Whatever direction we take in life, we all have people who have inspired us. For some it is an award-winning athlete, for others an individual who has triumphed over adversity. Maybe yours is someone who has dedicated their lives to helping others? In honour of UK Mother’s Day & International Woman’s Day, I thought I would share my biggest inspiration to travel – my Mum, who barely went anywhere. Here’s why…”
Whatever direction we take in life, we will all have people who have inspired us.
For me, it’s my Mum, a woman who never really travelled but has inspired me to believe that I can take on the world. In honour of Mother’s Day in the UK (14th March) & International Woman’s Day (March 8th), I thought I would be a bit sentimental & share an ode to my biggest travel inspiration.
It’s quite interesting to think that the biggest inspiration for me to undertake a life of travel, never actually went very far. My Mum wasn’t the person who shouted the loudest or even ever wanted much attention. She never considered herself to be anything other than the best mother she could be to her 2 daughters. But most importantly, somehow, she made me believe that I can do anything I want to in life. And hence in my small way, I kind of have…
Growing up we didn’t have a lot of money, but we did relish our annual 2-week family holiday. At first, this was heading to the same spot on the Isle of Wight for many years in a row, followed by the several more on the coast of Devon in the UK.
As we got older, we ventured into another country…Wales, before finally leaving the British Isles to spend our fortnight staying in a static caravan on a camp site in Brittany, France.”
I loved those holidays & they were the highlight of our year. We spent the days playing on the beach & occasionally hiking (which I complained about constantly, & my Mum always seemed to do in her flip flops). In the evenings we stayed in playing cards as a family before our final trip “up the passageway” as my Dad used to call it. This meant visiting the toilet which for some reason was never located in our actual accommodation.
Then my geography lessons at school opened my eyes to the world beyond our caravan.
A passion ignited
I wanted to travel & worked 2 jobs to save for my first big adventure. In 1992 the only way to book a holiday was to visit a travel agent. With my newfound wealth burning a hole in my pocket, I headed into London to explore how far it would get me.
I was naïve & my first few interactions didn’t fill me with excitement. Imagine the conversation…
Me “I’d like to go on an overland trip somewhere”
Agent “Where would you like to go?”
Agent “It’s hard for me to suggest anything if you don’t actually know where you would like to visit.”
I’d then leave with a handful of brochures & no more clue than when I started.
Finally, I ended up in a place for a similar conversation with another agent. Except for this time, her response was “Well our Africa agent is downstairs, would you like to go & have a chat with him?”… & the rest is history!
The Africa agent told me about all these magical places that I had never heard of (Ngorongoro Crater anyone?), the amazing beasts I could see, the lakes I could cross, the gigantic waterfalls & the white water rafting down fantastical rivers. I was hooked!
By the time I left I was practically signed up to 3 months travelling in a truck with 20 other people, camping around Africa from Kenya to Zimbabwe. I returned home sparkling with enthusiasm & stated, “Mum, I’m going to Africa!”
I can’t even start to imagine what went on in my mother’s head when she heard those immortal words. But what came out of her mouth was “Ok dear, tell me all about it…” And there, a lifetime of travel inspiration & self-belief was born!
Yes is a far more powerful word than No
I don’t remember everything that went on in that conversation as I was so wrapped up in my plans & what I had heard of this magical land far away. But knowing my Mum, I can imagine. She saw her youngest daughter, who was usually quite reserved & shy, brimming with enthusiasm about her impending plans. She listened & encouraged & no matter how terrifying it must have been for her, she never told me not to go. My Mum never mentioned that she was scared or anything other than “Be careful”.
Mums know best
So, I was on my way to Africa. I bought my first backpack & laid out everything I was going to take with me on the bed. It was hard to imagine that it would ever all fit into such a tiny space. Mum came in to have a look & I talked her through my proud display. She was on board with most of my choices until it came to underwear. I had 5 pairs in a pile. She was confused as to why I would need so few (& I think a little disgusted!). “I’ll wash them as I go!” was my expert response. “They don’t take up any space, don’t be ridiculous you need more than 5 pairs”. With that, she left the room.
I doubled my knicker collection & since then, every time I pack, I have her words echoing in my head. You can scrimp on anything… except underwear.”
A Perfect Start
I was lucky & happened to meet a girl on the plane who was also on my trip (the agents had told us to look out for each other). She was a way more experienced traveller than me. She took me under her wing & we had a fun time exploring together. We spent a day in Mombasa, got the overnight train to Nairobi, visited a giraffe sanctuary, Karen Blixen’s (Out of Africa) house & got the local buses everywhere.
Then it was my turn to get a few last-minute supplies before we joined the rest of the group to start our proper adventure. I headed out to Nairobi to explore on my own for the first time. It wasn’t a long trip but by the time I got home, my backpack zip was open & my wallet had been stolen. I was mortified!
Thankfully, I hadn’t lost much. The lucky thieves had got away with a number of dodgy passport photos which I needed for visas along the way. I had a little bit of money but most of it was back in my hotel room so no big drama. However, there was a credit card for emergencies & although it didn’t even come into date for another week, it needed to be cancelled.
A Homesick Child
I called home to tell my Mum & Dad what had happened so they could call the bank & get it sorted. It was a hard conversation to have.
It was 4 days into my 3-month adventure & I had already failed at the first hurdle. Hearing their voices, I burst into tears.”
It’s one of the few times I have ever felt homesick. But hotel phones are expensive, so it was a short conversation where I told them, through my tears, that I was OK. That’s all they had.
I put the phone down & pulled myself together. After all, it could have been a whole lot worse. But these were the days before mobile phones, the internet, social media & What’s App. I wanted to get the message home that I was alright. I wrote a letter to tell them not to worry & put it into a reliable Nairobi post box, before moving on for my adventure.
It makes me feel sick thinking how worried I must have left them with that…& how long the letter I sent to put their minds at rest would have taken to reach them.
Who is in control?
The thing is, when we are the ones travelling, we are in control. We know we are safe & well & the world is way less scary than we read in the papers. But what about those we leave behind? They don’t know any of this. In my Mum’s case, she had sent off a naïve, slightly shambolic 22-year-old girl & the first she heard from her was in tears after having something stolen. She couldn’t hug me, comfort me or tell me it would be ok.
And me? I went to meet the others on my African adventure. I made new friends, got attacked by lions in the Serengeti, met the Maasai in the Mara, finally discovered what a wonder the Ngorongoro Crater was & got manhandled by a chimpanzee in Burundi. By the time I had the awesome experience of trekking in Rwanda to meet the mountain gorillas, it was 6 weeks since my parents had heard anything from me.
When I realised, I sent them a postcard. That was sure to have put their minds at rest!”
As you can imagine, when I returned in one piece from this amazing adventure, my Mum was hugely relieved to see me back. But I did get a stern telling off about the lack of contact. Rightly so. But I was also told endlessly how proud she was of me. I had conquered Africa. I was indestructible…where next?
After settling into a “proper job” which allowed me to save more money for a much longer trip, I headed interrailing in Europe. Again, none of my friends were available to come with me or had been told not to go by their parents. This time I was truly on my own. But the lesson had been learned. Again, technology had not been invented which kept us in touch, but at least I had discovered postcards. Everywhere I went, I would send a card to my Mum & Dad. Each one contained the date, my location, what I’d been doing & where I was headed next. That’s what keeping in touch is all about!!
I still have those postcards as Mum kept them all. It’s great documentation of innocence & exuberance as Europe, Australia & finally, Indonesia opened my eyes to the world beyond a campsite in Brittany. I also thrilled my parents along the way by doing a bungee jump in New Zealand (something my Dad made me swear I would never do).
I didn’t tell them, just sent home the video with a post it note saying “Watch this!” How I pity my wonderful parents when I look back….”
You’re never too old
My Mum’s commitment was always to our family. She wanted the best for my sister & I & did everything she could to nurture us. She made sure she had a job which meant she could be there when I got back from school, to make me a snack & hear about my day. I remember the moment she sat me down to tell me that she was thinking of applying for a promotion. Her biggest concern was not to be there when I got home from school. Of course, I was independent & could do everything for myself so brushed it off & encouraged her.
As she turned 50, she became a career woman. She started to recognise her own worth & applied for a role where she could nurture the students at the university she worked at. Many years later I worked with a guy who had been a student in her department. He had nothing but praise for the lovely Wendy & how she looked after them all. She had now spread her motherly love further. As I have downsized my career & professional ambitions as I got older, my Mum started to crank hers up. That made me very proud too.
Every second counts
Unfortunately, I lost my wonderful Mum back in 1999. It all happened very quickly. She was only 57. She missed my wedding but was able to be at the birth of her first granddaughter in Australia (who is now 22). Losing her so young as I move through my fifties has put a fire in my belly to make the most of every single day. We never know how long we’ve got. Hence my mission to fit as many amazing experiences as I can into however long there is.
But her legacy lives on in the close relationship I have with my sister on the other side of the world. In the gorgeous, spirited & independent girls who are my wonderful nieces. And in the way I never stop being grateful to her for what she gave me; the chance to spread my wings beyond anything she had ever experienced. And she still tells me every day how proud she is of me.
My experiences have shaped who I am today. The fact that my Mum, although terrified over the unknown, gave me her blessing & allowed me to follow my dreams.
People occasionally tell me that I am brave to travel alone. But I question, who is braver? Me or my Mum to just tell me to go & encourage me? I believe that is the bravest thing anyone could ever do. If that’s not the ultimate inspiration, I don’t know what is!”
The people who truly inspire us are not always those who have done what we dream of doing. Sometimes, it’s those who haven’t but believe in us, who have the greatest impact. Thank you, Mum. I’m sorry. I love you xxx
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