I often feel like a tiny fish in a big pool that is the industry. A tiny fish swimming against a tide of other tiny fish, all battling to make an impact, a difference, become a leader, an innovator, or a barrier breaker. But I also can’t get over the privilege of my position. The privilege of traveling for work. Of feeling like I’ve made it into a role that I could never have dreamed of.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely not some jet-setting executive. I’m certainly lucky to have traveled as much as I have and there are others in my position who have traveled less. Or more. But to be able to travel at all – it’s almost a dream come true for me.
I’m second generation Australian. My grandparents on both sides immigrated to Australia in the 1950s from Northern Italy. Mostly uneducated, but hard-working. Prepared to leave the old country behind and start anew. My Mum was encouraged to go to University. My dad a tradesman – a carpenter. Both also ridiculously resilient and challenged only by themselves to be better and to do more for their kids than their parents could ever do for them.
When I was ten, we traveled overseas for the first time. Even as a ten year old, I knew what a big deal that was. How lucky we were to have this experience. Perhaps now, it seems so much more accessible for families to travel overseas, or perhaps I dance in different circles in the present. Certainly none of my friends were so lucky and I very much knew that I was exceedingly fortunate to travel. Of course, it was a little easier for my parents, with family still in Italy, but I still remember the weekly trips mum made to deposit money in the bank for us to save for that trip – years of saving every dollar. To give us a chance to see where we came from and much, much more.
They say you ‘get the travel bug.’ Perhaps we did. Or perhaps once you’ve done it, it seems a lot easier to do. Once I turned eighteen, like many young Australians, I was determined to travel more. There’s a fair bit of FOMO and YOLO in that. Spending hard earned money working shifts at Coles or for a pittance as an under-grad architect. Then out-laying it all for a few weeks of adventure. That sounds like regret, but it’s not. I wouldn’t have those pennies back for the world.
My Mum is a biochemist by trade. She took some 8 years out with my sister and I, before going back as a lab technician at a carpet manufacturer, where my Nonna worked on the factory floor. The place made car upholstery, which is how she eventually made it to work for Holden. When I was in year 10, my Mum went on her first business trip. She was off to Detroit, England, Germany for research and development. Now THAT was amazing. I remember it being such a big deal. I was, as a little kid, so scared and nervous for her. A solo trip around the world! Business Class? Inconceivable! The stress for us back at home. On that first trip back in 2011, she left Detroit the day before 9/11. My Dad ended up with shingles and passed a kidney stone, he was so stressed out.
I never thought it would happen for me. Did I aspire to that? I thought I could never do it. And yet here I am. On my third work trip by myself. This time to Frankfurt. All in the name of making sure everything is on track. That quality is good and that our requirements are understood. The kind of trip that seems excessive, yet can be worth it’s weight in gold if it prevents catastrophe.
Traveling without your partner in crime, whether that be a partner or a friend… is a crime in itself. You can’t exclaim out loud about the architecture. Dinner conversation is lacking and I usually eat too much when sitting by myself. Wine feels lonely. Pros – you can go to as many galleries and museums as you want, until you realise your feet can’t match your ambition. Did I mention the lonely wine? I find there’s always a lot of killing time when travelling by oneself.
‘We’re never done with killing time.
Can I kill it with you?’
Thanks, Lorde. No, you can’t. Because post 2pm in Europe, my home world goes silent. The time difference in Europe to Australia is woeful. China not so bad.
I recently listened to the BBC and Nordic NRK’s podcast Death in Ice Valley, which is about the story of the Isdal Woman. A woman who was travelling by herself in the ‘70s, when these things were rare, she wound up murdered outside of Bergen. Thoughts of the story came to mind as I boarded the plane. Being a woman of the twenty-first century and traveling on my lonesome. Perhaps still not common, but certainly not strange. Prevailing myths on the Isdal Woman say she was a spy, or a prostitute. Because apparently that’s what lone women are. Options.
People think it’s so glamorous. Which it certainly is and is not. Yes there are perks. The flyer miles. The dinners. The experiences. However, there’s also the exhaustion, the personal stress. Pushing your body to the limit. Two trips stand out in mind, where I flew 17 hrs to spend 48 hours on the ground, another 17 hours back, arriving 9:00am, to go straight to work on a Thursday, somehow make it through Friday… only to be in bed the whole weekend with acute exhaustion. The almost certainty that I’ll get sick from the toll.
In Europe I find it frustrating that everyone has a second language and it’s a working second language. They wear it like a second skin. Unlike my own mediocre knowledge of Italian nouns and verbs, which is overwhelmingly sub-par. I feel we have a real loss in Australia. English is spoken so well as a second language everywhere, it’s almost too easy to travel. The motivation or imperative to learn a language, just isn’t there.
I’m lucky because I don’t have a family. Well I have my husband and my fur babies, but they can be left at home to fend for themselves (husband included). I know it’s possible to travel when one has a family, but would I feel guilty doing so? I have a fear of being tied down. Even though I’m hardly living a gypsy life.
As much as it seems hard and stressful at the time and certainly about to board another flight right now, it doesn’t seem appealing at all. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I thank my circumstances and my privilege every day for the opportunities that are afforded to me. It makes me acutely aware of just how fortunate I am. And perhaps that’s why I have an urge to make a difference. I know with Gazella we are trying to do that every day.