Bye, Europe. Hello, New Zealand.
Updated: Feb 28
"There's the moment, my experience of the moment, and my story of my experience of the moment"
Summer rolled by quickly and I knew I couldn't go back to the cold.
The holiday season in the Northern Hemisphere is just like the movies. There are the pretty lights, the real Christmas trees, the snow, the mulled wine, warm fires, and the cold. Like, really cold. Since 2019, I've celebrated the holidays in England, Germany and the Netherlands. I was lucky enough to have my first White Christmas in 2021. But for the past two years, the celebrations have come alongside COVID restrictions, I've been inside, and alone. With the darkness approaching quickly and the flight costs raising every minute - I bit the bullet and bought that flight home.
Christmas since 2018 - London, Manchester, Germany and the Netherlands
I kept the ticket a secret. I told my family, of course, plus a few close friends - but for the most part, it was hard to realise this life was ending, so I didn't want to share the news. The one I left - corporate marketing, 9-5 mentality, marriage and kids - seemed so different, a life I almost didn't remember. I feared I'd fall back into it the minute I walked off that plane.
Since the ticket was bought mid-way through the year, I suppose I was always 'closing off' my experience in Europe. I said YES to everything. Every invite, every work opportunity, every date, every experience. I stressed, as that part of life doesn't change, but I never stopped. I think I burnt out around July, and probably crashed again around September.
At the height of my life in the Netherlands, I was working with 3 different clients on their Social Strategy and Creation. I had most of my year booked with petsits. I had a private project I worked on, whenever I had the energy. I went on a lot of bad dates, went to France, had monthly trips to Amsterdam, let loose in Berlin, and actually got into those 'situationships' I've read so much about - 0/10, do not recommend.
When the 'closing off' actually happened, it was confronting and isolating. First, there's the boring stuff - like your rental agreement, your phone bill, and your gym membership. Then, you've gotta get really serious about what you're bringing with you. Every week, I'd donate more things at the council shop. Finally, you go to the numb phase - when the questions are all the same and you just want the experience to be over.
By this time, I'd shared this change with a few more people. My down-under friends checked in a couple of times, and the friends I had in Europe messaged daily. I began crying, pretty much every day. I wanted to go home, but I feared what awaited me there - the questions I would be asked, the changes I'd missed.
But first, I had to get there.
My last week was filled to the brim.
I was smiling on the outside but an absolute mess on the inside - was I making a mistake?
The Long Flight (s)
It was going to take 33 hours and 3 time zones to get me to New Zealand.
I can't really handle change. I've been through it, plenty of times - I guess I just adapt quickly and feel my emotions later. I write blog articles about it, adopt a hedonist lifestyle and try to enjoy my last moments before the fateful moments. My last week in the Netherlands was non-stop partying, during which my flights changed twice, my flatmate went to the mental hospital, I had an affair with someone too young for me, barely slept, cried in the waking hours and was too anxious to eat.
My 2.5 suitcases were filled to the brim, the rest of my things long gone with friends and strangers. I sat in the €70 taxi ride to the airport, stomach in knots and wondering if I should have done with the Dutchies and made the last trip to a coffeeshop. I'd arrived an hour early, but I couldn't check in. In the craziness of the last week, I'd misread my flight information and realised I needed an ESTA from the USA.
I hit submit on the online form and begged the universe. My brain started thinking about what I'd do if I never boarded. I had moments of excitement, thinking maybe this is a chance to stay.
I got the fateful email 60 minutes before my first flight was to depart. In tears, the Dutch Airline staff knocked money off my luggage fee, upgraded me to a row, and told me to go have a beer at the Heineken bar. The following 10 hours across the arctic circle, stretched with my legs up, was one of the best flights I've ever been on. Upon landing in LA, the KLM staff left me a small bottle of Champagne from first-class - wishing me a safe onward journey.
I'd been to Los Angeles before and adored it. This time, I was stuck in the airport at 5 pm, around 3 am Euro time. Whilst the celebrities and influencers were bubbly and bright and giggly, knocking back drinks, I was washing in the bathroom sink and setting up a nap spot on the floor. In my rush to get my luggage onto the next flight, complete the check-in and get through TSA - I'd forgotten to speak to the front desk about where I was sitting.
Most people's worst nightmare came true shortly after. I was at the back of the plane. It was full. It was loud. It was stinky. I got in and prepared myself for the next 13 hours and one more timezone change.
My first flight took me almost over the Artic Circle, the views were insane, I got the best gift from the airline staff, and then met Nick, the Kiwi
As I tried to get comfortable in my aisle seat, smaller than any other I've been on, a drunk Kiwi boarded. He made some terrible joke and when I looked up and laughed, decided he was going to move seats, next to me. This is how I met Nick, and a whole new adventure began.
He'd been drinking at the AirNZ lounge and we started talking immediately. He put himself in the seat next to mine - I discovered not only was he going to my hometown Whangamata, he knew my Dad, and even plays golf with him. We drank double whiskies, took his sleeping pills, and 8 hours later, I woke up with my head on his shoulder and drool down his shirt.
We got a measly two meals on this AirNZ flight, the movies were terrible and my ass grew more numb every hour. With free wifi, I kept my friends abroad updated on the 'wild' adventure I was having. We both managed to get our bags through the chaos of Auckland airport and exchanged Instagrams. Once I made it through customs, I ran to hug my parents. I hadn't seen them in over 3 years. We began the 2-hour drive to Whanga.
Whangamata is a small town on the Coromandel Peninsula. It has been popular as a tourist destination for over 150 years but only recently become world-renowned as a reputable surf town.
The beach at Whangamata was named by Captain Cook during his first voyage to New Zealand in 1769, with “Whangamata” meaning “whale bay” or “place of many whales” in the native Maori language. The road into town is lined with shops selling souvenirs and surf gear if you've got spare time and deep pockets.
I was born in Auckland but have spent plenty of time at my beach house here over the years. Around 10 years ago my parents built a new home and moved here. I've since referred to it as my home.
It's tough being here. If you're not a teenager here for a uni break, you're a young family. If you're not a young family, you're a retiree. I do try, but I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb thanks to my lifestyle choices.
Whangamata is beautiful, but it's been a tough adjustment
The beach isn't as long as the one in the Netherlands, but the surf is bigger and the culture is back to how I remember it. I have barely worn shoes in the last month. Mullets are everywhere. Most people are up by 8 and at the pub by 3 - and if you're not doing that - you're in the water.
I got super lucky and landed my own flat, almost beachside, for around 6 weeks. I've taken a long break from working - but that usually happens over the holiday period. I signed a gym contract that finishes at the end of March, so I guess I better get used to being here.
Reunions and Remembering
I started this blog a long time ago, telling stories about myself and my history through my lens. The theme of 2023 remains the same, however, I'd like to reiterate what you are doing here.
"There's the moment, my experience of the moment, and my story of my experience of the moment"
You're reading my version of events, my emotions, and my processing. I have misremembered things. I have gotten things wildly incorrect.
During the first few weeks, I went through my old photographs and memory books. I was embarrassed at first. I would hit my forehead with my palm, in an attempt to clear the unwanted memories from creeping back in.
The reality is, that girl is a part of me. If I hadn't lived the history I did, I wouldn't have strived to see and do more. I've felt some harsh truths - like:
I've always been mostly a loner. I've been exploring this world and my mind since I was around 14, with nothing but my iPod and headphones to keep me company.
Drinking was the first time I ever felt accepted into a 'community'. I realised all I needed to do was sip something and finally I felt welcome to be with people, to meet others, to celebrate or drown our sorrows together or anything in between.
I've spent most of the last four years, shedding that mask. The creative soul has always existed underneath, but only now do I feel I can bring her to the surface, and allow both versions of myself to coexist.
I realised how many people I kept in my life for no reason, and just how many I have nothing in common with apart from our shared drinking experiences together.
I've never been able to make lifelong friends that live in New Zealand, I've always met them travelling. However, if I had met more people in my years here, maybe I wouldn't have ever travelled and had the experiences I've had.
I understand everything, everyone and every sign now. It's overwhelming. For the last two years, I've spent in foreign-speaking countries. You have so many chances to disconnect - something I didn't even realise I needed. Since I understand everyone now, my brain gets overwhelmed. I disassociate frequently, but no one seems to notice.
I'm working on my relationship with my parents. I'm trying to understand myself better through their actions and brace myself for what the future holds as we all get older. One of the goals I have whilst I'm here is to 'repair' what still hurts, to secure in place my own feelings, to protect myself from projection, and to move on in my adult life.
It was hard to leave Europe but I have a lot to look forward to.
It was so hard leaving. I left behind my successful business, my clients, my petsitting, my loves, my goals and my friends. With every day the sun shines here, I feel happy and ready for the change. When it doesn't, I spend hours on the couch, doom-scrolling my phone and trying to calm my brain - reminding it that everything takes patience.
I want to go back, but it's not possible at this time. Although I lost 9 months of my UK Visa to COVID, I can't get that back. I have two countries that will welcome me before I'm 35 - France and Italy. I can also start a life in Canada if I want to.
The thing is - I don't know exactly what's the right path now. I know I want to see more of the world, but I feel Europe is done for long-term living (although, I do fantasize about a life with Aperol Spritz's, scooters and Italian accents). There are many things I need to do in New Zealand, and my family are spread out - I could definitely revisit some of the spots I saw when I was younger.
But I miss foreign accents and €5 flights cross-country. I miss the alternative lifestyle, artist friends and the encouragement to be independent. I miss solo opportunities, hidden nightlife and sitting in cafes, watching another world go by.
I've applied to renew my driver's license, and I'm on my laptop every day - setting things up for the new chapter. The 30-ish traveller. I stay open to my opportunities and practise gratitude. I know I can create any future I want. I can't wait to see what's next.