Hey there dear readers! Last time out on the blog I hinted that my next post would be about my trip to Finland but before I delve in to that, I thought it’d be good to give you a little bit of background so I’m giving you a bonus post this week to whet the appetite a bit.
Some of you will already know this but I grew up living with a Finnish grandmother and consequently Finland was always a country which held interest for me. Truthfully, I wish that I’d shown more interest whilst she was still here. I’m sure that she had many great stories of life in Finland and it would have been nice to have been better connected to that heritage but I was a kid when she died and perhaps didn’t fully appreciate that luxury at the time.
Nevertheless Finland was always somewhere close to my heart and any vague connection to Finland pleased me. Be it vague Finland mentions in a movie, Lordi winning the Eurovision Song Contest or Tottenham’s first Finn (Teemu Tainio) representing the football club – I’ve always felt that little bit closer to the country when I see the country venturing in to popular culture.
Teemu’s arrival at Spurs was particularly pleasing. I’d grown up watching legendary Finns such as Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypia play for clubs such as Liverpool but to see a Finn playing for Spurs, not long after my Grandma’s death, made me instantly connect and root for Teemu.
That Finnish heritage has meant that Finland has always been a country that I’ve wanted to visit. It was a dream destination for me to one day visit Finland. My sister shares that same dream and we’ve lived off of the scraps and stories we’ve heard from family that have visited (Dad, Aunt and one of Grandma’s brothers).
Speaking of the latter, every year as kids myself and Natasha would receive a phonecall directly from Lapland. “Santa was on the phone ready to wish us Merry Christmas”.
How cool is that? Santa had our home phone number and phoned every year! Apparently he had a really good relationship with Grandma!
Anyway, I’ve always wanted to visit. I’ve come close a couple of times in the past but both of those ideas fell through. In August 2014 Tottenham arranged to play a friendly against Scottish team ‘Celtic’ in Helsinki – a weird location for such a fixture but a tempting excuse for a visit to Finland.
In the end I thought better of it. Did I really want my first trip to Finland to be football related? Perhaps had it been Finnish opposition but a battle of Britain game?? Being a friendly in a foreign country I couldn’t envisage much trouble between the two sets of supporters, nor much interest in either set of fans actually traveling to Finland but nevertheless a trip with a bunch of drunken British football fans didn’t quite appeal enough to make my first Finland visit.
A few years later I booked myself flights to Helsinki. I was running low on annual leave in 2018 but the dates fell really nicely for a New Years trip to Finland at the end of the year.
Alas Haleigh decided to make her first visit to England at the end of that year so that plan quickly fell apart. I contemplated whether myself and Haleigh go but then remembered that I’d also actually RSVP’d to a 31st December wedding so abandoned any hopes of celebrating the New Year in Finland.
There was definitely a twinge of disappointment at missing out on my first trip to Finland. Come the first payday of 2019 I was adamant that I’d be going to Finland this year. I worked out my budget for the first six months of the year, mapped out my travel plans (here) and booked myself that flight to Helsinki – a three day bank holiday getaway! Hurrah!
I was so excited to finally be going to Finland but I had such a busy start to 2019 that it was kind of easy to forget about until nearer the time. I’d had a pretty quiet end to 2018 where nothing seemed to be going on and then 2019 went completely the other way.
My social life went in to overdrive, Tottenham’s new stadium opened their doors which brought back an enthusiasm to going to the football. I visited Germany, Belgium and the USA in the first four months of the year. It was a crazy, crazy few months that seemed to absolutely fly by.
I returned from Washington at the end of April and sure enough, the first May bank holiday was just a few days later. I was sad to leave Haleigh behind in Washington yet again but so excited for a trip to Finland in just SIX days! I’d barely stepped foot in England and was off on my travels again for the first of three, maybe four trips in May!
and then for the first time in my life it really dawned on me that I was going to Finland. It’s hard to explain but as much as I felt connected to Finland, it had always been a bit of an illusion. A place of magic and fantasy.
Finland was my dream destination and although I’d ticked off other dream destinations such as Sydney or New York City, I don’t think I really realised how much visiting Finland meant to me until the week leading up to the trip.
Finland was no longer a mythical country that I’d only ever dreamed about – my European Disneyland. It was flawless. I loved Finland without having ever stepped foot in the country.
Now I was actually going – “Fuck..”
I liken it to Disneyland and I don’t even know that I’m exaggerating there because in 30+ years on Earth it had never crossed my mind that Finland was anything other than perfect. It’d be easy to assume that’s childish delusion but then as you grow older you learn more about the world and Finland ranks high on a number of issues – education, environment, blah, blah, blah. Finland is perfect!
Then a couple of days beforehand the thought crossed my mind – “what if it’s not?”
It was a question that I’d never asked myself until now – days before going to Finland. You don’t want to take your kids to Disneyland only to find out that Mickey’s a bit of a dick. You’d be better never taking them to Disney and believing what you want to believe rather than learn a reality and have their dreams and beliefs shattered.
“Mum, does Mickey hate me? Does Mickey hate children..?” – Ooof, heart-breaking.
FYI I absolutely believe Disney is a magical place and does a fabulous job of selling that. Mickey is also lovely, obviously, but you get the point.
What if instead of being the 12/10 destination that I’d always known, Finland was only actually an eight? Or dare I say a two or a three? What’s Helsinki going to be like? Am I going to like the food? Are the people going to be friendly? Everyone says Finns are standoffish and reserved. Am I going to HATE Finland?
Any traveler will tell you that you don’t love everywhere that you visit. There are some places on my travels that didn’t wow me or I just didn’t seem to connect with. What if Finland was to become one of those countries for me? All of my beliefs about Finland were now unraveling right in front of me.
I came to the realisation that if Finland wasn’t as perfect as I’d always believed it to be that I was going to be crushed, heartbroken even. I wasn’t prepared for that. Nobody ever tells you that your dream destination might not pan out as you’d hoped.
Where there should have been excitement for this trip, I was now petrified. The nerves had taken over. In my head there was SO much pressure on Finland to deliver and just keep my Disneyland vibes intact.
I couldn’t shake the feeling leading up to departure. I’d stayed in a hotel at Heathrow on Friday night which made traveling very easy the following morning. On Saturday I went to the airport where usually any jitters evaporate but in my head the over-thinking was still eating away at me.
“What if I don’t go..?”
“You’re at the bloody airport Jason..”
The gate number pops up on the screen at Heathrow. Still plenty of time to change my mind but I wander over to my gate nonetheless. There’s a little wait before we can board and I’m just sat in a nearby seat – legs visibly shaking, head all over the place.
“No, nervous Finlander..”
It’s easily the most nervous I’ve ever been before taking off. This trip had the potential to shatter every illusion I had ever held about Finland. My nerves settled enough for me to at least board – window seat!
It was quite nice flying in Europe on anything other than Ryanair or Easyjet – my go-to for European adventures but on this occasion I was “treated” to a first flight with Finnair.
Would I love Finland, would I loathe Finland? Who knows but either way this was it. I was going! A few hours later I’d be landing in Helsinki and I’d be getting my first taste of a country I’ve dreamed of visiting for a lifetime.
I kicked off ‘Jason Likes To Travel’ back in April 2017, some of you have been along for the ride and for some of you this might be the very first post of mine you’ve read! If so, welcome! I hope you stick around!
Anyway, I’m not somebody who really dwells on the past, likewise I don’t worry too much about the future. I try and keep myself in the present but sometimes it’s nice to reflect and it was one of the motivations that really kick-started this blog. I think any blogger is hoping their content is read and enjoyed, I was certainly no different in that respect but I also think there was an element of doing this for me. I wanted somewhere I could reminisce and document my travels and so ‘Jason Likes To Travel’ was born.
What relevance does any of this have to Thessaloniki? Apologies to new readers, not aware of my ability to go off on a bit of a tangent, but I am getting to the point – I promise!
You see, last time out on the blog I wrote about my trip to Hamburg in May 2017. You can catch up on that (here) but the eagle-eyed among you will notice the timing. That’s right! I was a newbie travel blogger! I came back from Hamburg desperate to get the next holiday booked but I was also in somewhat of a reflective mood. I was planning blog posts and content, reminiscing to travels of the past and before I knew it a pattern had emerged.
“Hang on a second.. forget the next holiday. When was the last holiday?”
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Hamburg and afterwards I was thinking about all of the other amazing places I’d been to in the past few years. Sydney, New York City, Berlin.. city, city, city..
Were they holidays? That’s not me being ungrateful. I’m so appreciative of the places I’ve been to, I also love a city break and they’re typically my preferred type of break but are they really holidays? Does rushing around Vienna in 24 hours constitute as a holiday? Was 3 days in Budapest long enough? I’d spent four years rushing around various cities, obviously enjoying myself, but where was the “break” in the city break? Where was the holiday? Maybe they should be called city rushes instead.
Although that might be a little more accurate, perhaps a little less successful on the marketing front. Nevertheless it did get it in to my head that, with 2017’s summer approaching, my next trip should be a proper holiday. I wanted a birthday treat in August. With that said there was specific criteria and restrictions I placed on such a trip.
First and foremost, I wanted a birthday treat but didn’t want it to actually overlap with my birthday. I wanted to ensure I was home in time for the football season. I wanted to visit somewhere warm, a place with a pool and also visit a country I hadn’t been to before!
With my birthday on the 7th and the football season starting on the 12th I’d restricted myself to just four days (Aug 8th – 11th) which pretty much restricted any adventures to a European trip. Not necessarily a problem but August is the busiest and most expensive month to go anywhere in Europe. Likewise the cheapest places to visit were all countries I’d been to (Spain, France, Portugal). The one exception perhaps being Ireland but who takes a “summer holiday” to Ireland? No.. I had to keep looking.
After looking at various accommodation options and flights that ticked the right boxes I eventually found myself a deal I was happy with in a place called Thessaloiniki. “Where is Thessaloniki” I hear you ask, well it’s a city in Greece!
Alright, you caught me! I’ll admit the irony wasn’t lost on me in that my quest to find myself a “holiday destination” to avoid “another city break” still resulted with me booking essentially a city break. Oops!
The other criteria held up though. It was a new country, I’d booked a nice hotel with a rooftop pool, it was a place I knew nothing about so I had no long list of stuff to see. It was genuinely going to be a relaxing break! Hopefully..
Anyway, all booked! Tuesday 8th of August to Friday 11th of August. On the Tuesday I made my way over to Stansted for an afternoon flight. I was sticking to the relaxed ethos of the trip, for once I decided I wasn’t going to get an early morning flight. I still had three days to enjoy in Greece.
So onwards to Stansted I went and the holiday could begin! There was a bit of delay to my flight but on the plus side I had been allocated a window seat by Ryanair and even better, the seat next to me was vacant so I got treated to a rare piece of “Ryanair luxury” in being able to stretch out a bit. A few hours later we were landing in Thessaloniki.
By this point of the evening it was already getting dark so I didn’t mess about in navigating my way to my hotel, I just jumped in a taxi to take me there. From the outside it appeared to be a nice hotel, not five star or anything but it was a good first impression.
Check in was quick and easy. Friendly too! The receptionist welcoming me quickly complimented me on my dress sense. It puzzled me somewhat as I wasn’t wearing anything beyond the ordinary. I was just in a t-shirt, pair of jeans and a pair of converse but it put me in a good mood heading up to my room nonetheless.
I didn’t really do anything with the rest of my evening. It wasn’t particularly late but I didn’t want to go wandering too far given it was dark so I just settled for relaxing and getting a bit of an early night. The holiday could start properly tomorrow!
On Wednesday morning I headed down for breakfast at the hotel, there was a buffet of sorts (no Weetabix) which got me going for the day. Afterwards I headed on out to get my first proper look at the city, wandering down towards Thessaloniki’s port and seafront which was a short walk away from the hotel.
Along the seafront is essentially a “strip” – a long line of buildings which were I think pretty much all either a bar or restaurant of some sort. I wandered along as far as Thessaloniki’s White Tower which given the heat seemed far enough to walk for the time-being. Closeby was this fairly tall statue which I had a little gander at and suddenly I was being approached by this little Asian man who wanted me to take a photo of him.
Did the respective heights and nationality need clarifying? You’d be forgiven for thinking no but absolutely! This guy wanted me to take his photo, for all I know he was speaking to me in Greek but there was a clear language barrier between us so communication was at a minimal amount.
I sized up a vertical photo and he begins waving at me in protest. I find it fascinating how we don’t let the lack of a common language stop us from communicating, it was clear he was basically saying to me “other way..”
I understood but my problem was their respective sizes. I tried to advise this wasn’t going to work but he was stubborn and refused to accept a landscape shot just wasn’t going to work. This statue was towering over him and I was desperate to try and get my point across but I reluctantly submitted to his wishes. .
“Okay, so I’m either chopping off half of the statue or half of your body – which would you prefer?”
After taking a couple of photos I somehow got the message across that now we were going to do it my way. Oh, look at that. All of you is in the picture with the statue! Why didn’t we think of this earlier?
I handed him his phone back but he gave no real indication if he was happy with the photos or not. I didn’t really stick around to find out in truth, Hopefully when looking back at the photos he realised what I was trying to say, failing that he flagged down some other poor soul to do a better job but either way I was out of there. I had come to relax and wasn’t about to let tourists start stressing me out.
That debacle added to the heat led to me deciding to find somewhere to grab a drink. Honestly, I looked at the time and thought it might be a tad early for an alcoholic beverage. I looked to the others sat dining for comfort but with little success so I settled for getting a ‘mocktail’ instead which was some sort of peach and mango concoction. It was good though!
After a quick refresher I decided I’d head back to the hotel for a swim. I had actually hoped to get an early morning swim in but it turned out that the pool didn’t actually open until 10am, additionally it seems that it closed around dinner time so I wanted to make the most of the pool hours whilst I could.
The location was perfect. It was situated on a rooftop which overlooked the city. Unfortunately though it wasn’t a particularly big pool, quite small infact, and there were plenty of other people with the same idea so the pool area was pretty busy. The people to pool space ratio was not in my favour and I wasn’t really going to get the relaxing swim I’d planned on.
I settled for grabbing a drink at the poolside bar and admiring the view instead. Not quite what I’d hoped for but still pretty relaxing so not an entirely wasted journey back. I didn’t foresee my luck changing at any point during my stay though so I didn’t return to the pool. It was a little frustrating because one of the bigger appeals of this hotel was that it had a pool, so it felt a bit of a waste to have had no use of it.
Anyway, after a bit of time poolside I headed back to my room. I chilled out for a little while and then freshened up to go out for dinner. I found a nice square which had a bunch of restaurants that seemed ideal to grab some food. Dinner was good, my only other plan for the evening was to find a bar by the water and watch the sun go down with a few beers.
It didn’t take me long to find somewhere with a prime sunset spot, there are an endless number of bars and restaurants to take your pick from. After sitting down at this table outside I ordered myself a beer but politely declined ordering any food, I’d literally just come from dinner so wasn’t feeling particularly hungry.
Nevertheless the waitress came back with a beer and a small plate of food. There was a small salad and some chicken strip/finger type things to accompany it. I really appreciated the gesture and thought it must just be a one time thing but it turns out beer actually means “beer and free food” in Greek.
I visited countless places over my trip and it kept happening. Admittedly in most places it came in the form of some crisps or nuts or something equivalent but still, it was free! I almost found myself resenting the places where this didn’t happen.
“Excuse me, where are my free beer snacks?”
I said I wasn’t hungry but now with a mini plate of food in front of me I didn’t want to let it go to waste, it’d just be rude, right? I ended up spending the remainder of my evening at this same bar. The service was nice, it was a nice atmosphere and the view was perfect. It was my first Greek sunset and a beautiful one at that, certainly a highlight of my summer.
With the sun down I called it an evening and made a slow walk back to my hotel. After another good night’s sleep I woke up on Thursday and headed back out in to the city. Wednesday had really been about familiarising myself with the city, today I wanted to at the very least climb the White Tower so I made that my first stop of the day.
The tower isn’t particularly big but even so, sometimes these sort of things can be a little pricey so I was quite pleasantly surprised to find it was only about 4 euros or something to go up it. At the top you get city, sea and mountain views so it’s well worth going up. Within the tower there are also some exhibits which I was a little more torn on.
There were pieces of information in each room, presumably covering stuff like the history of the tower or whatever. The only downside was it was purely in Greek. On the one hand I quite liked that for once a tourist attraction hadn’t completely catered towards the English (Americans, Australians etc) but on the other hand, or rather on a personal note, it made the information a bit of a waste. For 4 euros and a cracking view at the top it’s still great value but just something to note. Although I think there may have been audio guides so with hindsight I might have been better picking one up.
Anyway, after snapping a few photos I made my way back down. Opposite the tower there were a handful of boats sat on the harbour offering tours. One in particular had caught my eye the day before. Sitting on the water was a pirate ship which was cool enough but what really caught my eye was the green sign flashing “free ride” or something to that effect.
There had to be a catch, right? I figured it had to be one of those.. “£500 free.. when you spend £4 million in store..” type deals. Nobody’s just handing out free boat rides on the water. A boat ride did sound like fun though so depending on how much it actually was, I figured I’d take a tour.
I approached the boat with a bit of curiosity and yet despite my cynicism it seems this was infact a completely free ride. The man watching over the entrance waved me straight on board, I was pleasantly surprised. There was a bar on board which was an added appeal but you were under no obligation to buy a drink. If all you wanted was a trip on the water then it was a completely free ride.
Personally, I took advantage of the bar on board. There was a temptation to see if they had any rum and have a proper pirate’s drink for my new life at sea, I settled for a beer though and waited as the boat filled up a bit before we waved goodbye to shore. It was a short trip, only around 30 minutes in total but it was a lovely way to spend a bit of time and without doubt the coolest boat I’ve ever rode on. The fact it was free was just an added bonus!
After my fun on the water I went for a bit of a wander, didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy but saw some cool buildings and just generally wandered along the waterfront. My afternoon flew by which meant soon enough my attention had turned towards evening plans – bar-hopping apparently!
I didn’t really have any set location but I started off around the White Tower and with my hotel at the very end of the previously mentioned “strip” it seemed unavoidable stopping along the way. I’d grab a beer or two, enjoy the atmosphere and the views and then move on to the next. At one of the restaurants along the way I grabbed some food but generally it was just an evening of checking out a few of the bars by the water whilst the sun went down. By the time I got back to my hotel I was beyond the tipsy point, I pretty much crashed the second my head hit the pillow. Overall it was another good day in Greece with just one left to go!
I woke up Friday in a very different mood, probably the closest thing I’ve experienced to any feeling of ‘homesick’. I don’t know what brought it on but I didn’t really want to get out of bed whatsoever. It wasn’t a reflection on Thessaloniki in any way but my head space just wasn’t in the right place. I was here on my own and I think more than anything I just wanted a familiar face or voice in Greece with me. I think I could have done another day relaxing with the right company but another day of nothingness whilst traveling solo got to me I guess.
If I hadn’t had to check out I think I’d have just curled up and spent the day in bed, as it was I left it as late as possible before dragging myself out of bed. I’d paid in advance for my room so I was expecting a smooth check out and then the receptionist asked for me to “settle the balance”.
A phantom bottle of water had magically found its way on to my bill. On any ordinary day I don’t think it would have bothered me in the slightest, it was clearly a mistake but today? I let it add to my miserable mood – “just get me home..”
I wasn’t rude about it and the receptionist seemed to just accept me at face value, for the sake of a bottle of water I don’t know how far I’d have argued it but I suppose they took the same approach and it wasn’t of enough significant value to kick up a fuss about. It did take the shine off what had otherwise been a nice stay though.
Moving on, I now had hours to kill in Greece or rather hours to mope about in Greece. I had a long wait until I could go home so I went and found a restaurant to get some lunch at and I thought I’d try the chicken ‘souvlaki’, whatever the hell that was.
I think it was lunch which firstly perked me up and secondly where a bit of common sense kicked in. There are obviously cons to solo travel but there are pros too and the lack of company meant I got in to my own head a bit. I realised how ridiculous, selfish and ungrateful I sounded. I couldn’t change my situation so I might aswell enjoy the final few hours that I was here. I also knew come Monday I’d be stuck in an office probably wishing I was back in Thessaloniki. I’d already let my mood spoil my morning so I wasn’t going to let it ruin my afternoon too.
With a new-found attitude I finished off my lunch and got back to wandering. The sun was shining down on me, the sea was gleaming beautifully and for a minute it almost seemed like Greece wasn’t the worst place to be on a Friday afternoon. Reality, or the lack of it here, had finally hit me. “Why am I in a rush to get back to England?”
There was a buzz about Thessaloniki on Friday, everywhere seemed much busier than the last couple of days. There was a bit more life to the city and I think that energy helped lift my spirits. I don’t know why it was so busy, it almost felt like nobody worked on a Friday here. Perhaps there were just a few more tourists in town for the weekend but it felt like a different city.
My wandering took me past some cool pieces of architecture and I spotted a couple of cool pieces of street art too. I figured I’d maybe go and round up my trip by doing a sightseeing bus tour which would perhaps highlight some of the ‘sights’ that I’d missed. By the time I reached the pick up point though I’d changed my mind. Fortunately just across the street was this park so I thought I’d go have a look around and take advantage of some of the shade – it was particularly warm today.
It was here that I stumbled upon perhaps my favourite bar in Thessaloniki. It was an unexpected find but one I was pleased to stumble upon. I couldn’t resist stopping for a drink, it was so quiet and peaceful in comparison to an otherwise pretty busy city. Every bar and restaurant I’d passed up to now seemed full to the brim and here was this perfect place hidden away in the middle of the park.
I loved it so much I stayed for more than one, I’d planned on taking a bus to the airport which would have taken a little longer but I figured the money I’d saved on not doing the sightseeing tour could go towards grabbing a taxi instead. One beer ended up being a few before finally calling it quits, I had to make my move. It was a shame I found this place so late in my trip as it would have been nice to see how the atmosphere compared in the evening but it was a nice end to my time in Thessaloniki. My mood had significantly picked up and I was a bit sad to be heading home.
I was a little early to be heading to the airport but there was nothing else I particularly wanted to do so I flagged down a taxi. I’d barely buckled my seatbelt when my driver told me he needed to make a quick coffee stop. “Wait, what?”
It was certainly a taxi first for me. Admittedly I was early so an unplanned stop helped kill a bit of time. Also, to his credit, he did at least ask if I wanted something to drink too (I didn’t). He pulled over and said he’d be two minutes, I figured he was exaggerating but surprisingly two minutes later we were on the move. Two and a half years later I still don’t quite understand how he managed to get his coffee so quickly. Does he have a coffee guy randomly waiting on the off-chance he pops in? It was impressive.
Speaking of impressive, so was the journey. It’s a scenic drive which I hadn’t really been able to appreciate when I arrived as it had been too dark to see much. Soon enough I’d arrived at the airport, far too early and unfortunately there wasn’t actually much to keep me entertained as it’s quite a small airport. Additionally my flight was then delayed an hour so a little more boredom but all in all it was a good trip, little blip aside.
Did I get the relaxing break I wanted? Yes, for the most part.
Would I recommend Thessaloniki? Yeah, it’s a nice city and I enjoyed my brief visit.
Will I personally be going back? Probably not. Never say never but unless a specific reason presents itself I think it’s unlikely. I’m glad I went but I think one visit is enough. Greece is definitely a country I want to see more of though and this proved to be a good introduction to the country.
Have you ever been to Greece? Where else should I visit? Let me know!
Anyway, that wraps this one up! Next up on the blog? My first trip to Washington State!
Hello my loyal readers! Some of you might be wondering where I’ve been, alternatively some of you following other social media platforms might be wondering where I haven’t been given my recent travels.
Whichever bracket you fall under, the biggest reason for my disappearance is that I’ve been exhausted.
I’ve been pretty busy of late – particularly as far as traveling goes and I have been a bit overwhelmed at how busy I’ve been. It has been enjoyable but as someone who’s an introvert I crave that space to refresh and re-energise and my little free time hasn’t afforded me that luxury of late. Consequently I’ve embraced those small windows where I’ve had a bit of free time and I’ve sacrificed blogging. I just haven’t had the energy for it once travel, football, social plans, work and everything else has been over with.
The good news is I’m hopeful that I’ll be a bit more regular on the blog again, however before jumping back in to it with a travel inspired post I thought I’d focus on something a little more mental-health focused given that it is apparently mental health awareness week.
The personal posts talking of “superheroes” such as Sickboy or Weetabix boy have gone down pretty well on the blog in the past so I thought I’d speak of Social-media-boy today.
One of the big causes of the growth in mental health issues is in the “importance” of social media and how much of a detriment it is having towards people’s health. I’m quite fortunate in that the pros of an online environment or experience outweigh the cons for me. However it appears to be a growing trend that the cons are doing more damage than the pros for many other people.
People, particularly young people, suffer from comparing themselves to other people’s “perfect lives” or suffer from those “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out) moments that look incredibly more attractive than our own circumstances. Happy families, loved up couples, business-folk driving around in Ferrari’s, non-stop travelers such as myself. Everyone has it better than you, right?
I try to make this point every so often because I’m quite conscious that I’m living the perfect lifestyle online. I enjoy sharing my travel photos, I enjoy sharing my ‘highlights’ but this idea that my life is enviable is one I struggle with. We all have our insecurities and shortcomings in life and I certainly have my own.
So in the spirit of being a bit more transparent and vulnerable, here’s a dose of reality from social media boy.
I’ve somewhat covered mental health topics on the blog before but the biggest and most over-whelming response I had to any blog post was Sickboy’s tale of anxiety. Sharing that was nerve-wrecking but the response overwhelmingly supportive. I couldn’t believe how many people read it or had mentioned it over the family-weekend-get-together which fell on the weekend I posted it.
One of the big points made in that post was how daunting solo travel was and how getting past those fears helped rid me of the worst of my anxiety. I’ve traveled solo many times since and I’m commended for my ‘bravery’ which I can understand, I stand by the reality that your first solo trip is incredibly nerve-wrecking but the reality is once the first solo trip was out of the way I’ve found it incredibly easy.
The bigger fear or insecurity for me is probably the opposite – putting yourself out there to find company to travel with. I’m not opposed to sociable activity but I’m actually a bit of a recluse and somewhat of an outcast.
Do I travel solo through choice or do I ask someone to join me and end up going solo anyway because they can’t make it. Rejection! (HA!)
“Did you not know they hate you? Idiot!”
“but there’s hundreds of entirely plausible reasons they said no..”
“The most likely being they hate you!”
Don’t get me wrong, I know that I have friends and loved ones and everything else but there’s always been that nagging insecurity that I don’t fit in. Be it school, college, work, social groups, family get-togethers or whatever – I’m the oddity of the group. The quiet one, the boring one, the.. you get the point.
I’m not suggesting it’s logical. Insecurities, paranoia or self-doubt rarely is. I do have this internal argument with myself in which I reassure myself and pick myself up but that insecurity has always been there. Infact it was probably a huge cause of how my anxiety started.
I spent the best part of my teenage years locked away (not literally!) in my bedroom and had become the ultimate recluse. From the age of 14 to 20 I had no real friends and subsequently no social life. You’d be forgiven for thinking I was depressed but I was happy – genuinely for the skeptics among you.
I had friends in Texas, Massachusetts, Lancashire, Essex or countless other places around the globe. The internet deprived me of that loneliness and I immersed myself in countless online platforms. Habbo Hotel, Yahoo Pool, Xbox Live etc etc – I made friendships for life in those years but I was about as much a recluse as could be.
Then I started work at Sainsbury’s and it was the same old. I don’t fit in here, do I? It was all a little bit clique-y and consequently for what was probably the first year of my job I only had colleagues, not people I considered friends. I generally had a better relationship with the customers opposed to anyone I worked with.
Then the next batch of recruits came in and things changed! There wasn’t that same clique and I started making friends – people outside of the internet that I could actually see face to face.
You’d think having no friends would be worse but there was a comfort and safety in being a recluse, I was largely dependent on my own company and became comfortable within that. Making friends was harder. I had something valuable I now didn’t want to lose and as I started seeing these friends outside of work the anxiety kicked in.
“Don’t fuck it up you loser!”
I spoke in my sickboy post about the physical aspect of the anxiety but that’s how it was. To some extent you manage the mental side of mental illness but when it becomes physical illness too there’s nowhere to hide.
The last thing you want to be doing when meeting friends is throwing up at the sight of them. I can remember getting a bus over to a friend’s house on one occasion and having her meet me at the bus stop only to be throwing up within seconds of getting off the bus.
“Lovely to see you, bleurgh..”
For someone that struggles making friends it’s not ideal throwing up in the company of the few that take pity on you. From there the anxiety just spiraled. Every social occasion, job interview, first day, whatever resulted in the same ritual of planning around the inevitable sickness.
“Try not to throw up in the company car park before going in for this interview, okay Jason? They’re probably not looking for that..”
That sickness chapter ended with Sydney (2013), the solo trip that helped build my confidence and rid me of the worst (physical side) of my anxiety. I started traveling more and have sustained friendships and relationships and whatever else since then but there’s always been that lingering self-doubt or insecurity in terms of fitting in.
With the exception of the football community I’ve always felt like an outsider and it’s why I’ve always said football is my biggest passion, even ahead of travel. Additionally it’s why I take exception to those calling it “just a game” who’ve never experienced the community aspect to it or the belonging that comes with it.
There’s nothing quite like it and I recently said that THAT night in Amsterdam was probably the best of my life because the outpouring of emotion and jubilant celebrations that followed the game is a moment I’ll never forget. I probably hugged 100 random people out in Amsterdam and they don’t care what your background is – just that you’re Spurs.
Getting back on track, I know that self-doubt and lack of belonging is in my head and ridiculous but it’s not something that is easily turned on and off.
With that introduction comes perhaps my low-point of 2018. It was the year I turned the big 3-0, as some of you’ll know I celebrated my 30th birthday by spending 30 days in the USA.
That’s all well and good, amazing memories and all that, but I live in England. I still wanted to celebrate my birthday here, despite not enjoying being the centre of attention. Ordinarily I’d happily forego birthday plans but it was a biggie, a little more special and I had to do something with people on this little island too to mark the occasion.
Perhaps surprisingly I enjoy social outings but I’m not really a plan-maker. I’m happy to hang out and do things most of the time but it’s usually as a result of someone else organising something – a trait I’m trying to work on improving and actually being a bit more proactive in making plans.
Anyway, I wanted to keep it simple and sent out open invitations for an afternoon / evening down at a local pub/restaurant on the river (literally). A huge beer garden, warm summer day and an “all welcome” approach. Perfect!
“Nobody’s going to come. They all hate you, you loser!”
That little voice in my head was shot down. The only way I was going to get past this illogical insecurity / self doubt was to head it face on. That’s the sound advice everyone gives you right? “Face your fears”.
Of course the fairytale ending is you face that fear and you’ve overcome it afterwards. All I had to do was put myself out there and there’d be an outpour of love and happy memories to look back on.
Sadly life doesn’t always go to plan and the turnout was actually quite disheartening. I’m grateful to the few who came out but there were far fewer people than I’d anticipated. It stung.
I’d been carrying the disappointment all day and I don’t think it was until I’d put Ross in to a cab later in the night that the weight of it hit me. I was up for a boogie, up for extending the evening a bit longer but I was just sat in this club alone and felt empty. There were other people in the club of course but I was sat celebrating my birthday on my own. I was craving for a familiar face to walk through the door of the club to make me feel less alone and change the end to my night but it wasn’t to be. I felt emotional and it killed my night.
“Don’t cry here man, just get home.”
Which I did. I grabbed a taxi home, curled up in bed and shed a few tears. That pesky insecurity had got the better of me, feeling like I’d taken a slap in the face and almost validating every self-doubt I have. Admittedly I’d had a few beers but it’s very easy to overthink in the early hours of the morning and enhance that doubt in yourself.
I analysed it, I questioned everything, I even took to Facebook and bitterly culled a few people which was somewhat therapeutic if I’m honest. I then had another cry and eventually I slept.
In the immediate aftermath it perhaps left a little emotional scarring but I picked myself up, dusted myself down and reassured myself as I often do.
In the many months since I’ve contemplated posting this story multiple times in a multiple of different ways and been reluctant to hit that ‘post’ button. I don’t think there’s any way to have written this without it seeming a little guilt-trippy which is definitely not my intention!
The reality is there are numerous reasons and circumstances which didn’t go in my favour on that particular day. From commitments to finances to emergencies to whatever, there are plenty of factors that played a part and deep down I know is no reflection of how loved I am. A lot of friends were out of town and had other arrangements and that’s life. I completely understand that.
So please don’t feel:
1) Guilty. If you’re reading this there’s no resentment on my part.
2) Pity. I don’t need your pity either.
As I said the purpose of this post was more to offer a dose of reality and transparency on my part – this month in particular which has been busy. I am conscious that my life often LOOKS perfect but this was a way of showing I’m as messed up as everyone else. Everything looks perfect on the internet but we’re all dealing with our own problems.
Potentially not everyone is comfortable being as vulnerable and open with their issues but just because you’re not reading it, like you are here, that doesn’t mean people aren’t going through a rough period.
Personally I’m in a good place right now, I probably wouldn’t be posting this if I wasn’t, but I thought it important to share a brutally honest and vulnerable side to my life and low-point to my 2018. Fortunately things change quite quickly and I had a good few reminders through the rest of the year of my place and importance in the world following that. They could be seen as seemingly insignificant moments to others but moments or celebrations I was included in that reminded I’m not forgotten about or insignificant.
Anyway I think I’m done rambling, apologies if you endured all of it! Given it is mental health awareness week I’d like to end by reminding you that you can message me any time you’re struggling and need a chat.
Alternatively the following organisations all do a good job of helping those struggling with mental health and you can get in touch with if you want to talk to someone a little more anonymously.
That’s a wrap! Next time on the blog will be back to the travel stuff and specifically part 2 of my Bavaria trip (Sep 2017). If you want to remind yourself of part one you can here: A trip to Memmingen!
Alright, perhaps not quite but I thought it was a somewhat fitting title given Elle over at Elle Goes Global gave me the honour of writing my first ever guest blog post! Elle kindly provided me with the platform to write about my struggles with anxiety and how traveling went some good way to helping that so I’d love if you went and gave it a read here!
I think it’s important to speak up about mental health and it’s a piece I’m proud of. However the long-term readers of my blog might be sensing a feeling of “Sickboy” de-ja-vu because, yes, it’s a story I’ve told on my blog before and a slightly lengthier effort on that occasion too which you can read for comparison here: Travel helping my struggle with anxiety!
So in addition to the above I thought I’d dedicate the end of this particular post to Elle and a few of her own written posts that I’ve enjoyed and think you should also give a read! Check them out below!
25 countries in 25 years – One of Elle’s recent posts revolved around her visit to 25 countries before the age of 25. It’s really interesting to see where she’s been to already. From nearby countries in Europe to faraway lands such as South Africa or Mauritius.
Go let her know where to visit before 30 in her quest to reach 30 countries!
How to travel solo and still have the best holiday ever! – Exactly what it says in the title. Solo travel can be quite daunting if you’ve never done it before and I personally know a few are still having doubts about whether to travel solo or not. Elle offers a few tips on how you can have the best time traveling solo which might just be enough to give solo travel a chance!
72 hours in Valencia – One city I’m keen to visit at some point is Valencia in Spain. It’s somewhere that has always appealed to me and a good excuse to return to Spain at some point. Fortunately Elle has written a 72 hour guide on the city which is well worth giving a read. It’s given me a few ideas for when I get around to visiting!
Visitors guide to Cardiff – Somewhere else I’m hopeful I’ll visit properly soon is Cardiff. It is a city I’ve briefly visited but I don’t really count it as somewhere I’ve been to. This month Wales has been a frequent visitor to my news feeds on social media with celebrations for St David’s Day and Wales Six Nations success.
It’s definitely somewhere I’ll try spend a weekend in at some point this year and Elle has written up a useful guide for visitors to the city!
Fantastic treasures in Italy – Another country I’m keen to return to and see more of is Italy. I’ve only been to Italy the once, visiting Pisa and Florence back in 2015 which was a fantastic trip. It’s a country I’m overdue returning to and in this particular post Elle has advised of a few ‘treasures’ to visit in the country.
Anyway, I’ll leave it at that but if you want to see more from Elle you’ll find her at: Facebook Instagram Twitter
or over on the blog of course.
I’d love to hear what you think of the guest post and it’s certainly something I’m open to doing more often so get in touch if you’d like me to write up something for your own blog.
Rather than focus on a specific destination I thought I would switch the topic by looking at something a little more personal and perhaps more relatable for those who don’t travel as frequently as I do.
I initially planned to post this on “World Mental Health Day” and the recent “Time To Talk Day” was another opportunity to do so but whilst I recognise the good work campaigns like these do, you almost fall in to a trap which defeats the intention of said campaigns.
The message these campaigns want to get across is that it’s important to talk about mental health/illness – I completely agree. However in practice you find people raise the issue on World Mental Health Day for example and then it doesn’t get mentioned again until next year’s World Mental Health Day, where it’s then mentioned again how important it is to talk about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I do applaud these campaigns for starting the conversation but it’s easy to fall in to that trap. If mental health is something we want to see understood better within society then it needs to become more of an every-day conversation opposed to a once-a-year raise awareness day. So I scrapped my initial intention and figured posting this on a personal ‘anniversary’ for me was more appropriate.
I consider myself to have been fortunate with my mental health on the whole. I’m generally a positive person which helps the overall state of my mental health. Depression has always alluded me and whilst everyone has their bad days or difficult times it has never been more than that for me. It’s very different from those struggling and fighting depression on a daily basis.
My “achilles heel” however has always been anxiety.
I’ve never talked too much about my anxiety and there’s two reasons for that; first and foremost I’m a fairly independent person. My anxiety isn’t some big secret and some people are aware of it but it’s not something I drop into conversation too often. I’ve never been particularly good at talking about myself or sharing all of the aspects of my life.
I fully advocate talking about mental illness. I think it’s important to talk to someone if you’re struggling but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to talk about it to everyone. The latter has been more my approach I suppose. I know there are people I can talk to as and when I need to but I’ve personally preferred dealing with mine on a smaller scale rather than making a big thing of it.
So similarly if you’re struggling then please just find someone to talk to, it doesn’t have to be a public SOS for everyone to see. Just one person can make a difference and I promise you there is someone that cares and is willing to listen if you need someone to talk to. If you’re doubtful that person exists please message me any time. I’m not much of a talker but listening I’m pretty good at!
The second reason I’ve never talked about my anxiety too much in the past is because for a long time I didn’t really understand it. I think by the time I realised it was anxiety that I’d suffered from the worst of it had gone. I still suffer from, what I consider to be, mild anxiety. Part of that overlaps in being an introvert, I don’t think I’ll ever be fully rid of anxiety because traits of my personality just make it impossible to avoid. Fortunately on a day-by-day basis I’ve found a way of managing the occasions where my anxiety is eating away at my brain.
However that wasn’t always the case. At the peak of my anxiety I was really struggling with it, both mentally and physically – possibly more the latter. The mental side of the illness was easier to hide, the physical aspect I couldn’t escape from.
I’d love to be able to pinpoint an exact point in time where it switched because it certainly wasn’t with me through my childhood.
I first remember it being an issue shortly after starting my first job when I’d start spending time with friends outside of work. I loved the people and it was great to be able to spend time together away from work but on one occasion I started to feel a little unwell, next thing I knew I was throwing up.
Did I eat something funny? Maybe I just needed a little fresh air? My friends were a little concerned but reassuring and helped make me feel comfortable.. Shortly after the feeling had passed and I got back to enjoying the company and the occasion. I couldn’t really explain why I’d been sick but you know, sometimes people just get sick. It was certainly uncomfortable for me but I’d just put it down as a one time thing.
Until the next time – now a pattern has emerged. “Sick again! Wonderful! I felt fine 20 minutes ago, where has this come from?”
With the benefit of hindsight I can see it was anxiety but at the time I had no idea why this was happening. I didn’t really know anything about anxiety and that this was causing me to be sick, perhaps if I’d been more aware of it I could have managed it better but all I knew was ‘Sickboy’ had returned (the “superhero” name needs a little work) and wanted to spoil my day.
The pattern quickly became a habit and that’s when the mental illness really kicked in. I’d gone from thinking of it as a one time thing to pleading that it didn’t happen again – the fact it was already playing on my mind didn’t help. The mental side of the anxiety had me reminiscing of being sick on previous catch-ups and all I could think about was what I could do to stop it. All I could think about was not being sick again and I think having it play on my mind so much meant there was only ever going to be one outcome = “BLEURGH!”.
It was now a worry. Hope turned in to acceptance for future social situations. Wishing it away wasn’t working so let’s plan around it – “alright body, I’m meeting friends at 1 so if we could get the throwing up done by midday that’d be grand”.
Body: “I mean, that sounds reasonable but do you know what would be more fun..?” “Bleurgh”.
I had no control over it and the more it happened the more it played on my mind. It had affected me socially and then started creeping in to other aspects of my life.
I remember going back to college, day one resulted in making numerous stops in what should have been a short walk to the college grounds from the city centre but another “first day” meeting new people was overwhelming.
Similarly I’d go to job interviews and my brain was over-thinking like crazy. Being nervous for a job interview is pretty common, I was certainly no different in that respect but the pre-interview period was just as difficult.
People wisely recommend that you aren’t late for a job interview, I hate being late for anything so that wasn’t an issue. My issue was I was too early! I’m here and I can’t even go in yet, I’d started questioning what is early and what is too early – finding the right balance between a good impression and a sad desperation. Being early can be a good trait but it just left me more time to think about every little thing, the anxiety came over me and then suddenly I knew what was coming.
I didn’t particularly want the first interview question to be “were you the guy throwing up outside?” so I was then pacing up and down the street searching for somewhere more suitable to embarrass myself publicly (“are you alright mate?”).
I couldn’t go anywhere without fear of another wave of anxiety accompanying me. Come the summer of 2011 I was heading to Ibiza, my first trip abroad without any adult supervision. It hit me like a tonne of bricks as I made my way up to Manchester to meet friends. Again, I don’t think I really appreciated it was anxiety at the time but looking back my arch-enemy ‘anxiety’ was commanding its close friend ‘Sickboy’ to return and get my trip off to the worst of starts.
It was my first unsupervised trip and I guess deep down I knew it. Despite having friends with me there was no real safety net for this trip and I guess I was aware of it to some degree. The “lads” holiday didn’t start how I’d hoped, I spent the night before being ill before getting an early night whilst the others enjoyed themselves – the taunts of being “a lightweight” were inevitable but I knew I’d barely had more than a beer and this wasn’t alcohol-related.
I’d not even left the country and I was being sick, it didn’t bode well for the rest of the trip. Fortunately, like many occasions before it, the feeling passed. I woke up nervous and excited at going away “properly” for the first time. However I quickly found my feet, had a wonderful week and wanted more.
I grew up a little on that trip, Three months later I was starting a new job and from then on I started making progress in my battle with anxiety. The anxiety-related-sickness still reared its head on occasions but the instances were becoming far fewer. I was still pretty hopeless socially but at least “Sickboy” wasn’t coming out to play every time I left the house.
The worst of my anxiety seemed to be over and that takes me up to my biggest test yet. February 9th 2013: Today marks my 5 year anniversary since traveling from London to Sydney – solo! I was traveling to the other side of the planet and this time I didn’t even have the luxury of friends to fall back on.
On the second trip to Ibiza we (I’m looking at you Chris) managed to flood our hotel room which isn’t really what you want when on holiday. However we dealt with it – no need to panic! Fortunately the hotel wasn’t fitted with carpets and we could simply sweep the water away without any damage done (except for a few wet personal items).
Much of my anxiety I’d had on the first trip had disappeared because it was familiar the second time round. A familiar location with familiar company and we even stayed at the same hotel as the first trip so I knew exactly what to expect when traveling the second time.
Traveling solo was completely different and it tested my anxiety and confidence. I had the idea to go to Sydney for months but I was reluctant to tell people too soon because I didn’t want to start telling people and then look foolish once I backtracked. I couldn’t possibly travel on my own, could I? I was this shy little kid who didn’t know anything about anything.
I floated the idea with a few people and soon enough I was booking the time off work, I had the money to book everything and yet still no concrete plans. Money and time off were one thing but mentally I just couldn’t bring myself to get it booked.
In a literal sense obviously it isn’t true but in some respects I think there were other people who knew I was going to Sydney before I did. I was probably the last to genuinely believe it. I had people congratulating me on how brave I was and inside I was shitting myself. Come January I still hadn’t even booked my February trip to Australia – was I even going to go? Was anxiety going to ruin this for me too? I could wait, I can go another time, wait until someone comes with me.
“That is NEVER happening!” – this was probably the thing I told myself to make it happen. Maybe I would still have made it to Sydney at some point in the future but convincing myself I wouldn’t was enough to overcome the anxiety to book it. So what if I was going alone? People do it all of the time. The only person stopping me from going to Australia was myself – if anything there’d be more reasons/excuses in the future not to go. Relationships, responsibilities, financial commitments and so many other things. Stop making bloody excuses!
Alright! It’s booked! Wait, shit! It’s booked. There’s no going back now.
Luckily I left it so late to book the trip I didn’t really give myself long to worry myself about the trip. The trip to the airport I was feeling the nerves and a little sickly but importantly I wasn’t sick! My dad dropped me off at the airport, took a pre-trip photo to share with the world (Facebook) and from then I was on my own!
London to Singapore, Singapore to Sydney, two weeks in Sydney, Sydney to Singapore, Singapore to London – easy!
By the time my dad left my nerves had turned more in to excitement. I was going to fucking Australia! The journey wasn’t without its nervous moments. I boarded my flight in Singapore heading to Sydney and sat in the wrong seat for starters, which is a shame as I had friendly neighbours until realising and then having to move. I started getting comfy in my correct seat only for the plane to black out before take-off – is that supposed to happen? I looked around but nobody else was panicking, I guess we’re okay.. the plane blacks out again! Okay, that’s now twice!
I’m not normally a nervous flyer but suddenly I felt uneasy. Check the phalange or whatever else you need to do but surely we’re not going to fly? I don’t want this bloody plane blacking out mid-air! I’m not religious but come take-off I was looking to the heavens for divine intervention to make sure everything went smoothly, it’s the most nervous I’ve ever been for a flight and then the whirring noise started. “What the fuck is that? That can’t be good!”
What was it? The bloody wings manoeuvring. I suppose I’d never sat that close to them before or never noticed the noise it makes in switching from take-off to flying mode because I had no idea and was a wreck for the first 20 minutes of the flight.
I soon calmed down and it wasn’t until landing that I started panicking again. Having made it a few hours panic-free that whirring noise had returned – “oh come on.. we’re almost there! Please land safely..!” . Unsurprisingly the wings were doing the reverse of take-off and getting ready for landing. It was knowledge I wish I’d had during the flight rather than trying to familiarise myself with the faces of my crash-buddies around me.
I landed in Sydney! I’d survived! I was relieved. I passed through customs without any problems and was soon arriving at Sydney’s Central train station. Blue skies and the sound of that beautiful accent – I was actually here! I was in fucking Sydney! Time to enjoy it!
I had an amazing time in Sydney which you can read about ( Sydney! ) and for me February 9th represents a memorable day for me which, as cliché as it sounds when it comes to traveling, was life-changing.
I’d conquered solo travel about as far away from home as I could get and it really put “Sickboy” to bed.
I’m not suggesting traveling cured my anxiety because it is something I still struggle with and if it was that easy to rid yourself of mental illness then nobody would struggle with it but for me personality it proved to be a big help.
I was eating out in restaurants by myself, having to interact with strangers, putting myself in unfamiliar scenarios and it built my confidence in a way that only traveling could do. I’d always thought of myself as some shy little kid whereas I think this trip taught me there’s a difference between being quiet and lacking confidence.
I’m never going to be the life of the party but I’m okay with that, it doesn’t mean I don’t have the confidence to go out, enjoy the world and live my life.
Ibiza had given me a taste but this trip really kick-started my love affair with travel and rid me of some of the doubts holding me back. If I could travel to Sydney by myself I could do anything. A month later I was booking a solo weekend trip to Köln and the traveling has been non-stop since.
Anxiety still invites itself along for the ride of life on occasions and remains an unwelcome plus-one but I’m ecstatic to have wished farewell to “Sickboy” who hasn’t (but for self-inflicted-hangovers) been seen since prior to that airport-journey 5 years ago!
I’m luckier than most in that my anxiety is pretty mild, manageable and without medication too. However I do wish I’d had the luxury of hindsight and perhaps if more people were talking about mental illness ten years ago I’d have understood my anxiety better before it really span out of control.
Whether you’re open about your mental illness or struggle with it quietly know that there are people you can turn to. Find loved ones you can talk to, feel free to message me any time or if you’d prefer something a little more anonymous get in touch with the many organisations who have people specialised to help those struggling with their mental health.
I’ve linked to a few organisations below who can advise better than I can and hopefully help make some positive steps in either overcoming it or managing it better.