by Phoebe Blyth
My parents hail from England, on the shores of the River Dee, near Liverpool, a backwater famous for industry, shipping, and The Beatles. My dad, who had the chance to go to a prestigious Oxbridge university, chose to stay in Liverpool to study medicine to be near his friends. Upon graduating however, he left his friends, his parents, his family, and England to travel the world, returning five years later to marry my mother. The two of them travelled to Africa, before settling in Australia to bring up my brother and me (with a brief stint in New Zealand). My mum has two much older siblings: a brother who travelled the world as a sailor, settling in California, then Colorado; and a sister, whose three children ended up in England, California and New Zealand, respectively. My dad's sister settled in Wales, and my other auntie put down roots in Scotland. Her cousins live on a boat in Nova Scotia with seals for company. And so it has transpired that I have family in almost every English-speaking country in the world.
While I suffered a childhood deprived of big family reunions, Christmases at grandparents’ houses, and cousins who attended the same school as me, these far flung relations are a god send now that I have the years and the inclination to travel. Staying with family, even those who are virtual strangers, gives one the proverbial “home away from home”, for which one secretly yearns after a few days or weeks…or months on the road. Bill Bryson observed that travel is a funny state of affairs: we wilfully leave behind the comforts of home, then spend all our time and money trying to recreate them elsewhere.
In 2012, when I made my solo sojourn to Europe, my aunt and uncle’s house in Wales became my base, to which I returned whenever I found myself at a loss for money, ideas… Or gumption. It was warm and welcoming and there was an abundance of hot food and homey comforts. It was so tempting to stay (even overstay) my welcome, especially when my adventures got the better of me. I realised that by staying indefinitely, I would not be stepping outside my comfort zone, as I had so bravely declared I was going to do when I left, but merely existing in a new one. *
The beautiful thing about staying with family is that they are prepared to put up with your whimsies. In my experience, traveling is an extended act of spontaneity, during which your plans can change on a daily (hourly) basis, depending on who you meet, the buses or flights you miss, and the weather. When my boyfriend and I decided hire a van for two weeks in New Zealand, I emailed my cousin to tell them we were coming, and said we would give them plenty of notice before we showed up, since they have three young kids. In actuality, we stayed at their house three times, on a morning’s, a day’s, and three hour’s notice. Each time we were greeted with hugs, food, and noisy kids, and although we apologised, my cousin reminded me that ten years earlier, they had done just the same thing to my parents in Australia.
No matter what, I cherish my far flung family, and even though I miss them, and wish they were closer, I love having those second homes scattered around the world, where the door is always open.
*I did go back once more during that trip, after some spectacular heartbreak in Barcelona.