ascetic abstinence.
I barely remember that time. I was lost and couldn’t seem to drag myself into a new reality. I had glimpsed a different way of life when I sailed on the tall ship Soren Larsen in 1999, but I returned to the day job and my rut of a routine soon after.It seemed like the only way to reinvent myself was to leave and start anew.Click To Tweet
I was more scared of the person I was turning into than the upheaval of heading to the other side of the world. Somewhere else was preferable to my reality in London.
So I resigned and left London in May 2000, arriving in Perth, Australia, determined to become someone new. I learned to scuba dive in Fremantle and did my first dives on Ningaloo Reef, snorkelling with whale sharks as I headed north. I camped across the expanse of Western Australia, watching the stars of the Southern Hemisphere pass overheard. I walked in Kakadu, hiked and kayaked in the Northern Territories — and I will write in more detail about that trip another time.
I didn’t shed my old self easily — there were still plenty of nights of excess — but reinvention is easier when no one has expectations of you, when you can move on the next day and never have to explain yourself, when you can be anonymous. Some might find that scary, that you could disappear and no one would even notice, but I have always found it liberating.
Fast forward to 2004, when my brief marriage to a dive instructor in New Zealand fell apart (that’s another story, too). I needed to reinvent myself once again.I would not be the woman scorned, the one left behind, the broken one — that was never me.Click To Tweet
If I stayed near the people who cared, that’s the way they would treat me.
So, I left New Zealand and travelled to Egypt, a place I had always wanted to visit since visiting the British Museum as a child, fascinated by the mummy room and later, entranced by Indiana Jones movies. I took off my wedding ring before the plane landed and over my weeks there, the sun erased the white band on my finger.
I didn’t tell my fellow travellers what I was going through, my journals soaked up the pain instead. I found joy again in the rock-cut temple of Abu Simbel and the tombs of the Valley of the Kings, which I eventually wrote about in Ark of Blood, my third ARKANE thriller.
Of course, I returned from these travels each time to normal life, a job, relationships, bills to pay, but the act of removing myself from the daily grind enabled time to think, to heal, to reset.
Those journeys were reinvention, but they were also escape.
Escape from the trap I had built for myself in London, and later, escape from the expectations of marital breakdown and pity from others. I couldn’t bear either of those things, preferring to leave rather than to face them. Whether it was strong to leave, or weakness that drove me away, doesn’t really matter now.
Those were big trips, but I also travel for smaller moments of escape because, let’s face it, everyday life is mundane. Routine is boring but necessary.
Get up, deal with the family, go to work, deal with work colleagues, sort out chores, do the money thing, try and get to the gym and eat healthy and occasionally have sex. Days pass, months pass, years pass.Travel provides a spike of peak experience, moments you remember, sometimes for the rest of your life.Click To Tweet
Photos to demonstrate that for a time, you were someone else, somewhere else.
I’m a full-time writer and I never write when I travel. Of course, I scribble notes in my journal, I take pictures, but I don’t write coherent pieces. I fill my creative well and indulge my fascination in a new place. I walk for hours, exploring, experiencing, eating, drinking, consuming it all. I let it sink into me and I notice things — much of which finds its way later into my writing.
As much as I need to travel for escape, the last ten years of producing published work have taught me that I need routine to write my books. I need boredom because my mind is not buzzing with the excitement of being somewhere new and can focus on turning experience into words.
But then I crave escape once more and the drive to finish my first draft is often fuelled by the promise to myself that I will get away as soon as it is done when it will be time to fill the creative well again.
(3) Curiosity and book research
Wherever we live, our slice of the world is so tiny that it’s almost inevitable that we want to learn about other places, other cultures, other people. We crave variety, the lure of the new.
Part of the reason I started this site is so that I can share the travels that inspire my own books and that of other writers I love and find interesting.
Every trip becomes the inspiration for my stories and my journals are packed with ideas sparked by new places and new sights. I take thousands of photos that I want to share in the hope that I can bring a glimpse of something new to your life, and share a spark of inspiration that might light a fire in you to travel to a new place, even virtually through a book.
Sometimes I visit a place specifically to find a story, for example, when I travelled to New Orleans and kayaked in a Louisiana bayou, I knew I would write about it sometime. 18 months later, Jake Timber followed my trail in Valley of Dry Bones.Travel fuels my creativity.Click To Tweet
Other times, I integrate my memories with new research. For example, in Destroyer of Worlds, I wrote about the burning ghats of Varanasi from a trip in 2006 and entwined that with passing through Fort Cochin (Kochi) where we visited a 16th-century synagogue in 2013. I don’t know where some things will end up, but I do know that travel fuels my creativity and without it, I am lost.
(4) Perspective and gratitude
I returned to live in the UK in 2011 after 11 years of living in New Zealand and then Australia, two countries that many British people talk about as being the perfect places to live, the places they would emigrate to if they had a choice.
As much as I appreciate the opportunity to live down under and I hold a New Zealand passport so I have the choice to return, the United Kingdom is a fantastic place to live. Despite whatever political pain there might be, I have recommitted to be here for the long term. I’ve seen what it’s like in so many places that I can love this country for all the good things it has. I do not take it for granted anymore.It is only by leaving that we discover how good life really is back home.Click To Tweet
Yes, I will leave again —many times— and in fact, we live close enough to an airport to escape regularly, but I will come home again. I intend to grow old here and write my books with continuing gratitude for my travels.
I’d love to know what you think. Why do you travel?