After more than two years of travel and exploration in the UK and abroad, Clare and I have decided to go our separate ways. It was not an easy decision to make and came with all the sadness and grief of losing a loved one. We still cared for each other deeply, yet we had come to realise we were at points in our lives where we could see that staying together was perhaps not the best thing for our future growth and development as individuals.
We arranged to spend our final days together in an Airbnb apartment in the small village of Little Chalfont in Buckinghamshire, north-west of London. It had not been an easy task finding somewhere to stay. Being a long weekend meant prices were high and a lot of places were already booked out.
Little Chalfont was a place neither of us had been to before but getting to it proved relatively easy – it was almost at the end of the Metropolitan line on the London Underground. From the station, we had a ten minute walk along leafy streets lined with big shady trees before arriving at our Airbnb. It consisted of a private annexe to a larger home, on the edge of the village and right next to the woods. It was quiet and peaceful, away from distractions and intrusions, and with some typically fine English landscape close by.
We had easy access to a beautiful and quite extensive patch of woods and to the open meadows of the lush green valley beyond. One early afternoon we followed a path through the woods, and over a bridge that crossed the River Chess, to find ourselves peering up at a grand estate. It was dominated by the facade of a red brick Tudor style country mansion known as Latimer House.
The estate had recently undergone an expensive and tasteful refurbishment and converted into a luxury hotel. We had a drink and some lunch in the library overlooking the beautifully landscaped gardens and the scenic Chess valley beyond. It was a lovely spot to chat and spend a few hours in the upper class surrounds of times past, before walking back to our more modest and temporary abode across the river.
The weather was lovely and the setting was perfect for our last few days together. It was a joyous time and a tender and sad one as well, yet we parted ways, each to embark on our separate journeys, with a shared sense of hope and assurance that the other would be ok.
Neither of us knew what lay ahead in the coming weeks and months. Clare wanted some time to reflect on how she might become more involved in humanitarian work in the future. I was less clear about what I wanted to do going forward, but before returning to Australia I thought I would spend more time travelling in Europe. I had really enjoyed my last trip to Berlin so there was a good chance I would go there again. Slovenia was also high on my list and a place I still hadn’t been to, despite planning for it on my previous trip.
Beyond that, my ideas about where to go were not fully formed. I had imagined travelling towards Greece from Slovenia, heading down the Adriatic coast, stopping off in Croatia, Montenegro and possibly Albania. I thought I might fly back to Australia from somewhere like Athens or Istanbul.
The thought of travelling alone again was not a welcome one, at least at first. I knew I would struggle at times to find meaning in the unshared experience. I had so much enjoyed travelling with Clare in the past. She was not only an excellent travelling companion but had shown me how to appreciate things in a different way, to be more alert to travelling pitfalls, to take things in their stride, and to welcome more openly the company of locals and fellow travellers. All of these things I would make a point of embracing on my travels going forward and, as time would tell, my journey would become richer for it.
It was exciting to not have a plan or feel the need to think too far ahead. I would try to get a sense of things as I went. Such an approach sounded free and easy but, as I would discover, came with its own unique challenges. There were uneasy moments trying to decide what to do next – usually when I’d left any kind of forward planning to the last minute. My mind would be flooded with questions: where to go? How to get there? Where would I stay? Could I afford it? Was it even a good time of year to be going? Such moments forced me to rely on my instincts and make decisions quickly. Sometimes things didn’t work out the way I wanted, but more often they did and resulted in new experiences and pleasant surprises I wasn’t expecting.