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Big OE: We gotta get out of this place

CHRIS ARCHER
Last updated 05:00 07/02/2014

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I finished secondary school in December 2010, three months after the September Canterbury earthquake.

Due to the damage from the quake, I was able to procure a "summer job" as a support person at an insurance company. It was a two-month contract devised to help ease the workload for them, and to give me a bit of cash over summer.

This two-month contract snowballed into a much longer contract following the February 22, 2011 earthquake.

By the close of November 2011, almost a full year after starting, a friend of mine (who was working in the mines in Perth), invited me to come and visit him for two weeks.

His plan was to quit when I arrived, then come back to New Zealand with me two weeks later. He had cash saved; I had cash saved. Why not? So, I booked two weeks annual leave from work, and set out.

Upon arrival in Perth, we did a bit of camping and a lot of driving, until three days into the stay when, after a few too many tipples of duty-free liquor, my friend booked us flights to Bangkok for the very next day - something neither of us remember happening, but realised upon checking his emails the following morning. So we packed up, drove back to Perth airport, and got our flight.

I won't go into too much detail of our time in South East Asia. But to cut a long story short, we had one week in Thailand and Cambodia before heading back to Perth, then New Zealand.

Immediately, I had to start back at my insurance job. Alas, I'd been bitten by that cursed parasitic travel bug. Every few days I'd be checking airline and travel agent sites, keeping an eye out for the deals.

Skip ahead now, to January of 2013. After a long discussion about the various issues we had with our lives at that time, another friend came out with a particularly heated and inspirational rant, and the other three of us present were sold: we four decided to just bite the bullet, and all book our flights to Europe, not caring when or where to start, so long as we made an escape and took refuge from our current situations.

Of course, I was the only one to actually book.

I'd booked a one-way flight to London for June 2013, giving me five months to save up. I booked one-way because I was unsure how long I wanted to be away for, unsure if I was going to work whilst travelling, unsure of anything other than the fact that I didn't enjoy my job very much.

As soon as I had enough money I purchased a three-month continuous global Eurail pass, essentially meaning I had three months of unlimited train travel between participating European countries. The next step was to save enough money to live indefinitely.

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I arrived in London with about NZ$6000.

Of course this exchanged automatically to around £3000. I hadn't bothered looking for working visas, so it was more of a survival venture than a working holiday.

For my first month I stayed with friends. Then I flew out to Berlin and began the real travel, being all alone and catching trains. Everywhere. All. The. Time.

There were ups and downs; having my iPhone stolen in Prague was very much a mixed blessing.

Having no music, no technology to distract myself, not even any way of telling the time made for an exciting challenge, putting me in situations where I had to be creative to entertain myself, and meaning I had to start a conversation with somebody just to know what time of day it was.

Eventually, a very close friend arrived in Europe, and we met up for several weeks.

There were fines in Poland; there were wild dogs and shady characters in Romania; there were sicknesses and theft in Bulgaria; and oh sweet Lord there were hangovers.

I ran out of money a couple of times and was forced to contact the bank of mum and dad, pleading my case (a highly recommended bank, by the way - they even loaned me a flight ticket home).

But at the end of the day, I had an amazing 173 days away, and met some incredible people whose genuine kindness and generosity moved me. I wouldn't hesitate to throw myself into that situation again.

The current five-year plan is to finish my teaching degree and head to Asia for a teaching position. I guess old habits die hard.


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