Have suitcase, will travel - Angela Scanlon's wanderlust
Published 18/01/2016 | 02:30
Bitten by the travel bug at an early age, Angela Scanlon has travelled the world with zeal - and she has no intention of stopping...
My first flight abroad was a trip to Leeds for my cousin's wedding.
I had an amazing denim Ra-Ra skirt (yes, I've always been that cool) and white tights with love hearts. We flew with Aer Lingus and the hostesses were the most glorious people I had ever seen. Their lipstick matched their nails and they wore chic, navy heels and French rolls that felt wildly exotic.
They gave me a colouring book and sweets that tasted of plastic and promise and in that instant I wanted to grow up to be just like them...
The idea that I could fly around the world, for free - actually for money - made me very happy. Up until that point, I had been to Trabolgan and Roscommon, Belmullet and Skibbereen but never anywhere that involved a flight. As we grew up holidays became slightly more exotic and that airport-induced excitement has stayed with me.
As a teenager, I travelled all around Europe, mostly on a bus while singing Imagine by John Lennon and Under The Sea from The Little Mermaid.
As an Irish dancer, dozens of us were shuttled around festivals having the time of our lives. Sweating profusely in a heavy velvet costume, seeing things I'd only ever dreamt about and eating veal schnitzel. I had made it.
Then the big one - America. That was the dream … a place I'd seen in Mannequin, Top Gun and Grease; somewhere foreign and fabulous, a little forbidden, sun-drenched with a stench of motorcycle oil, ketchup and suncream. My dad had considered moving there before he met my mam and so it always held some sort of otherworldly appeal.
I also secretly believed that if I met Slater from Saved By The Bell I could live there forever and we could have wonderful-looking babies with ginger afros.
Up until midway through college my travel plans had been largely made for me. Wherever the gig was, that's where we'd go, but a dodgy ankle and premature retirement meant I was suddenly thrust into the hinterland. Apart from the fact that I couldn't dance, I realised that my regular excursions had suddenly and abruptly come to an end. Once I dried my eyes I realised it had accidentally been a gift. I could go anywhere. With anyone I wanted. Anytime. AND I wouldn't have blisters.
In the pub one random night I invited myself on a J1 with a group of basic strangers who are now my best mates. They were going to Santa Barbara while I was facing the first summer in a decade on home soil and I felt smothered by the very idea. Bags packed and only half tentative I headed west, way west. It was the best summer of my early adult life. We ran amok and had a ball and I wished I could stay in that sun-soaked, beer-swigging paradise forever.
After a brief stint in a Mexican jail I realised that this was what life was about. No rules, no call times, no teachers, no assholes (apart from the cop in the cell who had once had his heart broken by a Limerick girl). I could, and would, explore the world as long as I had money in my pocket and a willing companion.
The next couple of years involved a six-month stint in New York, a year in Australia, a month in New Zealand and six months hopping from Thailand to Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. I worked in a shoe shop, a fabric shop, in an ice cream parlour, a cinema, as a secretary and a barmaid. I shared a place with a distant aunt and my best mate in New York, the chief of a tribe (and his family) in Laos and a hut with a group of German ping pong players in Thailand.
In Sydney I lived in what can only be described as a commune, just with more perfume and hormones and fun, 12 girls with one lucky man chucked into the mix. And my favourite, a yellow van called Scotty that we ate, slept, drank, laughed, fought and nearly died in! A yellow HiAce is not exactly a sexy mode of transport for four girls, and I spent three months with my three best mates sharing a mattress, muesli and more than I care to remember.
We travelled down the Gold Coast in our trusty steed, he nearly killed us on a number of occasions. We set him on fire, almost drove him off the road and for the last month of our endurance test we had to push-start it every day by running alongside, then diving in the side door before we lost steam and had to start the process all over again.
Those were some of my happiest and most miserable days! Flitting between moments of hysteria to claustrophobia. Sheer abandoned freedom and ridiculousness and actual heartfelt fear.
That's the beauty about travel - you learn things about yourself that you never realised before. I realised I get hideously cranky when I'm not fed and that it is possible to live on instant porridge (and vodka) for many months. I learned that I am conveniently allergic to the sun and that I can do a keg stand for 30 seconds.
I can sleep peacefully while travelling on Indian roads that cause most people to pass out with fear and I can pretty much eat anything if it means not insulting the cook (a chicken's cheek, eye intact, was once thrust into my mouth by a 90-year-old Cambodian woman, and who was I to refuse her generosity).
Travel makes you feel removed from the day to day, switched off from the mundane but plugged into something so much greater.
Travelling changes the filter with which you see things. Not always rose-tinted but altered, sometimes temporarily, sometimes forever. It is food for the soul and the mind. Inspiring, shocking, uncomfortable, wonderful -sometimes all in one day. It is the ultimate freedom, an accessible luxury and arguably the most amazing gift our generation has been given.
Angela Scanlon presents Getaways, Thursdays at 7pm, RTE One
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